A Dozen Easy Hiking Trails in NJ for Families to Tackle This Fall

Most trails at Hacklebarney State Park follow along the river.
Most trails at Hacklebarney State Park follow along the river.
9/20/21 - By Dore Duhaime

The fall season is the perfect time to get the family outdoors for a nature walk or an easy hike when trees are ablaze with fall colors and temperatures are just right. These easy hiking trails in New Jersey are perfect for families with young kids. Pick the right trail, pack enough snacks, and pad your expected hike time by an extra hour to allow break time for little legs, and you'll have a great day soaking up the fall scenery around Jersey's many forests and state parks. If we get a late heatwave, consider visiting one of these hiking trails near swimming holes, streams, and more wet places to play.


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Colonial Park – Somerset

This sprawling, 685-acre park offers a ton of attractions, including an amazing playground, picnic areas, paddleboats, mini golf, and a couple of short, easy hiking trails, both less than a mile long. The Lois Howe Nature Trail features nine stations that identify animal tracks, birds, insects, and other creatures you might see along the way. The Powder Mill Pond Trail circles the pond and includes some small hills along with views of a duck's nest, a heron's cove, and other natural wonders.

Stroll the Pochuck Boardwalk portion of the Appalachian Trail in Vernon, New Jersey
Experience a low-key piece of the famous Appalachian Trail on the Pochuck Boardwalk. Photo by fernjelen via Instagram

Appalachian Trail Pochuck Boardwalk – Vernon

Why not start the kids off with a hike on one of America's quintessential trails? Head to this handmade boardwalk hiking trail connecting Pochuck Mountain and Wawayanda Mountain. It's an easy, two-mile loop through breathtaking scenery and a spectacular suspension bridge. It is a popular spot, so you may want to try a weekday hike or early weekend morning.

Cattus Island – Toms River

Smooth trails and boardwalks carve through 530 acres of marshes and forests making this shore-area hike a win for families and birdwatchers. Seven miles of trails, including one to the beach, offer scenic views of Barnegat Bay and osprey nesting areas. Don't miss the butterfly garden or exhibits at the Cooper Environmental Center, featuring a live osprey camera, bird-watching area, live reptiles, and fish. The park also offers crabbing, fishing, and picnic areas. Swing by Cattus Island on weekends for organized nature walks with a theme.

RELATED: Waterfall Hikes for NJ Kids

Kids climb the stairs on the hiking trail at Cheesequake State Park
Enjoy the beginner trail at Cheesequake State Park. Photo by Sara Marentette

Cheesequake State Park – Matawan

With saltwater marshes, freshwater swamps, open fields, and a hardwood forest, this state park boasts five well-marked hiking trails ranging from easy to moderate. The beginner yellow trail is a shaded loop with boardwalks, stairs, and views of Hooks Creek Lake. The more moderate red, green, and blue paths include some inclines and wooden plank bridges over streams and marshes. Cheesequake also features biking, boating, camping, and playgrounds.

Hike across the Red Bridge at Duke Farms
Cross the Red Bridge at Duke Farms. Photo courtesy of the farm

Duke Farms – Hillsborough

This outdoor wonderland features 18 miles of picturesque hiking trails, some paved and some gravel, leading through woodlands and gardens, around lakes and lagoons, and alongside fountains, sculptures, and a waterfall. Walk or ride your bikes through this popular green space, and don't forget to pack a picnic! The property, formerly owned by heiress Doris Duke, features family scavenger hunts, a tram ride, an orchid greenhouse, and an organic cafe. Duke Farms is open Tuesday through Saturday, with a free entry pass required on Saturdays.

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Boy walks down the hiking trail at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
The terrain level is very easy to easy with many boardwalks at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge – Morris County

The Wildlife Observation Center off of Long Hill Road in Harding offers an easy loop that runs about a mile through the woods and includes some bridges, marshy sections, and water. There are a few benches along the way, too, and wildlife to spot. The refuge, though, offers multiple entry points, paths, and chances to see birds and other wildlife.

Play in the stream along the hiking trail at Hacklebarney State Park.
Take a break to explore along the trails at Hacklebarney State Park.

Hacklebarney State Park – Chester

This sprawling park has both wooded and paved hiking trails, so you can bring a stroller—though you may have to carry it over some spots of rough terrain and stairs. Picnic benches are scattered throughout the park, often with views of the winding river. Take the red blazed path for a longer hike that includes a rocky walk along the water and several small bridges, or you can cut things short as you go, taking one of several cut-through paths. It's a rewarding family walking spot with a mini playground toward the end of the hike. You can also refuel up at the nearby Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill when you're done.

Jockey Hollow – Morristown

Known for its Revolutionary War reenactments, Jockey Hollow is also home to meandering, wooded hiking trails along babbling brooks and rolling hills. The main trail is a loop that runs more than five miles, but when your little troops are tired out, you can turn around and head back. Older kids will love that the houses on the property are relics of another era. Eager for more Revolutionary War history? Take your budding historians to another New Jersey Revolutionary War site.

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Little girl on the hiking trail at Loantaka Brook Reservation
Loantaka has an easy, well-marked 3.5-mile round-trip paved trail, as well as wooded options.

Loantaka Brook Reservation – Morristown

This park is a great choice for young bikers, scooters, and strollers because its trails are mostly paved. The reservation is divided into four areas: Seaton Hackney Stables, South Street Recreation Area, Loantaka Brook Park, and the Loantaka Way trail, all totaling about 570 acres and five miles of trails. Step into this reservation a short way from the bustle of downtown Morristown, and you're immersed in the sights and sounds of nature.

South Mountain Reservation offers plenty of open space to explore
There are multiple trailheads at South Mountain Reservation and plenty of woods to explore.

South Mountain Reservation – West Orange

An oasis in the middle of densely populated Essex County, South Mountain is loaded with mostly flat hiking trails including the popular "fairy trail" near the Millburn Library and the waterfall hike. It also includes a zoo, paddleboats, mini golf, and a playground. Enter at the Cherry Lane lot to be near the playground and picnic pavilion, restrooms, and the paved walking loop around the Orange Reservoir near the zoo, or check out our review for more trailhead directions.

RELATED: 8 Family-Friendly Hikes in South Jersey

Girl climbs rock formation at Watchung Reservation
Take a hike and do some climbing at Watchung Reservation.

Watchung Reservation – Mountainside

Head out for a leisurely fall afternoon in the lower Watchung Mountains, strolling along scenic Lake Surprise and the Blue Brook. With 13 miles of trails ranging from easy to moderate, Watchung Reservation also features a playground, restrooms, and plenty of parking. The historic abandoned village is another draw for young explorers. The Trailside Nature Center houses exhibits on wildlife and habitats found in the reservation and often hosts activities for young children.

Wharton State Forest – Hammonton

In the heart of the pinelands, about 30 miles from Atlantic City, Wharton is the largest state forest in New Jersey. The Batsto Lake trail hike takes you through the historic Batsto Village with beautiful views of the lake. Three different beginner hiking trails, each less than five miles, pass through the wonders of this state forest, which is home to bald eagles, hawks, herons, swans, owls, river otters, fox, deer, and many birds. A nature center on the banks of Batsto Lake offers a variety of programs and exhibits on Pinelands wildlife and botany.

For even more family-friendly hikes, visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, or check out our Parks & Playgrounds Guide.

This article was first published in 2013 but has since been revised.

Photos by Mommy Poppins staff except where noted.