A-tisket, a-tasket: Great Places in NJ to Bring Your Picnic Basket
Even though I'm not a huge fan of sharing my personal space with bugs, I do appreciate being one with nature. Lucky for us, here in New Jersey we have many parks and natural areas to explore. If you want to make the most of a day outdoors, bring along some food and find a spot to picnic with your family. You'll be glad to know that we've taken some of the guesswork out of “where” by listing some of the best picnic spots in NJ.
Van Saun Park
If you want a full day of family fun, Van Saun Park is definitely for you! Not only will the kids enjoy the large playground, everyone will have a great time at the Bergen County Zoological Park, the historic Washington Spring Garden, riding the train around the zoo, the carousel, pony rides, walking trails, and picnic and fishing areas. Although there is a small fee for the Zoo, train, carousel and pony rides, overall it's very reasonable, so your whole family can participate in many activities without doing much damage to your wallet. The Zoo is one of my family's favorite spots since they can see it all in an hour or two. Remember to get there early as this is a popular destination. (Our family's preferred time is Sunday mornings right when the Zoo opens). For small picnics you'll find tables by the Zoo entrance and if you are having a larger function you can go here to submit a permit for a picnic pavilion.
Liberty State Park
I cannot think of a park in NJ with a better view! Not only can you watch your kids play on the large playground while looking out over Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, but you can also explore more of the waterfront along the 1.3 mile Liberty Walk. Liberty State Park is a great spot for a picnic because not only are they expansive fields where you can put down a blanket and have a meal, but there are also picnic tables available right by the playground. We have a great time here because my high energy kids have plenty of room to “run free” on the Liberty Walk and go crazy on the playground. Remember your sunscreen, though, because there is very little shade at this park. Call 201-915-3440 if you are planning a group picnic/event.
A great place to picnic in Essex County is Verona Park. You'll find a 13 acre lake for boating and fishing as well as a fantastic walking path around the lake. It's a serene location to take your family for an afternoon of outdoor fun. The kids will be thrilled with their playground while parents can enjoy summer concerts and events in the gazebo. There's plenty of benches and grass to for a small picnic. Because this location does not offer space for larger picnic events please go here for information on other parks in Essex county to accommodate a large group.
Loantaka Brook Reservation
Another popular location with my family is Loantaka Brook Reservation which is a large park with paved trails in Morris County. Although there are a few parking locations and entrances, make sure you go to the parking lot on South Street in Morristown so you can be close the amenities. We love that there is a nice sized play structure next to the athletic field, all with some nice shade trees. The kids can play and the rest of the family can sit at one of the many picnic tables right by the playground. The fields are available for for playing ball (or frisbee) as well as putting down a blanket for a picnic. I love this park because after everyone is done with the playground and eating there's miles of paved trails to walk, run, scooter, bike or if you want to go old school, Rollerblade (I may or may not be speaking from experience here). There is also a picnic pavilion you can reserve by submitting this reservation request form.
North Branch Park
North Branch Park is a picnickers dream. Besides the areas by the playing fields with tables and grill, the park offers an area available by reservation for groups of 20 people or more. You can grill up a meal while your kids explore the newly built playground or there are a few picnic tables along the river for your family to enjoy a meal in this peaceful environment. Don't forget to check out the flying fields with flying hours of 10:00am-7:30pm on weekdays, and 10:00am-5:30pm on weekends/holidays.
If you are in the mood for something different, you'll definitely want to check out Holmdel. This large park in Monmouth County has the usual amenities of picnic pavilions (call 732-842-4000 ext. 1 to reserve), open fields, 2 playgrounds, hiking trails, and an arboretum. In addition, you can check out Historic Longstreet Farm, where visitors have the opportunity to see what life on a farm was like in 1890 (and then thank their lucky stars for grocery stores.) This farm is open daily from 10am – 4pm and is free of charge.
Another great spot to picnic is Historic Smithville in Galloway Township. After exploring the unique village shops (make sure to stop by my favorite boutique Tutu Posh Boutique for adorable girlie tutus and accessories), walking around the lake, taking a paddle boat ride, playing at an old fashioned arcade, taking a train ride, and riding the carousel, you'll certainly be ready for some food. There are sit-down and take-out restaurants, and you are welcome to sit in the gazebo or on a bench to eat your picnic lunch. Check out the event schedule here to plan your visit around a fun festival, parade, or show.
Estell Manor Park
If you are in the Atlantic County area and craving a picnic spot, you'll want to make sure to head over to Estell Manor Park in Mays Landing. There's lots to offer the average picnic goer, such as walking trails, soccer fields (in case you or your kids want to get some practice in for this fun fall sport!), orienteering courses (who knew?!), and hiking on nature trails. Make sure you stop by the Warren E. Fox Nature Center while you are there to check out some live animals and environmental displays, as well as use the indoor restrooms (bonus!). Visitors may borrow bikes and helmets, softball equipment, volleyballs, frisbees, jump ropes, horseshoes and soccer balls for FREE (adults must have valid ID). Picnic goers will find pavilions to reserve for large events, as well as grills and picnic tables for a family outing on a "first come, first serve" basis.
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Originally published June 2012