ParkIsland Beach State Park
Just a 10-mile drive south of the lively Seaside Heights boardwalk—yes, the one made famous by that TV show—you’ll find an entirely different Jersey Shore experience. At 10 miles long, covering 3,000 acres, Island Beach State Park is one of the largest stretches of preserved barrier beach islands in New Jersey. While most of the park is pristine reserves, dedicated to the flora and fauna that call this region home, it’s also the site of the private vacation home of the New Jersey governor. But this park is primarily for the people, where plenty of beachy, natural, and wildlife-oriented activities abound. Things to do at Island Beach State Park Most visitors to Island Beach State Park come to relax at the recreational beach area, which is the only place where swimming is permitted. Since there are facilities like bathrooms and concessions here, it’s a popular day-trip spot for New Jerseyans. But beyond sunbathing and swimming, more physically demanding activities like surfing and windsurfing are popular here as well—just make sure you enjoy them in their designated areas. (Check out a broad map of Island Beach State Park here.) And you can kayak (tours are offered regularly, and you can check them out here), canoe or standup paddleboard (SUP) to enjoy some time on the water. There are also miles of easy-to-moderate hiking trails, plus biking and horseback riding opportunities for landlubbers. Head to the southernmost point of the park to see the Barnegat Lighthouse just across the inlet. Unfortunately, to actually get to the lighthouse, you’ll either need to drive more than an hour, or you’ll need a boat to make the crossing. For even more action, fishing and hunting are also available at Island Beach State Park, with registration required. Back to the more leisurely side—there’s flora and fauna spotting. This is a popular area for birds, from osprey to snowy owls. If you’re super interested in the plant life in this area, visit the Emily DeCamp Herbarium at the Forked River Interpretive Center to learn all about the natural environment at Island Beach State Park. Impressively, you can experience dunes, maritime forest, wetlands, thicket and tidal marshes here. And beaches, naturally! Entrance fees and other practicalities Though Island Beach State Park is open to the public year-round, seven days a week, there’s a fee for visitors, which can be collected at the entrance gate to the park. Between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend (the summer season), rates are as follows per vehicle, not per person. New Jersey residents Weekdays: $6 Weekends and holidays: $10 Motorcycles: $5 Walk-ins (only permitted at Fisherman’s Walkway): $3 Non–New Jersey residents Weekdays: $6 Weekends and holidays: $20 Motorcycles: $7 Walk-ins (only permitted at Fisherman’s Walkway): $3 In the off-season, which runs from Labor Day to the Friday before Memorial Day, New Jersey residents pay $5 per vehicle, while non–New Jersey residents pay $10 per vehicle. During the summer season, especially on weekends, it’s best to arrive as early as possible —there’s limited parking, and once the spots are full, you won’t be able to visit. While this could be frustrating to some latecomers, it does keep the number of visitors under control, in stark contrast to the throngs you’ll find in nearby Seaside Heights. Since this is a protected natural area, crowd control is crucial! Keep in mind that certain activities are only available at certain times of the year. Swimming, for instance, is only permitted between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the changing rooms and concession stands are open, and the lifeguard towers are staffed. Horseback riding, on the other hand, is only permitted between October 1 and April 30, with advanced reservations required. All these details may change season-to-season, so visit nj.gov for the latest information. Where to eat in Island Beach State Park There’s only one restaurant in Island Beach State Park, the Red Fox Beach Bar & Grill, and it’s usually open daily during the summer season, weather permitting. Many locals, however, stop on their drive to the park to pick up their own provisions from local hotspots like Jersey-favorite Wawa, a gas station convenience store with excellent sandwiches, or one of the local sub shops along Route 35, which can be enjoyed on the recreational beach or at a picnic table. We don’t suggest leaving the park for lunch or a snack, as you’ll lose your precious parking spot. That said, when it comes time for dinner, you can and should make a pit stop at one of the great restaurants in Seaside Park, the town nearest to Island Beach State Park. We recommend Mad Fish Company or Surf Taco. Getting there Directions are pretty much as easy as they come. Take Exit 82 of the Garden State Parkway and make your way toward Seaside Heights. Then turn south down Route 35 (Central Ave.), and within about 25 minutes, you’ll reach the entrance gate of the park at 2401 Central Ave. in Seaside Park, NJ 08752.