Enjoying the great outdoors in our own backyard

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Summer is finally here! The kids are out of school and there’s no better time than now to get outside, get active, and appreciate Mother Nature’s splendor. Spending time outside makes for a great escape from the daily grind, and provides families with memories that last a lifetime.

Many readers choose to live in our A-LIST towns because of their well-regarded education systems, quaint downtowns, and strong sense of community. What they might not realize, though, is that the greater Princeton area offers a panoply of outdoor activities perfect for weekend warriors and dedicated outdoorsmen alike.

To enjoy some fresh air, get some exercise, and bond with friends and family, add these places to your summer to-do list:

CanalKayak

Delaware-Raritan Canal State Park:

Known locally as the Tow Path, the Delaware-Raritan Canal State Park is one of the area’s largest parks and a very popular destination for visitors from near and far. Running through Lambertville, Rocky Hill, Kingston and Princeton, the park is 70 miles long and features two protected “Natural Areas” where visitors can see rare species of birds, plants, flowers, and trees. For adrenaline junkies, the park offers miles of river for kayaking and canoeing (available to rent at the Princeton entrance), along with trails for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

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Mercer County Park:

This 2,500-acre park stretches across the towns of West Windsor, Hamilton, and Lawrence, and is a great place for recreational activities of all kinds. For water-lovers, Mercer County Park offers boat rentals, fishing, and trails with views of the Delaware River. Those who prefer dry land can get their workouts on the park’s many tennis courts, bike trails, and athletic fields – perfect for playing Frisbee or even flying a kite. For residents of Central NJ, Mercer County Park is a go-to destination for sunshine, greenery, and fun.

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Sourland Mountain Preserve:

Sourland Mountain Preserve is a 4,000-acre nature preserve that attracts tens of thousands visitors every year. It’s easy to see why! The preserve sits at the intersection of the northern migration boundary for southern birds and the southern migration boundary for northern ones, so it’s a birders paradise. There are also several hiking trails that offer moderate elevation gains and picturesque terrain, including a pass through a boulder field. The preserve also offers miles of mountain biking trails for bikers of all skill levels.

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The Plainsboro Preserve:

Adventurers looking for lighter exercise and a more educational voyage can head to the Plainsboro Preserve. A collaboration between Plainsboro, Middlesex County, and the New Jersey Audubon society, the Preserve delights visitors young and old with year-round outdoor education programs at its Environmental Education Center. The center boasts an indoor treehouse, an “under the pond” room, and a stunning view of one of the largest lakes in the area. No bikes, pets, or fishing are allowed here, but seeking a glimpse of the more than 150 species of birds and ten species of rare and endangered plants offers plenty to do.

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Hunterdon Ballooning:

Well, it’s not exactly physically taxing in the same way that kayaking or jogging is, but a hot air balloon is a whimsical way to take in vast expanses of our area’s natural scenery. The pace of a balloon ride is a tad slower than a mountain bike ride, but that just means you can savor the stunning aerial scenery. Appreciate our beautiful corner of the world like never before with a birds-eye view of the places and spaces that we call home!

Nature surrounds us always, and the places we’ve featured here just scratch the surface of what’s convenient and readily available to residents of Central NJ. Right outside our doors is a wealth of open spaces, parks, and natural habitats just waiting to be explored.

Spending time outside is a crucial first step in educating the next generation of our area residents on ecological stewardship and the simple joys of nature. Whether you’re looking for a quick day trip or even a whole weekend camping under the stars, the Greater Princeton area has it all. So don’t hesitate, get out there and get active today!