National Parks in New Jersey to Discover and Explore

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If you think national parks, you’re not likely to think about New Jersey. While the Garden State is better known for its music and culinary influences, the state has a number of important places in need of preservation. The national parks in New Jersey are as diverse as the state itself.

Our list includes all of the sites administered by the National Park Service in New Jersey, which includes National Parks, National Historic Sites, and National Heritage Trails. While the state may be more notable for its cultural influences, this list showcases both the natural beauty as well as the history of the state.

Morristown National Historic Park

Old wood house
The Wick House (Photo: CE Photography/Shutterstock)

Located in Morristown, the Morristown National Historic Park was an important site during the American Revolutionary War. There are lots of historic buildings and sites within the park with many of them dating from around 1744. The park occupies about 1,711 acres of land and was formally designated a historic park in 1933. It is a popular spot for both recreational outdoor activities as well as an important educational site.

There are several other locations affiliated with the historical park, but not contained within the boundaries of the park itself. Jockey Hollow was the site of a Continental Army encampment and Fort Nonsense was the site of a signal fire and earthworks. Finally, the New Jersey Brigade Encampment Site is south of the park and was used by a total of 1,300 soldiers between 1779 to 1780.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Colorful sky reflected in lake with green trees
The Gap is one of the most beautiful spots in NJ (Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock)

This recreation area is is located along the Delaware River. The park is accessible by boat or canoe, and paddlers can enjoy the river as it moves through mountains and forests. It is also accessible by hikers who brave the rough mountains to enjoy the beautiful valley vistas in the surrounding park.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is one of the best New Jersey National Parks for recreation. It is over 70,000 acres and is home to significant amounts of wildlife. Visitors can do a large number of outdoor activities such as biking, boat riding or canoe paddling, mountain biking, hiking, and even fishing. They can also go camping or have a picnic along the Delaware Gap for a mini family vacation.

Paterson Great Falls National Historic Reserve

Paterson Great Falls and bridge
An impressive amount of water flows over these falls (Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock)

The Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park is located in Paterson. This is the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi (just behind Niagara Falls). These waterfalls on the Passaic River are 300 feet wide and 77 feet high. There is lots to do in the park that attract visitors.

Popular activities include hiking, swimming, biking and having a picnic. There are lots of trails for walking. And a bonus, the park is dog-friendly too! But perhaps the most popular activity is photographing the falls.

Sandy Hook/Gateway National Recreation Area

Waves crashing on beach with rocks
The beach at Sandy Hook (Photo: Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock)

The Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area is located in Highlands, NJ. This large park covers a whopping 27,000 acres of land and serves as the gateway to New York Harbor from the Atlantic Ocean. There are beaches and beautiful landscapes as well as open spaces for lots of outdoor activities.

It is the perfect park for families or groups of friends who want a fun time and to create memorable moments. You can go fishing, boating, or cycling. If you just want some peace and quiet, this park is also one of the best places for tranquility as the scenic views are absolutely remarkable.

Ellis Island

Entry to Ellis Island Museum
The main building and immigration museum

This important and historically significant island is extremely popular with visitors as it is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The island was the most popular immigration point to the United States, with about 12 million immigrants passing through the island’s buildings between the late 1800s and early 1900s. The island serves as a monument to human mobility and the American experience. Many Americans can trace their roots back to this place, so genealogical tourism is an important part of Ellis Island. It is one of the most popular attractions on the East Coast.

The Island, though now uninhabited, was once filled with so many people. It was made one of the National Parks in New Jersey not only because of its history, but also what it represents for many people.

Thomas Edison National Historic Park

Thomas Edison's house
Thomas Edison’s home (Photo: Sandra Foyt/Shutterstock)

The Thomas Edison National Historic Park is one of the most popular NJ National Parks. Located in West Orange, this was the official home and laboratory of the famous inventor Thomas Edison. The buildings are what is left of the industries and research laboratories that used to be there. It is now a National Historic Site that is opened to the public for educational purposes.

The Thomas Edison Park sits on about 21 acres and was built in 1887. The laboratories operated for about 40 years. It officially became a National Historic Park in 2009. The personal home of Thomas Edison is open to tours and has amazing artifacts, including many of his inventions, for visitors to see. Thomas Edison’s grave is located within the surrounding grounds. The site is well-maintained and preserved, which makes it one of the best national parks to visit in New Jersey.

