30 Summer Day Trips for New Jersey Families
Whether you're putting major travel plans on hold again this summer or just need a day trip destination to mix up your routine, road trips rock. These 30 summer day trips minimize the drive time and maximize the fun for New Jersey families. Whether it's gathering fresh fruit at a pick-your-own farm, swimming at a lake, hitting the Jersey Shore's beaches and boardwalks, or visiting an amusement park, get ready to hit the road to one of our favorite summer destinations.
Need more inspiration? Check out our Summer Fun Guide for NJ Kids for even more ideas for family fun.
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1. Cattus Island County Park – Toms River
This park and nature center sits on 530 acres and boasts miles of nature trails, boardwalks through the wetlands, crabbing, hiking, nature walks, picnicking, and more. In late summer, the Butterfly Garden blooms with many plants that draw butterflies, while the newly renovated Cooper Environmental Center has exhibits about the park and Barnegat Bay.
2. Lakota Wolf Preserve – Columbia
Bring the kids to learn about wolves and watch them in their natural habitat. Take a 90-minute Wolf Watch tour Wednesdays through Sundays with online reservations and limited capacity. There's lots of shade, so it’s the perfect activity for hot summer days. While there, check out Camp Taylor’s facilities, including the swimming lake, hiking trails, boat rentals, mini-golf, and more.
3. Island Beach State Park – Seaside Park
Nature lovers and those searching for a more mellow Jersey Shore experience won't want to miss this shore gem. Located at the end of Route 35 just past Seaside Park, IBSP is a preserved barrier island that offers bay and ocean beaches. A cute little eatery right on the beach features burgers, fish & chips, sandwiches, tacos, and more; there's often live entertainment, too! Take a walk on the short, kid-friendly trails, and keep your eyes peeled for snowy owls, foxes, osprey, and other wildlife.
Cape May boasts beautiful beaches and a walkable, postcard-pretty town. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
4. Cape May
Whether you're looking for fun at the beach, great food, biking, fishing, historic tours, whale and dolphin watching, or fun at the boardwalk, this beautiful seaside town has something for everyone. Park the car and rent a surrey to get around for the day. After dark, take a ghost tour or see a free family movie on the beach.
Spend some time at your local park, or if you're looking for someplace new to explore, check out this extensive list of playgrounds worth day-tripping. From cool play spaces featuring awesome jungle gyms you won't find anywhere else to playgrounds with water features, zip lines, a carousel, and even a zoo, these stellar playscapes allow kids to slide, swing, splash, climb and imagine the day away.
6. Statue of Liberty – Jersey City
This piece of history makes for a fantastic day trip for school-aged kids. While you can't go inside Lady Liberty at the moment, you can explore the Statue of Liberty Museum, a 26,000-square-foot exhibition space dedicated to Lady Liberty's history, and a visit to Ellis Island is also included in your ticket. The museum at Ellis Island is open with restrictions.
Enjoy the Grounds for Sculpture. Photo DMH Photography
7. Grounds for Sculpture – Hamilton
Children (and adults) of all ages get a kick out of this 42-acre sculpture garden. Grab lunch at one of the cafes on-site and meander through the lush gardens and trails filled with permanent and rotating pieces of art. The sculpture garden regularly hosts educational events, gallery walks by exhibiting artists, and special artist evenings. Some local libraries offer free tickets as part of their Museum Pass program.
8. Six Flags – Jackson
It just wouldn't be summer in the Garden State without a trip to New Jersey's largest theme park. Six Flags is known for heart-dropping roller coasters like Nitro, Kingda Ka, and the newly opened Jersey Devil Coaster. There are also plenty of attractions geared toward the smaller set and those who enjoy tamer thrills. You can also see zebras, giraffes, and other cool creatures on the Safari Drive-thru Adventure or toss dinosaurs in the mix at the new Xpedition Dino. Six Flag's Hurricane Harbor water park features wet adventures, like Big Wave Racer, Jurahnimo Falls, and tamer fun, like the lazy river and wave pool.
Hit the water at the Runaway Rapids Water Park in Keansburg. Photo courtesy of the park
9. Keansburg Amusement Park – Keansburg
A quicker and easier trip than other shore destinations, Keansburg offers summer fun for all ages. Young kids have a blast with tons of kiddie rides, games, and arcades, while older kids enjoy the Fast Trax Go-Karts. Admission is FREE; pay by the ride with tickets. The water park area, Runaway Rapids Water Park, has more than 18 slides, splash zones, a kiddie lagoon, a toddler play area, a crazy lazy river, and more for a separate admission fee. Check the website for values and combo deals. Or make it a beach day at Keansburg's admission-free beach.
