Everyone knows that walking is great exercise and a fun way to get the family out in the fresh air together. But what do you do when you’re tired of walking around the neighborhood or your kids have declared the local stroll boring? Guest Blogger Michelle Longo took her family to Flat Rock Brook Nature Center and shares a great alternative.
Located in Englewood, New Jersey, Flat Rock Brook is a nature oasis in the midst of suburbia. The 150-acre nature preserve is the remains of the Palisades Forest, situated on the western slope of the Palisades. The lush greenery shields you from the brunt of the sun and the beautiful sounds of the birds and animals who live there create a symphony in their own right.
When you first arrive, you’ll want to check out the Nature Center. This building houses a permanent exhibit called “A Walk in the Woods,” which will entertain and educate both children and adults. There are several dioramas including a meadow scene and a life-sized red oak. There is also a 535 gallon aquarium, home to the same fish and animals one may see in the actual pond and stream outside. Children will enjoy the interactive flip book field guides and the bird song panels. You’ll want to pick up a trail map before you head out for your walk.
Once outside, there is so much to see it’s hard to know where to start. Before even hitting the trails, you’ll want to check out a few exciting areas right outside the building. In front sits the butterfly garden which was designed to provide shelter, food for butterfly larvae, and nectar for adult butterflies. In the rear, a patio sits at the edge of Quarry Pond. Nearby, a wooden deck hangs over the same pond, giving an even closer look into the water itself. Quarry Pond is home to turtles, bullfrogs, and fish, so little ones should be encouraged to listen carefully and keep their eyes open to search for these native creatures.
A short boardwalk trail offers a sneak peak of what you may find out on the main trails. Native plants abound in this area. In the middle, visitors are privileged to see several magnificent birds who have been injured and can no longer live in the wild, but have found sanctuary and loving care here.
There are over 3.5 miles of trails on the grounds of Flat Rock Brook, which are color-coded to lead you on an adventure around the reserve. Each trail is well-maintained, with trees marked with colored blazes and even those with little to no experience with hiking should be able to follow along. My seven year old son really enjoyed being on the lookout for the blazed trees and using the map to make sure we were headed the right way. At the junctions of trails, it was fun for us to use the markers and the map to decide if we wanted to head down a new path or continue on the way we were headed.
Using the map, it’s also easy to find your way to the picnic and playground area. This was a nice place to take a break, have a snack, and watch the kids climb and slide. There are also restrooms located at this point in the trail. You can also head over to Mystery Bridge, which overlooks a cascading stream. If you follow along to the yellow or green trails, you can cross the brook over a series of rocks. If you’re quiet, you may also spot a deer peeking out at you through the trees.
One of my biggest concerns when visiting hiking trails with my son is that the terrain could be more difficult than either of us can handle. We walked over two miles of the trails in one afternoon and though it was a workout, neither of us felt it was beyond our capabilities. Only a sudden yet refreshing downpour stopped us from continuing on through the rest of the areas. Our next visit, and there will definitely be a next visit, will start out where we left off, ensuring we don’t miss a single inch of this gorgeous land.
Flat Rock Brook
443 Van Nostrand Avenue, Englewood, NJ
Park is open for hiking every day from dawn to dusk
Nature Center: Monday – Friday 9 am – 5 pm / Weekends 1 pm – 5 pm