More Culture:

May 29, 2022

New Jersey state parks, forests and recreation areas are free to enter this summer

Gov. Murphy announced on Thursday that entrance fees are waived no matter what state you live in, as a way to incentivize tourism

Nature Parks
NJ Parks Laith Zain/Unsplash

This summer, New Jersey's state parks, forests and recreation areas will be free to enter. Other fees for camping, fishing and boating will remain. Above is High Point State Park in Sussex County.

This summer, all New Jersey state parks, forests and recreation areas will be free to enter, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Thursday ahead of the busy Memorial Day weekend. 

Those who have already purchased state park passes will have the cost refunded, and any state-run park will be free to enter regardless of where you're from. Neighboring Pennsylvania residents are encouraged to visit and check out one of up to 50 sites operated by the New Jersey State Park System. 

"Presented in our FY2023 budget, the bold steps we have taken toward a more affordable Garden State will ensure access to our state parks for everyone — residents and visitors alike," said Murphy. "While incentivizing tourism and and economic activity in our local communities, the fee holiday also promotes access to green, open space; thriving waterways; and the many natural wonders that make us proud to call New Jersey our home." 

While the entry fees are waived for all state-operated parks and forests, additional fees for attractions like fishing, boating and camping will remain in place. 

New Jersey's only state-run beach, Island Beach State Park in Berkeley Township, Ocean County opened on May 28. Other lifeguards for state-run lakes will begin service in mid-June. Those looking to swim can check out the status of their favorite state-operating swimming area through the Park Service website. 

"From High Point State Park in Sussex County to Cape May Point State Park in Cape May County, the state park system provides endless opportunities for recreation — from swimming, hiking and kayaking, to picnicking, exploring nature and experiencing our rich history," said Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of environmental protection. "Whatever your passion or interest, there is a state park in New Jersey for you." 

There are no shortage of state parks, forests and recreation areas in South Jersey. Many of them allow visitors to journey through some of the New Jersey Pinelands, while others are great for camping or fishing. 

Wharton State Forest in Hammonton, Atlantic County allows visitors to explore New Jersey's Pinelands. The area was an important hub of the state's industrial history, particularly thanks to the Batsto Village, which is currently available for self-guided tours and exploration. 

Guests can visit the fully furnished Batsto Mansion or take a canoe out on the rivers and streams. Visitors can also go fishing for catfish, pickerel and sunfish, or camp out for an extended stay. 

The Atsion Recreation Area, located on the Northern end of Wharton State Forest, has picnic tables, kayaks and additional playgrounds. Swimming at the Atsion Lake will be open for the summer by July. 

Belleplain State Forest opened in 1928, and is located within the Pinelands National Reserve. The Cumberland and Cape May County forest has the greatest variety of habitats anywhere in New Jersey.

Swimming at Lake Nummy should be available by mid-June, and is only permitted when there is a lifeguard on duty. There are more than 40 miles of trails for hiking and more than 160 tent and trailer sites for camping. Other activities include fishing, picnicking and kayaking. 

Bass River — New Jersey's first state forest — has a variety of attractions. However, there will not be swimming available this summer, as the state Department of Environmental Protection begins work on a new beach recreation complex complete with food concessions. 

There are eight trails along the Pine Barrens, and more than 175 camp sites and cabins for groups and families. There is also a large picnic area with more than 100 tables and an athletic field. 

The Brendan T. Byrne State Forest is located in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational activities like mountain biking, camping, fishing, birding and picnicking. 

History enthusiasts can check out Whitesbog Village, a former cranberry and blueberry farming community where the first blueberry was cultivated. 

Cape May Point is arguably best known for its lighthouse, but the state park is also home to 244 acres of meadows, ponds and forests. Visitors can picnic, go fishing or look out for wildlife in the popular birding spot. Cape May Point also used to be a military base, so visitors can check out a preserved World War II bunker. 

A full list of state parks in South Jersey, the New Jersey Shore Region and statewide are available through the Parks Service website. 

The New Jersey Parks System is made up of more than 50 sites, 453,000 acres of land and draws millions of visitors each year, according to the Governor's Office. Along with the Jersey Shore, the state park system is a key contributor to the summer economy statewide.