The Pine Barrens, or the Pines, is a beautifully diverse, protected eco-system that stretches over seven counties in New Jersey and is home to approximately1.1 million acres of forests with varied plant and animal life. The region also houses a multitude of rural and urban towns, with residents embracing the Pines and celebrating its beautiful bounty over the four seasons with festivals, outdoor activities, eateries, and folklore—watch out for the Jersey Devil!
Whether you are headed to the area to attend an event, searching for outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, and fishing, or simply want to drive through to spot changing flora and foliage in the fall or spring, the Pine Barrens do not disappoint. Read on for our favorite things to do with kids in the region, and read our roundup of state forests and parks to explore for more outdoor adventures.
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.
1. Hike and Bike Through the Forests
The Pines sport many hiking trails. Check out Pakim Pond, located on Coopers Road in Vincentown. My family and I love stopping for a quick dip or hike at this little gem located near the intersection of Routes 70 and 72. A cautionary tale: Make sure you stick to your hiking path denoted by specific colors...or you may wind up hiking 15 miles instead of 3!
Smithville Park boasts a historical mansion, playgrounds, and several beginner-to-intermediate hiking paths that take you over a beautiful lake with a recently redone walking bridge. It is also a great spot for family fishing. The YMCA of the Pines is nearby with its 800 acres of protected Pines. It hosts summer camps, lakes, hiking and biking trails, and fishing spots. There is a daily rate for drop-in programming, too.
2. Visit Local Wildlife and Rescued animals at Popcorn Park
Young and old can visit this animal sanctuary, which has been caring for rescued animals of all shapes and sizes since 1977. Feed the animals popcorn, pet some of the tame farm animals and see peacocks wandering freely. Another great place for animal fun is the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, a nature rescue center that is home to local wildlife and birds and hosts a variety of family-friendly programming, plus summer and school break camps, hiking, and more.
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Drop a line in one of the scenic lakes nestled in the Pine Barrens.
3. Go Fishing
There are several great spots to cast a line. Check out the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife for licenses and specific rules and regulations on when, where, and what you can catch. In general, licenses are required for ages 16+ and can be purchased online. After that, you can pack up your gear, some lunches, and the kids and have a relaxing day reeling them in!
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Spend an evening under the stars—and soaring pine trees—by booking an overnight camping trip. Photo courtesy of the YMCA
4. Go Camping
If you're looking for a getaway that's longer than the day, the Pines is home to several campgrounds. Some of our favorites include Brendan T. Byrne State Forest Campground, in Vincentown; Goshen Pond Camping Area, in Shamong; Wading Pines Camping Resort, in Chatsworth; and Wharton State Park camping site. Enjoy your overnight stay, just watch out for the Jersey Devil.
5. Dine Out
In almost every town in the Pines, you can find a great little spot to grab a bite with the family. If you are near Chatsworth, check out Hot Diggity Dog (one of my personal favorite stops on the way to the Shore). Be sure to check out its hours before you go, though. It is a seasonal business. The Pop Shop, with locations in Medford and Collingswood, sports great casual comfort food and milkshakes. There are also dairy bars like the Evergreen Dairy Bar or White Dotte (also seasonal) for soft-serve and milkshakes galore. There are diners spread out all over the Pines, too. Red Lion Diner, Vincentown Diner, and Shamong Diner are a few of our favorite stops to refuel after a Pines adventure.
6. Attend a Festival
Last but not least. Be sure to mark your calendars for the Pines local Chatsworth Cranberry Festival, held annually in October, and the Whitesbog Blueberry Festival, in June, which celebrates the area's local produce with family-friendly activities, arts and crafts, and amazing tasty treats.
RELATED: Best Spring Fairs and Festivals for NJ Kids
The Pine Barrens is full of open spaces and off-the-beaten-path places to explore on your next family adventure.
Know Before You Go to the Pine Barrens
- Many local Pine Barrens businesses maintain seasonal hours. Please check with each venue as you're planning your day in this wild wonderland.
- I encourage you to check each of these locations out in the different seasons to truly enjoy the beauty and joy each season brings to the region.
Unless noted, photos by the author