NEW JERSEY -- There are 58 national parks in the United States that are maintained by the National Parks Service. Parks such as Yellowstone (Wyoming) and Yosemite (California) are prime tourist destinations, but did you know that the Garden State is home to four national parks?
Morristown National Historic Park, the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Great Falls of the Passaic River are New Jersey's national parks with each offering a unique taste of the Garden State's diverse landscape. All are a fun, summertime, budget-friendly day trip.
- Great Falls of the Passaic River is considered the second biggest waterfall in volume east of the Mississippi River. (Niagara Falls is the largest.) Located in Paterson, the falls are routinely listed as one of New Jersey's bucket list destinations. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Visiting the Great Falls of the Passaic River is free.
Welcome Center hours are seasonal, but during the summer the center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Mondays through Sundays. Guided tours are offered during summertime months from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Visitors can explore the falls with a guided or self-guided tour.
- Morristown National Historic Park has the distinction of being America's first national park. The 1,676 acre park incorporates 24 miles of hiking and biking trails, a visitor center, an 18th Century farm, George Washington's headquarters, and more. Since the area was occupied by the Continental Army and served as a staging point for Washington and his troops, the park holds historical significance and hosts special events and Revolutionary War re-enactments throughout the year.
The park is open year-round except for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. As of January 2018, entrance to the park and its facilities is free. The park opens at 8:00 a.m. Most buildings are open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and offer expanded hours during the summer.
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area offers stunning views of the Delaware River as it winds its way through the Appalachian Mountains. The Delaware Water Gap is an outdoor lovers paradise, offering canoeing, kayaking, biking, camping, swimming, fishing, and more. Turtle Beach is a popular summer hotspot. This grassy riverside beach has picnic tables, restrooms and swimming. Lifeguards are on duty during summer weekends. Fees are charged from April through October for vehicles going to the Watergate Recreation Site and Turtle Beach within the park.
- Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area hosts more than 2 million visitors annually. It is an extremely popular spot for biking, hiking, surf fishing, camping, and birding. It is also home to Fort Hancock, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Battery Pottery, the Battery Gunnison, and the only legal nude beach in the Garden State.
Entrance to the park is free, but a vehicle charge for folks headed to one of Sandy Hook's picturesque beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day due have a parking fee. Beach parking is $15 per day or $75 for the season. Oversized vehicles have a $30 daily charge. However, if you are headed to the park to visit the lighthouse, Fort Hancock or other non-beach related activities, parking is free. If planning a beach visit in the summer, arrive early. The park closes when vehicle lots reach their limits.
Since all four parks are operated and maintained by the National Parks Service, be sure to check their websites before heading out. Alerts are posted for various weather or safety related issues and are constantly updated.