We've got 20 ideas for NJ summer day trips your family can take without leaving the state—and many are low cost. Whether it's gathering fresh fruit at a pick-your-own farm, swimming at the lake, hitting the Jersey shore's beaches and boardwalk, or visiting an amusement park, grab the camera and hit the road!
Need more inspiration? Check out our NJ Family Day Trip and Getaway Guide for even more ideas.
If it's too hot or rainy to head outside, look to our indoor guide and rainy day suggestions to keep the good times rolling.
Cape May boasts pretty beaches and a walkable town that seems drawn from a fairy tale. Photo by mbtrama via Flickr.
1. Whether you're looking for fun at the beach, great food, biking, fishing, historic tours, whale and dolphin watching, or fun at the boardwalk, beautiful Cape May 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. If theme parks are more your family's speed, check out Morey's Piers and Beachfront Waterpark in nearby Wildwood.
2. Cattus Island County Park in Toms River sits on 530 acres and boasts miles of nature trails, boardwalks through the wetlands, crabbing, hiking, nature walks, picnicking, and more. The Butterfly Garden will bloom in late summer with many plants that draw butterflies, while the newly renovated Cooper Environmental Center has exhibits about the park and the Barnegat Bay.
RELATED: Best Jersey Shore Beaches for Families: Sandy Hook to Cape May
Go gothic at Grounds for Sculpture. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.
3. Children (and adults) of all ages will get a kick out of Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, a 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, including the Tots on Tour program and Young Artists Workshop. Some local libraries offer free tickets as part of their Museum Pass program.
Hit the water (literally) at the Keansburg Amusement Park and Runaway Rapids Water Park. Photo courtesy of the park.
4. At Keansburg Amusement Park, young kids will have a blast on tons of kiddie rides, games, and arcades, while older kids will 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 (separate admission fee). Check the website for values and combo deals. Or make it a beach day at Keansburg's admission-free beach.
5. Hike, swim, fish, or camp—your family can do it all at Cheesequake State Park in Manalapan. There's a large assortment of things to do at this state park, 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.
6. Bring the kids to learn about wolves and watch them in their natural habitat at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia. Take a 90-minute Wolf Watch tour at 10:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. (every day except Mondays); reservations are required on weekdays. 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.
RELATED: Great Day Trips to NJ State Forests
The amusement rides at Jenkinson's Boardwalk are hard to beat for little kids. Photo courtesy of Laurie Rein.
7. Summertime in NJ hardly seems complete without a trip to the Jersey shore, and Point Pleasant is the perfect spot for families. Pack the day with time on Jenkinson’s Beach, Jenkinson's Boardwalk, and Jenkinson’s Aquarium—all in the same location. The boardwalk has food, games, and rides, with wristband prices on Tuesdays (noon – 6 p.m.) and Fridays (5–11 p.m.). Check out the Adventure Lookout Rope Course (a junior course for kids is also available), play a round of mini-golf, or visit the funhouse. Combo tickets are available. Other area beaches include Martell’s, Risden’s, Maryland Avenue, and Bradshaw’s.
8. Sandy Hook National Seashore is a seven-mile stretch of beach and a national park all in one! Spend the day fishing, swimming, bird-watching, or simply lying out in the sun. Try to arrive early. When Sandy Hook's parking lots reach capacity for the day (which it often does on weekends in the summer), the gates are closed.
RELATED: 15 Awesome NJ Water Parks for the Kids
Ride the mini train at the Historic Smithville village. Photo by Eli Christman via Flickr.
9. Spend some time at your local park, or if you're looking for something new to explore, Colonial Park in Somerset has lots to do. From unique playground equipment to mini-golf to paddle boats, you won't get tired of this park very quickly.
10. If you're looking for old-fashioned family fun, head down to the charming village of Historic Smithville, 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 paddle boats.
11. The Statue of Liberty makes for a fantastic day trip for school-age kids, but you'll need to get tickets ahead of time to climb the 377 steps from the main lobby to the crown. (Note that there's a minimum height requirement for climbers.) A visit to Ellis Island—a quick ferry ride from Liberty State Park—is also a great idea for the kids. Book a standard ticket to just enjoy the grounds and the museum at Ellis Island if you're traveling with little ones.
Princeton's Terhune Orchards are a pretty spot for peach picking. Photo courtesy of the orchard.
12. Summertime is the perfect time for pick-your-own strawberries (June), cherries (June), blueberries (July), and peaches (August). Terhune Orchards in Princeton 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.
13. Tomahawk Lake Water Park in Sparta sits on 200 acres of lakefront and 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 featuring an incredible 20-acre lake.” The water park features a 400-foot body slide, racing slide, a 500-foot tube ride, boats, and water coasters. It also offers an area for younger kids called “Papoose Land” with water slides and kiddie canoes. Admission includes parking, beach and swimming facilities, Papoose Land, use of picnic area, Kiddie Water World, and Cherokee Corner. This park is cash-only, but there is an ATM available on-site.
14. Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange is one of the state's top zoos, offering a variety of animal exhibits and children's programming. In the summer, take advantage of the cooling misting stations to beat the heat. Zoo rides include a carousel, ponies, a train ride, and play area. The Zoo Café offers snacks and a full lunch menu. While you're there, take advantage of everything South Mountain Reservation has to offer, including the Treetop Adventure Course, the paddle boats, mini-golf, and playground. Check our NJ zoo and aquarium listing for even more options.
15. Waterworks Family Aquatic Complex in West Windsor features 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. If you are a non-resident, you can join the pool for a yearly fee. Day passes are also available.
16. Take a hike at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. The are 18 miles of trails to choose from, plus a great farm-to-table cafe and educational center with several kid-friendly exhibits.
17. Take your tot to meet Elmo, Big Bird, Zoe, and the rest of the gang at Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA. Your little ones will love the rides, slides, parades, shows, and character meet-and-greets.
18. Asbury Park is an up-and-coming hotspot for NJ families. There's a beach, shops, boardwalk, splash park, and great places to eat—everything you need to keep your gang happy on a summer outing.
19. The Poconos Mountains is a great nearby destination for a day trip or short family vacation. There's horseback riding, hiking, camping, shopping, kayaking, and more.
20. Storybook Land in Egg Harbor is a great little amusement park for young children, with (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 preschooler.
Top image: Seward Johnson's The Awakening at Grounds for Sculpture. Photo by Joanne Sosangelis via Flickr.
This article first published in 2014 but has since been updated.