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Plan a Garden State Getaway to New Jersey

There are nearly 9 million people in New Jersey. But for travelers, the Garden State offers a remarkable variety of ways to escape the crowd.

There has never been a better time for groups to travel off the beaten path. New Jersey is known for its closeness to major metro areas, but its mountains, beaches and farmland make great settings for socially distant group adventures.

If you have groups going to the mid-Atlantic, plan some time in northern, central or southern New Jersey to experience art, history, luxury and outdoor fun.

First Resorts

Northern New Jersey is dominated on its eastern side by proximity to New York City. Metro-area cities such as Newark and East Rutherford are in this part of the state, as are New York landmarks such as MetLife Stadium. But an hour’s drive west takes travelers into beautiful mountainous terrain where they’ll find first-class resorts and a variety of unique attractions.

In Vernon, the Mountain Creek Resort is an outdoor lovers paradise. Comprising more than 1,000 acres spread between four mountain peaks, the resort is a popular ski destination. But guests come during all four seasons to enjoy golf, mountain biking and a treetop aerial course. Groups can take advantage of mountainside accommodations and an on-site restaurant at the resort.

Just five miles away in Hamburg, the Crystal Springs Resort focuses on luxurious experiences for guests. Billing itself as a “golf, spa and culinary resort,” Crystal Springs features six golf courses, two spas and 11 restaurants, cafes and pubs. Groups can choose to stay overnight in the resort’s rustic lodge or in its elegant hotel, and special packages with culinary experiences and other activities are available.

Groups traveling in the area should plan to stop at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, a former iron and zinc mine that closed in the 1980s. Mine tours showcase the tools and technology miners used to extract materials, and the on-site museum features a collection of beautiful, fascinating luminescent minerals.

On the western edge of the state, the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Colombia is a sanctuary for endangered wolves, as well as foxes, bobcats and lynx. Groups can take a tour of the preserve to see these beautiful animals up close and learn more about them from the private couple that founded the organization.

Ivy League

In central New Jersey, travelers will find a mix of historic institutions, fine art and peaceful farmland.

Perhaps the best-known city in the area is Princeton, home to the famous Ivy League school of the same name. Princeton University is scenic and historic, and walking tours highlight many of its unique buildings. The university’s on-site art museum has a collection of 92,000 works to explore.

Beyond the campus, groups visiting Princeton can learn more about area history at one of its Revolutionary War sites. More Revolutionary War battles were fought in New Jersey than in any other state, and a walking tour on one of the battlefields offers a great way to explore the outdoors and appreciate the region’s heroic legacy.

Also in Princeton, Terhune Orchards has become a popular agritourism stop for groups. The 200-acre family farm grows more than 35 varieties of fruits and vegetables. It features a farm market, a bakery, a cider plant, greenhouses, gardens and a farm trail. Groups can get guided tours of the orchard or arrange a tasting in the 150-year-old barn at the on-site winery.

Groups shouldn’t leave central New Jersey without stopping at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. About 10 miles from Princeton, this institution is a 42-acre public sculpture park founded in 1992 on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. Visitors will find a collection of more than 270 sculptures by both well-known and up-and-coming artists. An indoor museum features seasonal exhibits in eight galleries.

Sculpture isn’t the only thing on display at this park, though. The grounds also feature an arboretum with paved terraces, pergolas and courtyards, as well as natural woodlands, ponds and groves of bamboo.

Shore Thing

With miles of coastline and a legacy of amusement, southern New Jersey has always had a reputation for fun. A short drive from both New York and Philadelphia, the area has long attracted city dwellers that want to get away from the crowds. Today, groups can enjoy the region’s delights with numerous outdoor and out-of-the-way experiences.

You may know Atlantic City as the gaming mecca of the East Coast — the city features nine casino resorts that rival any in Las Vegas. But it was the sand and sea that first brought visitors to the area, and today’s travelers can get a taste of this timeless appeal on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Construction of the boardwalk began in 1870. Today, it stretches four miles and is 60 feet wide at its broadest point. Visitors can stroll the boardwalk for views of the surf as well as the city that has been built alongside it. Many enjoy spending time at the Steel Pier, the boardwalk’s classic amusement area with its giant Ferris wheels and lots of other fun and games.

Another great area for groups to explore is Gardner’s Basin. A few blocks away from the high-wattage coastline, the basin is home to the city’s fishing fleets, and visitors can hop on a local vessel for charter fishing, as well as dolphin watching and sightseeing cruises.

An up-and-coming area worth visiting is the Orange Loop on Tennessee Avenue. This hip neighborhood features a beer hall, a chocolate bar and an outdoor restaurant based out of a food truck.

About 40 miles away from Atlantic City, Cape May sits at the southernmost point of New Jersey and has gained notoriety for its historic architecture. After taking a sightseeing tour in the area, many groups also spend time visiting one of the stops on the Cape May Wine Trail. There are six wineries in Cape May County, some of which were built on land that was once used for other agricultural products.

Enthusiasts and casual wine drinkers alike will enjoy the variety of wines produced in Cape May, which is at approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux, France. Among the most special varieties is Malvasia, a light white wine that originated in the Mediterranean but also grows well in South Jersey.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.