New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve

Visitor center in New Jersey Pinelands
The visitor’s center in Basto is a good place to learn about this unique place (Image: Rosemarie Mosteller/Shutterstock)

Just like its name implies, the New Jersey Pinelands has everything you need in a national park. There are forests, wetlands, and historic farms that cover an expanse of seven counties. This National Reserve is one of the most treasured national parks sites in New Jersey. The NJ Pinelands was established in 1978, making it among the first national reserves in the National Park System.

The pinelands feature historic villages and farmlands, oak-pine forests, diverse species of plants and animals, and even some ocean-front beaches. These pinelands occupy a staggering 22% of the state’s land area and is nearly 1,500 square miles in size.

There is a lot to do here. But one of the best activities to do is simply walking or setting up a mini afternoon picnic with family and friends. Many of the wineries in South Jersey are located within the Pinelands and make a great spot to get away.

Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail 

Park bench at sunset on mountain
The perfect spot on Kittatinny Ridge to enjoy a sunset (Photo: Rabbitti/Shutterstock)

This beautiful trail crosses over a dozen states and is managed by numerous agencies, such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the US Forest Service, and even the National Park Service. The Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail is over 2000 miles long, and it passes through the state, making it one of the favorite trails to visit in the state.

Within the state itself, the trail begins at the Delaware Water Gap and continues through the Kittatinny Ridge up to the New York state border. This trail was built in 1937 by residents of the mountain area before the government took over its maintenance. The most popular outdoor activities along the trail are hiking and camping. For those not looking to spend months hiking, you can also enjoy a picnic with family and friends while watching the scenic views.

Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail

The Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail is a collection of some of the more interesting historical sites in the state. A French soldier, General Rochambeau, joined forces with General Washington’s Continental Army in fighting the British Army in 1781. This unusual union became historic and the joining of these two forces was what brought about the eventual defeat of the British army. The trail is 680-miles long and passes through New Jersey and also encompasses many sites in historic Philadelphia.

Former US President Barack Obama officially created the trail in 2009. It was created to show the unity that can exist despite the differences in culture.

New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail

Cape May Lighthouse above sandy beach
The Cape May Lighthouse (Photo: Lisa Rapko/Shutterstock)

This trail extends for about 300 miles and passes through Raritan Bay and along the coast of the Jersey Shore. This trail occupies five regions, and it is home to the country’s oldest original lighthouse (and many other interesting lighthouses too!). Although it is called a trail, this area is actually a route that joins several natural areas, beaches and coastal seashores, including many New Jersey State Parks. The area is not managed by the National Park Service, although it is overseen by the federal agency.

There are lots of outdoor activities along the length of this heritage trail. Hikers love to walk along the beaches and shorelines, bikers enjoy the trails, and there is amble shoreline fishing. There is abundance of wildlife, and those who want to learn canoeing and kayaking can do them.

The route also goes through many of the most popular summer beach destinations at the Jersey Shore, including: Cape May, Wildwood, Stone Harbor, Avalon, Sea Isle City, and Ocean City.

Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River

The Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River offers many fun outdoor activities, including boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping and birding. This river is located between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It was included in the National Wild and Scenic River System and designated in November 2000, but all management and clean-up activities are controlled by both the National Park Service and local agencies.

The Lower Delaware River is the largest free-flowing river in the United States. There are forests and field lands around the area. The river is about 39 miles long. It is one of the best spots in New Jersey as well as one of the best maintained. You can spend several days along the river and never run out of things to do. 

Great Egg Harbor River

Bird habitat in a river
The river is an important ecological habitat for many animals (Image: Cathy Hartley/Shutterstock)

Located in South Jersey, this 55-mile long river is controlled by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. The river is an important home to different species of fish, mammals and birds. The river provides habitat to several endangered species that include the Bald Eagle and Pine Barrens Tree Frog.

The area around the river was previously occupied by the Lenape Indians before their Europeans’ displacement in the early 1700s. Like many of the NPS sites in the state, this park is generally open to the public for recreation, including fishing, camping, canoeing, and walking.

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