S. Central Ave., Seaside Park, New Jersey
On leaving New Jersey’s heavily developed coast, you will find Island Beach State Park a pleasant surprise, with its 10 miles of undeveloped seashore.
The southern end of a long barrier beach, this area became an island in 1750, when raging seas broke through the narrow bar of land at Seaside Heights. The inlet was open until 1812, when another storm closed it.
In the 1950s, to preserve the fragile environment of dunes and grasses found here, the state purchased 2,694 acres for a park with a botanical preserve, a recreation zone, and a wildlife sanctuary; today the park boasts more than 3,000 acres. The nature center at the north end of the park offers guided walks and has exhibits of the shells, butterflies, and primitive maritime vegetation found all around the island.
A paved road lined with dunes and beach heather leads from the park entrance to the recreation zone (a marvelous stretch of white, sandy ocean beach) and continues to the wildlife sanctuary, which is also open to visitors. At the end of the road, the Barnegat Lighthouse can be seen 11/2 miles in the distance.
The park is especially lovely in autumn, and the good weather can extend until Thanksgiving. The water stays warm, the beaches are empty of people but filled with shells, swarms of monarch butterflies cling to the branches of goldenrod, and the southbound birds are on the wing.
Open year-round. Parking fee.