Willowwood Arboretum: Far Hills, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A beautiful mix of gardens, meadows and forests, Willowwood Arboretum is home to more than 3,500 plant species. We love the variety here – from daffodil fields to bamboo forests, cherry blossoms to towering Norway Spruce, Willowwood Arboretum is breathtakingly beautiful, peaceful, and fun.

Adjacent to the parking lot are tons of daffodils just begging for a family photo. The flat, grassy trail meanders through flowering magnolias, cherry blossoms, and Bradford Pears. Windblown petals dotted the trail and I felt like a bride following a flower girl down the aisle.

After a lovely stroll admiring the flowers, we crossed a fun stone arch bridge over a stream and found ourselves in a bamboo forest. My 4.5 year old wondered aloud how tall bamboo is and how much of it a panda might eat.

We kept discovering new trees, all well labeled, and lovely places to sit and take in the view. I especially enjoyed the Norway Spruce. So peaceful.

As beautiful as it is in Spring, the fall foliage here is simply stunning. Brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows straight out of a picture book.

November 2020

We look forward to many more visits in the coming months when the azaleas, lilacs, roses, and meadow flowers are in full bloom.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • Most of the trails are grassy or paved and totally stroller-friendly. I wouldn’t bring a stroller into the bamboo forest though, it’s too narrow.
  • The bathrooms are closed due to the pandemic. Portable potties are available, but not the cleanest. I recommend bringing a travel potty.
  • The trails are quite muddy after rainfall. Wear waterproof shoes if it has rained recently.
  • Play the license plate game with your littles to make a long drive more fun. Name the states you spot aloud and tally how many different ones you see. You might find some unexpected ones. We found 13 on our drive!

For more information:

What’s in Bloom

Garden Map

Spring at Reeves-Reade Arboretum: Summit, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Spring has sprung at Reeves-Reade Arboretum! We visited earlier this week to take a peek at the daffodil bowl.

After reading the featured story on the storybook trail and admiring the hummingbird sculpture, we stumbled upon Peter’s Pond, a tranquil little spot to watch goldfish swim. Tucked behind the pond are a few picnic tables where we took a snack break and enjoyed the bird serenade and view.

Fragrant and wonderful, we were pleasantly surprised to see so many daffodils in bloom. In April, there will be over 50,000! We can’t wait to see it in its full splendor.

A plaque revealed the inspiration behind the daffodil bowl: “In the weeks following September 11, 2001, we came together to plant daffodils on this site as a symbol of hope and courage for all.” How poetic and beautiful is that? It reminded me of a lyric from a song that we’ve been singing at Hoboken Grace, Catch Me Singing by Sean Curran: “What you have grown into a garden, you planted in the dark.” I’m so encouraged that even in the midst of sorrow, there is abundant hope.

In addition to the daffodil bowl, there are toddler-friendly woodland trails that combined total less than a mile. We explored them last fall and adored the trees’ autumn costumes. We’re thankful for Spring and look forward to many more visits in the coming weeks to admire the daffodils, azaleas, and roses in full bloom.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • The entrance and exit gates are one-way and open automatically. It appears closed, but if you pull your car up slowly to the gate, the sensor will trigger.
  • The gardens are stroller-friendly and the woodland trails are doable with a stroller, though it may not be the smoothest ride.

For more info:

Visiting Reeves-Reade Arboretum

Verona Park: Verona, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Part of the Essex County Park System, Verona Park offers a little something for everyone.

There’s a 1.2 mile paved loop surrounded by weeping willows (this will be especially beautiful in April), a lake with seasonal paddle boating and fishing, a boathouse restaurant, a softball field and bocce courts, a children’s garden, and plenty of grass for shaded picnics. There’s also an epic playground complete with tandem swings and hillside climbing that earns my vote for best playground in NJ.

We love scooting and strolling around the lake and taking plenty of pit stops to enjoy the view and say hi to the ducks.

Fun fact from their Facebook page: “The Essex County Park System holds a special place in American history as the first county park system established in the US.”

Geese flock here for snack breaks, too. Pro tip: Counting them aloud is fun number practice for littles. We lost count at 50 on our last visit!

Lakeside picnic, anyone? We discovered the cutest avocado-themed restaurant called The Guac Spot just 3 minutes away from the park, and picked up food to go. Lime shrimp tacos with avocado crema for mama, quesadillas for the littles, and the most delicious hot chocolate churros for our Friday afternoon treat. Creative menu, friendly staff, and curbside pick-up, I really can’t say enough good things about this family-owned small business.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • The playground is popular. Plan an off-peak visit to avoid crowds.
  • There’s a large parking lot and street parking is also free and easy.
  • The grassy area gets really muddy after rainfall. Visit on a sunnier day for a better picnic experience.

For more info:

Visiting Verona Park

Hemlock Falls: West Orange, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hemlock Falls is on a 5.8 mile loop in South Mountain Reservation, but there’s a 1.2 mile toddler-friendly shortcut. It was easy enough for my 2.5 year old and 4.5 year old to do (with snack bribes and plenty of stops to throw rocks in the brook along the way). Big plus: It’s in a great location. The popular Fairy Trail is 6 minutes away, beloved Turtleback Zoo is 6 minutes away, and the epic pirate themed Regatta Playground is just 3 minutes away.

From the parking lot, you’ll see two entrances:

  1. Do you see Yellow/Orange/Green blazes? Follow yellow to the falls.
  2. Do you see Yellow blazes and a brook? You’re headed to the picnic area.

We accidentally went the picnic route at first, had a great time throwing rocks, meandered through a large field, stopped for a snack, and even spotted an eagle (!!), but wound up at a busy intersection without any falls in sight. After retracing our steps, we found the other entrance which was much easier and led directly to the falls.

The kids loved hiding in the teepee.

I loved being surrounded by trees and seeing a burst of green.

And we discovered that fallen trees make awesome balance beams.

Everyone was masked and wide trails allowed us to keep a safe social distance.

We can’t wait to visit again soon!

The Park Mama Tips:

  • This trail is fairly rocky. Baby wearing will be easier than bringing a stroller.
  • The falls are fullest after rainfall. Wear waterproof boots that you don’t mind getting muddy.
  • It gets crowded here. Plan to visit on a weekday or early on a weekend.
  • This post gives excellent step by step directions. Thanks, NJ Hiking!
  • If the brook is the first thing you see on the trail, you’re headed the wrong way! Start where the trail markers show orange, green, and yellow. Then follow yellow.
  • Porta potties are available in the parking lot.

For more info:

South Mountain Reservation

Regatta Playground

Turtleback Zoo

Weehawken & Union City Reservoir Park

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Weehawken & Union City Reservoir Park is a 3/4 mile flat, gravel track around a wildlife filled reservoir with NYC views. We love this urban oasis so much because there are almost always turtles and ducks swimming, seagulls squawking, and curiously friendly geese. It also has our favorite toys: dirt, sticks, and rocks.

Today, we were admiring a goose when all of a sudden she started honking up a storm, took off in flight, met her friend, and after chatting for a bit, decided to playfully swoop in for a splash landing. Again and again. Such show offs!

We took several breaks to inspect rocks, draw our names in the dirt with sticks, and played “Can you find the turtle?”. Psst…that’s how I kept them moving around the entire track (even if it took us nearly 2 hours). We spotted 2 turtles swimming today, but have seen as many as 7 here.

This place is totally stroller-friendly. In fact, I attribute my laps around the reservoir to helping me shed the baby weight. It’s peaceful, quiet, and the still water is so calming. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

The Park Mama Tips:

  • Street parking is free.
  • Masked entry is enforced.
  • The track is one-way and currently only allows walking. No jogging.
  • Bikes, scooters, and dogs are not allowed. Neither is picnicking.
  • The majority of the track is in direct sunlight. Bring sunscreen and a hat.
  • There are no restrooms.

