Unique Spring Road Trip Destinations in NJ

by Will Rittweger
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Are you tired of the same old, same old? New Jersey is home to many niche destinations, both natural and manmade. Visiting a cave, castle, waterfall, or wildflower patch is an uncommon adventure for some. However, eccentric pilgrimages are perfect antidotes for the cabin fever that comes with winter. Nature lovers, curious explorers, and history buffs— consider these unique spring road trip destinations in NJ.


New Jersey Botanical Gardens – Ringwood, NJ

Located in Ringwood State Park, the New Jersey Botanical Gardens are a property full of flowers and interesting plant life, rather than a wildflower meadow. The lack of space is compensated by its density, variability, and overall beauty. Besides maintaining a wildflower garden, they have perennial, hosta, rhododendron, lilac, Italianate, and annual gardens. The grounds are inundated with trails, bridges, ponds, and frogs that will dazzle the eyes come springtime. The mouse plants, red cardinal flowers, primroses, marsh marigolds, bloodroots, and flame azaleas are fairytale-like. Self-guided tours are available, along with free 45-minute guided tours every Sunday at 2 p.m. from May to October, highlighting certain seasonal specialties on the premises.


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Kittatinny Valley State Park – Newton, NJ

Popular for weddings, the Kittatinny Valley State Park contains a vast wildflower meadow with beautiful hemlocks and black-eyed Susan flowers that can grow up to three feet tall. The Kittatinny Valley State Park Trail is a 7.5-mile trail, open from dawn until dusk. The trail is approximately a three-hour walk round-trip. There are many lakes available for kayaking and canoeing, including Lake Aeroflex, NJ’s deepest natural lake at 110 feet deep. For the fishing fanatics, you can catch land-locked salmon, brown trout, and rainbow trout in the lake. The park is a great place to get your Vitamin D and enjoy yourself while doing so.

Warinanco Park – Roselle, NJ

Warinanco Park looks like a canvas of nature, dazzling at its best. Union County workers and volunteers planted wildflower seeds around the park’s lake about 10 years ago. Geese used to roam and own the field before, but now the meadow is filled with lush flowers. Many species of butterflies now glide throughout the meadow and birds build their nests with materials found within the area. Neither of these could have been possible if those workers and volunteers hadn’t planted those seeds a decade ago. The park serves as a wholesome example of Warren Buffett’s popular adage— “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” The park is open from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays and 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on weekends.


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Greenway Meadows – Princeton, NJ

The Greenway Meadows is a 55-acre park in Princeton, NJ. Along the Scott & Hella McVay Poetry Trail, dedicated in 2010, 49 nature-centered poems are posted on placards. It is less than a mile long and quite an opportune spot for a 30-minute or less walk. Albeit short for a hike, the path is worth the trip for its unique sightseeing and variety of wildflowers. Flowers include the anise hyssop, slender mountain mint, foxglove beardtongue, butterfly weed, purple coneflower, little bluestem, gray-head coneflower, and rattlesnake master. The name of the lattermost, a thistle-like flower, comes from its historical use as a treatment for snake bites.


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Sybil’s Cave – Hoboken, NJ

In 1832, on the property of the Stevens Family— namesake for the Stevens Institute of Technology— a 30-foot natural spring was mined and called Sybil’s Cave. The cave is the oldest manmade structure in Hoboken, where a Gothic-style entrance gate was built in front of the cave. Patrons of the time would visit the cave and drink its fine spring water, all the while observing an early New York City skyline. Among its compelling history, scandal surrounds the cave, as a provocative model’s dead body was found floating near the cave in 1841. The murder case went cold and remains an unsolved mystery to this day. Sybil’s Cave was excavated in 2007 and repurposed with a new, photogenic Gothic-style entrance gate, similar to the original. The cave door is locked but remains an intriguing Hoboken point of interest.


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Sterling Hill Mine – Ogdensburg, NJ

Home to a quarter-mile walk, the Sterling Hill Mine is the fourth oldest mine in the country. Colorful, otherworldly rocks with magnificent fluorescence are available for the naked eye to see. The site presents tours, museums, gift shops, rock collections, a snack bar, observatory, and special events including a collaborative event with New Jersey Paranormal. The mission statement of the museum is “to tell the story of the Sterling Hill Mine and to inspire lifelong learning about Earth sciences, engineering, and the responsible use of the Earth’s nonrenewable resources.” The mine is quite a fascinating look and is sure to captivate the attention of adults and children alike.

