When you vacation in New Jersey, you can look forward to pristine beaches, casinos, lakes, and plenty of fun attractions. Just off the beaten path of overcrowded resort venues, there are a bounty of fascinating hidden gems. Whether you want to catch your breath and relax, dig up some big holes, or slip into your cowboy boots with a resounding “yeehaw,” there’s something for everyone in New Jersey. As for accommodations, there are many New Jersey vacation rentals to choose from that are situated close to these points of interest. Take a look at the top hidden gems that you’ll rarely find in a guidebook.

1. Batsto Village, Hammonton

batsto village
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tiny Batsto Village, founded in 1766, grew as an iron-making industrial town, where workers smelted iron ore in a huge blast furnace. The village iron works supplied the Continental Army with iron during the Revolutionary War. With the discovery of coal and ore in Pennsylvania, Batsto’s ironworks faded, and the village tried to sustain its industry by using sand to make glass. Over the years, all business efforts failed, and the last resident moved away in 1989. The state purchased the land and restored 40 of the original structures, adding a museum and a visitor center.

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2. Northlandz, Flemington

model railroad exhibition in northlandz
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Model train enthusiasts, get on board to visit the largest model railroad in the world–Northlandz, in Flemington. Bruce Zaccagnino started with a small model in his basement in the 1970s. His hobby outgrew the basement, and he actually built a second basement–then a third, a fourth, and a fifth–as his train collections and displays grew larger. His decision to give his hobby to the world resulted in building Northlandz, with Zaccagnino donating the proceeds to charity. The “Home of the Great American Railway” features 135 model engines pulling thousands of railroad cars over eight miles of track, across 400 bridges, over 30-foot mountain, and past more than 4,000 buildings and half-a-million trees. Some of the bridges span more than 40 feet in length.

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3. Diggerland, USA, West Berlin

diggerland usa
Source: diggerlandusa.com

Leave bumper cars to the amateurs and jump into a vacation destination you really dig at Diggerland, USA. Each family member gets a chance to crush, crunch, and dig gigantic holes using real backhoes, excavators, and steam rollers–adult drivers get more freedom with the equipment. Most of the 25 attractions in the park are real, full-size construction machines with modifications to make them safe for children at least 36 inches tall and over. This construction themed amusement park also features a carousel, a train ride, and a roller coaster, all made of construction machinery. Get hoisted and carried about in the shovel of a telescopic forklift, or catch the stunt shows featuring the monster muck machines. Join a hay ride or race the kids through the mazes in this 14-acre park that lies a mere 20 minutes from Philadelphia.

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4. Rutgers Gardens, New Brunswick

rutgers gardens cherry blossom
Source: Flickr/andrew leahey

Leave your New Brunswick vacation rental with great expectations of finding a gem under the New Jersey Turnpike–Rutgers Gardens. Many locals don’t know about the gardens, which includes a large exhibition of holly along with other plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. As you stroll along the pleasant paths, make it a point to look for the farmers’ market throughout the summer and into early autumn. Even during winter months, the roadways, grassy areas, and trails stay enjoyable, weather permitting. The trails through the woods give walkers easy access to some very old holly and oak trees. This is a splendid way to indulge in a few hours of tranquility while waiting for a Rutgers football game.

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5. Cowtown Rodeo, Pilesgrove

cowtown rodeo
Source: cowtownrodeo.com

Your inner cowpoke owns those boots for a reason. Get your rodeo fix at Cowtown Rodeo, the oldest weekly rodeo in America. Founded in 1929, Cowtown continues to thrill audiences with performances by the best cowboys and cowgirls as they work with beautiful horses and livestock during the weekly two-hour shows. Skip the wild west, and stay right here to see riding, roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling, and side-splitting rodeo clown antics. Get sandwiches, snacks, Cowtown Peanuts, cotton candy, and much more from the food vendors, or ask about catering for your family picnic before the show.

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6. Buttermilk Falls, Layton

buttermilk falls
Source: Flickr/Nicholas A. Tonelli

Open wide and say, “Aahhh,” when you see the scenic Buttermilk Falls, nestled in the northwestern edge of New Jersey. Visitors choose from several options to approach the falls, starting with walking just a few steps from the parking lot to the overlook. There’s a set of stairs to ascend to see the hidden falls, which gives access to interpretive displays and a hiking trail. The best time to see the waterfall in its full beauty is after the spring thaw when the water levels run high.

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7. Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey, Teterboro

aviation hall of fame and museum of new jersey
Source: Facebook/NJ Aviation Hall of Fame

Get your vacation off the ground at Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey. Spanning two centuries of flight, museum exhibits include vintage planes and helicopters, model planes, air and space artifacts, a hovercraft, and a rocket engine. Experience what it’s like to fly in the custom-built interactive aerodynamics exhibit when you climb into the “Fundamentals of Flight.” Check out the vehicles outside, including the chopper from the Korean War. Look for the signs that label the ones that allow you to climb inside.

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8. Lakota Wolf Preserve, Columbia

a howling white wolf
Source: lakotawolf.com

What big smiles you have at Lakota Wolf Preserve, tucked away in the woods at Camp Taylor. Join a guided tour to look for wolves, bobcats, and foxes that live there. It’s absolutely amazing when the tour guide initiates a group howl, and you get to howl with the wolves. State laws prohibit you from direct contact with the wolves, so expect to see fences between you and these majestic creatures. There’s a lot of walking and listening involved, making this tour best for children age six and older.

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9. Old Barracks Museum, Trenton

the old barracks museum
Source: barracks.org

Interpreters dressed in Revolutionary War period costumes lead guided tours of the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, the last of its kind in the state. After defeating the Hessians, George Washington and his troops returned to their living quarters here. The site’s colorful history in the 19th century includes serving as The Indigent Widows’ and Single Women’s Home, the first Trenton Mayor’s residence, and a boarding school. In the early 20th century, the property changed hands and the state set up the museum.

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10. Howell Living History Farm, Lambertville

horse-pulled wagon ride
Source: howellfarm.org

Mercer County manages Howell Living History Farm as an example of farm life from 1890 to 1910. From feeding chickens to gathering eggs to pumping water for livestock, it makes a great afternoon for kids. Depending on the season, visitors get the chance to plant or harvest crops, meet new animal babies, join horse-drawn hay rides, see sheep shearing, and help harvest ice from the pond. Friendly animals come to visitors for pats, including pigs, horses, the barn cat, and the oxen. Interactive holiday events include gathering Indian corn for Halloween, cutting down the Christmas tree, and participating in craft events.

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