The 5 best child, infant, and stroller friendly hikes in Northern New Jersey
Let’s face it, in 2017 you want to get outside and into nature more. With a stressful and often worrying 2016 out of the way, there’s no better time to disconnect from the pressures of technology and the anxiety of news and get back to the outdoors. If you have children, especially ones who aren’t yet mobile, getting on the trails can be a challenge. In the six months we’ve had the twins, here are a few of the best places to get into nature without killing your back in Northern New Jersey.
Loantaka — Morristown
Loantaka, a popular bike trail works great for a longer walk with a stroller too. There are over 3 miles of flat, paved or compacted paths that wind through the woods, over a few little wooden bridges, and loop back around to whichever parking lot you choose. With the dense wooded surroundings, it’s easy to feel you are alone in the woods — until your child starts screaming for food. On weekends in the early afternoon it does tend to get very crowded with other strollers, so walking through can become something like riding in a taxi in Bangladesh. Just like there, be careful with your gestures. After, hop over to The Office tavern in downtown (the Green) Morristown for some liquid refreshment and decent food.
Appalachian Trail Boardwalk — Glenwood
One of the few places you can “hike” the Appalachian Trail with a stroller, the boardwalk in Glenwood, just before the NY border near Warwick, makes for a pretty unique hike. Not much of the AT, which runs from Georgia to Maine, passes through NJ, so here is a great place to experience it. For about a mile, the trail is over a very flat boardwalk through wetlands and swamp and even crosses a pedestrian suspension bridge that isn’t the easiest with a stroller, but can be done. If you can make it without a stroller, the trail continues for another 1.5 miles and passes some cow pastures, a train track, and more wooded sections of the trail before the “Stairway to Heaven” section that climbs steeply up the mountain but rewards hikers with awesome views of the surrounding countryside. This is a popular hike with children and passing with a stroller on the boardwalks is possible but tricky. Perhaps a good one to do once for the boardwalk with a stroller and come back later for the longer hike in a carrier or when mobile.
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge — New Vernon
Great Swamp is a wildlife refuge rather than a pure park, which means you and your little ones are more likely to see some fauna on a hike. Two boardwalk trails here combine for about 3 miles of trail easily accessible with a stroller and even wide enough in many spots to pass. We didn’t spot the bald eagles others had reported in the area recently, but did see a lot of water fowl, possibly because our children like to make loud squeaking chirping sounds that seemed to attract the birds. The boardwalks wind around wetlands and the large swamp with several covered blinds for viewing the wildlife out on the water or in the trees. You may even see some foxes or beavers.
Saddle River Park and Bike Path — Saddle River
Perhaps the largest and most accessible with a stroller, the Saddle River Park and Bike Path is actually a series of connected parks. The paths here are paved, flat, and fairly wide in most parts which make a long stroller walk quite possible and enjoyable. For a short walk you can just loop around the lake where geese and ducks often hang out. For a longer one, use the bike paths and head as far out as you desire. Because it’s a long straight path, getting lost isn’t a concern here. There are also a few great playgrounds for active kids who don’t get tired out just by the walk. There are always a ton of other parents here with strollers, but you can just run past them if you want since the paths are so nice and wide. Getting a bit further from the parking lot and the lake thins the crowds as well.
Ramapo Mountain Reservation — Mahwah
With a stroller, it’s a shorter walk, but you can combine a loop around the lake with a hike up past a waterfall to the dam where there are often children and dogs splashing around in the water. This is a perfect walk with kids and a dog. The path is paved to the dam, but a bit steep in some parts, so you’ll work on those abs. You will almost always see two swans at the lake and deer are often in the area. For a longer walk, ditch the stroller and continue past the dam up the mountain and loop back down past an awesome viewpoint over the area and on clear days the NYC skyline. Little children will love the lake, animals, and the wooden bridges over the water here.
Bonus: Ramapo Mountain State Forest — Wanaque / Oakland
I’m obviously biased since we live on a road connecting to the state forest, but it is a great walk with kids. Though not especially stroller friendly, if you are adventurous you can make it work. From the parking lot up on Skyline drive, the trail is paved all the way down to the lake and dam though fairly tough on the way back due to the climb. I’ve done it a few times so anyone can. I’ve also foolishly taken the stroller around the whole lake which is also possible, but a few sections are rocky and not at all paved so fairly rough and bouncy. If your kids are weirdos like mine and enjoy the bouncing, it can work. Without a stroller, and probably without even a carrier due to the steep terrain, a must do hike here with mobile kids is the one up the mountain from the lake to the ruins of an old “castle” here, actually a mansion that caught fire. The stone towers still stand here as does a swimming pool which is now overgrown with plants. It’s more scenic and stunning than it sounds. We even once saw folks in Game of Thrones like costumes filming here, complete with a flute player serenading them, so that’s… something… I guess. Or were they ever there at all?
One more bonus: Great Falls — Paterson
Not much of a hike, but exploring the falls of Paterson is also a great experience with kids and can be done with a stroller. The walk up from the parking lot is steep, but no steps, and the bridges across the falls are conducive to a stroller, even a wide double one like ours. You can get a great view of one of the few National Historical Parks in NJ and enjoy a unique experience as well. The falls are stunning and the surrounding area, built up as part of Hamilton’s vision to power America’s industry with hydropower, is well preserved and interesting to see as well.
New Jersey, though perhaps not so well known for parks and nature, has a surprisingly number and variety of places to explore in the outdoors. From national to state to county parks, there are plenty of places to explore with young ones, even if they aren’t up and walking yet. If you are still tied to a stroller, it might feel like there aren’t many options, but in reality there are plenty of great places to get out and explore the natural resources of NJ from swamps to forests to lakes. There’s no excuse in 2017 to not getting more fresh air. Enjoy!