Want to get the kids off their screens? Summer weather provides ample opportunities for them to go outside and explore nature at its finest. Local naturalists and outdoor educators share tips on how to level up your next adventure!
Play a Game of Avian “I Spy”
Buy kid-sized binoculars and make a game of spotting colorful birds. The Closter Nature Center is a good place to start. With three miles of trails that wind around a pond and through woods, streams, and wetlands, the center is home to many different types of birds, including red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, and even goldfinches. Sign up for a guided bird walk around the pond, or just wander your way through. Later, you can log onto the Nature Center’s website for help identifying what you’ve seen.
Good to know: This is a rustic park with restrooms, picnic tables, and a small parking lot. It’s carry-in, carry-out, so remember to bring all trash home with you. The Nature Center has a full schedule of summer programming, as well as after-school classes. >closternaturecenter.org
Go on a Treasure Hunt
On Saturday, July 29, State Line Lookout in Alpine is hosting a family-friendly Sea Glass Hunt, where kids search the shore of the Hudson for treasure. “There’s lots for kids to explore here,” says Liam Keegan, director of trails and outdoor programs for the park.
Even if you don’t make the tour, Keegan says you can create your own hunt by having kids search for shiny stones and shells. “On our shore trail, there are lots of interesting geological features and great rocks to spot,” he says. “At low tide, near the Englewood picnic area, there are staircases that you can take to a sandy beach so you can search for your own sea glass.”
Good to know: State Line Lookout has a large parking lot, posted trail maps, concessions, and bathrooms. All public programs are free. Check the website for hours, event locations, and parking fees. >njpalisades.org/stateline.html
Create a Sound Map
Lose the earbuds and head to the Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park to create your own sound map. Sit down, close your eyes, and write down all the sounds you can hear around you. Then, try to identify what you’ve heard.
Christopher O’Sullivan, an environmental educator at the park, said while the trails are serene, there’s a lot of chatter from the wildlife, including the zoo’s newest residents: porcupines, red foxes, and bobcats. “It’s a great place, especially for young children,” he says. “You can take a walk on the trail at your own pace and check out coyotes and birds, owls and hawks. There is so much to see and do.”
All the animals at the zoo, which are native to the area, have been injured and are unable to live in the wild.
Good to know: The exhibits, including the Reptile, Amphibian, and Fish Museum, are on a self-guided nature trail. Check the website for info. >parks.ny.gov/environment/nature-centers
Make It a Competition
Need to get in your 10,000 steps? Bring the littles. Hype your outing as a friendly competition. Create contests for fastest steps, highest steps, or biggest tree seen along the way that can be rewarded with a post-walk stop for ice cream or a ride on a carousel!
At State Line Lookout in Alpine, kids can count the tallest buildings they see across the Hudson River or tally raptors in flight. “The park is a great place for kids,” says Keegan. “In fall, they can spot hawks and other raptors right off the parking lot.”
At Bear Mountain’s Trailside Nature Centers, there are dozens of short, flat trails to explore. Count how many steps it takes to cross the narrow footbridge — suspended above the water — on the way to Fort Montgomery.
Good to know: Got hangry kids? The State Line Lookout Inn offers basic bites, including hotdogs, burgers, ice cream, and drinks that can be enjoyed at a picnic table. And Bear Mountain State Park has a carousel and new playground, so pack a lunch and enjoy it from the picnic area.
Have Fun After Dark
Twilight hikes are exciting for all of us, but kids will be super pumped to be outside when it’s normally bedtime. The Closter Nature Center offers several family-friendly twilight hikes throughout the year. Kids can listen to nocturnal sounds, stargaze, and explore the Nature Center in a new way.
Or you can point out stars, planets, and constellations while gathered around a Harvest Moon bonfire at Alpine’s State Line Lookout!
Photos by PIPC K. Parashkevov and Karen Croke