The Wetlands Institute
GOOD FOR: All Ages

Source:Outdoors with Kids Philadelphia (AMC Books)
Address:1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard, Stone Harbor, NJ
Hours:Hours vary by day and season, and maintenance or special events occasionally necessitate closure to the public; call ahead to verify hours
Fee: Ages 13 and older, $8; ages 3-12, $6
Contact:, 609-368-1211

Bathrooms: In the main building
Water/Snacks: Water fountain and vending machines in the main building
Map: (click on Visit Us)

Walk a trail in fiddler crab territory, paddle the tidal creeks, or climb a tower for an awesome view of the extensive salt marsh.

The Wetlands Institute
Photo by: Susan Charkes

The Wetlands Institute is situated on 6,000 acres of coastal wetlands near Stone Harbor and Cape May. This ecosystem, where the tides run in and out twice daily, covering and uncovering the marshes, is home to distinctive communities of plants and wildlife. The institute provides a variety of fun ways to explore this salt marsh habitat on land or by water.

Start at the visitor center, which has interactive displays about coastal wetlands. In summer, an “osprey cam” shows what’s going on in a real osprey nest. Terrapin Station, devoted to the life history of the native diamondback terrapin, is the first of its kind in the world. Climb spiral stairs, painted with an under-the-sea mural, to the top of the 40-foot-high Observation Tower for a splendid panoramic view of the marsh and the shore. Then take a walk on the easy, 0.25-mile Salt Marsh Trail; it’s made of crushed shells and is ADA- and stroller-accessible. You’ll get close-up views of fiddler crabs darting (sideways) back and forth from their burrows. Informational signs along the trail explain the nature of the salt marsh. The trail leads to a vista from a 125-foot pier extending over a tidal creek, where the huge resident colony of laughing gulls may induce the same mood in the kids. (Note: The pier was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. As of this writing, plans are in place to rebuild.)

Explore this area from a different perspective by kayaking around the shallow marshes; kids will be enthralled by being at the same level as the plants and wildlife, moving with the same currents. The institute’s guide map, Jersey Island Blueway (on website or for sale at visitor center), is an introduction to the backbays, marshes, creeks, and channels of the South Jersey Shore. (Although the institute promotes paddling, there is no boat rental or public launch site there. Use the 81st Street municipal ramp in Stone Harbor.)

The institute offers programs throughout the year that feature guided walks in the marsh, on the beach, and in the dunes; bird and wildlife tours; naturalist-led paddles; and other hands-on activities. Summer Family Night programs for younger children feature live animals.

Remember: Dogs are not permitted in the buildings.

Plan B:

The Nature Center of Cape May has an observation deck, and easy, stroller-friendly boardwalk hiking trails are at Cape May Point State Park.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Continue on Stone Harbor Boulevard to the town, where you’ll find many kid-friendly restaurants.


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