Does New Jersey have any national parks? Well, no, not technically. There are no officially designated national parks in New Jersey akin to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or Great Smoky Mountains, but the state does have 10 national and historic sites managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and one that falls under the agency’s jurisdiction.
Despite being between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey has a high number of protected natural areas. But its location means the state also has quite a few historical sites, especially those pertaining to the founding of the United States. In many cases there is overlap, so visitors can get a dose of nature and of history all in one visit.
Although many of these natural and historic sites are operated by local government agencies, here are the 10 NPS sites in New Jersey.
Hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Crossing more than 2180 miles of mountainous terrain between Maine and Georgia, the Appalachian Trail is one of the great American hiking routes – and 76.1 miles of it lie in New Jersey.
The trail enters the state at the Delaware Water Gap, then it runs up and down ridgelines between 350ft and 1685ft in elevation, and through state parks and forests. It exits in the middle of New Jersey’s northern border with New York State.
While some hikers traverse the entire stretch over several days, many others tackle small sections on short day trips. One of its most popular trails is the Stairway to Heaven, one of the best hikes in New Jersey.
Picnic at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
“National Recreation Area” is the perfect descriptor for the Delaware Water Gap, a park with quite a few opportunities for recreation. It spans 70,000 acres and includes more than 120 miles of hiking trails (including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail), 100 miles of scenic roadways, 40 miles of river and a handful of waterfalls.
So whether you’re looking to hike, bike, kayak, drive or simply sit and have a picnic, there’s definitely room for you here. The Delaware Water Gap is also an ideal place to learn about northwest New Jersey’s long history, from its Native American roots through the colonial period up through the industrial boom of the 19th century. There are archeological sites and historic structures like the Brodhead site and the “Slave” cemetery spread throughout the park.
See Lady Liberty at Ellis Island
Things get a little murky when determining whether Ellis Island is part of New York or New Jersey, but it turns out the 27.5-acre plot of land sits in both states. New York has claim over the side of the island with the Main Building, while New Jersey has claim over the side with the former hospital.
In any case, the entire island falls under the umbrella of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, making it a federal property managed by the NPS. Lady Liberty herself is just a short ferry ride away.
Learn all about Ellis Island’s crucial role as one of the main entry points for immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1954 at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, housed in the Main Building. Or book a hard-hat tour of the abandoned hospital via Save Ellis Island.
Tour Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area
Gateway National Recreation Area is another interstate park that has grounds in both New Jersey (the Sandy Hook Unit) and New York (the Staten Island Unit and the Jamaica Bay Unit), all surrounding New York Harbor.
Jersey’s portion of the park is home to several major natural attractions like swimmable and fishable beaches connected by hiking trails through the dunes and historical sites like the Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook Proving Ground National Historic Landmark, a former military base built in the final decades of the 19th century that was used to test weaponry through World War I.
Many structures remain from the site’s military days, as do unexploded ordnances (UXOs), so don’t touch any unusual metal objects sticking out of the ground! Sandy Hook is also home to the country’s oldest surviving lighthouse.
Explore the wetlands at Great Egg Harbor River
Rather unusually, the Great Egg Harbor River, its 17 tributaries and their adjacent wetlands are technically under the jurisdiction of the NPS, but they’re managed by the local Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association.
But enough of the governmental fine print: the reason this region is a national park site is its largely undeveloped lands are a pristine place to interact with nature, whether through hiking, biking or boating. A majority of the river’s 129 miles exists within the Pine Barrens, a million-acre ecosystem unique to the East Coast.
Marvel at the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River site
Several segments of the Delaware River – the “largest free-flowing river in the eastern United States,” according to the NPS – as well as some New Jersey and Pennsylvania towns along them, have been incorporated into the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River site, a recreational area with a history of transportation for Native Americans, colonists and industrialists.
Today it has less to do with industry and far more to do with recreation and history; it’s a popular spot for outdoor activities like hiking and boating. But it’s also home to quite a few points of historical interest, such as the Morris Canal and the Washington Crossing State Park.
Track Washington at Morristown National Historical Park
Get a major fill of Revolutionary War history at Morristown National Historical Park, the site where then-General George Washington and his Continental Army camped throughout the winter of 1779–1780. The NPS calls this unit “Where America Survived.”
The park encompasses Washington’s headquarters at Ford Mansion, Fort Nonsense, and Jockey Hollow, for all the history buffs out there, but it also has 27 miles of hiking trails, plus a three-mile paved road for biking.
Hunt mythical creatures at New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve
The infamous Pine Barrens, formally known as the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, might be best known as the home of the mythological Jersey Devil, but it has far more important claim to fame, at least within the realm of ecology.
The 1.1 million acre plot of land – comprising swamps, bogs, dunes, and forests – is the country’s first National Reserve, deemed so by Congress in 1978. It’s also a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Inside, you’ll find plenty of space for recreational activities, such as hiking the 50-mile Batona Trail or visiting ghost towns.
Wander Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park
As with many New Jersey national park sites, nature and history collide in Paterson. The city was the first planned industrial city in the US and built in 1792 by Alexander Hamilton around the power of the Passaic River’s Great Falls.
Everything from silk fabrics to airplane engines was manufactured here, and you can visit many of the historic mills and factories today.
Of course, a visit to this national park site wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the eponymous falls, which are 77ft tall and 300ft wide. They still provide hydroelectric power to the city.
Feel a spark of inspiration at Thomas Edison National Historic Park
Innovation was (and still is) ripe in New Jersey, even outside Paterson. Inventor Thomas Edison’s home and laboratory in West Orange – where he worked during the second half of his life and developed such technologies as the motion picture camera – has been preserved as a National Historic Park.
The site holds the largest single collection of Edison material, from letters to prototypes of his inventions to his collection of rare books.
Best things to do in New Jersey
Visit the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary War National Historic Trail
With aid from the French General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, American General George Washington was able to defeat the British during the Revolutionary War.
Walk the footsteps of these great leaders on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary War National Historic Trail, a 680-mile pathway that traces some of their journey to victory between Massachusetts and Virginia and celebrates the history of the French-American alliance.
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