10. Randolph Park Beach – Randolph
Who needs the traffic to the Jersey Shore when you have this lakeside municipal beach for swimming, paddleboats, picnicking, and water sprays for the kids. You'll also find a refreshment stand, changing facilities, swimming lessons, and more. The park offers both resident and non-resident monthly and daily passes, but weekend entry is limited to members and residents.
Take a hike in Cheesequake State Park. Photo by Sara Marentette
11. Cheesequake State Park – Matawan
Hike, swim, fish, or camp—your family can do it all at this state park. There's a large assortment of things to do, but a great summertime feature is Hooks Creek Lake, where kids can splash and swim when lifeguards are on duty. Playgrounds, concession stands, restrooms, and changing areas are available next to the lake. Check out NJ's other great swimming lakes, too.
This 200 acres of lakefront offers many family activities, including an 18-hole mini-golf course, beer garden, and more. Picnicking is a great option, with more than 800 tables along New Jersey’s largest white sand beach. The water park features a 400-foot body slide, racing slide, a 500-foot tube ride, boats, and water coasters, with a separate area for younger kiddos. Admission includes parking, beach, and swimming facilities. Purchase separate wristbands for unlimited water slides.
13. Turtle Back Zoo – West Orange
One of the state's top zoos, Turtle Back offers a variety of animal exhibits and children's programming. In the summer, cooling misting stations help visitors beat the heat. Zoo rides include a carousel, ponies, a train ride, and a play area, in addition to the giraffes, sea turtles, and penguins who call the zoo home. While you're there, take advantage of everything the South Mountain Reservation has to offer, including the Treetop Adventure Course, paddleboats, mini-golf, and playground. Check our roundup of NJ's best zoos and aquariums for even more options.
RELATED: Great Day Trips to NJ State Forests
Jenkinson's Boardwalk has lots of rides geared toward little kids. Photo by Laurie Rein
14. Jenkinson's Boardwalk – Point Pleasant
Summertime in NJ hardly seems complete without a trip to the Jersey Shore and is this busy beach and amusement area is the perfect spot for families. Pack the day with time on Jenkinson’s Beach, Jenkinson's Boardwalk, and at Jenkinson’s Aquarium—all in the same location. The boardwalk has food, games, and rides. Check out the Adventure Lookout Ropes Course (a junior course for kids is also available), play a round of mini golf, or visit the funhouse. Jenkinson's hosts weekly and FREE summer activities, including fireworks and movies on the beach. Other area beaches include Martell’s, Risden’s, Maryland Avenue, and Bradshaw’s.
15. Waterworks Family Aquatic Complex – West Windsor
You'll feel like you're in an amusement park at this West Windsor complex, featuring a 9,000-square-foot pool, a lap pool, and more. Kids will love the 1,700-square foot wading pool with sprinklers, two-story water slide, and play area. There are changing and shower facilities, plus a full-service concession stand. Non-members can enjoy the pool for a daily fee.
16. Duke Farms – Hillsborough
Take a hike at this nature preserve. There are 18 miles of trails to choose from, plus a great farm-to-table cafe and educational center that offers a sustainability scavenger hunt among other kid-friendly programming. Please note that the buildings are temporarily closed, and Saturday visits require a FREE entry pass.
Ride the mini train at Historic Smithville village. Photo by Eli Christman via Flickr
If you're looking for old-fashioned family fun, head down to the charming village just north of Atlantic City. The 40-plus shops and boutiques include a candy shop, a toy store, an antique arcade, and even a year-round Christmas shop. If your little ones love rides, climb aboard the adorable train and carousel for a small fee at the village green. Plus, take in all the scenery along Lake Meone by renting paddleboats. Smithville hosts many FREE events throughout the year, including car shows, Witch's Day Out, and holiday lights.
18. Sesame Place – Lancaster, Pa.
Sunny days lie ahead at this theme park. The Sesame Street Neighborhood features dry rides, a water park, parades, and dining, all while surrounded by lovable Muppets. Indoor shows are currently on hold. The park requires online reservations and is operating at a reduced capacity.
19. Seaside Heights
A few exits south of Asbury Park is this shore destination that's home to Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach. This combo amusement park is packed with games, rides, arcades, food stands, and water park attractions. Recent additions include the Flying Elephants, Crazy Cabs, and Mermaid Parade rides, perfect for little ones.
Princeton's Terhune Orchards is a pretty spot for peach picking. Photo courtesy of the orchard.
