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Island Beach State Park Guide — Camping, Hiking, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

769 Published Articles

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Island Beach State Park is a beautiful and popular state park in New Jersey, attracting more than a million visitors yearly. The park offers a wide range of activities, such as swimming, hiking, and fishing, making it a great destination for families and nature enthusiasts.

Its long stretches of pristine beaches make it a great place to relax and soak up the sun. This state park is a must-visit destination for a fun and memorable outdoor experience.

How To Get to Island Beach State Park

Island Beach State Park is between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay in Seaside Park, New Jersey. This park covers an area of over 3,000 acres and boasts 10 miles of stunning coastal dunes. It’s a beautiful location for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and enjoy.

Opening Hours and Seasons

The park is accessible throughout the year from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. During the peak summer months, from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, the park opens an hour earlier at 7 a.m. The park office operates from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Certain activities, such as fishing, are allowed 24 hours a day.

Nearest Airports

When traveling to this park, most visitors use 2 options that take less than 1.5 hours each. Check out these airports to choose the one that best suits your vacation needs.

Atlantic City International Airport (ACY)

Visitors to Island Beach State Park commonly use Atlantic City International Airport. It is approximately 75 minutes away from the park. 

American and Spirit exclusively service the airport. There are nonstop flights to and from Philadelphia and connecting flights to and from over 70 domestic and 20 international airports. 

This airport is the closest to Island Beach State Park. Once you arrive, you can arrange a rental car or transportation to the park.

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

While Newark Liberty International Airport may be a bit further away from the park than Atlantic City, it offers a broader range of destinations, including service from British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Sun Country, and United. 

Located just outside New York City, EWR is a central hub for international and domestic travel. Regardless of where you are coming from, you should easily find a flight to this airport, making it a convenient choice for many visitors.

Bottom Line:

Once you arrive at the airport, you must travel around 90 minutes to reach the state park. Although it may seem like a long drive, the journey is well worth it as you will enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Driving to Island Beach State Park

Getting to this state park is quite easy. When driving on the Garden State Parkway, take exit 82 and head towards Seaside Heights. Then, take Route 35, also called Central Avenue, for approximately 25 minutes until you reach the entrance gate.

Taking the Train to Island Beach State Park

This park has no direct train service, but the North Jersey Coast Line train can get you very close. This train service can get you to Bay Head, New Jersey, about 30 minutes from the park. You can catch a bus or taxi to the park from this station. 

Taking the Bus to Island Beach State Park

NJ TRANSIT provides bus service to various parts of the Jersey Shore. The nearest stops to the park on these routes are Seaside Heights or Seaside Park. To reach the park, you will need to take Route 137, which is only available seasonally during the summer months at this time.

Getting Around Island Beach State Park

Island Beach State Park Guide
Image Credit: State of New Jersey

The most convenient way to explore the state park is by walking. There’s a parking lot near the main entrance gate where you can park your car. Please note that the park authorities mark the park as full when all parking spaces are occupied. Therefore, arriving early or planning your visit on a less crowded day is advisable to guarantee a spot.

What To See and Do at Island Beach State Park

There are plenty of activities to enjoy at this state park. Whether you prefer to explore on land or in the water, a world of discovery awaits you within the park’s boundaries.

Biking

Visitors bringing their bikes along “for the ride” should note that while cycling is permitted, there are no dedicated biking trails. However, a bicycle lane is on each side of the park road.

A bicycle may be your only way into the park during the summer months because park management stops letting in vehicles once the parking spaces fill up. It’s a good idea to arrive early or plan to bike into the park during peak season.

Fishing

Island Beach State Park is an excellent destination for fishermen who can enjoy this activity all year round. The park offers excellent opportunities for surf fishing, allowing anglers to catch striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, and other types of marine life brought in by the surf. 

People of all ages and skill levels can enjoy fishing. However, it’s important to note that fishing from the beach requires registration. While fishing is allowed after the gate closes, it is only permitted if the angler is actively fishing. Fishing is prohibited in the swimming area from mid-May to mid-October.

