5 local parks to explore this spring

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

After a long New Jersey winter, spring is finally here — and, as long as you remembered to take your allergy medication this morning, you may be gearing up for a season spent hiking, biking and exploring Central Jersey’s scenic parks.

The Garden State may get a bad rap for a few crowded highways and smelly cities, but in general, New Jersey’s nickname doesn’t lie — our state is packed with places to enjoy the outdoors, many of them nestled in Central Jersey.

If you’re wondering where to head with the dog this weekend, then read on below to discover popular parks where you can enjoy the spring season and get to know Mother Nature.

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve was formerly a quarry for large boulders. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sourland Mountain Preserve)

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve was formerly a quarry for large boulders. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Sourland Mountain Preserve)

Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve was formerly a quarry for large boulders that were crushed to obtain railroad ballast, concrete aggregate and surfacing for roadbeds. Today, it’s a 375-acre park covered by second-growth oak forest.

With four trails, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing and dog walking is permitted, as well as superstition — some say compasses do not work in the hills and others say that the mountains are haunted.

To see it for yourself, head to the Sourland Mountain Nature Preserve by driving to 233 Rileyville Road, Ringoes. For further information, visit http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/depts/parks/ParkAreas/Sourlands/info.htm.

Round Valley Recreation Area is home to the deepest body of water in New Jersey at 180 feet. (Photo: Karen Mancinelli/Staff Photo)

Round Valley Recreation Area is home to the deepest body of water in New Jersey at 180 feet. (Photo: Karen Mancinelli/Staff Photo)

Round Valley Recreation Area is home to the deepest body of water in New Jersey at 180 feet, surrounded by 12 miles of three trails on 1,288 acres that are host to hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.

Created in the 1960s, it also has picnic areas and wilderness campsites for those willing to extend their outdoor experience. It’s one of the only New Jersey parks that offers campsites. Visit Round Valley Recreation Area by heading to 1220 Lebanon-Stanton Road, Lebanon, for $2 to $20, with prices ranging depending on type of vehicle, state of residence and time of year.

Park hours also currently range — from now until Memorial Day Weekend, it will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, go to http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/round.html.

Duke Farms, which was once the home of the Doris Duke Estate, was transformed into a landscape open to the public as of 2012. (Photo: ~File photo)

Duke Farms, which was once the home of the Doris Duke Estate, was transformed into a landscape open to the public as of 2012. (Photo: ~File photo)

Duke Farms, which was once the home of the Doris Duke Estate, was transformed into a landscape open to the public as of 2012 and has remained a fixture for the outdoorsy ever since.

With 2,740 total acres and 18 miles of trails, the area is known as one of the largest privately owned public spaces in the United States.

At the property, visit can find a farm-to-table market, an orchid range, an outdoor sculpture gallery, a former 22,000-square-foot former horse and dairy barn, bicycle rentals, a trolley and more.

Head to Duke Farms by visiting 1112 Duke Parkway West, Hillsborough, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. Admission is free. For further information, visit dukefarms.org.

Cheesequake State Park is stuffed full of 1569 acres and 9.5 miles of four trails. (Photo: Tom Spader/Staff Photo)

Cheesequake State Park is stuffed full of 1569 acres and 9.5 miles of four trails. (Photo: Tom Spader/Staff Photo)

Cheesequake State Park is stuffed full of 1,569 acres and 9.5 miles of four trails that allow for hiking, biking, dog walking and cross-country skiing.

Packed between two ecosystems — Pine Barrens and mixed oak forest — visitors can see plant species characteristic of the northern and southern parts of the state. Located near the trailhead parking area is Cheesequake’s nature center, which is host to changing exhibits, an auditorium and a covered front deck for birdwatching.

Visit the park by heading to 300 Gordon Road in Matawan from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for $5 to $20 per vehicle, prices ranging depending on state of residence and time of year. For more information, visithttp://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/cheesequake.html.

Lake Surprise in Union County's Watchung Reservation is a prime destination for hikers, kayakers and fishermen all year long. (Photo: ~File photo)

Lake Surprise in Union County’s Watchung Reservation is a prime destination for hikers, kayakers and fishermen all year long. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Watchung Reservation may border Route 78, but it retains a natural, wild state, free from noise thanks to sound barriers. Animal and plant life are also protected inside its 2,000-acre wooded tract.

On 1,995 acres of land are 13 miles of trail, winding through Surprise Lake, the deserted village of Feltvile/Glenside Park, the Trailside Nature and Science Center, Seeley’s Pond and the Watchung Stables.

Check out Union County’s largest park by going to 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, which can be visited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. For more information, visit http://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/paths-trails-greenways/watchung-reservation/.

 

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