We were about a mile into a whimsical nature walk through secret gardens, surrounded by trees dressed for autumn, when dozens of leaves started dancing above us, fluttering gracefully down like rain. Time stood still for a moment as we stood on tip toes and eagerly reached to catch them before they blanketed the cool earth. “Ooh, Mama. I got one! I got two!” As I admired the leaves above and below us, I saw beauty in all sizes, shapes, and colors and was reminded of how God sees beauty in each one of us, too.
Our trek through the woods offered glimpses of interesting creatures. A turquoise and black beetle played peek-a-boo with our toddler, disappearing and reappearing under the leaves, flipping and turning until resting on his back and kicking with all his might to start again. A black squirrel darted across our path. A yellow ladybug tickled our preschooler’s fingertips before taking flight. We counted 22.214.171.124.5.6 koi fish swimming happily in a pond and listened to a chorus of crickets singing in the woods.
The Annual Garden and Perennial Garden offered welcome splashes of color, but the Hosta Garden with its low hanging trees, curvy paths, and rock formations was one of our favorites. We ran through open fields, played “I Spy”, and busily searched for planets and dwarf planets, soaking up fun facts on a scale-model solar system walk.
We’ve now visited the botanical garden 3x since the summer, and each visit teaches us something new. What a neat natural classroom!
After working up an appetite, be sure to stop by Shepherds Lake (2 minute drive) for a lovely picnic.
The Park Mama Tips:
- Park in Parking Lot A. This positions you closest to the restroom at the carriage house (the only one open on the grounds due to COVID).
- No picnicking allowed here. Never fear though. Shepherds Lake is a 2 minute drive down the road and you can picnic (with grills) to your heart’s delight. There are also bathrooms there near the “beach”.
- There’s a paved road (shared with cars) that loops around the park, or you can cut through the grassy areas. The gardens are largely tucked away within the grassy areas.
- Hiking is toddler-friendly – flat and a little rocky, but well marked and easy to navigate with littles.
- There’s a shooting range near Shepherds Lake and black bear hunting was permitted during our visit. If the sound of gunfire is a trigger for you, another park may be best.
- Beware of rattlesnakes. Yes, they live here. No, I haven’t seen any.
- If you’re looking for more fall foliage hot spots, check out this handy map from the NJ Forest Service. It’s updated weekly on Fridays on their Facebook page and the version I’ve linked to is current as of 10/23/2020.
For more information: