Many children love being able to see all types of animals in person, from the tiniest of bugs to the biggest of bears and wildcats. And going to the park, nature preserve, or other outdoor location to meet animals can be a great way to inspire a love of animal science, care, and conservation in your children. If you have a little animal lover in your life, consider taking them to one of these awesome places to get up close and personal with wildlife in and around the Bridgewater Township area.

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

A butterfly rests on a leaf at the wildlife refuge in Bridgewater, NJ

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail One” licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr by samenstelling

Located in nearby Morris County is Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a 7,800-acre park that serves as a migration area or permanent home for over 244 species of birds. You can even follow the park’s bird tracker to see which ones are currently in the area. While species can change from season to season, some birds you might see include mourning doves, hummingbirds, wrens, woodpeckers, owls, robins, bluebirds, geese, blue jays, and sparrows.

There are many other awesome animals that call the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge home. Look out for reptiles and amphibians like painted and snapping turtles, garter snakes, and tree frogs. Some mammals you can spot include red foxes, coyotes, eastern cottontail rabbits, river otters, and raccoons. You and your kids can even hunt for insects here too, including dragonflies, grasshoppers, butterflies, and spiders.

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is located in nearby New Vernon, New Jersey. The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

Duke Farms

Duke Farms is a local nature preserve that promotes environmental and ecological conservation, education, and research. Visitors can come see the landscape and wildlife that reside across the 1,000 acres of property open to the public for outdoor recreation and exploration. You can hike the trails, follow animal tracks, and look for signs of animal habitats nearby.

Some animals you can see include deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, minks, river otters, beavers, chipmunks, squirrels, and a wide variety of birds. In fact, it’s one of the best places for birding since the area is home to many native and migratory birds, including many birds of prey like bald eagles, hawks, and vultures.

You can visit Duke Farms Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The park is located at 1112 Dukes Parkway West in nearby Hillsborough, New Jersey.

Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park

Head south to Trenton to visit the wildlife at Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. This park has 70 miles of grasslands, forests, and historical sites throughout the region.

You and the family can walk, hike, or bike along the trails in the park and keep a lookout for different animals and tracks. Animals you might see at D&R Canal State Park include 160 different species of birds, including bald eagles, woodpeckers, and barred owls; many species of turtles, toads, frogs, salamanders, and snakes; as well as mammals like squirrels, deer, red foxes, and groundhogs. If you have a little bug lover in the family, D&R Canal State Park is a great place to spot millipedes, centipedes, spiders, moths, ants, and many other insects.

If your family is more into water activities, you can go canoeing, kayaking, or fishing in one of the canals. Enjoy the sight of or catch fish like bass, sunfish, catfish, perch, and pickerel throughout the year. This park is also a popular destination for hunting, which also requires a close eye for animal tracks.

Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary

Part of the New Jersey Audubon Society, the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary houses multiple well-kept trails in a variety of lengths that pass through many different native landscapes, from deciduous forests to woodlands to floodplains. It’s a fantastic location to go birding since researchers have reported seeing over 200 bird species, with more than 60 species nesting on the property. You can go see over two dozen types of warblers, plus hummingbirds, woodpeckers, screech owls, and wild turkeys.

Like many other New Jersey nature parks and preserves, there are many mammals that call the Sanctuary home: deer, chipmunks, red and gray squirrels, minks, red foxes, long-tailed weasels, and many more. And while you can take your family for a self-guided hike, consider signing up for an early-morning guided walk around the area to look for specific animals, get information on how these animals live, and hear a bit of history about the sanctuary and its impact on the local habit.

Visit this nature preserve at 11 Hardscrabble Road in nearby Bernardsville.

Round Valley Recreation Area

Round Valley Recreation Area surrounds the Round Valley Reservoir, a 2,350-acre waterway that’s actually the second deepest lake in the state of New Jersey. It’s a fantastic location for a wide variety of activities that allow you to commune with nature and even meet some local animals.

Some of the best places to view the local wildlife in this park are the Pine Tree Trail and the Family Hike and Bike Trail. Both have prime birding opportunities to spot hawks, ospreys, bald eagles, herons, and many more birds, mammals, and reptiles. In addition to on-land wildlife viewing, you can also go fishing for a variety of trout, bass, pickerel, perch, sunfish, catfish, and even eels. Or, get up close and personal with these aquatic animals and more by going scuba diving or snorkeling in the reservoir. However, make sure you get a permit before trying to do so.

You can spend the day there looking for some of your favorite animals, or you can go camping and stay for a few days to see as much as you want. That’s because this park is one of the only parks in the area to offer wilderness camping. So if you want to make it a long wildlife-spotting adventure, reserve one of the park’s 85 sites for tent camping.

Round Valley Recreation Area is located at 1220 Stanton-Lebanon Road in nearby Lebanon, New Jersey. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week.So there you have it, five awesome places in and around the Bridgewater area to go see wildlife with the kids. Did we miss any of your family’s favorite places to see animals? Let Crème de la Crème of Bridgewater know, and we’ll be sure to add it to our growing list!