Botanical Gardens and Arboretums With Kid-Friendly Programming in New Jersey

The Cora Hartshorn Arboretum is home to hundreds of plant species and almost as many migrating birds.
The Cora Hartshorn Arboretum is home to hundreds of plant species and almost as many migrating birds.
4/16/21 - By Margaret Hargrove

New Jersey is teeming with amazing outdoor places to take kids. From educational nature centers to destination-worthy playgrounds, there is a multitude of fun events for little ones. But our beautiful state arboretums and gardens are often overlooked. These fabulous green spaces offer a great opportunity for children to see nature up close. Many locations also host educational and engaging programs, featuring hands-on gardening, guided hikes, and action-packed scavenger hunts.

So, with the spring season now in high gear, gather the kids and head to these beautiful, local gardens. We're not known as the Garden State for nothing.


Editor's note: While we are trying to promote safer activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, please keep your family and others safe by always wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. If you arrive at a venue that appears too crowded, try using the “nearby” search feature on our Event Calendar to find something else to do. Please plan your outings in advance, as many venues require timed-entry tickets or reservations to limit crowd size.

Beautiful New Jersey Arboretums

The Arboretum at Liberty Hall – Union

The beautiful and historic Liberty Hall Museum recently added a flourishing arboretum to its property. The arboretum houses more than 100 varieties of trees and ornamentals on its grounds. Both self-guided tours and guided tours may be booked. Check our calendar for upcoming programs like its Family Fun Day: Arbor(etum) Day with fun and games for the family.

Cora Hartshorn Arboretum – Short Hills

2021 update: The Stone House Nature Center is currently closed to the public. Birthday parties and scout programs are on hold.
This gorgeous arboretum is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna—take a stroll and discover more than 150 species of wildflowers, 45 species of trees, and 100 species of birds. Trails and grounds are open year-round during daylight hours. Visitors may take part in an interactive scavenger hunt on the trails. The Arboretum offers many wonderful events for children, including toddler and preschool classes, after-school programs, weekend family outings, and summer camps.

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The Frelinghuysen Arboretum is a beautiful destination
Take a stroll through the beautiful gardens at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum.

The Frelinghuysen Arboretum – Morris Township

2021 update: Buildings and restrooms are currently closed to the public. A port-a-potty is available. All current events are virtual.
Originally designed as the summer estate for a wealthy New York family, the Frelinghuysen property was opened as a public arboretum in 1971. First-time visitors are invited to take a leisurely “Get-to-Know-Us” walk at any time—a map with notes can be obtained online. Frelinghuysen hosts many educational activities for kids, such as gardening programs, classes, and seasonal scavenger hunts. The grounds are open from 8am-dusk daily.

New Jersey Botanical Garden – Ringwood

The state’s official botanical garden, the New Jersey Botanical Garden at Skylands Manor is a beautiful place to visit any time of year. Explore 96 acres of specialty gardens, including the Peony Garden and Wildflower Garden, or hike the marked trails through the woods. Garden tours and family hikes are available on select Sundays in the spring and summer. Upcoming events include Family Woodland Hikes. The Botanical Garden is open daily from 8am-6pm.

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Reeves-Reed Arboretum offers family-friendly programming
Visit the Reeves-Reed Arboretum for nature exploration or family-friendly festivities.

Reeves-Reed Arboretum – Summit

2021 update: Buildings are currently closed to the public. Discovery Saturdays are on hold.
Stroll the beautiful, historic grounds and gardens, or embark on a hike of the woodland trails at Reeves-Reed. The Arboretum offers lots of family-friendly events throughout the year, such as its Maple Sugaring Fest and Daffodil Day, as well as kids’ classes and summer camps. Be advised that the events book quickly. The arboretum grounds are open daily from 7am-7pm.

The Thielke Arboretum – Glen Rock

2021 update: Indoor events are suspended.
A natural habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, and other creatures, the Thielke Arboretum is a fun and educational place to explore with children. Stroll along the garden path, check out the duck pond or take a guided nature tour of this hidden gem. Scheduled programs for children include StoryWalk, summer environmental workshops, seasonal festivals, and more. The Arboretum is open daily from dawn to dusk.

RELATED: Spring Festivals for New Jersey Kids and Families

Wagner Farm Arboretum houses a fairy garden
Don't miss the fairy garden at Wagner Farm Arboretum.

Wagner Farm Arboretum – Warren

In 2001, Warren Township purchased the former Wagner Dairy Farm to create an arboretum for the community’s benefit. Today the arboretum fosters environmental awareness through its many fabulous activities, such as kids’ art classes, a seasonal farmers market, and garden maintenance. The Children’s Garden, home to bird boxes and a blueberry patch, is a wonderful place to bring young visitors for a peaceful nature experience. Mark your calendar now for the Arboretum’s annual Brite Nites event—every October, more than 1,000 carved and illuminated pumpkins are on display for visitors to enjoy. The most recent one became a drive-thru event. The Children’s Garden is open to the public during daylight hours.

Local New Jersey Gardens With Family-Friendly Programming

Deep Cut Gardens – Middletown

2021 update: Masks are required in all indoor facilities, including the horticulture library, the greenhouse, and restrooms.
A visit to this Monmouth County park is a pleasure in every season; it's home to 54 acres of gardens and greenhouses. The renovated Parterre features 55 varieties of roses with more than 170 bushes. Thinking of planting a home garden with your little farmer? Grab a safari backpack from the Horticultural Center and explore the grounds first. As you stroll, feel free to ask the staff questions or visit the reference library for ideas. Don't miss the kid-friendly drop-in activities during the garden's National Public Gardens Day open house, held around Mother's Day each year when the gardens are in full bloom. Open daily from 8am-dusk.

