Trailside Nature & Science Center

Enjoy the Fall at Trailside

Looking for a road trip? Check out Trailside Nature & Science Center in Mountainside

It’s time to get back to nature in this week’s Road Trip Close to Home!

Trailside Nature & Science Center in Mountainside is a must-see for those who want to learn about all that surrounds us in New Jersey.

News 12’s Syma Chowdhry shows us how your kids will get a lesson about animals in our neck of the woods – she even brought her own son to tag along!

Journey through the Solar System


Location and Hours of Operation:

Within Union County’s Watchung Reservation 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, NJ 07092

Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 10:00 am– 4:00 pm

Closed Mondays

Trailside Outdoor Summer Programs

Registration starts May 7th

Click here to register online

Trailside’s Virtual Winter Walk

Content updated weekly! If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Winter Walk in Conant Park

Trailside’s Virtual Summer Camp

Content updated weekly! If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Turtle Time

Meet Timber – A close-up look at one of Trailside’s resident Box Turtles – featuring Roslyn Dvorin, Trailside Park Naturalist:

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Pond and Stream

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Trees are Terrific

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Bugs and Beyond

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Animal Homes and Hideouts

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Birds of a Feather

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Pollinator Power

If videos do not load, please refresh the web page.

Girl Scout Troop 96330 – The Human Footprint

How Pollution, Global Warming and
Deforestation Affect Animals Around the World

As part of their Bronze Award project, Girl Scout Troop 96330 was scheduled to do a presentation at the Wild Earth Fest at Trailside Nature Center to celebrate 50 years of Earth Day. As the event had to be cancelled, due to COVID 19, the troop created a video, titled The Human Footprint – How Pollution, Global Warming and Deforestation Affect Animals Around the World. The video is in three separate segments.

  • Pollution – presentations by Molly, Vicki and Maeve of Troop 96330.
  • Global Warming – introduction by Molly, followed with presentations from Caroline, Emily, Sophie and Grace.
  • Deforestation – Introduction by Molly with presentations from Maggie, Eliza and Kiera.

“What’s In Your Backyard?”

The Trailside Nature and Science Center staff has put together nature activities and a list of resources for families to use at home during this time. These nature and science themed activities and resources are engaging, fun and safe for all ages. We hope that they provide you and your family with some entertainment while learning about the natural world that is right in your own backyard!

Take some nature photos from around your own backyard

Send one or two of your favorite pics to along with the town you live in and your age and we will post a few on our website.

Early Spring Wildflowers in the Watchung Reservation

  • From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Vast array of information about every bird you can think of!  Also on this site is a link to their Merlin app, which works on your phone or computer.  This makes identifying birds in your backyard very fun and easy.  There are also bird calls built into this website for identifying by sound.
  • Contribute to science from your own backyard. Contribute to Science – Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. We share your findings with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data. All you have to do is observe.
  • Hundreds of citizen science projects.  Along with a handy “Project Finder” tool, you can narrow your search for a project by age group, subject, as well as time.
  • Allows citizen scientists to connect with other nature observers throughout the country. Observing phenology through Nature’s Notebook offers place-based, hands-on learning opportunities provides a collaborative platform for site-based educators, promotes cross-subject engagement while addressing standards of learning, and can be used to identify and answer local scientific research questions addressed by many natural resources, volunteer, and gardening groups. Phenology is an excellent lens for teaching about the natural world.
  • Weekly bird themed activities complete with educational workbooks, videos, crafts and more.
  • Ideas, ranging from worksheets to at-home science experiments to do with kids
  • Do at home craft with kids Use your creativity to reuse a roll and make something fun
  • Audubon for Kids Weekly bird themed activities complete with educational workbooks, videos, crafts and more.
  • National Museum of Natural History – Virtual Tours Virtual tours of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
  • 50 Preschool Science Experiments Ranging from worksheets to at-home science experiments to do with kids.
  • County’s very own wildlife cam.  View a pair of peregrine falcons nesting on top of the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth.
  • The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey offers a Bald Eagle cam on an active nest located at nearby Duke Farms.  There are also other wildlife cameras found on their website under “Education”.
  • View a pack of wolves residing at the International Wolf Center in Minnesota.
  • The San Diego Zoo has a variety of live animal cams, including Tigers, Koalas, penguins, and more
  • The Houston Zoo also offers a variety of live streams of their animals.  These include elephants, ants, gorillas, and more.
  • The Cornell Lab has many different bird cameras, many of them on nesting sites!
  • Wild Birds Unlimited feeder cams
  • The Georgia Aquarium has several webcams including Sea Otters, Jellyfish, Piranhas, and more
  • Virtual tours of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
  • Botanical Drawing and Exploration for Children Studying and Drawing a Flower
  • Salamander Activity Book
  • National Geographic – Explorer Classroom Every weekday 2 PM. Free, has scientists talking to kids about their research. for example, today was about climate change and sea level rise, tomorrow is frogs. Spanish and follow up/assessment resources as well.
  • Nature Conservancy Virtual Tours of Wild Places – Natural Lab Divided up by grade level

Examples of some of their green spring cleaning guides

Garden Related

General Pro-Environment articles

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Click here to read the story

Story and Photos by Joseph Filo, Sr. Park Naturalist

Take a nature walk with Trailside Nature & Science Center’s Senior Park Naturalist Joe Filo in the woods next to his yard.

Playlist under the video

“What’s In Your Backyard?”

Nature photos taken in and around the yards of Union County Residents 

Denise Bartkus from Clark

Photos from her backyard

Emily Klag from Westfield

Turtles on a branch in a pond

Michele LoManto from Roselle Park (Sustainable Jersey Agent / Chair- Green Team)

I’m a 65 yr old nature photographer with a certified wildlife habitat backyard. My garden includes milkweed and buddelia for the Monarchs, Swallowtails, Painted Ladies and Skippers who flutter in. A Cabbage White floated by today. Right now we’re visited daily by a Northern Cardinal and his family of three along with White-thoated sparrows, house finches, starlings and blue jays. Winston Woodpecker and his mate Winifred also stop by regularly for peanuts. The Coopers hawk is local, his nest is a few blocks away. We have migrating birds; hoping to see the hummingbirds in May. The bunny is a daily visitor and we also host possums, groundhogs and skunks, although we smell the skunk more often than see him! I begin raising the monarchs in July, last year we successfully launched thirty-three. Thanks for all you do, education is so important.

Freeholders hold ribbon cutting for County’s first – and nation’s most extensive Sensory Friendly Trail at Watchung Reservation in Mountainside

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders today cut the ribbon on the Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail, the first of its kind in the county and the most extensive one in the nation. The trail is accessible to all residents, allowing them to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings at the Trailside Nature and Science Center.

“We continue to champion equal access and inclusion for all residents, and the sensory trail will be leading the way nationwide,  providing a way to safely experience the outdoors and providing opportunities to interact with nature and learn about the rich history our county has to offer,” said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados.  “We are committed to providing children and adults of all abilities access to recreational opportunities, and as such we also created the Office for People with Special Needs, this year, which is coordinating programs for children at the Sensory Friendly Trail including a Special Needs Summer Camp.”

The trail is open to all visitors, seven days a week from dawn to dusk for free, and is located behind the Trailside Nature and Science Center at the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside.

There are many different components to the trail which is designed to provide sensory stimulation and interaction, and meet the physical, social and cognitive needs of different age groups.

To being with, the Watchung Reservation Sensory Trail is a 0.3 mile loop with a central gazebo.  The interpretive signage includes two talking kiosks highlighting the natural and human history of the Watchung Reservation.  There are also sounds from nature, including bird sounds, insect sounds, and the sounds of the Lenape Indians, who once occupied the reservation.

The central gazebo has a sensory play area to attract children and encourage exploration and discovery—including a crawl through a log, mushroom steppers, and a balance beam that looks like a tree branch.

There are also musical components on the trail—including drums, Xylophone, and other items to touch, including wheels and balls, and raised garden beds (sensory gardens for touching and smelling).

The 0.2 mile braille trail loop with guide ropes features multiple stops to learn about the local flora and fauna.

