Thursday, March 12, 2009
Think about where you'd like to travel to get back in touch with nature. Are you thinking? Well, New Jersey probably wouldn't pop up to the top of your list. But let me banish your misconceptions of the Garden State -- there's a good reason it's given this moniker. Here you can do everything from trekking in woodlands to bird watching to kayaking around wetlands.
These are a few of my favorites:
1. The Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit is a hidden jewel. On this 13-some-acre estate, you'll find not only formal gardens but also a 19th century Colonial Revival mansion. Visit the Wildlife Habitat on a summer morning and you're bound to see Monarch butterflies and hummingbirds. Interesting carnivorous plants can be found in the bog while the Daffodil Bowl is a wilder setting that's lush with summer wildflowers. Pick up a self-guided brochure and then stroll on a trail that that loops through the woodlands and wetlands dotted with native beech and old tulip popular.
2. At the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor you can sign up for one of their summer kayak trips to a small island where, in June, you'll hear plenty of squawking from birds galore. Here you'll spot snowy egrets, great blue herons and others feeding in the creeks and marsh's pools. They've also got bird walks and pontoon boat trips where a naturalist will take you along the creek into the intercoastal waterways. Or wander the trails on your own using one of their self-guided brochures. You may even spot a diamondback terrapin, the creature that the institute has been long protecting.
3. The New Jersey State Botanical Garden in Ringwood is blessed with almost 100 acres of formal gardens which retain their early 20th century design. Here you have a property surrounded by part of Ringwood State Park, an expansive woodland sliced by a web of trails. But the centerpiece are the 13 garden rooms which are quite elegant. You can wander the fragrant Magnolia Walk, past giant rhododendrons, diminutive waterfalls and reflecting pools. The garden is especially noted for its extensive lilac collection that's at its best in early June.
4. The Terhune Orchards in Princeton is the place to visit for berry picking. Depending on the month -- check out their website to see what's ready to pick -- you can walk away with buckets of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries as well as cherries. June is especially fun during the annual Blueberry bash. You'll find blueberry-based salsa, cobbler, muffins and much much more. You can also walk the trail through the farm that wanders through a meadow and into a dense forest as well as show up on certain Tuesdays in the summer where your child can learn how different fruits or vegetables grow.
5. New Jersey and wine tasting also seems incongruous but guess again. Check out the Alba Winery & Vineyard in Milford. They've got a lovely fine art gallery, wine tasting space and winery all within an old limestone building dating to the early 19th century. At their tastings you may be able to sample any of the more than 18 wines they produce as well as artisanal cheeses and olive oils. This is an award-winning winery that plays host to an array of events every summer. Some of these include hot air balloon rides, a fireworks festival as well as the opportunity to hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage through the vineyard.
6. The Four Sisters Winery will delight both wine novices and oenophiles alike. Their Vine to Wine event provides so much information that you might want to make your own wine after it. During Family Fun Days, the kids can take a tractor-drawn hay ride or participate in a watermelon seed spitting contest while the adults tour the cellar and taste a selection of wines. One of their most popular events in the Grape Stomping where you can jump into a 10-person barrel or one designed for couples.