Day trips, hiking and nature trails aren't just meant for warm, sunny days. Many southern New Jersey tourist favorites take on a new character as the weather cools down. Area parks become a great place to see winter's migrating birds and butterflies, while popular attractions such as Historic Smithville or the Cape May County Zoo offer holiday train rides and a Santa's Family Workshop.
Here are a few popular parks and tourist attractions worth a visit as the weather cools.
Estell Manor Park
Fall is the perfect time to go boating, hiking or camping, and at 1,700 acres, Estell Manor Park - Atlantic County Park System's most popular park - is the place to do all of those activities and more.
The former glassworks site is home to the Warren E. Fox Nature Center and more than 20 miles of trails, including an elevated wooden swamp trail boardwalk. Come winter, most of the trails convert to cross-country skiing when it snows.
Estell Manor Park is located 3.5 miles south of Mays Landing on Route 50. For more information, call 609-645-5960 or visit
The colonial village of Historic Smithville in Galloway Township -known for its quaint shopping, dining and bed and breakfast - takes on a whole new look as the weather gets chilly. Holiday lights on Lake Meone (in a display set to music), a Christmas train, "frostbite" car cruise and free story time with Mrs. Claus are just some of the attractions that make Smithville and the adjacent Village Greene a must-visit place several times throughout the holidays.
For more information, call 609-748-6160 or visit www.smithvillenj.com.
In fall, visit this historic village in downtown Millville, not only to see unique glass art on display or tour the Museum of American Glass, but to see the village decorated for the holidays. Explore area cultural traditions in the Down Jersey Folklife Center. For Halloween, trick or treat in Wheaton Arts from 1 to 4 p.m. and meet everyone from the Grymm Witches to Ichabod Crane and Doctor Frankenstein. The shops make for good places to find unique glass or handmade gifts, and there will be holiday studio sales the first and second weekend of December.
Wheaton Village is located at 1501 Glasstown Road in Millville. The village is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday through the end of December, with weekend hours in January, February and March. For more information, call 800-998-4552 or visit www.wheatonarts.org.
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park
Fall and winter make for some of the best times to visit Barnegat Lighthouse, where visitors can take in amazing views of Long Beach Island, Barnegat Bay and Island Beach State Park without dealing with the summer traffic or the crowds. The park is also an excellent area to observe many species of birds during fall migrations, including wintering waterfowl such as red-breasted mergansers, common eiders and harlequin ducks. The park sponsors several waterfowl viewing programs throughout the winter.
The lighthouse is open every day 9 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Wednesday to Sunday through the end of October. For more information, call the park office at 609-494-2016 or visit www. stateparks.com/barnegat_lighthouse
Monmouth Battlefield State Park
There is a lot of history along the border of Manalapan and Freehold Township, where one of the largest battles of the American Revolution took place in the fields and forests that now make up Monmouth Battlefield State Park. The park preserves the 18th-century landscape of hilly farmland, and offers miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, picnic areas, a restored Revolutionary War farmhouse and a visitor's center.
The park is located on Route 33 in Manalapan, and is open daily. Fall hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and winter hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday; and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 732-462-9616 or visit www. state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/monbat.
Cape May Zoo
Who says a trip to the zoo is for warm weather? The Cape May County Zoo has a full roster of events for fall and winter, beginning today with "Boo at the Zoo," a family trick-or-treat event with a live pirate show and kids' costume contest. Santa's Family Workshop comes to the zoo 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 11. The free family event, hosted by the Board of Chosen Freeholders, will also include crafts, education stations, entertainment and treats.
The zoo is located at 707 Route 9 north and is open every day except Christmas. For more information, call 609-465-5271 or visit www.capemaycountygov.net.
Cape May Point State Park
Nature lovers will enjoy coming to Cape May Point State Park in the off season, when the beach views, wetlands and forest trails show signs of the changing seasons. Through mid-November, bird watchers can see migrating hawks on the elevated hawk platforms in the park. Through October, Monarch butterflies can be seen migrating through southern New Jersey, and Monarch banding demonstrations are held daily during peak migration times.
For more information, call 609-884-2159 or visit www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/capemay