By Catherine Galioto
It’s peak fall foliage season for the Jersey Shore, and you’ve only got so much chance to enjoy nature’s beautiful colors before a stiff wind or blustery rain knocks all that red, orange and yellow from the tall oak, maple, sassafras and other deciduous trees of our area.
So where are the best spots to take in this beauty? Whether a fall drive down a country road, a romp to a park, or a hike round a trail, we’ve got some suggestions on the best places for Jersey Shore fall foliage.
The forestry service put Monmouth and Ocean at near peak on November 3, with the northern stretches of the state past peak. It’s prime time to enjoy your own backyard or points south as the colors continue to change. And if you ask the folks at NJ Hiking https://www.njhiking.com/, there’s a real spectrum out there — this week means for more terrific color for our region but “expect to also see unchanged green as well as thinned or totally bare trees on the same trail.”
The Forestry Resource Center in Jackson is a great example of the biodiversity of this area. Trees are both deciduous and coniferous – that is, the kind with leaves that change color and the pine cone kind that don’t – and the center has displays and resources for you to learn more, including regular year-round nature walks to enjoy the landscape whether under the full moon or for a special event. Check out the center online here, https://njforestry.org/, or visit 496 Don Connor Blvd. in Jackson.
The Monmouth County park system doesn’t disappoint with its access to great fall foliage color. One of the best is around the Manasquan Reservoir. Compare the leaf drop near the water’s edge to the trail section away from the water. This beautiful place is also home to historic cedars, and several osprey and bald eagle nests to make for great bird watching, too.
Take to some lighthouses to get a bird’s eye view over the tree line, and get a grand picture of fall color. Navesink Twin Lights provides a great spot to see the beauty of water and land, with the twists and turns of Atlantic Highlands and the Bayshore area of Monmouth county providing layered beauty. Another lighthouse option is Sea Girt, which is open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m. through November 19 for guided tours.
For the Shark River area, it’s peak color time. The county park known as Shark River Park is situated on 946 acres around Neptune, Wall and Tinton Falls, but the river itself snakes down to the inlet between Belmar and Avon-by-the-Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, giving great riverfront views for those enjoying the scenery at Belmar Marina Park’s 9th Avenue Pier and Marina Grill.
The Historic Village At Allaire is another opportunity for fall foliage fun. Whether enjoying a bike ride or hike on Allaire State Park’s trails, or checking out the historic village’s General Store and buildings, there’s plenty to do. Just this weekend, the historic village is hosting another fall flea market, from 8 a.m. November 11. At 11 a.m. November 19, is the Early 19th Century Thanksgiving celebration at the village. Next door to the main entrance at the park is the New Jersey Museum of Transportation, where you can take a historic train ride through the park. Fall schedule is in place through November 19, so hop aboard before all the trees change and the conductor switches to more holiday and Santa train ride schedule. For more information, visit https://www.njmt.org/schedule.htm.
Speaking of trains, why not enjoy a day trip using the NJ Transit ride from train stations between Bay Head to Long Branch. Most of this rail line provides a leisurely pace along the Jersey Shore, snaking along or over the rivers and freshwater lakes between the southernmost stop at Bay Head to points north. The North Jersey Coast Line features stops at Bay Head, Point Pleasant Beach, Manasquan, Spring Lake, Belmar, Bradley Beach, Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Elberon and Long Branch before heading further north. Many of the Monmouth County stations drop off in the picturesque main streets of our towns, allowing for some fall fun and a chance for shopping and dining. Plan your route here: https://www.njtransit.com/pdf/rail/R0080.pdf.
If you’re into taking a longer road trip, consider a Pinelands jaunt to such places as Batso Village and Atsion with the Wharton State Forest. The drive down Route 70 to Route 206 to this part of the state will show the lovely roadside colors of South Jersey, but your destinations are these state parks and historical landmarks. Wharton offers boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking and camping opportunities to enjoy the breathtaking fall. And Batsto Village was an iron-making town that made ammunition for the Continental Army, and several of its historic buildings remain preserved on site. Further along is Chatsworth, where the historic cranberry bogs are on full display.
The New Jersey State Forestry Service gives some great clues as to where else to go, and what the fall foliage looks like. Their sites and social media pages are chock full of up to date information each season on when each region of the Garden State is in fall foliage zone, whether near peak, peak or post peak fall color. Enjoy more of the season and check that out here: https://www.facebook.com/NewJerseyForests.