Where to Play Outside in NJ This Winter: Snow Sports, Hiking Trails, Animal Visits, and More

A skating session at Palmer Square in Princeton, followed by a sweet treat nearby, is sure to draw two thumbs up for outdoor fun.
A skating session at Palmer Square in Princeton, followed by a sweet treat nearby, is sure to draw two thumbs up for outdoor fun.

The temperature might be dropping, but New Jersey families can crank up the fun with an outdoor winter adventure! These 16 picks for outdoor fun feature plenty of destinations guaranteed to get you out and enjoying winter's chill.

So, bundle up and try a new outing, whether it's hitting a nearby ski slope, trekking along a family-friendly hiking trail, or visiting one of New Jersey's top zoos.

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Be sure to check with each venue for its COVID guidelines and requirements before heading out; some events and activities are getting canceled or postponed at the last minute due to the latest COVID surge, so always confirm details before departing.

1. Ice Skating at Palmer Square – Princeton

You'll make fond memories at Palmer Square’s eco-friendly outdoor synthetic skating rink. The small "glice" rink is perfect for young children and beginners. Located on Hulfish Street behind the Nassau Inn Hotel, you'll be gliding and swirling to your heart's content. Note that tickets are only sold at the door, and the rink is open through Sunday, February 27. Bonus: Take a walk down Palmer Square West toward the Green, and grab a treat at The Bent Spoon, which serves killer ice cream, mini-cupcakes, hot chocolate, cookies, and more.

2. Great Swamp – Chatham

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for winter bird watching and enjoying the fresh air. FREE

RELATED: Top Outdoor Skating Rinks in New Jersey

Campgaw offers outdoor fun on its slopes
Glide down the gentle slopes at Campgaw in a snow tube or on skis.

3. Campgaw – Mahwah

Get ready for some snowy, slippery fun, and experience the thrill of snow tubing (minimum height of 48-inches) or skiing at Campgaw. Advanced ticket purchase is required and lodge space is limited.

4. Pochuck Boardwalk Section of Appalachian Trail – Vernon Township

This unique section of the Appalachian trail includes a 1.5-mile Pochuck Boardwalk and a long wooden suspension bridge over the site of a prehistoric lake between the Pochuck and Wawayanda Mountains in Vernon. Note that parking can be challenging to find, so try an off-peak time. FREE

5. South Mountain Fairy Trail – Millburn

Take a 1-mile hike through this enchanting trail and spot tiny, hidden fairy houses peeking out of tree roots or hidden in the tree hollows. Park at the Locust Grove entrance at 197 Glen Avenue in Millburn, across from the library, and look for the Rahway Trail sign near the large blue recycling bin in the middle of the parking lot. FREE

RELATED: Fabulous things To Do in New Jersey in February

Mountain Creek offers outdoor fun for families on its slopes
Hit the slopes at the convenient and kid-friendly Mountain Creek.

6. Mountain Creek – ​Vernon

Teach 'em to ski while they're young! At Mountain Creek, there are 22 trails, six lifts, and even a terrain park. Pick your passion: Snowboarding, skiing, or tubing are all offered! Advance ticket purchase is required, and lodge space is limited.

7. Grounds for Sculpture – Hamilton

The Grounds for Sculpture is a sight to behold in any season. This 42-acre art museum/park hybrid features larger-than-life statues and sculptures that will take your breath away. It'll take a couple of hours to see everything, so wear comfy shoes! Note the park also features some outside dining spots, but seating is limited at this time, and some cafes require an online reservation. Advanced timed-entry ticket purchase is required. Bonus: Ticket prices are just $10 per person through February.

8. The Frelinghuysen Arboretum – Morris Township

Try your hand at the monthly Frelinghuysen Arboretum photo scavenger hunt. Take a photo of every item you find throughout these lovely gardens and win a small prize. The Arboretum also has maple sugaring demos on most Saturdays in the winter and is a joy to walk through in any season.

RELATED: 20 Winter Day Trips in NJ for Families

Explore Duke Farms for outdoor fun
Duke Farms offers more than 18 miles of outdoor trails to explore in any season.

9. Duke Farms – Hillsborough

Pick a trail, any trail. There are many paved, flat, bike, and stroller-friendly options at Duke Farms perfect for experiencing nature in the winter. For an added adventure, try the geocaching hunt or self-guided family activities. Visitors must physically distance themselves from others and wear masks. FREE

10. Jenkinson's Boardwalk – Point Pleasant

Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't enjoy the Jersey Shore! Take a stroll down the boardwalk, grab lunch at the food court, and satisfy your sweet tooth at Jenkinson's Sweet Shop (open year-round). The aquarium and arcade are open, too! Dress in layers to bundle up against the winter wind.

11. Middlesex Greenway – Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge

Bike the Middlesex Greenway, a 3.5-mile paved trail that starts at Middlesex Avenue in Metuchen and ends at Crows Mill Road near William Street in Fords/Keasbey (with several access points in between). FREE

RELATED: Great Day Trips to New Jersey State Parks and Forests

The Tenafly Nature Center offers plenty of outdoor fun for New Jersey families
The Tenafly Nature Center offers plenty of grounds to explore, plus indoor and outdoor programming in all seasons. 

12. Tenafly Nature Center – Tenafly

The trails are perfect for a fun winter nature walk. Masks are required if you step inside the visitors center. A $2/person donation is recommended.

13. Bergen County Zoo – Paramus

You'll see bison, big cats, farm animals, and more at the Bergen County Zoo. Note that the train and carousel have closed for the season, but admission is FREE through April 30.

14. Echo Lake Stables – Newfoundland

At Echo Lake Stables, you can go horseback riding on a scenic trail with an experienced trail guide year-round. Riders must be at least 7 years old and weigh less than 225 pounds.

RELATED: NJ Winter Fun List: 30+ Things To Do With Kids

See the snow-covered wolves outdoors at the Lakota Wolf Preserve
Spot the snow-covered wolves at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia.

15. Lakota Wolf Preserve – Columbia

Take a Wolf Watch tour and see these majestic animals in their habitat. You'll start with a scenic 1/2-mile nature walk from the parking area to the preserve, where you'll head into the observation area in its center. Four different packs of wolves live in the preserves, so you'll be able to see the wolves play, interact, and if you're lucky, hear them howl! Reservations are required.

16. Cape May County Zoo – Zoo Cape May

We're not lion! Winter is a fun time to bundle up and visit the Cape May County Zoo sans crowds. Bonus: There's a brand new playground on the grounds that gets sanitized daily. FREE

Originally published in 2021. Photos courtesy of the venues

Somerset County 4-H Fair
North Branch Park - 10:00 AM Pick
IAATO Italian Festival
Joe Palaia Park - 5:00 PM Pick
New Jersey State Fair: Sussex County Farm & Horse Show
Sussex County Fairgrounds - various times Pick
Jenkinson's Fireworks at Dark
Jenkinson's Beach - various times Pick
Spanish, Italian, or French Language Day Camps
GainVille Learning Center - 9:00 AM
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides