Camps & Workshops

Summer Camps

Summer Camp 2023

Registration begins at 9:00 am on Saturday, March 4 for residents of Union County

The Union County Board of County Commissioners invites you to take part in outdoor, educational summer programs offered in the scenic Watchung Reservation. Children ages 6-12 can enroll in a morning session, afternoon session or a full-day.  Programs are   designed to foster an awareness & appreciation of the natural world.

Session Times

  • A: 9:00 AM  – 12:00 PM
  • B:   1:00 PM   –  4:00  PM
  • A & B Combination: 9:00 AM –  4:00  PM
  • *Combination rates A & B include a ½ hour lunch & ½ hour free time.*

5-Day Program:

  • Single Session Rate: 
    • Union County Resident $165 / A or B
    • Out of County Resident  $210 / A or B
  • *Combination Rate:
    • Union County Resident   $330 / A & B
    • Out of County Resident  $420 / A & B

3-Day Program: July 5-7 only (Wed – Fri)

  • Fee:  Single Session Rate:
    • Union County Resident   $100 / A or B
    • Out of County Resident $125 / A or B
  • *Combination Rate:
    • Union County Resident   $200 / A & B
    • Out of County Resident  $250 / A & B
    • *Combination rates A & B include a ½ hour lunch & ½ hour free time.*

Family Evening Programs: Fee:

  • Union County Resident $7/person
  • Out of County Resident $8/person
  • *Combination rates A & B include a ½ hour lunch & ½ hour free time.*

Please read all general and cancellation policies before registering. Children must be age appropriate by the first day of their program.

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

Program Chart for Children Aged 6-12

Trailside Summer Camp Programs for Children Ages 6-7

ARCTIC, OCEAN & DESERT – Take an imaginary journey to some of the world’s most extreme habitats.  Find out how animals such as arctic fox and polar bears survive the sub-zero temperatures of the arctic, while camels and armadillos thrive in the heat of the desert.  Learn about the magnificent ocean and its inhabitants, including whales and sharks.

AROUND THE WORLD – Become a world explorer and travel to different continents each day.  Learn about amazing animals that live in the Rocky Mountains, creep through the Amazon rainforest, run in the African deserts and inhabit the outback “down under.” 

FEATHER, FUR & SCALES – Have fun learning about birds, mammals, reptiles & amphibians as we explore the fascinating world of the animal kingdom.  Investigate the different habitats of the     Watchung Reservation in search of our animal neighbors, their homes & hideouts.  Meet live snakes and turtles from Trailside’s reptile collection.

HAVE TO HAVE A HABITAT – Food, water, shelter and space are necessary for all animals to survive.  Discover the diversity of animals that live in the forest and use sweep nets in the meadow to catch, identify and release insects. Investigate nearby wetlands in search of frogs, salamanders and aquatic insects.  Through crafts, games and hands-on activities, have fun exploring nature.

MYTHICAL CREATURES of Field & Forest Use your imagination to explore near-by forests, meadows, lakes and streams in search of mythical creatures such as fairies, elves and gnomes.  Through art projects, stories and hikes, participants will enjoy a world of make-believe set within the natural world. 

NATURE’S OLYMPIANS – Discover who is the fastest flier, strongest swimmer, highest jumper & quickest sprinter as we explore nature’s most extreme athletes.  Through active games, hikes & experiments, campers will find out who are our nature’s champions.

SEASONALLY ARTISTIC – There are many ways nature can influence art.  Find out which season inspires you the most!  Use your creativity to make tools from natural objects.  Have fun turning pine needles into a paintbrush to paint a winter scene, let flowers be your inspiration for a springtime watercolor painting and harness the sun’s rays for a summertime solar printing. 

WANISHI, WIGWAMS & WAMPUM – Use your imagination to see what it was like to live as a Native American child.  Touch real Native American artifacts, visit a wigwam and play games such as mamandican and corn darts.  Listen to stories, work with clay and learn how the Lenape Native Americans survived in the wilderness. 

Trailside Summer Camp Programs for Children Ages 8-9

LIFE IN COLD BLOOD – Take an in-depth look into the world of reptiles and amphibians. Find out important facts about these fascinating creatures. Search each day at different sites in the reservation to find out where they live. Discover what adaptations help these cold-blooded animals survive. Meet live snakes and turtles from Trailside’s reptile collection.

MAGICAL & NATURAL MARVELS – Prepare to have fun in this entertaining camp based on ideas from the ever-popular Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling.  Campers will enjoy learning about medicinal and useful plants (herbology), practicing chemistry experiments (potions), learning about transfiguration (metamorphosis) and exploring the solar system (astronomy). Investigate habitats suitable for natural creatures such as snakes and salamanders, and use your imagination to discover which magical animals may inhabit these different environments.

ART OF NATURE – Nature has inspired artists for many years. Investigate different habitats in the Watchung Reservation in search of nature’s beauty.  Discover art in nature through sketches, painting and storytelling. Using natural items, create rock cairns, clay pots and water color paintings. Let nature be your inspiration. 

BIRDS OF A FEATHER – Explore the diverse world of birds and discover what makes them unique in the animal kingdom. Find out about different bird groups and the characteristics that make them different from one another. Explore some of the finer points of bird identification and start your own life list of bird sightings.

JUNIOR NATURALIST – Learn about the plants and animals living in and around water; develop a heightened awareness about the importance of conserving and preventing pollution of this natural resource. Use special nets to collect, identify and release aquatic insects, fish, frogs, toads, crayfish and salamanders. Find out how these animals indicate the health of the environment.  

CALL OF THE WILD – Have fun learning all about mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish throughout the week. Discover the variety of mammals that inhabit the Watchung Reservation, from flying squirrels to white-tailed deer. Listen to bird songs and find out how to identify our feathered friends by sight and sound, and have fun investigating local wetlands in search of amphibians, aquatic insects and fish. Meet live snakes and turtles from Trailside’s reptile collection. 

SOLAR SYSTEM SURFERS – Join the Space Team and discover Trailside’s new Solar System Walk. Learn about the planets in our solar system, the sun, stars, comets and asteroids.  Each day will be a fun-filled adventure in the Milky Way. Activities include playing the Weightlessness Race and navigating the astronaut obstacle course.   

HABITAT HEROES – You can be the next generation of environmental experts to help protect wildlife and their habitats. Join a Naturalist and investigate the habitats around Trailside. Explore the streams, pond, forest and meadow and discover how each animal is specially adapted for their environment. Learn about the fastest animal on earth, play the food web game and have fun catching salamanders, tadpoles, crayfish and insects.

Trailside Summer Camp Programs for Children Ages 10-12

EXTREME EARTH – Through hands-on experiments, explore the reasons for Earth’s natural disasters. Understand the science behind avalanches and earthquakes and investigate the causes and effects of tsunamis, tornadoes and volcanoes. Learn about the three lava flows in the history of the Watchung Reservation and collect rocks that help tell the story. Learn to use Mohs scale of hardness, find out why minerals fluoresce and excavate for “fossils.”   

BACKWOODS LORE – Learn how to identify plants that are safe to eat, build an emergency shelter that can keep you warm and dry and follow a course using only a map and compass. Find out how to identify and track local wildlife and see what it takes to get a fire going without matches. Are you ready for the challenge?

NATURALLY ARTISTIC – The beauty of nature has inspired many artists.  Explore the world of visual arts with Trailside’s very own, talented exhibit artists.  Enjoy using mixed media such as acrylics, charcoal, water colors and clay to create your own masterpieces.  From realistic to abstract, have fun as you try your hand at different forms of art.

NATURE TREKS – There’s a lot happening in nature during these hot summer months. Take a hike on a different trail each day and investigate the natural world around you. Look under rocks and logs for nature’s recyclers, try to catch a frog, fish or tadpole at Lake Surprise, explore the river for salamanders and find out how all living things are connected.

Family Evening Programs

EVENING POND SEARCH – Join us at Seeley’s Pond as we search for aquatic life as the sun goes down. Use dip nets and strainers to catch, identify and release frogs, fish, insect larvae and tadpoles. Wear: Shoes that can get wet and muddy.  Meet at: Seeley’s Pond upper paved parking lot.

NOCTURNAL NEIGHBORS – As we are getting ready for bed, many animals are just waking up! Have fun exploring the forest and fields around Trailside for our nighttime neighbors such as: bats, owls, flying squirrels, opossums and raccoons.  

FULL MOON HIKE – Take a walk by the light of the moon and discover the diversity of wildlife active at night. A full moon occurs when the Earth is directly between the Sun and Moon so it is fully illuminated.  August’s super moon is called the Sturgeon Moon. Find out why they call it the sturgeon moon and have fun investigating the Watchung Reservation at night.

General Policies for Summer Programs

General Policies for Summer Programs

  • Program spaces are non-exchangeable and non-transferable.
  • You may register your family members in your household only.
  • In developing programs, Trailside keeps in mind the abilities of different aged children.  Please pay attention to age guidelines when registering.  If an inappropriately aged child attends a program, the child will be removed and no credit or refund will be issued.  
  • Children must be age appropriate by the first day of the program.

Cancellation Policies for Summer Programs

  • Credits will not be given at any time for summer programs. 
  • Refunds will be given from March 6th to June 16th with a non-refundable registration fee of $35 charged for each half-day session.  No refunds will be given after June 16th.
  • Trailside is unable to process refunds for summer programs directly to your credit cards.  Call Trailside at 908-789-3670 for refund procedures.

Cancellation Policies for Evening Family Programs

  • Refunds will not be given at any time for Evening Family Programs.
  • Credits will only be issued for Evening Family Programs cancelled by Trailside due to inclement weather


Toddler Time

Programs designed to foster an awareness and appreciation of the natural world for adults with children ages 3 and younger. Registration Required

  • $10/family (max 4 per family) for Union County residents.
  • $12/family (max 4 per family) for non-county residents
  • Time:   Wednesdays or Saturdays, 10:00 – 11:00 AM  

March 15 or 18Maple Sugaring Sugar maple sap is collected in February and March and is used to make delicious maple syrup. Hug a maple tree to see if it is big enough to give sap, and find out what equipment is needed to collect it. Take part in a taste test and find out if you like the real thing.

March 22 or 25Patterns in Nature Learn about the honeycombs in a beehive, spots on a bird and stripes on a snake. Take a walk to look for trees that have branches that are opposite, evergreens with needles of five and footprints that are heart-shaped.  Enjoy searching the reservation for signs of repetition.

March 29 or April 1 – Critter Camouflage The spots on a fawn help it to hide from predators, while the bright colors of a monarch butterfly warn birds to stay away.   Camouflage, warning colors and mimicry help animals to hunt, hide and survive in the wild.  Search outside for animals using crazy colors and cool camouflage.

April 5 or 8 – Nifty Nests Spring has sprung and birds are hard at work. Find out why birds build nests and how long they use them.  Become a nest detective and learn how different birds make their nests using items such as mud, twigs, hair and spiderwebs.  Take a walk and see how many nests we can find.  

April 12 or 15 – Spring Scavenger Hunt Take a walk to look for signs of spring. Go on a scavenger hunt to see if we can find red birds, orange rocks, yellow insects, green leaves, blue skies and purple flowers. Have fun looking for all the colors in the rainbow.

April 22 – Earth Day Bug Brigade Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22. Discover how bugs like beetles, millipedes and ants help to keep the earth healthy. Have fun searching for bugs under rocks and logs. Use a special magnifier for a close up look before returning our tiny friends to their home.

May 3 or 6 – Celebrate Space Day National Space Day is celebrated annually on the first Friday in May. Take a walk along the Solar System Trail and have fun learning about planets, stars and comets.  Discover fun facts about everyone’s favorite Red Planet on a Mission to Mars.

May 10 or 13 – Peregrine Pals The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet and can be found on all continents in the world except Antarctica. Have fun learning all about this spectacular bird of prey.  Using Union County’s falcon cam, take a peek inside of a peregrine falcon nest located atop the Union County courthouse in Elizabeth. Find out what these raptors are doing at this time of the year.


Trailside Family Evening

Registration Required

Join a Trailside Park Naturalist on a walk by moonlight and discover the many animals that become active at night.

For:  Adults with children ages 6 and older.  Children must be accompanied by an adult.  Both adults and children must register for the program.

Fee:  $7/person for Union County residents. $8/person for non-county residents

Time: Thursdays, 7:30 – 8:30 PM

Program is all outdoors so please dress for the weather.

April 6 – Pink Moon Hike – The April full moon is known as the Pink Moon. Find out how this moon got its name and enjoy an evening moonlight walk. Search for nocturnal animals such as raccoons, bats, opossums and flying squirrels.

May 4 – Flower Moon Hike – The May full moon is known as the Flower Moon. Find out how this moon got its name and enjoy an evening moonlight walk. Search for nocturnal animals such as raccoons, bats, opossums and flying squirrels.

Back to Nature

Programs designed to foster an awareness and appreciation of the natural world for adults with children ages 4 and older. 

Registration Required

Fee:  $7/person for Union County residents. $8/person for non-county residents

Time: Saturdays, 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM

March 18 – Maple Sugaring – See how real maple syrup is made from the sap of a sugar maple tree. Find out what equipment is needed to collect and process the sap. Take a walk to see a tapped maple tree and find out if the sap is running.                                                     

March 25 – Bear Necessities – New Jersey has only one type of bear, the black bear. Learn fascinating facts about these powerful animals. See a bear skull, feel a bear pelt and look for “bear tracks” as we take a short hike to look for food and shelter a bear may use.

April 1- Colors & Camouflage – April Fools’ Day is celebrated annually on April 1st and is often filled with practical jokes and hoaxes. On this day of trickery, learn how animals use camouflage, warning colors & mimicry to fool each other.  Search outside for some of nature’s tricks!

April 8 – Migration Madness – Warblers, wrens and hummingbirds are migrating here for the spring. Discover why birds migrate and learn simple techniques to help you identify them. Take a walk to look for our feathered friends, find out what they eat and learn where they nest. 