For more info:

Park History

Anderson Park: Montclair, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Anderson Park is the perfect place to teach a child how to ride a bike, scooter, or skateboard. It’s also stroller-friendly and wheelchair accessible. There is a small 3/5 mile flat, paved loop with plenty of benches for snacking or resting, and a large field that’s great for picnicking and ballgames. You can even bring the dog!

We visited on the first beautiful Saturday in Spring and it checked off all three of my kids’ wishes: a place to ride a scooter, play soccer, and dig in the dirt. Our original plan was to visit nearby Brookdale Park (6 mins away) which is typically uncrowded during the week, but everyone in Essex County had the same idea and there was no parking! A short drive over to Anderson Park was a completely calmer scene.

A family was picnicking on the lawn. Two dogs were playing fetch. A teenager was unsteadily learning how to balance on a skateboard. A sweet elderly couple held hands and waved hello to my boys who were taking their 2nd or 3rd snack break. My 2.5 year old gained confidence in riding his scooter and I appreciated not having to dodge dog poop every. few. feet. like we do on city sidewalks.

What made this trip extra enjoyable was that EVERYONE wore masks, it wasn’t crowded, and someone that I wish I could hug left such encouraging messages in sidewalk chalk around the entire park that just made me smile. Things like “Beautiful days are ahead”. Yes, beautiful days are ahead, my friends. Just you wait and see!

The Park Mama Tips:

For more info:

Enjoying Anderson Park

Van Vleck House & Gardens: Montclair, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Sap flowing in high volume is called a ___.” Put your maple syrup knowledge to the test on this fun self-guided trivia tour at Van Vleck House & Gardens just 30 minutes away from Hoboken. A dozen or so visits later, Van Vleck House & Gardens remains one of our favorite NJ finds. It’s small. Perfect for little legs. It’s educational. Trees and flowers are labeled, and the team does a great job of offering free seasonally appropriate scavenger hunts for preschoolers.

If you’re looking for more, there are a range of virtual and onsite children’s programming options for 3-11 year olds – from gardening and backyard birding to themed outdoor adventures. Birthday coming up? Check out these educational birthday parties for 4+ year olds.

We visit weekday mornings mostly, and 9 out of 10 times we enjoy this magical oasis all to ourselves. While it was still partially snow covered on our last visit a few days ago, the sunshine welcomed us warmly and a chorus of birds sweetly cheered Spring’s near arrival from the treetops. My 2.5 year old and 4.5 year old have memorized every path and over the summer particularly enjoyed stopping to smell the flowers, examining rocks, and counting their favorite furry friends: chipmunks. We look forward to visiting again and again, especially when the garden is in full bloom!

Good Eats Nearby:

  • Hungry? Check out Hot Bagels Abroad (1 min away). If bagels aren’t your thing, there’s also a pizzeria and the highly rated Stuffed Grass-Fed Burgers next door (all accessible from the same parking lot). We pick up a couple of bagels to go and head over to Brookdale Park (5 mins away) to picnic, play ball, and scooter.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • Ditch the stroller and baby wear or walk instead. This garden is small and while it’s mostly flat, there are some steps and narrow trails that would make strollers a bit tricky.
  • The bathroom is closed due to COVID and there are no porta potties, but Brookdale Park is a 5 minute drive away and has porta potties. Their restroom is also currently closed.
  • There’s a small parking lot and street parking is also available.

For more information:


Celery Farm: Allendale, NJ

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Tap tap tap. “What’s that sound, Mama?” Tap tap tap. We scanned the trees, searching for the noisy drummer. “Look up! I found a woodpecker. Right over there. Look up! Look up! Do you see it?” My 4.5 year old and 2 year old were delighted to discover a real woodpecker, clothed in a bright red hat, and focused intently on drumming his own little happy beat, making even the dreariest winter morning cheerier.