Hot Tip:

Before embarking on a fishing trip, fishermen should familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations set out by the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Department to avoid any confusion.

Hiking

Hiking Island Beach State Park
Image Credit: State of New Jersey

Island Beach State Park offers fantastic hiking opportunities, allowing visitors to explore the habitats of a barrier island. 

Visitors of all ages and abilities can enjoy the system’s trails, which are all less than a mile long. Along the trails, interpretive signs provide interesting information about the wildlife, plants, and natural systems you encounter.

Some of the highlighted trails include the Aelium Nature Center Trail, which leads to a butterfly garden; Johnny Allen’s Cove Trail, which offers an opportunity to see freshwater wetland habitats; and the Spizzle Creek Bird Blind Trail, which leads to a bird blind overlooking the bay. These trails are easy to navigate and perfect for those who enjoy hiking. 

Although many visitors focus solely on beach activities, these hiking trails are a hidden gem that should not be missed. There is so much to discover when exploring these trails at Island Beach State Park.

Kayaking

Kayaking is a popular activity at this beach. You can access the water from the beach, bay, and other areas in the park. During the summer, there are kayaking events where visitors can learn kayaking basics, fish from a kayak, or take a tour to explore natural areas in the park.

Kayaks are available for a fee, but no permits are required for individual kayaking. To participate in an event, you will need to register beforehand.

Nature Center

The Nature Center, also known as the Interpretive Center, is located 7 miles from the park entrance and is run by the Friends of Island Beach State Park.

This center showcases different themes found in the park, including the geology and dune formation, the park’s flora and fauna, tools used by those who lived here long ago, and the island’s political history. There is also a herbarium at this location containing examples of plants within the park’s boundaries.

Some of the main points of interest here include a 1929 Model A Ford converted to a beach buggy and a model of the Reed Hotel and building from 1876, which shows what the island was like before it became a state park. There are also interactive experiences, such as a New Jersey bird identification station and an area where visitors can see live footage from an osprey nest. 

Scuba Diving

Island Beach State Park offers an exhilarating opportunity to explore the underwater life through scuba diving. The park management has permitted diving in some of the park areas, allowing divers to witness the captivating beauty of the marine life.

For the safety of divers, the park management requires them to register at the park office before their first dive. Divers must also present a valid diving certificate and utilize the buddy system, ensuring maximum safety during the dive. With the breathtaking view of the underwater world, scuba diving in Island Beach State Park is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

Surfing and Windsurfing

At the southernmost end of the swimming area are sections marked for surfing and windsurfing. These sections will likely have different wave patterns and wind conditions suitable for these 2 activities. It’s important to note that these sections are only open during the summer months, which is the peak season for such water sports.

Each year in August, as long as the weather is favorable, the park hosts a surf competition called the Barrier Island Classic Jr. This competition is exclusively for young surfers aged 12 to 17, who can showcase their skills and compete for prizes. It’s a great way for these young surfers to gain recognition, improve their abilities, and build confidence.

Swimming

Island Beach State Park
Image Credit: State of New Jersey

The park has stunning beaches and is a favored destination for swimming enthusiasts. The designated swimming area in the park spans a picturesque 1-mile stretch of beach perfect for a refreshing dip.

Lifeguards are stationed at the beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day to ensure swimmers’ safety. At the beginning of the season, lifeguards are only on duty on weekends. As the summer season progresses and the number of visitors increases, you can expect them to be present daily.

Hot Tip:

The lifeguards are trained to handle emergencies, so you can swim with peace of mind, knowing you are in safe hands.

Best Times To Visit Island Beach State Park

Island Beach State Park is an amazing destination that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. However, some seasons are better than others, especially if you want to participate in a specific activity or event.

