Don’t let winter keep you inside — Get your dose of Vitamin Nature!

Source: South Jersey Local News

Studies show that being outdoors in any season makes people feel better, both physically and psychologically. Getting outside is especially important this time of year, when shorter daylight hours can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the winter blues. A regular dose of what author Richard Louv calls Vitamin N — nature — decreases depression, boosts feelings of well-being and even improves the ability to focus.

Combining nature with exercise is a no-brainer, since exercise provides a myriad of benefits, from stronger muscles to lower blood pressure to better sleep at night. Visiting parks and nature preserves can stretch your muscles while checking out the wildlife and scenic views. Destinations with trails along waterways – lakes, reservoirs, rivers, bays, marshes and the ocean – are especially beautiful and interesting.

Strolling along the Hudson River is always invigorating, with views of both wildlife and the New York City skyline. The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris and Somerset counties is a prime spot for viewing waterfowl, hawks, foxes and deer. The observation center contains 1.2 miles of boardwalk trails and three observation blinds. Somerset County’s Environmental Education Center also has a mile of boardwalk through the swamp.

Seals migrate from New England to New Jersey for the winter in search of a steady food supply — one great place to watch them is at the Sandy Hook section of Gateway National Recreation Area. It’s a pretty walk along the bay side at low tide to see where the seals “haul out” on tiny Skeleton Hill Island.

Jersey Shore boardwalks are not just for the summer! Keep an eye on the ocean: in addition to the soothing views of waves, you may see northern gannets plunging from the sky, loons diving and maybe even a passing humpback whale!

New Jersey’s water supply reservoirs also make great places to hike and look for birds, including bald eagles. Check out the waterside trails at the Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County, Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County, and the Manasquan Reservoir in Monmouth County.

New Jersey’s Pine Barrens offer many fantastic places to hike in winter. The Franklin Parker Preserve in Burlington County has trails along the reservoirs, where you may spot tundra swans wintering here from the arctic. Rancocas State Park in Burlington County offers trails with beautiful views of the Rancocas Creek and great wildlife viewing.

Cape May is a pleasure in all seasons, and is a great place for winter walks and hikes. The trails at Cape May Point State Park offer scenic views of marshes and ponds, as do The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows preserve.

Find great places to hike this winter by visiting the Web sites of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference; the New Jersey Trails Association; or the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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