April 15 – Animal Architects – Take an up-close look at some animal homes and find out what materials are used to build them. On our walk, we will search for nests, burrows and tree cavities as well as other animal homes, hideouts and “apartment houses.”

April 22 – Invest in Our Planet is the theme for Earth Day this year. Say “thank you” to the Earth for good food, fresh air and clean water. Take a nature appreciation hike and learn how we help protect the habitats in the Watchung Reservation and our animal neighbors with no mow zones, removing invasive species, creating brush piles and installing bird and bat boxes throughout the reservation.  

May 6 – Space Race – National Space Day is celebrated on the first Friday of May each year. Take a guided walk along Trailside’s Solar System Trail, where each step you take represents one million miles in space. Learn how to use the audio guides to discover fun facts about our solar system.   

May 13 – Falcon Friends – Union County is home to the only active peregrine falcon nest camera in the state of New Jersey.  Learn about the world’s fastest animal, the peregrine falcon, and other birds of prey, such as hawks, eagles and owls. Using the falcon cam, see live footage inside the nest that sits atop the courthouse in



Teacher Training – Project Learning Tree

Project Learning Tree “PLT” is a nationally recognized activity guide that provides educators with tools for increasing student environmental awareness.  Whether you are a formal or informal educator, PLT activities will engage your students in inter-disciplinary, hands-on experiences that develop skills in problem solving, evaluation and research.   

Time:  9:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Participants receive six (6) NJDOE professional development credits.

  • Fee: $25 which includes activity guide with over 100 lessons. 
  • Bring:  Lunch
  • Morning refreshments will be provided. 
  • Dress for outdoors.

Register online


Nature Walks for Seniors

Seniors, ages 55 and older, are invited to investigate Union County Parks with a Trailside Park Naturalist.

Registration Required

Fee:  $5/person for Union County residents. $6/person for non-county residents

Time:   Fridays, 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM  

March 17 – Winter Waterfowl Walk at Echo Lake – The colder months bring a great diversity of waterfowl to NJ. Learn why they visit and what makes these birds unique.  Take a walk along Echo Lake in search of these winter residents. Bring binoculars or borrow a pair of ours.  Meet: at Echo Lake parking lot by the Sledding Hill.

March 24Maple Sugaring – Maple sugaring is unique to areas of North America and parts of Canada. It was discovered by the Native Americans and was shared with the colonists. Collecting maple sap occurs for a brief period of time in this area. During February and March, the trees are “waking up,” and conditions are just right for the sap to start running. See how 100% real maple syrup is made from the sap of a sugar maple tree. Find out what equipment is needed to collect sap and take a walk to a tapped sugar maple tree.

March 31Black Bears of NJ – Black bears are occasionally seen in the Watchung Reservation. Did you know that these bears are excellent climbers, good swimmers and can be black, brown, cinnamon, blonde, gray or white in color? Find out other fascinating facts about black bears, including their habits, diet and what type of habitats they prefer. Learn how to react in a bear encounter.           

April  7Lenape Park Early Spring Walk – As temperatures rise and the days get longer, take a walk to enjoy the sights and sounds of early spring in Lenape Park. Find out which trees are leafing out, learn about the tiny spring peeper frogs that sing at night, discover which animals are emerging from hibernation and learn about the many birds that are beginning to migrate home.  Meet at Lenape Park parking lot off Kenilworth Blvd in Cranford.

April 14Peregrine Falcons – The fastest animal on the planet, the peregrine falcon, once faced regional extinction in the eastern United States. Now their numbers have rebounded, and they are often seen perched or zooming through cities and shorelines in search of their prey. Learn about the life history of the peregrine falcon and other birds of prey on a walk through the Reservation. See live footage from the only peregrine falcon nest camera in the state of New Jersey, located atop the courthouse in Elizabeth, NJ.  

April 20Earth Day Spring Wildflower Walk – Earth Day is celebrated every year Thursday on April 22. Celebrate this special day as we walk in search of the many forest wildflowers that are present for only a short time in the spring. These flowers are called spring ephemerals. Get an up-close look at some of these fleeting wildflowers and discover how this strategy helps them survive.   

May 5Solar System Walk – Celebrate National Space Day as we tour the solar system using Trailside’s Solar System Trail, where each step you take represents one million miles in space. Use audio guides to learn about the planets in our solar system, and find out about the different walks you can take with your friends and family: Mission to Mars, Voyage to Saturn and a Comet’s Journey.

May 19Deserted Village Migratory Bird Walk – Take a walk in search of warblers, swallows, swifts and other birds moving back to New Jersey. Discover why birds migrate and learn simple techniques to help you identify them. Bring binoculars if you have them, or borrow a pair from Trailside.  Meet: in the Deserted Village parking lot at the top of the hill – 2 Cataract Hollow Road Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922.