UPDATED MAY 2016: Explore zoos, nature centers and botanical gardens in New Jersey and Staten Island. Read through our guide to find petting zoos, arboretums, nature preserves, farms and public gardens, all packed with fun nature activities for the whole family. Let your little ones loose to try their hands at zoo feedings and touch tanks, explore wooded trails, and learn about exotic plants. The spring season is the perfect time to explore the outdoors.
Zoos, Nature Centers, and Botanical Gardens in NYC, Long Island, and CT
Bergen County Zoo
216 Forest Ave., Paramus
Hours: 10am-4:30pm daily
Admission (May–October): $8 ($4 for county residents); $5 children ages 3-14 ($2 for residents); $2 seniors and disabled ($1 for residents); free for children younger than 3 and active military members.
See farm animals, reptiles, birds, and much more. The zoo hosts a variety of special events throughout the year as well as a wide range of children’s programs. The zoo is part of the Van Saun County Park, which also includes the historic Washington Spring Garden as well as a train ride, carousel, pony rides, and picnic and fishing areas.
Closter Nature Center
154 Ruckman Road, Closter
Hours: Vary by activity
Admission: Donations appreciated
A nature haven in suburban New Jersey, the center includes 136 acres of ponds, brooks, meadows, and forests, as well as 3 miles of hiking trails. Visitors can explore the area on their own, or attend a lecture, guided nature walk, or other educational environmental program, including after-school programs for children during the school year.
Flat Rock Brook Nature Center
443 Van Nostrand Ave., Englewood
Hours: Trails and picnic area are open dawn to dusk daily. The center is open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, 1pm-5pm weekends.
A 150-acre preserve offering 3.6 miles of forested public hiking trails with highlights such as a cascading stream, wildflower meadows, and ponds. Year-round environmental education programs for all ages, along with guided hikes and an aviary with birds of prey.
Skylands/New Jersey Botanical Garden
2 Morris Road, Ringwood
Hours: 8am-8pm daily, 8am-6pm, December-March
Admission: FREE; parking is $5 for New Jersey residents, $7 non-New Jersey residents on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Visitors can wander through formal gardens or along paths through the woods and see unusual plant species from around the world. Skylands’ specialty gardens include the Annual Garden, Perennial Border, Crab Apple Vista, Wildflower Garden, Lilac Garden, Peony Garden, and Octagonal Garden. The Rhododendron Garden and Hosta Garden are the only fenced gardens in order to keep deer away. Free, guided garden tours are available at 2pm on Sundays from May through October. The botanical garden also offers tours especially designed for families. Visitors can also buy tickets online and arrange to take guided tours of the 1920s Tudor Revival Skylands Manor House for $7; $5 for seniors and students.
Tenafly Nature Center
313 Hudson Ave., Tenafly
Hours: 9am-5pm weekdays; 11am-4pm weekends
Admission: FREE, but donations are appreciated
This nature preserve encompasses nearly 400 acres, including several nature trails (open dawn till dusk) where you may catch sight of red foxes, white-tailed deer, or the more than 50 species of birds that reside there, not to mention an impressive display of trees and other local flora. The visitors’ center in the John A. Redfield Building houses natural history exhibits and live animals; it also offers public programs for children and families throughout the year.
Turtle Back Zoo
560 Northfield Ave., West Orange
Hours: 10am-4:30pm Monday-Sunday
Admission: $14; $11 seniors and children ages 2-12; free for children younger than 2
This expansive zoo houses a wide variety of animals, from kangaroos and emus in the Australian exhibit to leopards and red pandas in the Southeast Asia exhibit. You’ll also see penguins, otters, sea lions, wolves, bears, a large collection of reptiles, an assortment of farm animals on Essex Farm, and all manner of sea creatures in the Tropical Currents Aquarium. During the warmer months, the zoo also offers rides and attractions including a playground; a train ride through the South Mountain Reservation (price included with admission); a butterfly tent; and pony rides at Essex Farm (currently closed for construction). The Endangered Species Carousel is open year-round ($2). See the zoo’s online calendar for regular special events.
Blue Heron Park and Nature Center
222 Poillon Ave., Annadale
Hours: 11am-4pm, Tuesday-Saturday
This 222-acre park surrounds wetland ponds, swamps, and streams that drain into the Raritan Bay. View the bird-feeding station at the edge of the woodlands, which attracts a wide variety of local birds, and stop in the Nature Library to browse its nature-themed collection of guidebooks, books, and magazines. Participate in nature-based educational programs run by urban park rangers at the nature center or visit the activity center, open to the public on the weekends. Naturalist-guided walks offered from 12-4pm each Saturday and Sunday (call to verify availability). The park includes a handicap-accessible trail. Guided walks are available from 12-4pm Saturday and Sunday throughout the year.
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden
1000 Richmond Terrace
Hours: Dawn to dusk. Galleries: Wednesday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
Admission: For gardens and galleries: $5; $4 students and seniors; free for children younger than 12
Snug Harbor’s 83-acre park-like setting contains gardens, museums, theaters, educational opportunities, and seasonal festivals. It includes a Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Healing Garden, Rose Garden, White Garden, and Tuscan Garden, and several other gardens, each of which feature aesthetic and functional flora. The center also features regular educational programs for kids as well as group tours. Educational programs include classes based on history, horticulture, architecture, performance and visual arts, as well as health and nutrition. There is also a Heritage Farm and New York Compost Project that includes environmentally-oriented classes and workshops on basic farming and composting techniques.
Staten Island Zoo
614 Broadway, West Brighton
Hours: 10am-4:45pm daily; closed major holidays.
Admission: $8; $6 seniors; $5 children ages 3-14; free for children younger than 3; free for all on Wednesdays after 2pm. Free parking.
The zoo’s mission is to instill in visitors, especially children, an understanding and appreciation of living creatures, through programs, camps, and various other events. Visitors can view small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and tropical fish in the zoo’s exhibits. Zoo education programs are available for children of different age groups (see the website for details). All programs include live animal presentations and general admission to the zoo.
The Greenbelt Nature Center
700 Rockland Ave. (at Brielle Avenue)
Hours: Greenbelt is open dawn to dusk daily; nature center is open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm (April–October). Carousel, in Willowbrook Pond (2 Eton Place, off Richmond Avenue) operates Friday-Sunday 11am-5:45pm in May, Wednesday-Sunday 11am-5:45pm in June ($2 per ride).
The Greenbelt consists of 2,800 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. It features four major foot trails, each marked on trail maps (available online and at the nature center), and includes three easy-to-moderate trails ranging in length from 3.8 to 8 miles. The nature center offers a variety of environmental education programs, summer camps, and other family-friendly events and programs; see the website for a full calendar of events.
Zoos, Nature Centers, and Botanical Gardens in NYC, Long Island, and CT