The Stone Harbor, Avalon, Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May areas in New Jersey have hundreds of family-friendly and educational activities for you to enjoy when you visit the Jersey Shore. All five of these shore towns are located within a 25 minute car ride from one another, so going from one activity to the next is quick and easy to do.
Three years ago we visited The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey for the first time. We decided to return for a second visit and this time around we brought along my mother and 8 year old granddaughter along with us. We knew it was the perfect educational & fun activity for my granddaughter to experience this summer and we were right!
The Wetlands Institute sits right off of the Garden State Parkway on the main drag leading into Stone Harbor. We found it very easy to get to from the Parkway and made for a fun adventure after visiting the Cape May County Zoo. If you’re visiting the zoo, it’s just a short 10 minute car ride away. Their hours vary, so you will want to check their web site for their schedule of operation.
You will want to wear comfortable walking shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking. Once you walk into the building, you will pay your admission. While you are in this area, you can use the public restroom and/or visit the gift shop which really has some really cool gifts! There is a large room to the right of the gift shop (an auditorium) and that’s were you’ll start your tour by watching an 18 minute video about the coastal area and the important part that it plays in our ecosystem.
After the short film the tour guide took us outside to begin the safari walking tour. The first thing that we came to was the Terrapin Turtle Basking Station where they had two turtles inside it, basking in the sun. My granddaughter enjoyed seeing them up close and was really excited that she could personally touch them.
Our female tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and very patient with all of us in answering our various questions as we went along. While on the walking tour you’ll walk on wide stoned paths and across a metal bridge which they call a “boardwalk” which takes you out over some of the swampy salt marsh.
During the safari marsh tour the tour guide will give you all kinds of information about the native plants that you’ll see along the way, coastal birds that you’ll see flying around and nesting or feeding, crabs that are half-buried in the sand, information about the bay tides, the fragile eco-system, the migration routes of animals that pass through and all kinds of different things.
With that said, they’re really focused on educating the public on the plight of the Terrapin Turtles. I’m a huge fan of turtles (got two pet ones at home) and I’m always interested in learning more and helping them when I can.
Along the stone paths on your tour you’ll see a few Terrapin Turtles crossing the path. These are female turtles who come up out of the water and look for high ground to dig a hole and to lay their eggs. Once laid, they cover up the hole with sand and head back down into the water. The volunteers & researchers at the institute go out and cover up those nests with little wire carriages to prevent the eggs from being dug up by predators.
When the researchers and volunteers see a female turtle…they will often catch her, so that they can get important information from her. They can learn all kinds of things about Terrapins but simply tracking them from year to year. They are all about education and conservation here and as a turtle fan, I really appreciate and respect their efforts.
The guided tour leads you out through the salt marsh to a wooden dock where you can sit down and take-in the beautiful surrounding views! While we were out on the dock we saw some of the crabs, a few fish, turtles, egrets and ospreys nearby. It’s a great way to see the surrounding area and has some of the best views on the bay-side of the island.
As we headed back, we walked along the stone path so that we could check out more of the Terrapin Turtles who were looking to lay their eggs and to see more of the surrounding plant life. It’s a really nice walk back to the institute.
We then headed inside the building where they have some exhibits, displays and aquariums set up. You can go in there to check all kinds of different things out. Around 3PM each day they have another guide come into the room who teaches you all about the animals that live in the touch-tank. They also feed them at that particular time and some of the guests can hold the animal and feed them too.
They have several different aquariums in this particular building and my family absolutely LOVED meeting one of the newer residents! Let me introduce you to “Nelson” the octopus! He was a real hit with everyone on the tour…kids and adults alike! I have to admit, I really enjoyed seeing Nelson too! Isn’t Nelson adorable? I think so!
As we walked around the exhibits we found a few that were extremely interesting to see. The one above is a replica Osprey nest and right above the nest you’ll see their TV screen which shoes a live camera feed of a nesting pair of Osprey. They have babies in the nest with them and did you know that Osprey mate for life? Yup, we learned that during the tour.
We enjoyed seeing the display of whale bones and skeletons from marine animals that they had set up. I can’t remember off the top of my head everything that we learned about them, but it was indeed interesting to see. You’ll also find some very kid-friendly and hands-on activities for the kids to do while your visiting this particular area.
Right next door is another building that you can go into that pretty much focuses on the plight of the Terrapin Turtles and really teaches you about them through exhibits and displays. They had a nice display of a female Terrapin Turtle that shows you digging her hole in the sand, laying her eggs, covering up the hole, the eggs hatching and then a bunch of little turtles coming out and heading to the water. We really enjoyed that visual display.
Once we were done with our guided tour we headed back inside the main building to do a little shopping in their gift shop. My granddaughter got a few souvenirs and I purchased a nice sand dollar bracelet for myself. They sell kid’s toys, women’s jewelry, books, postcards, magnets, souvenir trinkets, some artwork and other things. I found the prices to be reasonable.
We had a great time visiting The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey and this visit was even better than our last visit 3 years ago. They added new exhibits and really made the entire experience much nicer and even more hands-on. If you’re going to visiting the south Jersey Shore, you really need to plan a visit to The Wetlands Institute!