NJ Botanical Garden: Ringwood, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My boys LOVE flowers, but they love picking them and giving them away even more. The other day, my 21 month old lovingly picked a bunch of dandelions and clovers and handed me a small bouquet just beaming. My 4 year old tells me, “Mama, put them in water so that they last a long, long time.” Ladies, let me tell you that being a boy mama does have its perks.

I love flowers just as much as they do and my favorite respite in the city is the NY Botanical Garden. When I discovered that the NJ Botanical Garden was open AND free, I said we’re going! I know, I know…I took a risk by taking them to a botanical garden. We talked over and over again about how the flowers are just to look at…don’t touch. Spoiler alert…they didn’t pick any.

After a breathtakingly scenic drive through the Ramapo Mountains, we were greeted by a huge buck and rattle snake warning signs. Umm, am I in the right place? We avoided the hiking trails (no one wants to cross paths with a rattle snake with 2 littles in tow) and stuck to the paved paths, but soon discovered these gardens are hidden.

We couldn’t see much from the paved paths, so my little 4 year old map carrying navigator blazed the way forward through a grassy area following the footsteps of a few folks way ahead in the distance. We’re walking along and I’m about to let my toddler out of the stroller to run free when I see a SNAKE slithering BETWEEN MY FEET and quickly under the stroller. EEK!! I screamed, my toddler looks around to see what he missed, and my 4 year old of course wants to PICK UP the snake. “BACK TO THE PAVED PATH, NOW!!” as I scrambled to turn the stroller and hunt for the snake while lifting my 4 year old and dashing out of there. Did I mention that I hate snakes? It was a harmless garden snake, but it scared me enough to abandon my hunt for lilacs. My kids on the other hand thought it was soooo cool that we had a snake sighting. Ew.

We moseyed over to the perennial gardens instead, admired the beautiful flowering plants, found a cool koi pond, studied an array of bugs, and watched chipmunks play tag until we were caught in a refreshingly cool summer rain. We bolted back to the car to eat Pirate’s booty and apples. What an adventure.

The next time we went (YES, there was a next time), we brought Daddy for an extra pair of snake spotting eyes, parked in a different lot (there are 3), and ventured down another (longer) paved path. A passerby warned us that a mama bear and her 2 cubs had just been spotted on this path the day before, so to proceed with caution. What kind of garden is this? I’m ready to turn around, but hubby and the kiddos want to keep going. My heart’s jumping out of my chest, there’s not a person in sight, and I’m convinced we’re going to come face to face with a mama bear at any second. Hubby picks up a fallen limb and lugs it around (like that’s providing any protection against a mama bear!). It’s dry rotted by the way and crumbles at the slightest tap after he carried it for at least a quarter of a mile. Haha. No bear sighting and very few wildflowers, but another epic adventure was in the books. Phew.

If you’re feeling adventurous, then go to the NJ Botanical Garden.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • Park in parking lot A. It’s the closest to the bathrooms (very clean) and also to the perennial garden and koi pond. So beautiful and fun.
  • Be on the lookout for snakes in the grassy areas and on the trails.
  • Much of the gardens require going down rocky paths that were too difficult for our stroller. There’s a 1 mile paved loop, but it’s mostly trees, so plan to baby wear if you’re on the hunt for lots of flowers.
  • No picnicking is allowed on the grounds, so plan to eat in the car.
  • Free entry during the week, but there’s a $5 parking fee on the weekends.

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Published by TheParkMama

Hi, I'm Janet, a city dwelling nature lover and mama bear of toddler and preschool aged explorers. We love discovering uncrowded green spaces within a short drive of Hoboken, NJ that are little kid-friendly - from botanical gardens and nature preserves to arboretums and parks - there's something magical about adventuring together.

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