Explore Central Jersey

A photo from a recent camping trip with Ginny Otte

Some of my finest memories as a child were family camping trips.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that my parents didn’t take us all camping just to learn about and appreciate nature, or learn of the importance of leaving areas better than you found them; I discovered that camping was the preferred family activity because of how inexpensive it can really be.  With the rising costs of gas, finding a fun weekend activity or a vacation spot for camping with the family might seem out of reach, but there are actually a lot of great campgrounds and park settings right here in New Jersey where you can introduce the family to the great outdoors. I actually go camping every single weekend from Spring to late Fall, so you might just run into me on a trail one day!

The Mahlon Dickerson Reservation at 955 Weldon Road in Jefferson Township is located in Morris County and has almost 3,500 acres of near-wilderness to enjoy with recreational areas to learn and keep active. There are over 24 miles of trails and you can enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, and more. You can even download digital trail maps, and enjoy the reservation or a day trip for hiking. The park offers picnic areas and camping for RVs, tent sites, and Adirondack shelters.  For reservations, call 973-326-7631.

The Lewis Morris County Park at 270 Mendham Road in Morris Township offers boating, camping, fishing, hiking and so much more, on over 2,000 scenic acres with over22 miles of trails. The Sunrise Lake Beach Club is open in summer for water activities and there is a dog park area for your furry best friend. Head over to their website for more information and reservations, or call the Morris County Park Commission at 973-326-7600 for more information.

Driving south to Matawan at 300 Gordon Road, Cheesequake State Park has multiple scenic trails to hike of varying difficulty for walking, hiking, and a multi-use trail for hiking and mountain biking. The Interpretive Center offers exhibits to learn about nature in the park, and the history of the area. You can walk from hardwood forests to the pine barrens in the park, so Cheesequake offers a unique look at the varying ecosystems of New Jersey to teach your family as they enjoy the views.  Camping, boating, kayaking, and more are also available.  For more information call 732-566-2161

For camping adventures on private land, access can be just an app away.  Just by searching your app store, you can find dozens of apps that highlight places to go on a county, state, or national level, such as the app for the National Park Service.

For people new to camping, pay attention when booking to the things that may be important to you:  Are there flush toilets, or non-flush toilets?  Is there access to water and electricity, or will you need a solar charger for your phone?  Is it rustic or are there activity centers?  Always plan ahead and ask when making reservations, especially if you are a first-time camper.  One great suggestion is to take a day trip there first, to explore the trails and see if you would like to spend more time there.  Have apps on your phone ready to help you identify plants, insects, and stars! It will help you and your family get the most out of your time in the woods. As you explore, you will be amazed at how many options and how must woodland New Jersey actually has, from the Lakota Wolf Preserve to camping in Cape May, New Jersey has a lot of affordable outdoor adventure for your family this summer!

–Ginny