There is an abundance of wonderful places to experience, explore and embrace nature right at our doorstep. Check out some of these great spots to hike, swim, kayak, glimpse a bald eagle or fish on a frozen lake. You may live within sight of Manhattan's skyscrapers but nature still surrounds.
• Bearfort Ridge in West Milford Township is approximately 1,480 feet above sea level, one of the highest elevations in North Jersey.
• Bald Mountain near the New York state line in Mahwah is the highest elevation in Bergen County, at 1,152 feet above sea level.
• The Great Falls in Paterson are the largest falls in the Northeast after Niagara. The water that roars 77 feet down over these falls powered the Industrial Revolution in America.
• The cliffs of the Palisades rise up to 540 feet along the Hudson, developed by the slow cooling of molten material 208 million to 245 million years ago.
• Haring Rock, Tenafly Nature Center, Tenafly. This 15-ton glacial erratic was a favorite rest stop for Tenafly’s Dr. John J. Haring, who traveled by horseback to visit patients in the 1880s.
• Black bears (3,438) roam the woods and marshes north of Route 80 and west of 287, according to state fish and game estimates. While they have caused panic running around Paramus, Fort Lee and West Milford, state officials say no person in New Jersey has been killed by a black bear since 1852.
Great spot for ice fishing
• Greenwood Lake. On the West Milford side, the lake is only 15 feet deep, which means it freezes early. Devoted fishermen pull out bass, pickerel and walleye all winter.
Great park few know about
• Apshawa Preserve, West Milford. Nestled in the heart of the Highlands off Macopin Road in West Milford lies the 576-acre preserve that includes the Butler Reservoir, a thick forest of oak and maple trees and seven miles of trails. Open year round from dawn until dusk.
Great spot for a freshwater dip
• Highlands Natural Pool, Ringwood. This “hidden gem of the Wyanokie Highlands,” is a stream-fed freshwater Olympic-sized pool near Norvin Green State Forest. The pool was carved out of a hillside in 1935. Grounds include a picnic and barbecue area, with access to a recreation field and 21 miles of hiking trails.
Great kid-friendly trails
• Celery Farm Nature Preserve, Allendale. Celery Farm not only has some of the best birding in North Jersey, but it’s also a great place to bring kids due to an easy, level 0.86-mile trail with turtles, frogs, snakes and more.
Great fishing spot
• Bear Swamp Lake off Marion Drive in Oakland is remote – anglers have to hike two miles to get to the lake – but it’s worth it. Largemouth bass and catfish are abundant.
Great spot to search for mollusks
• Barbour’s Pond, Garret Mountain, Woodland Park: Barbour’s Pond is home to at least 18 species of snails and clams.
Great panoramic view of New Jersey and New York
• Rifle Camp Park, Woodland Park. Drive the winding road to the top of the park and you’ll be treated to a sweeping, unobstructed view from Newark and the Goethals Bridge to the Verrazano and lower Manhattan to Riverside Church and the George Washington Bridge.
Great spots to view the stars up close
• Passaic County’s observatory at the top of Rifle Camp Park in Woodland Park has public viewing dates throughout the year. http://www.passaiccountynj.org/content/county-parks-nature-center-and-observatory.html
• The Emil Buehler Trust Observatory is housed at Bergen Community College in Paramus. Public nights are on Fridays. http://www2.bergen.edu/buehler/
• The William D. McDowell Observatory at the Meadowlands Commission headquarters in DeKorte Park, Lyndhurst, is the newest observatory in North Jersey. It is free on Monday and Wednesday evenings. http://www.rst2.edu/meadowlands/marshaccess/Observatory-publicviewingnight.html
Great spot to see a glacier’s mark
• High Mountain Park Preserve, Wayne. There will always be Paterson’s Great Falls, but a quiet, scenic spot to appreciate the erosive power of water might be the notch called Franklin Gorge in the Second Watchung (Preakness) Mountain along the border of Wayne and Franklin Lakes, just north of Barbour Pond in Wayne. Access point is intersection of Indian and Dakota Trail Drives in Franklin Lakes.
Great accidental pond
• Mehrhof Pond, Little Ferry. This pond, on Mehrhof Road across from Losen Slote Creek Park, was created after clay mining activity broke through the water table and flooded the clay pit. The pond is more than 70 feet deep in spots and hosts thousands of overwintering ducks.
Great handicap-access trail
• Marsh Discovery Trail, DeKorte Park, Lyndhurst. The trail is a floating boardwalk that allows visitors to cross over a tidal marsh impoundment to see migrating shorebirds and resident ducks in all seasons. This was the first wheelchair-accessible trail in New Jersey.
Great spot to see nesting ravens
• Laurel Hill County Park, Secaucus. For the past several years, ravens have built large nests and produced offspring in the rocky cliffs on the north side of Laurel Hill, easily viewed from the parking lots of the county park. You might even see them engage in aerial combat with attacking hawks.
Great spot to kayak
• Mill Creek Marsh, Secaucus. Free public launch ramp at Mill Creek Point provides access for kayakers who want to explore the marshes. Glide through the water looking for tree swallows in their nest boxes, double-crested cormorants atop dilapidated tide gates, herons and egrets feeding along shorelines. The Manhattan skyline provides a backdrop.
Great urban park
• James Braddock North Hudson County Park, North Bergen. You will be hard-pressed to find as large a park in as densely populated an area as this 167-acre oasis. The park is home to plenty of playgrounds and ballparks. But it also houses a bird sanctuary and a 15-acre lake stocked with trout.
Great place to take out-of-towners
• Fort Lee Historic Park. Where else can you get a dose of Revolutionary War history and breathtaking views of New York? The bluff on the Palisades where the Continental Army positioned its batteries over the Hudson in 1776 is now a 33-acre park. The two overlooks offer spectacular views.
Great 18,000-year-old forest
• Overpeck Preserve, Leonia. Discovered in 2008 during the construction of a sewer line, a swath of peat is the last remnant of an ancient forest complete with roots and stems and bark. The 125-acre preserve also has old, thick woods and wetlands, and is an excellent birding spot.
Great spot to see a 200-year-old tree
• Greenbrook Sanctuary, Tenafly. This nature preserve on top of the Palisades is home to the “Lincoln Tree.” The tulip tree took root in 1809, the year Abraham Lincoln was born.
Great spot to see bald eagles
• Lake Shore Drive, Haworth. Bald eagles are making a comeback in North Jersey, and there’s at least one nesting pair around the Oradell Reservoir. You can frequently see them flying over the reservoir. Parking is available in United Water’s recreation parking facility located just north of the company’s water treatment plant.
Great cross-country skiing
• Five miles of cross-country ski trails are available at State Line Lookout off the Palisades Interstate Parkway. These ski trails, marked A–F, should be open within 24 hours after a snow.
Great hike and picnic area
• Take the Peanut Leap cascade trail from the State Line Lookout in Alpine. It follows along the top of the Palisades, then descends to the Hudson, where you will find a waterfall, a picnic spot and the ruins of a garden created in the early 1900s by a local sculptress, who used it as a place to entertain friends from the New York art world.