Best Ways to Enjoy Nature In & Around Princeton
Looking for things to do in Princeton? Among a variety of Princeton attractions, the New Jersey area also offers all sorts of nature activities. Find a park to take a long walk in, stroll through a bird sanctuary, or get lost in a little history—whatever destination you choose, prepare for an outdoor adventure that is bound to charm you.
The sight where American and British troops fought each other on January 3, 1777 in the Battle of Princeton during the American Revolutionary War—is now a state park. Although funny enough—while the first battle resulted in a boost of American morale post-victory, there’s still a bit of a war going on over what to do with the rest of land that once made up the original battlefield.
That won’t stop you from enjoying the history of the park. Pay a visit to the Clark House—built by Thomas Clarke, a Quaker farmer who acquired 200 acres in 1772 from his older brother William—or take a rest on the stump of the old Mercer oak tree that once stood at the center of the battlefield and didn’t surrender until 2000 as a result of old-age. Next to the stump is a newer tree—an offspring left behind before the old oak finally gave way.
If you’re looking to hike, a paved and gravel path surrounds the perimeter of the park. And adjacent to the park, the Institute Woods—comprised of 589-acres of mixed hardwood, wetlands, and agricultural land—offers a variety of alternative trails. Along the way, you’ll also catch a glimpse of a few unique species of birds.
Located in Flemington, this park features a 52-acre tract that was donated in 1972 by Mary & Edwin Large Jr. With a full parking lot and extra parking nearby on busier days, this park is easy to access and offers paths that could have you walking for a cool hour or two if you try to connect them all. You’ll also find a fair amount of fellow hikers, joggers, and people walking their dogs.
The park itself was named after Bernadette (“Bunny”) Morales, a popular teacher in the local school district. Some of the paths are unpaved, but many are weathered over enough to make it simple to follow the trails, though some recommend scoping out a map beforehand. Overall, it’s a quiet spot where you can catch a few glimpses of wildflowers.
If you are looking for retirement communities in the Princeton area, Hunterdon Creekside is less than a ten-minute drive away. It offers new home construction for 55+ active adults who are looking for flexible floor plans and personalization options.
A nature reserve with basic paths through a habitat of native geology, vegetation & woodland animals—Autumn Hill feels like so much more than a park, making it one of the top things to do in Princeton. The park contains 78 wooded acres, with about 1.8 miles of well-maintained trails. But what makes Autumn Hill unique is the amount of solitude that one can find among old stone walls, relics of the past that have been taken over by nature, and a surprising amount of wildlife. There are also opportunities to rest along the way, by the way of benches, old logs, and a couple of picnic tables.
The park lies at the far north-eastern corner of Princeton, just a short drive away from Princeton University. It was acquired by Princeton Township’s Open Space Commission in the late 1960s.
About an hour’s drive from Princeton, the arboretum can’t quite make the list of Princeton attractions—but many would argue that it’s worth the drive. A historic woodlands garden and educational institution located in Short Hills, the Arboretum offers several trails that pass kettle moraines, hilly slopes, and a natural amphitheater created by glaciers.
You’ll also find a variety of native New Jersey wildflower species, over 40 species of trees, many species of birds, and an array of ferns. Plus, should you fall in love with the arboretum (ferns seem to have a sort of magical power over a person) and not want to make the hour drive, Del Webb Florham Park is only 20 minutes away. Conveniently nestled between retirement communities in the Princeton area and about an equal distance to New York City, Florham Park is perfect for someone who wants a taste of it all.
Find the New Jersey nature activities that you’re looking for among the many things to do in the Princeton area. Exploring nature is a great way to stay in shape while taking time to appreciate the truly finer things in life.
Contributed to The 55+ Society
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