Marble Hill Ice Cave – Phillipsburg, NJ

Formerly the host to the Fulmer Mine site, opened in 1860, the Marble Hill Ice Cave is situated on the Delaware River, right next to the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. Along the easy, hour-long, 1.9-mile loop trail trek, you’ll find yourself gazing upon Marble Hill. The history of the cave and mine are displayed on a small sign in front of the hill. Inside of the cave, over one-foot-long icicles point out from both the ceiling and floor. This site is perfect for hiking and its distinctive cavern icicles.


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Silver Spray Falls –  Layton, NJ

The first waterfall on this list is hidden, hence its nickname of “Hidden Falls.” Silver Spray Falls is the needle in the haystack of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Driving on Mountain Road, visitors can park at the nearby Buttermilk Falls parking lot half a mile away or at the small, dirt pull-off area. The pull-off area, only the size of a single car or two, is where hikers find the trailhead, plunging right into the woods. Largely unmarked, small, beaten paths compose the trail to the waterfall. In order to find Silver Spray Falls, visitors must stay along the small stream and listen closely for the distant echoes of the crashing water. The journey is about a fourth of a mile, full of beautiful, mostly untouched wilderness. Be sure to bring bug spray, tick repellent, and a good camera.

Buttermilk Falls – Layton, NJ

Half a mile down the road from the entrance of the Silver Spray Falls, Buttermilk Falls is the more accessible, taller waterfall of the two. Visitors can take Mountain Road off of Tillman Road and park in the lot directly across from the waterfall. It is quite a picture from its ground level, but stairs take viewers atop the waterfall for higher angles. The 85-foot tall waterfall— the tallest waterfall in NJ— is one of the most beautiful natural sights the state has to offer. On a good day, a steady flow of water cascades down the flight of rocks, demanding gravity and your attention. The nearby seven-mile trail is host to more hidden falls and sublime natural wonders as well.


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VanCampens Glen Falls – Hardwick Township, NJ

The third waterfall on this list is also situated in the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. To get to VanCampens Glen Falls, adventurers can drive along Old Mine Road and pull down into the lot marked “VanCampens Glen Recreation Area.” The two-mile trail passes along a small stream known as VanCampens Brook, seated in a spacious valley. The path has steps, staircases, and bridges. There are two unique waterfalls along the path, the second of which is larger and holds vast areas for swimming. The natural pool rivals any in-ground swimming pool. The small valley is a worthwhile escape for naturalists to flee into the great outdoors. You are likely to spot frogs, spiders, owls, and other interesting wildlife along the way.


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The Castle at Skylands Manor – Ringwood, NJ

Close to the New Jersey-New York border, the Castle at Skylands Manor is located on the same property as The Botanical Gardens of New Jersey, the 100-acre formal garden area within the larger 1,000-acre Skylands woodlands. Along with its dual purpose as a wedding venue and hotel containing 21 different rooms, the manor presents itself as a captivating piece of historical architecture. Self-guided tours and guided tours of the manor cost $10 for general admission, however, discounts are offered for seniors and children. Free, guided tours of the Botanical Gardens are also available every Sunday at 2 p.m. from May-October. It is a great opportunity to take in some natural beauty and state history on a budget—all in a day’s time.

Iviswold Castle at Felician University – Rutherford, NJ

Originally built in 1869, Iviswold Castle was a two-story home created for land developer and newspaperman Lloyd W. Tomkins. When it was bought in 1887, the new homeowner and president of American Book Company, David Brinkerhoff Ivison, transformed the structure into a three-story remodeling of the Château de Chaumont of France. Fairleigh Dickinson University owned the building and used it as an academic facility for over 50 years, but sold it to Felician University in 1997. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and later renovated in 2013. The castle’s beautiful stained glass is a sight for sore, beauty-hungry eyes.

