School, Youth & Community Groups Trailside Nature & Science Center is the Environmental Education Center of the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation, under the auspices of the Board of County Commissioners. It is located in the Watchung Reservation, a 2,065-acre preserve containing woodlands, fields, lakes, streams and more than 13 miles of color-coded hiking trails. This serene setting provides the perfect classroom to have fun while learning about the natural world around us. Trailside’s Group Programs are conducted by professional staff in a safe, enjoyable and educational manner. Programs may be adapted to accommodate age, grade and developmental levels. See Trailside’s Fee Schedule for rates.

Outreach Programs – Specific programs are available for off-site classroom presentations or assemblies (for groups located within a 25-mile radius of Trailside). Call Trailside at 908-789-3670 for information on all outreach programs.

Group ProgramsExhibit Tour – All Ages – Tour three floors of nature exhibits. Learn about the layers of the forest and life under a log. Enter a hollow tree to view live box turtles. Stroll through the meadow and enjoy interactive displays highlighting insect life. Take a seat in the night theater to learn about nocturnal animals. Discover how Lenape Native Americans lived by walking into a life-sized wigwam. Crawl through an old log to view live fish and aquatic turtles thriving in a wetland habitat. Look for wild birds, chipmunks and deer at our wildlife observation site and find out how you can help wildlife in your own backyard. 45 min. –1 hr.

Group ProgramsDinosaurs – Pre-First – Learn about these extinct animals by pretending to be a paleontologist. Search for “fossil” remains of dinosaurs and help reconstruct a dinosaur skeleton. Compare the actual sizes of several dinosaurs and mimic the walk of a T-Rex and Stegosaurus. 45 min.

Group ProgramsSensory Explorations- Pre-First – Investigate the wonders of fields and forests through touch, smell, hearing and sight. Children will be introduced to descriptive terms corresponding to shapes, colors, textures and numbers in nature. 45 min.

Group ProgramsMini-Beasts – Pre K–2 – Search the forest floor to collect, identify and release a variety of nature’s recyclers. Participants will use magnifying “bug boxes” to get an up-close look at earthworms, millipedes, beetles and ants. Learn about the big jobs these small creatures perform. (April-June & Sept.-Oct.) 45 min.– 1 hr.

Group ProgramsAnimal Homes & Hideouts – Pre K–2 – All animals need shelter to survive. Discover which animals call the Watchung Reservation their home. See a bird’s nest, an engraver beetle tunnel and the home of a bald-faced hornet up close. Search for animal hideouts and learn what building materials are used. Take a short hike to a variety of habitats to find evidence of animal homes and hideouts. 45, 60 or 90min.

Group ProgramsSnakes & Turtles – Pre – K–2 – Identify the unique characteristics of reptiles. Compare the similarities and differences between snakes and turtles. Find out how snakes hunt and eat their prey. Discover how turtles eat without teeth and why they bask in the sun. Touch turtle shells and a snakeskin shed, and feel a replica reptile egg. Interact with a live snake and turtle. Indoors. 45 min.-1 hr.

Group ProgramsGreen Wonders – 2-5th grade – Find out about the tallest, largest and oldest living organisms to ever inhabit the Earth. Students will participate in fun activities that demonstrate how people and animals depend on plants for their daily survival. Then take a hike along our trails to discover the uses of specific plants. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsFeathered Fauna – 2–12th grade – Explore the diversity of bird life found in the Watchung Reservation. Unique adaptations and behaviors will be emphasized. Listen to bird calls and examine feathers, bones, nests and eggs. Search for birds in field, forest and meadow. Trailside features a year-round bird observation site. Program content will vary slightly with the season. 60 or 90 min. (Spring – nesting, Fall – migration, Winter – feeder birds)

Group ProgramsMammal Mania – 2-12th grade – What makes a mammal a mammal? Investigate the characteristics of mammals and the special adaptations they need to survive. Examine skulls, pelts, tracks and scat to help identify the different species that reside in New Jersey. Compare predator vs. prey. Take a walk to search for signs of local mammals. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsNature’s Choice – 2-12th grade – Many changes take place in nature with seasonal cycles. A brief introduction will highlight natural occurrences in winter, spring, or fall. Explore fields and forest to discover strategies used by plants and animals to cope with the changing seasons. Students will use a key to identify some of the more common trees in the Watchung Reservation. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsSap To Syrup – 2-12th grade – Learn the Native legend of this unique American food. Investigate the seasonal life cycle of the sugar maple tree and discover how 100% real maple syrup is made from the sap. Measure the diameter of trees and see the specialized equipment needed to collect sap. Take part in a taste test to identify the real thing. Participate in a field walk to learn how to identify the sugar maple tree and observe a working tap. (Feb.-March) 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsAnimal Neighbors – 3-12th grade –Learn about the different mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects that share our urban and suburban neighborhoods. Search grass, meadow, forest and aquatic habitats for what every animal needs to survive. Create a food web to see how all living things are connected. Look for signs, homes and hideouts. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsReptiles of New Jersey – 3-12th grade -Discover the unique characteristics of the reptiles living in our state. Examine turtle shells and a snakeskin shed. Learn the importance of these often misunderstood creatures and the threats they face. Participate in an activity that tests your new knowledge of reptiles. Meet a number of Trailside’s live resident reptiles. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsKids For Conservation – 4-12th grade – Learn the importance of conservation and sustainable living through interactive games and activities. Explore what renewable energy sources are available. Discover easy ways to help protect our planet through everyday choices and find out how you can make a difference. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsAmazing Amphibians – 4–12th grade – Discover the characteristics and life cycle of these unique creatures. Learn to identify some of NJ’s amphibians by sight and sound. Learn about the problems that threaten the survival of amphibians and their importance as indicators of environmental health. Search for and identify amphibians in various habitats. 90 min.- 2 hrs.

Group ProgramsLenape Of New Jersey – 4–12th grade – Watchung is the Lenape word for “hilly place.” Explore an area the Lenape people once called home and learn about their lifestyle. Students will receive an interdisciplinary view of NJ’s Native American residents through a life-sized wigwam, artifacts, maps and historically documented visuals. An outdoor search for plants used by the Lenape people for tools, medicine, food, dyes and cordage will round out this experience. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsForest Community – 4–12th grade – Learn about the relationships of biotic and abiotic components of a forest ecosystem. Through group activities emphasizing observation and data recording, participants will navigate through four distinct stations which focus on the layers of the forest. The impact of humans on the forest ecosystem will be examined. 60 or 90 min.

Group ProgramsAquatic Life – 4–12th Grade – Ponds and lakes are special communities made up of plants and animals adapted to water. Using dip nets, students will catch, identify and release insects, amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans and fish. Learn the definition of a watershed and find out how we affect our waterways. Predict water quality based on the organisms found, then use water test kits to see if your predictions were accurate. Limit one class at a time. Requires two naturalists per class. Spring & Fall 2 hrs.

Group ProgramsGeology of the Watchungs – 4–12th – Grade Over 45 million years, three lava flows covered this area. Explore the geological processes that led to the formation of the Watchung Mountains. Examine samples of each type of rock: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. Learn the difference between rocks and minerals and how they are useful to people. Hike the reservation searching for evidence of ancient lakes, glaciers, lava flows and erosion. Collect rock samples for further study. 60 or 90 min.

How to schedule a Program – Registration – To schedule your group program, call 908-789-3670 Ext: 7912, Mon.-Friday. Programs are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. Please book early to ensure availability. Confirmation and additional information about your visit will be mailed to you.

How to schedule a Program – Make A Day Of It – If scheduling allows, we encourage teachers to schedule more than one program. A full day’s visit may include a group program, lunch, a tour of the Visitor Center and a visit to our Natural History Gift Shop. If you are looking for a specific program please ask the scheduling receptionist.

Consult Trailside’s Group Fee Schedule for pricing – To secure your organization’s program reservation, payment must be received within two weeks after the reservation is booked or the reservation will be cancelled.

Lunch – We welcome you to eat at our picnic areas. Larger groups are invited to use our lawn in the loop area or behind the Museum. A large playground is a short walk from the Visitor Center. A beverage vending machine is located on the lower level. Please bring a garbage bag to collect your refuse. Recycling containers are found around the facility. In the event of inclement weather and if available, Trailside can provide a room for your class to eat lunch, for groups of up to 40.

Weather – Programs are designed with indoor and outdoor components except where noted. We will go outdoors regardless of weather unless dangerous conditions exist. Please make sure students dress appropriately with the proper footwear and rain gear.

Natural History Gift Shop – Please allow 15 – 20 minutes for your group to purchase mementos from their trip to Trailside. The gift shop can accommodate 10 to 15 children at a time. Please plan your shopping based on your group size.

