My favorite place to go is Island Beach State Park. It is the perfect combination of recreation and wildness. You ride in on a long road that bisects the island. On your right is the bay side and on your left, the ocean. You cannot see the water, though. It is hidden during your drive.
You have a few choices of destination. If you are visiting the Island for a regular day at the beach, there are two bathing areas complete with life guards, snack bars and changing rooms. There is ample parking and a short walk from the lot to the sand. Using the beach in the park is also very affordable – for New Jersey residents, it costs just $6 ($10 on weekends/holidays) per car for access. Compare that to between $5 and $10 per adult at many of New Jersey’s beaches. Before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, the fee drops to $5 per car for residents. The only difficulty is arriving early enough (or waiting until later in the day) on popular summer weekends – the park closes to new visitors once all its parking spots are taken.
If you are more interested in hiking the park’s trails and walking on the beach, there are myriad parking areas from which to choose. You may remember my saying how you cannot see the water from the road – that is one of the neatest parts of walking to the beach from one of the small parking areas. Often, you walk through a maritime forest until you follow the trail over or through a dune. All-of-a-sudden, there is the ocean spread out in front of you. If you are there during the week, you may even have the beach to yourself. Take the road all the way to its end, then park and walk down the beach as far as you can go (about 1.7 miles). You will be rewarded with a view of Barnegat Light from across the inlet to the bay.
If you are more interested in nature, you will not be disappointed. There are numerous bird species that stop by the Island. Osprey build their nests on large man-made platforms. Take a look at the Friends of Island Beach State Park’s “osprey cam” to see one up close. You may even get a glimpse of the red fox that live there.
This year I hope to bring my bicycle and bike the park road (about 8 miles each way) before enjoying the beach.
The Mercer County Library System owns many books about the New Jersey Shore. Here are just a few you may enjoy:
A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore by Joanna Burger
Place Names of the Jersey Shore: Why Did They Name It That? by Lee Ireland
Lifeguards of the Jersey Shore: A Story of Ocean Rescue in New Jersey by Michael Fowler
Haunted Jersey Shore by Charles A. Stansfield
Sentinels of the Shore: A Guide to the Lighthouses and Lightships of New Jersey by Bill Gately
New Jersey Shore Restaurants – a Zagat Guide
Jersey Shore: Vintage Images of Bygone Days by Emil Salvini
--Andrea at the Hopewell Branch