The barren trees made it easy to see birds of all kinds, and large nests perched carefully atop tall trees made us wonder aloud what kinds of birds called them home. Frozen ponds offered the perfect space to watch birds ice skate, a truly fun experience, and climbing to the top of the observatory tower gave us some additional cardio and an awesome aerial view. A flat and easy 1.2 mile loop, this trail is perfect for littles.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • The parking lot is small and only accommodates about 10 cars. Street parking is also available. Directions here.
  • Parts of the trail become muddy after rainfall, and with all of the loosely packed dirt, your shoes will get quite dirty. Plan to wear waterproof shoes if it has recently rained / shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • There are no restrooms. Bring a travel potty.
  • Children can walk right up to the pond edge from the trail. Watch them closely to prevent accidents.

For more information:

Trail Map

Fall at Mill Creek Marsh: Secaucus, NJ

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mill Creek Marsh is our favorite lazy day escape. We reserve it for days when I’m too tired to drive very far, but still want to get outside and run/walk. There are two short and flat 3/4 mile trails (North Tidal Pool Trail and South Tidal Pool Trail) with educational signage posted throughout describing the wildlife that call Mill Creek Marsh home. We love it because there’s no poison ivy, no cliffs to worry about falling off of, and no tree roots to trip over. It’s perfect for inquisitive toddlers and mamas that want to tote the stroller along.

My 2 year old and 4 year old love finding little sticks or twigs to fashion as walking sticks and then often take breaks to create art or practice their letters with them in the dirt. We write our ABCs, names, and draw pictures, and then rake it all back the way we found it using our favorite tools – sticks.

Wildlife sightings are a part of each visit and we enjoy the thrill of discovering and observing animals in nature. Last weekend, we found a mallard duck family happily swimming and quacking much to my 2 year old’s delight. “Mama, quack quack. Hiiiii, quack quack!” They even showed off and flew for us, a sight new to me. On a mid-October day, my animal loving 4 year old even spotted a beaver hiding out in the bushes! While we were debating whether he was a groundhog or a beaver, he emerged from his hiding place to display his unmistakable wide, flat tail and the debate was solved then and there.

That beaver sighting was so memorable and sparked so many questions that we checked out “Getting to Know Nature’s Children: Chipmunks / Beavers” by Merebeth Switzer from our local library to learn more about their habitat, favorite foods, and behavioral patterns. Who knew they live in lodges under the water stocked with enough food to last the winter? Now, whenever there are sticks, mud, and dirt, my boys pretend they are beavers and build elaborate dams and lodges. So much fun!

Take a stroll around Mill Creek Marsh – you never know what you might find!

The Park Mama Tips:

  • The entrance is beside Bob’s Furniture, and there’s plenty of easy parking on the side.
  • No picnicking allowed here, so plan your visit around a non-meal time.
  • At times, there is a somewhat pungent odor near the water. Avoid this trail if you’re super sensitive to smells.

For more info:

Cedar stumps are visible at low tide and carry an interesting history. Read more here.

Thielke Arboretum: Glen Rock, NJ

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Last weekend, we visited Thielke Arboretum in Glen Rock. It’s super small and carpeted with more leaves than are on the trees now, but it was still fun with virtually no one there. There’s a cute storybook trail about a scarecrow, and there’s an adorable natural play area complete with tree stump stepping stones that my little guys LOVED. They hopped from one stump to another over and over again. They also enjoyed walking across wooden bridges and visiting the pond area, home to the friendliest mallard ducks we’ve seen yet (and no, we weren’t feeding them). Their favorite part though was lifting up the wooden stools in search of bugs. Oh boy, did we find the plumpest worm ever?! Check this guy out. This would be a cool place to visit in the summer to go fishing, and I’m making a mental note to stop by again soon.

The Park Mama Tips:

  • The trail entrance is sandwiched between a playground and an aquatics center. If you’re parked and looking at a soccer field, swimming center, and playground, yes, you’re in the right place.

For more information: