Sleep Out in September
The Garden State boasts a vast array of parks where you can pitch a tent
If Covid-19 dashed your vacation plans, it’s not too late to take an alternate summer trip the 2020 way: simply, inexpensively and close to home. With warm days and cool evenings, September is the perfect month to go camping, and New Jersey has more than a dozen state parks where you can pitch a tent, make a fire and sleep under the stars.
High Point State Park
As you might guess from the name, High Point State Park offers a special reward for visitors who don’t mind hiking uphill. In this case it’s a panoramic view of three states from 1,803 feet above sea level. In addition to hiking and biking trails, the park features multiple lakes and streams for swimming, boating and angling.
Swartswood State Park
New Jersey’s first state park, Swartswood was established in 1915 to ensure public access to huge Swartswood Lake. While the lake is still the park’s main attraction, with amenities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing and sailing, the park also features several miles of hiking trails.
Jenny Jump State Forest
Whether it’s the Highlands and the Kittatinny Mountains and Valley to the west, the Great Meadows to the east, or the rocky outcroppings along the trails, stunning views are guaranteed when you visit Jenny Jump State Forest, located on its namesake mountain range.
Stokes State Forest
Who wouldn’t be inspired to climb to the top of a place called Sunrise Mountain? You can either hike the steep, rocky trail to the summit or hop in the car and make the short drive. (We won’t tell.) Either way, bring your camera. Another must-see: beautiful Tillman Ravine.
Worthington State Forest
The trails in Worthington State Forest aren’t for the faint of heart; you’ll work for those after-dinner smores. But the spectacular terrain carved out by Ice Age glaciers—including Sunfish Pond, a rock-basin lake surrounded by boulders—is a treat in itself.
Allaire State Park
A network of trails on a floodplain has made Allaire State Park a mecca for hikers and cyclists, and the winding Manasquan River is perfect for fishing and canoeing. Its antique steam trains probably won’t be running, but make sure to check out Allaire Village, a 19th-century iron-making town.
Cheesequake State Park
You like beaches? How about forests—or open fields? Saltwater? Freshwater? Cheesequake State Park, a unique convergence of New Jersey ecosystems, has it all. Depending on when you go, you might sneak in a swim in Hooks Creek Lake (only while lifeguards are on duty).
Spruce Run Recreation Area
Built around a large reservoir, Spruce Run Recreation Area covers 1,290 acres with 15 miles of shoreline. Unfortunately, swimming is closed for 2020, but there are still plenty of other ways to enjoy this natural playground.
Bass River State Forest
One of the coolest natural features of this massive state park is its “pygmy forest,” West Pine Plains Natural Area, a rare, nearly 4,000-acre ecosystem of four-foot-high pine and oak trees. Manmade features include 67-acre Lake Absegami and miles of hiking trails.
Belleplain State Forest
Cape May and Cumberland Counties
Right now you can’t swim in Lake Nummy (once a cranberry bog), but you can still enjoy its beaches and go fishing and boating on its waters. Between the scenic lake and the stands of pine, oak and cedar trees, this park has the rustic charm of everyone’s favorite summer camp.
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest
Burlington and Ocean Counties
With 25 miles of marked trails of all difficulty levels—including one designed for visitors with physical limitations—Brendan T. Byrne State Forest offers outdoor fun all year long. One fascinating feature is archeological evidence of a once-bustling town, site of a glassworks factory that shut down in 1867.
Parvin State Park
With pine forests, a swamp hardwood forest and two lakes providing habitats for diverse wildlife, Parvin State Park is also haunted by a diverse history. It was home for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, summer camp for the children of displaced Japanese Americans in 1943, POW camp for German prisoners in 1944, and haven for Kalmyk refugees in 1952.
Wharton State Forest
Atlantic, Burlington and Camden Counties
From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, Batsto Village was an industrial powerhouse. Now it’s a historical and educational attraction within the largest continuous tract of land in the New Jersey State Park System. That means outdoor, wildlife and history enthusiasts flock to the park all year round.
Check Before You Go
Some parks have opened their tent camping at full capacity, others are operating at half capacity, and—who knows?—some parks may close by the time you read this. It’s 2020; everything is fluid, so go with the flow. Stay current on your preferred park at State.NJ.us.
Don’t Forget Your Mask
Remember, in any New Jersey state park you’ll be asked to wear a mask in public and in indoor spaces, and to stay six feet away from anyone who isn’t part of your family or household.