DAY-TRIPPING IT by Tia Swanson
Making the most of an 18-hour Vacation
There is nothing like a vacation. Then again, there is nothing like a daycation either – that lovely, casual, less stressed middle ground between staying put and hoofing it for exotic climes. The idea of a daycation is to get away from the ordinary, but not far, so you can go and come back in a single day, although on rare occasions a night in a cheap hotel with a swimming pool or a tent pitched in a State Park offers its own little glimpse of heaven.
The appeals of a daycation are myriad: It’s relatively cheap; it can be planned and executed at the drop of a hat; and dollar for dollar and hour for hour it is every bit as fun as its more expensive and exhaustive cousin. This may be why daycations are a favorite of many.
Living in the shadow of New York City means there is no end to the things one can find to do in a day. In summer, however, with the heat pressing down on the concrete, the best daycations often can be found by heading away from all that, toward emptier places where the pleasures are fewer – fewer but just as sweet.
And so here, in no particular order, are some wonderful daycation destinations.
Piermont, NY – “My husband and I love to spend summer afternoons into the evening wandering around Piermont,” says Maggie Tuohy, who has raised four children in Maplewood. While she and her family have made plenty of use of Morris County’s Park system for hikes and bicycle rides, when she’s ready for a date night, she and her husband, Marty, head north to Piermont, the charming town that sits on the western banks of the Hudson just across the New York border. The Tuohys poke in and out of the stores on Piermont Avenue, grab a drink at one of the bars with outdoor seating and dine alongside the river at Cornetta’s. “The view of the boats and the river is spectacular,” Maggie says. But, she adds, “the best part is finishing the evening listening to live music at The Turning Point.” Those with kids in tow may want to end the evening a bit earlier, but they can start a bit earlier too. Piermont is surrounded by trails and parks, many of which include spectacular views over the Hudson. Tallman Mountain State Park butts up against Piermont, and, in addition to trails, has a public pool complex that sells day passes. Paradise Boats rents watercraft to explore the marshes around Piermont and the Hudson itself. And while it’s not the quickest way to get to Piermont, the winding drive along Palisades Parkway is worth the extra time and has several awe-inspiring overlooks.
Stockton, Frenchtown and Lambertville, NJ – The western edge of New Jersey, with its own great river, is also a marvelous getaway, particularly if one takes time to explore the lovely historic towns along the banks of the Delaware. It was a day trip that brought South Orange residents Rebecca Gelman and Michael Ehrenreich and their sons to the area 10 years ago, a wonderful, fateful trip that, over time, became a dream, a new business and eventually not only a second home, but a second life. About six years ago, they bought an old house about a mile south of Lambertville, the largest and southernmost of the three historic towns. They were also taken with the large barn next door, which had been part of their property since the 1800s but divided when the previous owners couldn’t sell the whole package. In 2019, the barn became available and the family snapped it up. They quickly made the decision to turn it into a business. “The area is so beautiful that it made no sense that there wasn’t an outdoor store,” Gelman explains. The family now owns and operates Big Bear Gear out of the barn, a one-stop shopping and adventure destination. Besides a shop full of outdoor gear, Big Bear offers a whole host of events and activities: Visitors can rent bikes for a scenic pedal along 70 miles of canal paths that line the Jersey side of the Delaware, or take a class in snowshoeing in winter or campfire building in summer, among a host of offerings. There is a summer concert series that includes outdoor concerts with s’mores; an artist series; and a farmers market. Information is available on the website. Gelman and Ehrenreich also own the state concession for tubing along this section of the Delaware. Reservations for tube and kayak rentals (ages 6 and up) can be made at the website, and then patrons can drive directly to the launch location outside of Frenchtown. For visitors with young children, Gelman recommends the Howell Living History Farm, a county-run park that offers dedicated events every Saturday in the summer. History buffs of all kinds will enjoy the many Revolutionary War sites on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the river near Lambertville. The state’s Revolutionary War website is an invaluable companion for the journey. Gelman has a long list of go-to restaurants. In Frenchtown, she likes Cucina Del Sol, Frenchtown Café and Bamboo House; in Stockton, the Borscht Belt and Market Pizza; and in Lambertville, Under The Moon ($$$), El Tule ($$$), Tacos Cancun ($), Meta Café (closes at 2 p.m.), Lambertville Station, and More than Q. For coffee, she recommends Union Café, Lambertville Trading Company and Bucks on Bridge. In addition she contends that OwOwCow has “the best ice cream ever.”
Hacklebarney State Park, Long Valley, NJ – Maplewood resident Joy Yagid belongs to four different hiking groups, spends weekends driving to hiking trails of all kinds and can rattle off a bundle of great designations in under a minute. Asked to pick just one, she lands on Hacklebarney State Park: “It’s close to stuff; it has bathrooms and it has a variety of trails....It’s a lovely place.” She is not alone in thinking so. The park has been described by others as “the most beautiful in New Jersey.” The five miles of trails are in the northern section of the park, where the Black River cuts through deep ravines. The park is also part of American history, since its hiking trails were built and cleared by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR’s Depression-era work corps that gave jobs to thousands of out-of-work Americans who were tasked with developing and maintaining areas of natural beauty across the country. Yagid notes that in addition to the trails, the CCC built benches along particularly scenic sections so hikers can stop to enjoy the beauty of the river cascading beneath them. The park allows dogs and there are picnic tables, although Yagid recommends a stop in nearby Chester, with its charming shops and restaurants. The area is rich in apple farms, and The Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill, with fresh products made with cider, is open weekends in the summer. If you’re hankering for something stronger, Burnt Mills Cider Company, a bit further south on Route 206 in Bedminster, offers an array of hard ciders in its tasting room. Other favorite hikes Yagid recommends are High Point State Park; the walk out to the lighthouse in Saugerties, NY; and, for teens and up, the hike to Kaaterskill Falls.
Sandy Hook, NJ – Since Sandy Hook is the perennial field trip destination of every fourth-grade class in the district, this little slice of heaven that is part of the National Seashore is hardly a secret. Still, isn’t sitting on an undeveloped beach with an unrestricted view of the Atlantic a few miles from one of the biggest cities in the world always a revelation? There’s no doubt that Sandy Hook does not offer the thrills and chills of many a Jersey shore town. But for those who prefer the basics of a day at the beach – sand, sun and water – it is impossible to improve on the laid-back thrills Sandy Hook does provide. Of course, since the number of visitors is limited each day (which is part of what makes the experience so grand), one needs to get going early, or as Yagid argues, late. She contends that one of the best times to arrive at Sandy Hook is about 5 p.m., after many of the sun-drenched sea bathers have headed home. It is then quite possible to have the beach or – if you’d rather – the bay mostly to yourself as you walk or sit in those long, lazy golden hours before the sun goes down (the park is open until 8 p.m. every day). You may miss the food trucks that populate the peninsula for hungry beachgoers; but as long as you carry out what you bring in, you can also pack your own snacks. There is history to be had here, and good walks as well, although some of the exhibits are currently closed. Also, in the last several years, a few of the officers’ houses that sit at the end of the park, and enjoy some of the park’s best views, have been renovated and are available for overnight stays. And the thought of having not just a whole beach but a whole national park more or less to yourself feels like the greatest getaway in the world.
Various Trout Streams in Northwestern New Jersey – The first thing to know is that Tim Glynn, like fishermen the world over, is not going to reveal his favorite fishing spot to the casual reader. What he will say is that “we are blessed in New Jersey with an abundance of good fishing.” When pressed, he offers up South Branch of the Raritan and the Musconetcong River as particularly good, while also noting that the best spots change based on the time of year and the relative conditions. Glynn is the owner of Suburban Fly Fishers, which organizes day trips to some of those great fishing spots. On a full day trip, says Glynn, “We hit at least two rivers.” The trip is about the experience as much as the fishing, giving its patrons a glimpse of New Jersey not always seen. And while it’s not exactly fine dining, the trip may include a stop at Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville, an 80-year-old road stand on the side of Route 46, in an area so far west that 48 is nothing more than a country road. It’s a cash-only place with “great hot dogs, great onion rings and birch beer.” He recommends the Long Valley Pub and Brewery as well. A fly-fishing guide in the Catskills, Glynn also can pilot a float boat for a day of fishing on the Delaware. That’s a bit longer drive, but he says any day spent floating down the Delaware is a good day, regardless of whether the fish are biting. When he isn’t fishing, Glynn and his wife, both avid kayakers, often head to Merrill Creek Reservoir, the furthest east of the three large reservoirs off Route 78. Built in the 1980s to feed water removed by energy companies back into the Delaware, Merrill Creek is a 650-acre reservoir surrounded by a 290-acre environmental preserve and 2000 additional acres of woods and fields. Besides being open to non-motorized boats of all kinds, the reservoir has miles of hiking trails and is home to several resident eagles. And yes, it’s also stocked for fishing, including land-locked salmon.
Greenwich, NJ – Greenwich, which being in New Jersey forsakes pretension and is pronounced exactly as written, is the state’s own little place that time forgot. Back when roads were few and Philadelphia was king, Greenwich was a bustling small town close to the point where the Delaware Bay meets the Delaware River – a natural stop for ships going into and out of the capital city. When roads triumphed and ship traffic ceased, Greenwich became far removed from most everything – though not before it had a long, triumphant main thoroughfare now called Ye Greate Street, laid out in 1684; a whole raft of beautiful colonial houses built by ship captains; and its own tea burning, an act of colonial rebellion immortalized by a marker in what passes as the center of town. The town was also reportedly an important stop on the Underground Railroad, a favorite of Harriet Tubman (who made use of its proximity to water to travel from Delaware to its welcome banks). There is a museum in town, which is open from 1-4 every day except Monday. A walk out to the ghost town of Caviar – so named because it once was a large shipping station for the delicacy, complete with railroad tracks to Jersey City and Philadelphia – is a worthwhile adventure, and you may see some eagles besides. You can get lunch nearby at the Bait Box, which sits close to the water and offers a view over long grasses and lazy
water and the feeling of being in a totally different place. After lunch, you might want to head into nearby Bridgeton, where there’s a friendly, family zoo that never seems crowded; if it’s a Saturday, the day should end at The Cowtown Rodeo, a bit north in Salem County, and the oldest weekly professional rodeo in the country.
Tia Swanson recommends Allaire State Park for a relaxing, memorable daycation, even if her children have no memory of it whatsoever.