A Nice Day for a Hike
Yesterday, a fellow CAS mom asked me if I had any suggestions for local hikes to do with her family on Mother's Day. We have a mutual friend whom we both occasionally hike with, so she knew I enjoyed being outdoors--either with my family, with just my husband, or with just "mom friends." She said she was hoping to find a place within an hour drive (could be a bit more if really special) that is good for a family with two elementary-age boys. (She also mentioned a place nearby for a light lunch. I misread that, and thought "picnic lunch," so I thought of some places with picnic tables.) This area, and Morris County specifically, has so many amazing places to hike. A friend and I have gone on the "Baby & Me" hikes with a guide from the Great Swamp many times, meeting for the hike at a different park each time. I am past the "hiking with baby" stage in my life, but these hikes are actually open to anyone, not just parents with babies (must be in back carrier), so many adults go just to have a group to hike with and a guide. I especially like the hikes because they meet at a different trail each week, and you have a guide (usually Janis from the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, who is awesome!) so you don't really have to pay attention to trail markings. Plus, the guide usually tells you nature info, such as the time we found a wood frog and she told us all about them! The Baby and Me hikes are every Tuesday, from 9:30-11am, $2 per adult, and you need to preregister. For more information, check out the Morris Parks calendar here.
So, back to my hiking suggestions. Assuming that she has explored the very local hiking areas (Great Swamp, Giralda path, Loantaka, etc.), I focused on five that are a bit further away. Here's what I sent her:
1) (top choice)
in Long Valley (maybe 40 min away?):
Great loop trail that runs along a creek at one point. Park in the lot, then walk along paved trail. Not too far down the trail, there is a stairway and path that leads down the steep hill. Go down the steep hill, hook to the right, and there is a picnic table on a small island in the middle of the creek. If you don't eat there, I think there is a grove of picnic tables at the farthest point in the loop trail, along the creek.
in Watchung Reservation in Mountainside (maybe 25 min away)
(Great for iffy weather since Nature Center is indoors.)
Follow the signs for the Loop Playground, and park at the top of the Loop lot above the playground. Kids can play at the awesome playground. There are picnic tables there, too. Then walk up the grass up the hill along the forest line to get to the Trailside Nature Center. Usually open 12-5pm. Free. It is AMAZING! The main floor has taxidermy animals, and drawers of bug specimens. Also a neat room where it is dark and they have sounds of the night. Downstairs is a pond with turtles and fish. Get a trail map at the front desk. Many trails start there.
in Upper Black Eddy, PA (1 hour away)
(The link above goes to my recent post about our trip there.)
Basically a field filled with boulders that ring when you hit them with a hammer. Take your own hammers. Also a trail to a waterfall/creek and other trails. Only a few picnic tables in parking lot, though. To get there, you travel along Rt. 78, which is a nice ride through farms, etc.
, in PA (over an hour away)
Whole complex. You need to pay to hike here, but it is beautifully maintained (cool trails, many within the cliffs, with railings made from logs). Lots of choices of length of trails. Can be steep. Complex also has mini golf, mining for gem stones, large picnic grove, maze, Native American museum, etc. Sometimes we have been it has been pretty crowded.
in Montville (maybe 30 min away?)
Hike starts at Pyramid Mountain Nature Center, then up to neat boulder that rests on other rocks. Link has photos. Might be picnic tables near beginning.
If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them! Happy hiking!