The nearby Trailside Nature & Science Center will utilize the new Sensory Trail and offer educational programs to allow students and families an opportunity to explore nature and gain a better understanding of the natural world around them. As part of Freeholder Chairman Granados’ “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives for 2018, the Freeholder Board created the Office for People with Special Needs, which has been expanding resources and activities while also working with local organizations to build connections for the betterment of people with special needs.

The trail stretches from the Trailside Center and into fields surrounding the center and there are two outdoor classrooms along the trail (log and acorn searing) where naturalists can gather groups and/or make presentations.

The project was designed by CME Associates Consulting and Municipal Engineers, which is based out of six offices in New Jersey. The project contractor is Pavelec Brothers from Nutley, NJ. The cost of the project is $652,000.

The Freeholder Board continues to champion equal access and sensory friendly opportunities for its residents. As mentioned above,  the Freeholder Board through Freeholder Chairman Granados’ “Moving Union County Forward” initiatives for 2018, created the Office for People with Special Needs, and also the “Level the Playing Field” initiative which is creating sensory friendly and accessible playgrounds in all 21 towns throughout the County—the first such initiative nationally. Last year, the Freeholder Board created the County’s first inclusive playground at Mattano Park in Elizabeth, and several years ago under Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, created the Sensory Friendly Theater series, which continues annually.

Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados and Freeholders Bruce H. Bergen and Rebecca Williams joined Union County Manager Ed Oatman, Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner, Union County Parks and Recreation Director Ron Zuber, Union County Department of Human Services Director  Debbie-Ann Anderson, county employees and people with special needs in cutting the ribbon, officially opening the new Sensory Friendly Trail at the Trailside Nature and Science Center at the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside. The trail, which is the first of its kind in the County, will be accessible to all and allow residents to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.

The full-day option was a great way to immerse the kids and capture their interest.  The teachers were enthusiastic, professional and knowledgeable.  Thank you for sharing your skills.
Cranford, NJ
The combination of your teachers’ enthusiasm, natural expertise and energy combined with the deep, hands-on content was fantastic.  The parents learned as well as the kids.  My son said “Trailside never disappoints, but this camp was amazing!”  Highlight of the summer!
Scotch Plains, NJ
The instructor was kind, patient and knowledgeable.  My son felt comfortable asking questions.  He especially enjoyed searching for sassafras and other trees in the woods.
Watchung, NJ
This was a fantastic intro to wildlife for my preschooler.  She wants to know more about animals.  She loved having friends in class, going outside every day and seeing real animal homes in nature.
Westfield, NJ
I loved that the size of camp is smaller and my daughter gets to have more one on one interaction with the counselors to learn more.Fanwood, NJ
Such a great way teach the children about nature while having fun.
New Providence, NJ
My son was very excited to share what he learned at camp.  He loved searching for bugs in all the different habitats.  Wonderful place to learn!
Berkeley Heights, NJ
She enjoyed her time at Trailside camp.  It was more than I expected.  She felt very comfortable and enjoyed every day.  We will come back next year for sure!  Thank you.
Scotch Plains, NJ
My son had a blast.  Teachers and curriculum was great.  Reasonably priced.
Westfield, NJ
We are always pleased with the educational level and hands-on experiences of the Trailside camp.  The staff is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Cranford, NJ
We really enjoyed the camp, a perfect mix of educational and fun activities.
Fanwood, NJ


Trailside Nature & Science Center is Union County’s Environmental Education Center, located in the Watchung Reservation, a 2,065-acre preserve containing woodlands, fields, lakes, streams and more than 13 miles of hiking trails.

This serene setting provides the perfect classroom to have fun while learning about the natural world. Renovated in September 2006, the Center houses 4,500 square feet of interactive, state-of-the art exhibits, including a towering 34-foot American beech tree exhibit that fills the building’s atrium.

This jewel, secluded in the Watchungs, also features classrooms that look out on the Reservation, a multipurpose room, a library, children’s discovery room and a 250-seat auditorium.


Hours of operation on the top of this page

Thanksgiving, Day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day, New Years Eve/Day, Fourth of July and Easter


452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, NJ  |  908-789-3670  |  Map


This location as Wi-Fi provided by the Union County Board of County Commissioners.