RELATED: Best Nature Centers in New Jersey to Visit With Kids

Duke Farms is a lovely garden
At Duke Farms, more than 1,000 acres of land is devoted to the ongoing exploration of native species, preservation, and sustainability.

Duke Farms – Hillsborough

2021 update: Trails are open. Indoor facilities are closed. Saturday visitors need to reserve a free entry pass for each carload in advance.
Open to the public since 2012, this 2,740-acre ecological treasure, located in Hillsborough, offers diverse wildlife, hiking trails, and interesting educational programs. Hike or bike the 18 miles of trails that take you through woods and grassy meadows and past statues and lakes. Once you've worked up an appetite, grab a bite at the Farm Barn Café, which serves meals made with organic and locally sourced ingredients. Duke Farms hosts various family-friendly, outdoor events, including the upcoming Introduction to Geocaching for Families. The farm is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8:30am-6pm.

Greenwood Gardens – Short Hills

2021 update: Gardens open for the season on Saturday, May 1, and are open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
This charming, 28-acre garden is filled with little nature trails, water features, sculptures, and even a few barnyard animals. The garden was part of a private estate until 2003, and many of the original touches remain, including iron gates, gargoyles, and old stone structures. The garden often remains open on school holidays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day, making it a no-brainer for fun with the kids. A Barnyard Tour gives kids a closer look at the animals, including the goats, geese, and chickens. The annual History and Harvest Festival features lots of fall fun activities, like pumpkin painting, face painting, and pony rides.

Grounds for Sculpture – Hamilton

2021 update: Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Reserved, timed-entry tickets are required. Indoor facilities are closed except for the restrooms.
With 42 acres of gardens and sculptures, the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton is not your typical garden. Built on a portion of the former site of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, Grounds for Sculpture offers fun surprises around every corner: a spray of mist, a lotus pond, little bridges, peacocks, and more. The giant, 25-foot-tall sculptures provide plenty of Instagram-worthy photo-ops. There's a lovely French restaurant on the grounds, plus two smaller cafes serving sandwiches, wine, and beer. You can bring your own brown-bag lunch for a picnic. The museum offers family-friendly programs, including Garden Stories and Family Meditation.

Morven Museum & Garden – Princeton

2021 update: Indoor tours are suspended. Closed between 12:30pm and 1pm for cleaning. There are no events currently scheduled.
Just a short walk from the Princeton University campus, this former New Jersey governor's mansion occupies five pristine acres. Morven's historic garden includes a formal, grand lawn dotted with majestic trees, beds of heirloom annuals from the 18th and 19th centuries, and a re-creation of the Colonial Revival-style garden that was planted at Morven in the early 20th century. A festive display of decorated Christmas trees during Morven's annual Festival of Trees gets kids of all ages into the holiday spirit. The museum and garden are open Wednesday through Sunday.

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See the stunning collection of irises at Presby Memorial Iris Gardens
Presby Memorial Iris Gardens is a volunteer-run living museum specializing in irises.

Presby Memorial Iris Gardens – Montclair

2021 update: Opening day of bloom season is Friday, May 14.
Don’t miss the chance to stroll this gently sloping garden where 10,000 iris plants in 1,500 varieties produce more than 100,000 blooms each year, typically blooming from mid-May through the first week in June. Located at the base of Upper Montclair's Mountainside Park, itself a fun adventure with the kids, the area was conceived as a memorial to Frank H. Presby, one of the founders of the American Iris Society and a Montclair resident. Family-fun programming includes free outdoor movies in the summer and artfully carved jack-o'-lanterns at Gardens Aglow in the fall. The park is open from dawn to dusk.

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Rutgers Gardens features beautiful flooms
Rutgers Gardens strives to provide a fun, educational, and engaging escape for students, faculty, and the community.

Rutgers Gardens – New Brunswick

2021 update: Open Saturdays through Thursdays. Children's programs are currently suspended.
The 180-acre arboretum and botanical gardens, located just down the road from Rutgers University's New Brunswick campus, started a century ago as a learning space for local farmers. Over the years, it has transitioned into a green getaway where families can wander among the beautiful perennials that bloom at their best in our home soil. With its connection to Rutgers, it's no wonder education is tops here. Plant sales and seasonal festivals round out the fun throughout the year. The gardens are open 8am-7pm.

Van Vleck House and Gardens – Montclair

2021 update: The Van Vleck House, visitors center, and restrooms are closed to the public.
Lush, green, and picturesque, the Van Vleck House and Gardens is a great way to swap screen time for green time. The once-private 12-acre estate originated more than 140 years ago, in 1863 when businessman Joseph Van Vleck Sr. moved his family to Montclair from Brooklyn (sound familiar?). The gardens are filled with plant collections from around the globe, surrounding the historical Italian-style villa the Van Vleck's once called home. The Outdoor Adventures program invites children to learn about the gardens, make a simple craft, and get supplies for a self-guided activity on the property. The gardens are free to the public and open 365 days a year.

A version of this story was published in 2016, but it has since been updated. Photos courtesy of the gardens/arboretums

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