20. Terhune Orchards – Princeton
Summertime is the perfect time for pick-your-own strawberries (June), cherries (June), blueberries (July), and peaches (August). Terhune has pick-your-own crops, various festivals, and a farm store filled with delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. There is also a winery featuring wine made with farm-fresh ingredients and a barnyard full of animals for the kids. If you're there on a Tuesday, the kids can participate in the Read & Pick program, held twice a month.
21. Poconos Mountains – Pennsylvania
This outdoorsy area is a great nearby destination for a day trip or short family vacation. There's horseback riding, hiking, camping, shopping, kayaking, and more, or you can ride the waves at Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark's awesome wave pool.
22. Storybook Land – Egg Harbor Township
Step into a fairy tale at this great little amusement park for young children, which features (you guessed it) a storybook theme. Try the Beanstalk Bounce or ride a Happy Dragon. Whatever attractions you choose, this amusement park is bound to be a hit with any little one.
The beach, the boardwalk, rides, and more—Asbury Park has everything a family could ask for in a day trip. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
23. Asbury Park
This up-and-coming hotspot for NJ families features a beach, shops, boardwalk, splash park (though currently closed), and great places to eat—everything you need to keep your gang happy on a summer outing. Be sure to check out Asbury Lanes—this bowling alley-turned-music venue, which first opened in 1962, was rebuilt in 2018 with state-of-the-art bowling technology and expanded performance space.
24. Diggerland – West Berlin
Take playing in the sand to a whole new level at this construction-themed amusement park in West Berlin. Young guests can climb aboard real work equipment, and military trucks to check them out and even give them a try. Hop on a backhoe, big digger, demolition truck, or excavator. Bonus: The Water Main splash park has just debuted. Diggerland also stays open for weekends and school holidays, Labor Day through November.
25. Liberty State Park – Jersey City
Enjoy spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, not to mention the Statue of Liberty, at this amazing Jersey City park. Bike the scenic paths, run wild in the park's two playgrounds, or explore nature at a guided outdoor event, such as a low-tide beach walk or summer shorebird walk. Adjacent to the park is the hands-on favorite Liberty Science Center, with its current exhibit SUE: The T. rex Experience and Junior Days on Thursdays and Fridays.
Enjoy the beautiful beaches at Long Branch. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
26. Long Branch
Like other beach towns, this one offers oceanfront parks and playgrounds, kid-friendly entertainment, bands on the beach, and plenty of eateries. Dine and shop along the boardwalk at Pier Village, where you'll find Coney Waffle, home to some seriously outrageous milkshake creations and a new carousel. Don't miss the annual fireworks on Independence Day and outdoor summer movies.
27. Van Saun Park – Paramus
This busy park is a golden ticket to a day-long visit filled with fun. The huge playground features climbing structures for big kids, small slides for toddlers, plus lots of balance beams, swing sets, and rock walls galore. Even more, the entire play area is ADA-accessible, so all kids can play. Not to mention, it’s next door to a spectacular splash pad, old-fashioned carousel, soccer field, and miniature train ride. Need more? How about a zoo, home to lions, reptiles, and farm friends? There really is something for everyone here.
28. Watchung Reservation – Mountainside
Complete with hiking trails of all levels, a sensory trail, the Loop playground, and a nature center, this sprawling Union County reservation offers plenty to fill a day or even a summer. Stroll through history at the 18th century Deserted Village or take a horseback ride at Watchung Stable. The Trailside Nature & Science Center, a FREE interactive, hands-on museum with live animals and a discovery play area, is temporarily closed to the public.
Ocean Oasis at Morey's Piers debuts a slew of new attractions for the 2021 season. Photo by Kip Dawkins
Combine your family's cravings for thrill rides, water rides, arcade games, and fun in the sun with a visit to the popular shore destination, which is actually comprised of three towns: North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest. Morey's Piers and Water Parks is the focal point of fun and includes three main entertainment areas with more than 100 rides. Morey's recently welcomed the Runaway Tram, patterned after the old-time Wildwood Sightseer Tramcar, which made its debut almost 70 years ago.
30. Land of Make Believe – Hope
The charming theme park is the perfect day trip for families with younger kids, with a great selection of classic kiddie rides and attractions. Beyond the Carousel, Jumping Frogs, Ferris Wheel, and Tilt-A-Whirl, the Scream Machine 360 provides hair-raising thrills for bigger kids and adults. Don’t forget the swimsuits so the kids can cool off at the Pirate's Cove water park area, which is included with the price of admission.
This article first published in 2014 and is updated annually.