Cancellation Policy – Credits will only be given for cancellations made a minimum of one week prior to your scheduled visit.
In order to accommodate everyone, please let us know in advance if your group has special needs.


Trailside offers a variety of indoor/outdoor programs for both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. 

Our programs are one hour long.  Please call to learn about our scout programs or let us know if you have a specific badge achievement.

For more information call 908-789-3670 Pick option 5


We offer a variety of off-site presentations for schools, clubs and organizations within a 25-mile radius of Trailside. 

  • History of the Watchung Reservation
  • Butterfly Gardening
  • Snakes & Turtles
  • Reptiles of NJ
  • Lenape Native Americans of New Jersey
  • Mammal Mania
  • Feathered Fauna
  • Sap to Syrup (February and March only)

For more information call 908-789-3670   Pick option 5


Package Details

  • Offered for children 4 and up
  • All parties are 45 minute programs conducted by a Naturalist
  • Birthday party room is scheduled for 45 minutes following program
  • Hosts may arrive 15 minutes prior to program to set up for the party
  • Chairs and tables provided. Picnic tables are also available outside during nice weather
  • Please clean up trash, food, party supplies at the end of the party
  • Thank you for keeping all food and beverages in the party room
  • Participants are welcome to explore the Visitor’s Center educational exhibits after the party. All children must be supervised
  • Program Choices for the following Age Groups below

Pre-first Grade

  • Animal Detectives
  • Dinosaurs
  • Sensory Explorations

Pre-First – Second Grade

  • Mini-beasts
  • Animal Homes and Hideouts
  • Snakes and Turtles

Second Grade and Up

  • Mammal Mania
  • Nature’s Choice Seasonal Walk
  • Animal Neighbors
  • Lenape Life


  • Weekdays and Saturdays throughout the school year
  • To book a birthday party please call Trailside at 908-789-3670, press 5 for scheduling


  • Up to 14 Children
    • In-County $160
    • Out-of-County $180
  • Up to 28 Children
    • In-County $250
    • Out-of-County $270


If you are interested in booking a program for your Community Organization please see Group/School programs. 

We may offer additional topics at your request.

For more information call 908-789-3670  Choose option 5

In order to accommodate our visitors, please let us know in advance if your group has special needs.


Group Programs

 Program LengthNumber Of ParticipantsUnion County RatesOut-Of-County  Rates
Pre-first grade – Ages 3-645 minutesUp to 14$55.00$65.00
School & Community Youth Groups – Grades 1 & up60 minutes 90 minutes 2 hoursUp to 25$70.00 $80.00 $105.00$80.00 $90.00 $115.00
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts60 minutesUp to 14 $50.00 $50.00
Adult Groups60 minutesUp to 25$70.00$80.00
Birthday Party Package 45 Minutes Program and 45 Minutes Party Room90 MinutesUp to 14 Up to 28$160.00 $250.00$180.00 $270.00  

Off-Site Group Programs

 Program LengthNumber Of ParticipantsUnion County RatesOut-Of-County Rates Schools within 25 mile radius of Trailside
Classroom Program Preschool  & up 45 minutes One class $100.00 $125.00
 School Assemblies 60 minutes Up to 200 $200.00 $225.00
Adult Groups 60 minutes n/a $100.00 $125.00
ECO—VAN45 minutesOne class$100.00$125.00

Room Rentals

 Program LengthNumber Of ParticipantsUnion County RatesOut-Of-County Rates
Auditorium Corporation & For-Profit Groups60 minutesUp to 230$110.00$140.00
Auditorium Non-Profit  Groups60 minutesUp to 230$70.00$110.00
Classroom Corporation & For-Profit Groups 60 minutesUp to 40$70.00$110.00
Classroom Non-Profit Groups60 minutesUp to 40$40.00$60.00

Family & Adult Programs Special Events  

Admission fees vary for family / adult programs and special events.  See specific program flyers for information.

Group Program Fee and Payment Policy

As a general rule, group program fees are based on one naturalist per 14 pre-first grade children, and one naturalist per 25 children in grades 1 and up. Refer to the Trailside Group Program    booklet for specific program information.  

To schedule a  program please call 908-789-3670  Ext: 7912.

To secure your organization’s Group Program reservation, your payment must be received 10 business days from booking your program. 

In order to accommodate everyone , please let us know in advance if you or a member of your group has special needs.