Kip’s Castle – Verona, NJ

Built from 1902-1905, Kip’s Castle is a 9,000-square-foot mansion replicating medieval Norman architecture. The castle has quite an interesting history. The property was purchased in 1980 by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the famous Indian Swami and mystic known as Osho. The guru reportedly used the castle’s facilities as a compound to conduct his cult’s experimental escapades and house nearly 200 of its members. Osho sold the castle in 1984 after growing his intentional community in Wasco County, Oregon which began earlier in 1981. The story of Osho’s controversial Oregon commune is the subject of the popular Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country. Nowadays, the castle’s interior is refined and eloquent, serving as a premier wedding venue. Kip’s Castle Park is open from dawn until dusk seven days a week. With free admission, the castle offers self-guided tours from 12 p.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

Alnwick Hall – Morristown, NJ

Also known as “The Abbey”, Alnwick Hall is a former member of what was known as the “Millionaires’ Row” homes, the series of illustrious Gilded Age mansions on Madison Avenue in Morristown. The Late Gothic Revival castle was built in 1904, inspired by Alnwick Castle of Northumberland, England. Alnwick Hall is a 20,000-square-foot mansion with 30 rooms and 11 baths. Although it was built for Edward P. Meany, the New Jersey Judge Advocate General and director of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, it is an interesting piece of history worth a look in North Jersey today.


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Hidden Gems

Washington Crossing State Park – Titusville, NJ

Situated along the Delaware River, Washington Crossing State Park is a 3,500-acre park full of rich history and enjoyable recreations— one piece of history being the Johnson Ferry House, a farmhouse and tavern built in the mid-1700s where General George Washington and his troops stopped after crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Night of 1776. Washington and the Americans would rout nearly a thousand Hessian mercenaries hours later on the following morning, December 26th, in the Battle of Trenton. The massive victory proved to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War. The park has an incredible open air theatre, nature center, museum, nature preserve, campsites, playground, and interesting trails. Historical reenactments and demonstrations are put up, commemorating the history of the American Revolution and Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware.


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Durand Park – Freehold, NJ

Open from dawn to dusk all year round, Durand Park is a hidden gem off of Randolph Road and Colts Neck Road. It is a perfect site for birding as many rare species are spotted at the park. The location is a helpful stopping point for birds in the course of their migration. Bird species include scarlet tanagers, wood thrushes, ovenbird, veeries, and hermit thrushes. Besides birding, the park is perfect for fishing, hiking, wildflowers, and escaping into nature. There are arboretum trees throughout the winding paths and a butterfly habitat. If you walk to the butterfly habitat canopy, through the field, continuing onto the wooded path, and turn right, you’ll find yourself looking at a secret meadow tucked far away. It is picturesque. It is worth a visit.


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Blue Hole – Hammonton, NJ

There are many blue holes or cenotes in the Garden State. The two most popular are the Cains Mill Road blue hole lake, the larger of the two, which is a common site for partying, off-roading, and swimming. The large pond has a record of swimmers who’ve met their end or come close to it. The second, the Blue Hole of Hammonton, is located off of Inskip Road, about a mile west of the Cains Mill Road blue hole. This one is a smaller, 50-foot wide, reportedly bottomless body of water hidden in the Winslow Fish and Wildlife Management Area in the heart of the Pinelands. It is largely abandoned, and rumored to be one of the active stomping grounds of the infamous Jersey Devil.

If you get over the myths and legends, hiking to the Blue Hole is a fun adventure, with birdhouses, some quicksand, and a small fire pit along the way. Bring a map and GPS or a phone— you’ll need it.

Sunset Beach – Cape May, NJ

A popular site for ocean sunset photography, uncommon for New Jersey, Sunset Beach in Cape May is a beautiful, picturesque beach known for its flag-raising ceremony held daily from Memorial Day weekend through September since 1973, flying flags from the caskets of veterans. The beach is also famous for being the site of the Wreck of the SS Atlantus, one of 12 concrete ships built during World War I.

The Atlantus was purchased in 1926 for use on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry system and on June 8th of the same year, a storm broke the vessel free from her moorings and she ran aground 150-feet off of the Sunset Beach coast. Parts of the sunken ship are still in plain view from the beach. Along with its delightful aesthetics and interesting history, Sunset Beach offers other attractions including mini-golf and two nearby stores, selling tasty sodas, hot sauces, jewelry, shells, Cape May apparel, other trinkets, and nearly anything else you can imagine.

Walking along the beach, you stumble upon Cape May Diamonds, little, clear quartz rocks that are refined into diamond-like crystals. If you’re even luckier, you’ll spot whales from the sand. If you’re not so lucky, there is still mini-golf, the Cape May Lighthouse, and a 100-foot tall World War II lookout tower available for inside viewing on weekends starting March 25th. There is plenty to see at the great state of New Jersey’s edge.

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Photo by Will Rittweger

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