Finding Beauty in Nature: A Year of New Jersey Park Explorations with The Park Mama is a personal blog that I launched last summer to help local families find respite from the pandemic and connect with nature. I feature uncrowded green spaces, most of which are free, shaded, and stroller-friendly within an hour’s drive from Hoboken.

How The Park Mama Began

While I became far more creative with indoor activities during the pandemic, we were all longing for some fresh air. The problem was that at germaphobe level 10, I was scared to venture outside at all. In one particularly memorable Zoom conversation with my weekly Hoboken Grace dinner group, I shared my anxiety about taking the kids (then 3 and 1) outside, and the group did something that I’ll never forget. They encouraged me. They lifted me up. They pushed me. My family echoed the same, and then, a dear friend gave me the best gift: an uncrowded park recommendation.

Richard Rutkowski Park: Bayonne, NJ

We gradually started exploring last summer, and with each new park under our belt, I regained my confidence, faced fears, and felt more and more alive. My newfound hobby became finding uncrowded green spaces to explore with littles, and I enjoyed sharing recommendations with those seeking similar experiences. A friend later dubbed me The Park Mama, suggested that I write a blog, and even took it a step further and let me know that was available. I had only explored 5 parks at that time and definitely didn’t feel qualified to be The Park Mama, but I felt that gentle nudge from God to start writing, and so with the support of my dinner group I took a step of faith and did. The feedback has been incredible - from families using the blog to choose their weekend excursions to pregnant mamas finding a safe space outdoors - I’m honored to help families enjoy a breath of fresh air.

Flat Rock Brook Nature Center: Englewood, NJ

Memorable Experiences This Year

We’ve observed what animals eat…

  • An egret gulped down a fish.

  • A chipmunk devoured a worm and stuffed his cheeks with leaves.

  • A doe and her fawns grazed delectable grass.

  • Hatchlings opened their mouths wide for tasty worms from mama birds.

We’ve seen animals in action…

  • Birds ice skated on a frozen pond.

  • A red-tailed hawk swooped in low.

  • A garden snake slithered between my feet.

  • 11 ducklings waddled behind their mama.

  • Eagles soared overhead.

  • Turtles gracefully swam and rested on a log.

  • Geese playfully honked and splashed.

  • A beaver hid in the bushes and then greeted us on our path.

  • An owl hooted at us when I said “hello”.

We’ve discovered...

  • Storybook trails.

  • A scale-model solar system walk.

  • Fun places to scoot and bike ride.

  • Scenic picnic spots.

  • Still water, swimming lakes, waterfalls, and streams and brooks to skip rocks.

  • Hidden gnomes and fairies.

  • A daffodil bowl.

  • Butterfly gardens.

  • A dinosaur park.

  • The joy of stroller vs. scooter races.

  • Fallen log balance beams.

  • Delicious new apple varieties from a 7th generation farmer.

We’ve learned…

  • Why the Garden State is so aptly named.

  • How to identify plants, trees, insects, and birds.

  • How to use binoculars and a magnifying glass.

  • How to be still and listen to the soothing sounds of the forest.

  • How much fun bug safaris can be.

  • How to paint or draw what we observed at a park.

  • How to pair stories with park adventures to extend learning.

  • A piece of NJ history - from colonial trails and pirate hideouts to 19th century farm life.

The Park Mama’s Top 5:

  1. Stroller-friendly Nature Walk: Mill Creek Marsh, Secaucus (10 mins away)

  2. Toddler-friendly Hiking: Flat Rock Brook Nature Center, Englewood (20 mins away)

  3. Educational Garden: Van Vleck House & Gardens, Montclair (30 mins away)

  4. Swimming: Hooks Creek Lake at Cheesequake State Park (40 mins away)

  5. Scooting and Biking: Duke Farms (50 mins away)

Rockleigh Woods Sanctuary: Rockleigh, NJ


Janet Hughes is a former Marketing Director turned stay-at-home mama of two nature loving boys. You can find her skipping rocks, reading stories, and picnicking al fresco with her family by day and leading a couples dinner group with her husband on Monday nights at Hoboken Grace. Read more about her family’s adventures, and get ideas of your own at