The latest update for this article is written by Lindsay Podolak.
Sometimes hanging out with humans just doesn’t cut it. There’s too much talking, not enough peace and quiet. Do you know who makes better company than humans? Animals. They don’t bother you or expect anything from you; They just go about their day looking adorable and hoping for some extra snacks. There are plenty of places near you to check out the day-to-day lives of some incredible animals.
And, maybe, if you’re feeling it, you can bring some other humans with you too.
Turtle Back Zoo
Location: 560 Northfield Avenue, West Orange
Details: Turtle Back Zoo is the wildest spot in North Jersey (depending on your definition of wild, of course). With animals ranging from sea lions and penguins to red pandas and leopards, and even some native New Jerseyans such as bobcats, falcons and turkeys, Turtle Back is a small, but mighty little zoo. For a more in-depth look at the lives of these creatures, be sure to sign up for some of Turtle Back’s upcoming programs (list here).
Why I like it: The zoo’s “Behind the Scenes” events take you places you wouldn’t get to see on an ordinary trip to Turtle Back, like inside the animal hospital or the giraffe house.
Moreinfo: turtlebackzoo.com or call 973-731-5800
Location: River Road, Piscataway Township
Details: Tucked inside this county park is the Animal Haven. This fenced-in area features a wide variety of farm and exotic animals. Think pigs, goats, llamas and more. Also on the Johnson Park premises are picnic groves, three playgrounds, two ponds, tennis courts and ball fields. So take your time and enjoy all the park has to offer!
Why I like it: There are two other Animal Havens in Middlesex County, one at Merrill Park in Woodbridge Township and another at Thompson Park in Monroe Township.
More info: www.middlesexcountynj.gov
Howling Woods Farm
Location: 1371 West Veterans Highway, Jackson
Details: Howling Woods is home to all of the wolves and wolf dog hybrids your little heart desires. And even better, you can get up-close and personal with them. Visitors can view the animals from outside the enclosure or head inside to get the full experience. Howling Woods is a volunteer-based organization that rescues wolves and wolf dogs, and aims to place them in new homes when possible. Visits are by appointment only and take place in the afternoons and on weekends.
Why I like it: Apply online to be a volunteer and help with pen maintenance, animal grooming and socialization, public education and more.
More info: www.howlingwoods.org or call 732-534-5745
Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary
Location: 11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville
Details: A 125-acre donation to the New Jersey Audubon Society by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Scherman in 1965 combined with a later land donation by Mr. G. Frederick Hoffman in the 1970s are today known as the Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary. It is home to an environmental learning center, a tree-top level observation deck, bookstore and other educational exhibits. More than 200 species of birds have been spotted here, along with foxes, weasels, minks, deer, coyotes and squirrels.
Why I like it: Stand inside the center and view the bird-feeding station from close range. You’ll be amazed at the variety of birds that gather!
More info: www.njaudubon.org or call 908-396-7409
Popcorn Park Zoo
Location: 1 Humane Way, Forked River
Details: Popcorn Park is a zoo with a mission. As part of the Associated Humane Societies, Popcorn Park offers sanctuary to abused, sick and elderly animals of all kinds. Each member of the Popcorn Park family has his or her own story, such as BooBoo, the American black bear traded for a used car, or Trudy and Seven, a mother-daughter horse duo who were saved from starvation. Visit Popcorn Park to spend time with these survivors and to treat all who are allowed to some delicious, air-popped popcorn.
Why I like it: Love animals but can’t take one home? With the Share-A-Pet program, you can sponsor a cat or dog and visit it whenever you’d like.
More info: www.ahscares.org or call 609-693-1900
Space Farm Zoo & Museum
Location: 218 County Road 519, Sussex
Details: Space Farms is home to the largest collection of North American wildlife in the world. Boasting more than 100 different species of animals, Space Farms shows these animals hanging out in their natural habitats. And there are more than 500 of them to visit with. Also, if you’ve got a little one who isn’t too wild about animals, Space Farms Museum is spread out over eleven buildings and features attractions such as a miniature circus, a mineral theater and antique cars and motorcycles. There’s something for everyone!
Why I like it: A playground, picnic area and Space Farms’ Extreme Pizza restaurant make this a fun place to take the family for the day.
More info: www.spacefarms.com or call 973-875-5800
Cape May County Park & Zoo
Location: 707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House
Details: This spot offers a unique array of animals to check out – lions, monkeys, camels, otters, snow leopards – as well as some fun extras. After checking out the animals, hop on a train ride through the park, or test your skills on the rock wall. If you’re looking for something educational, check the schedule for zookeeper talks or events for kids like “Crafts with Critters,” where little ones get to meet an animal and make an art project.
Why I like it: Admission and parking are free at the Cape May Zoo, plus it’s open every single day of the year except Christmas!
More info: cmczoo.com or call 609-465-5271
Location: 1 Riverside Drive, Camden
Details: The fifth largest aquarium in the country — and the only one that boasts a great hammerhead shark — is located right in Camden. Whether you’re into the majestic seahorses, gigantic hippos, or any of the various shark species, or have a kid who really loves The Little Mermaid, Adventure Aquarium is for you (Sebastian, Flounder and Ursula all hang out here). A bonus, there are daily feeding shows offered throughout the day to give visitors a peek at the creatures in some of their happiest moments. A trip to the aquarium is such a unique and exciting experience, and Adventure Aquarium gives Jerseyans the perfect place to get your fix.
Why I like it: There are plenty of educational talks and feeding sessions to attend on a daily basis!
More info: www.adventureaquarium.com or call 856-365-3300
The Raptor Trust
Location: 1390 Whitebridge Road, Millington
Details: The Raptor Trust is a wild bird rehabilitation center open to the public seven days a week. This is your chance to check out hundreds of hawks, eagles, falcons and owls. The Raptor Trust allows visitors to view these birds of prey at close range. Guests can also sign up for classes at the on-site Education Center (call 908-647-1091 for class information and registration). This non-profit organization has been aiding birds for three decades, and is one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the country. It’s so worth the trip for bird lovers and anyone looking for a unique way to spend time with some wild animals.
Why I like it: There is no fee to visit, however a small donation of $2 is much appreciated.
More info: theraptortrust.org or call 908-647-2353
Location: 1761 Route 9, Toms River
Details: Is the bug life for you? If so, this is your go-to. Wander through this bug-themed city, complete with a university, radio station, power plant and airport, visiting with insects of all shapes and sizes. Each exhibit teaches kids and bug enthusiasts about a different aspect of the way bugs interact within their own community and with other animals in their environment. And if you’re feeling extra brave (and by extra brave, I mean braver than I could ever hope to be) be sure to get your hands on one of these lovely creatures. Tarantulas are an option here, go big or go home!
Why I like it: Host a party here for your child and you’ll get an hour of educational fun plus a half hour in the party room for refreshments.
More info: www.insectropolis.com or call 732-349-7090
Lakota Wolf Preserve
Location: 89 Mount Pleasant Road, Columbia
Details: Looking for a way to feel really cool and dangerous this winter? Go hang out with some wolves. The observation area at Lakota offers visitors a peek at four separate wolf packs as they go about their daily activities. Lakota also offers educational Wolf Watch tours six days a week. Make an appointment for any day but Monday at 10:30 am and 4:00 pm. Visitors have the option of hiking 1/2 mile to the observation area or taking a shuttle over. Photographers are also welcome to embark on private tours which focus solely on taking wildlife photos and videos (must be 16 or older to go on this tour).
Why I like it: You may even spot a bobcat or a fox on the tour!
More info: www.lakotawolf.com or call 908-496-9244
Location: 45 Mayor Aitken Drive, Bridgeton
Details: The quaint Cohanzick Zoo has been welcoming and entertaining families since 1934, making it the oldest zoo in New Jersey. This is the perfect spot for a low-key, free day out spent with some incredible creatures. It’s especially well-suited to families with young children with its small size and the close proximity of the animals. Be sure to pack your own lunch! The park doesn’t offer any food options, but there’s plenty of space for picnics.
Why I like it: Don’t miss “Tiger Talk” each day at 2:00 pm and “Bear Necessities,” a keeper chat at the bear habitat, each day at 3:00 pm.
More info: cohanzickzoo.org or call 856-453-1658
Location: 300 Ocean Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach
Details: A trip to Jenkinson’s is one of the easiest ways to get a full marine life education without really trying. Each of the exhibits focuses on teaching visitors about all aspects of a certain animal’s life. Jenkinson’s also offers educational programs nearly every weekend. They allow participants to interact with the animals and learn about them from close range. A bonus: This aquarium sits directly on the beach in Point Pleasant. So, you can spend a few hours learning about the animals and then jump in the ocean to see if you run into any of them.
Why I like it: Unlike other shore attractions, Jenkinson’s Aquarium is open year-round.
More info: jenkinsons.com or call 732-892-0600 ext. 130