Best Time To Visit Island Beach State Park for Ideal Weather

Planning your trip according to the weather can significantly affect your experience. September is an ideal time to visit due to the optimal weather conditions. The temperature typically ranges from the mid-50s to upper 70s, and there is only a chance of rain for about 6 days in the month.

Best Time To Visit Island Beach State Park To Avoid the Crowds

December is the perfect time to visit the park without all the crowds. However, the temperatures can be frigid, usually in the 40s, and the chances of snow are high. Despite this, many people still find it a great time to visit.

Best Time To Visit Island Beach State Park for Wildlife

Island Beach State Park Wildlife
Image Credit: Ray Hennessy via Unsplash

The best time to visit the park to witness wildlife is spring, especially in March, also known as osprey season. During this time, thousands of people visit the park, hoping to glimpse Bandit and Bay, the resident ospreys, as they return to nest in the park. This time of the year is extraordinary as one can witness the ospreys and other kinds of wildlife in the park.

Cheapest Time To Visit Island Beach State Park

Traveling doesn’t always have to be expensive. With some research and planning, you can save money while exploring new places. To save money, consider traveling there from mid- to late September. This is the cheapest time of the year to visit, as flights and accommodations are at their lowest, allowing you to save hundreds on travel expenses.

Annual Events at Island Beach State Park

This park hosts various events throughout the year, such as conservation talks, beach grass plantings, and wildlife programs. However, 1 event is anticipated by locals and tourists alike every year.

Beach Plum Festival

The Beach Plum Festival is a family-oriented yearly event held in September. It features hundreds of arts and crafts vendors, children’s games, environmental and nonprofit exhibits, live music, a variety of delicious foods, and beach plum jelly and ice cream. Both tourists and locals eagerly look forward to this event each year.

Although it’s free to attend, donations are accepted and go to Friends of Island Beach State Park, an organization dedicated to maintaining and preserving this beautiful park.

Where To Stay in Island Beach State Park

One of the most critical elements to consider when planning a trip is where to stay. Whether you’re looking for a cozy bed and breakfast, a luxurious hotel, or a more budget-friendly option, countless opportunities are available near this state park.

Inside the Park

There are no lodging or camping options within the park. Visitors can find accommodations in nearby towns.

Towns Nearby

The area around the park offers various accommodation options, such as hotels, lodges, and vacation rentals. These towns also provide other services visitors may need during their stay, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations.

Seaside Heights, New Jersey

Seaside Heights is a vibrant coastal town just 10 miles from Island Beach State Park. As a lively and bustling vacation destination, this is the place to be. The town offers a variety of accommodations, from budget-friendly motels to modern hotels and private rentals. 

One of the highlights of Seaside Heights is its incredible dining scene. There are numerous cafes, pizzerias, and delis to explore, making it a foodie’s paradise. 

The town is also home to many exciting attractions and places to visit. Popular attractions include Casino Pier, Breakwater Beach, Seaside Scooters, and Seaside Heights Boardwalk. You can spend hours at the water parks, arcades, souvenir shops, and amusement pier, all offering endless fun and entertainment.

Bottom Line:

Overall, Seaside Heights is a perfect destination for a lively stay with plenty of tourists and things to do. Whether you’re traveling with family, friends, or solo, this town has something for everyone.

Seaside Park, New Jersey

Seaside Park is a small and charming city in New Jersey, and nearby Island Beach State Park is one of its biggest attractions. Visitors can enjoy the park’s natural beauty and numerous recreational opportunities.

Known for being less busy than some of the neighboring towns, Seaside Park is an ideal choice for visitors who want a more relaxed and peaceful experience. The town has a suburban feel, and visitors can find a variety of accommodations to suit their needs, ranging from motor lodges to budget-friendly motels to private vacation rentals.

There are plenty of dining options, including authentic Italian restaurants, fresh seafood diners, pizzerias, steakhouses, and boardwalk eateries. Visitors can indulge in delicious cuisine while enjoying the town’s beautiful surroundings.

Seaside Park has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and recreation, such as the beaches, boardwalk, and various parks. The town is excellent for relaxing, unwinding, and enjoying all the New Jersey shore offers.

Where To Eat at Island Beach State Park

Thanks to its fantastic location, this state park offers plenty of dining options for visitors. Restaurants are located within the park boundaries and nearby. No matter what you’re craving, you can easily find the perfect hunger solution within close proximity.

Chef Mike’s ABG

Chef Mike’s ABG is a restaurant recognized for its exceptional cuisine and dining experience. It is just a few minutes from Island Beach State Park in Seaside Park. The restaurant is open from Thursday to Sunday each week and is a well-known local treasure.

The menu at Chef Mike’s ABG features a variety of seafood specialties, fresh salads, delectable desserts, and a selection of after-dinner drinks and fine wines. Some of the most popular dishes on the menu include ahi tuna, Australian rack of lamb, filet mignon, and salted caramel crème brûlée. The restaurant’s chefs take pride in their work and aim to impress guests with their culinary creations.

Reservations are required, so it is recommended that you book in advance to avoid disappointment. This restaurant is a culinary experience you won’t want to miss during your visit.

Red Fox Beach Bar and Grill

Red Fox Beach Bar and Grill is a highly sought-after dining establishment on the Jersey Shore, located within the boundary of the Island Beach State Park. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind before, during, or after exploring the park. 

The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily during the spring and summer seasons. It offers live entertainment and an extensive menu featuring freshly caught seafood specialties and tropical cocktails. Customers rave about the coconut shrimp, blackened salmon with mango salsa, and battered fresh cod fish tacos. 

You can enjoy the beautiful views of the shore while sitting outdoors with a cold drink, hot meal, live music, and exceptional customer service.

Island Beach State Park Facts

Island Beach State Park
Image Credit: Ray Hennessy via Unsplash

1. A New State Park Established

In 1953, the state bought the land that makes up the park to preserve its natural beauty and provide a recreational facility for swimmers, beachgoers, hikers, and fishermen. The park opened in 1959.

2. Original People of the Park

The Lenape Native American tribes originally inhabited this area in New Jersey. They constructed permanent settlements on the mainland and seasonal homes on the coast.

3. Safe Haven for Osprey

Island Beach State Park is home to the largest osprey colony in the state. The park provides live cameras for visitors to observe the birds in their natural habitat.

4. Lighthouse Views

Visitors can enjoy stunning views of Barnegat Lighthouse from the park’s southernmost tip, one of the primary attractions of Barnegat Bay and Long Beach Island.

5. Hopeful Resort

In 1926, Henry Phipps, Andrew Carnegie’s partner in Pittsburgh Steel, purchased the land where Island Beach State Park is currently located. He intended to construct an upscale summer resort with 3 separate homes built on the property — The Ocean House, The Bay House, and The Freeman House. Unfortunately, the development never came to fruition due to the stock market crash.

Final Thoughts

Island Beach State Park is one of the most popular parks in New Jersey, attracting over a million visitors each year. With a wide range of activities to choose from, including exploring unique habitats, surfing, kayaking, and surf fishing, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here. Book your trip to this beautiful park and experience all that it has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Island Beach State Park?

The park charges a daily vehicle entry fee that varies by season and residency. The peak season runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. During this time, the fee at weekends and holidays is $10 for New Jersey residents and $20 for non-residents. Monday to Friday, the entry fee is $6 for New Jersey residents and $12 for non-residents. During the off-season, the vehicle entry fee is $5 for New Jersey residents and $10 for non-residents.

How much time should I spend at Island Beach State Park?

A minimum of a full day is recommended for visiting this state park.

Can I bring alcohol to Island Beach State Park?

Alcohol is prohibited at Island Beach State Park.

Can I bring my dog to Island Beach State Park?

Dogs are welcome at this park but must be leashed at all times in the park. They are not allowed at the swimming beach during summer, and some trails prohibit dogs.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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