Five Epic Family Wildlife Getaways

Tell Your Governor to Preserve Your Wildlife Vacation Before It’s Too Late

Are you looking for your next great trip, but want to stay close to home? Lucky for you the same places that wildlife call home are also fun, easy, and cheap getaways within a drive of Philadelphia and New York City. And with your help, we can make sure those wildlife habitats will be conserved for all our favorite critters!

1. Beat the Crowds to the Beach: Horseshoe Crab Tagging in the Delaware Bay
Although my eight year old son is pretty sure werewolves are real, a true local species that can be spotted under a full moon is the horseshoe crab. Older than the dinosaurs, this species has a distinctive appearance. To the average beachgoer’s eye, horseshoe crabs may look like an odd combination of prehistoric crab and an old-fashioned World War I helmet.

Horseshoe crabs. Photo by USFWS

By the hundreds of thousands, horseshoe crabs converge on the Delaware Bay to breed by the light of the moon. Several National Wildlife Federation partners, including American Littoral Society, hold horseshoe crab tagging and tag re-sighting events on the beaches of the Delaware Bay. The data collected from tagging is used to help analyze the population of horseshoe crabs in the region and better inform conservation efforts to protect them. Your loved ones will gain a whole new respect for you when you gear up for a nighttime expedition on the beach crawling with the harmless horseshoe crabs.

2. Celebrate the Return of America’s Founding Fish

Midway across the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge you can take your picture straddling two states: New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If you come at the right time of the spring, you can spot shad making their migration from the Atlantic, through the Delaware Bay, and up the Delaware River to reproduce.

Thanks to great planning and habitat protection, shad numbers are on the rise after all-time lows just ten years ago. You can celebrate their return at New Hope and Lambertville’s Shad Fest, and enjoy food, music, art, and face painting for the kids. When you go, make sure you check out the commercial shad fishing demonstration by the Lewis family, the last anglers to have a commercial license to catch shad using nets.

3. Escape from NYC to the Upper Delaware River

Fishing in the Delaware River by flickr/ben.timney

Just a couple hours from New York City is the idyllic Upper Delaware. Take the 70 mile drive from NYC to the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. Get panoramic views from such places as the Hawk’s Nest, and wind up in one of the country’s best areas for wild trout fishing. You might even spot a bald eagle soaring above you!

Trout is the lifeblood of the region, generating over $29 million in economic activity for small rural communities. Watch anglers take to their drift boats in search of a wild trout at the confluence of the East Branch and West Branch of the Delaware. While people come from all over the country, there are guides that can help anglers of any experience.

4. Bird like a boss

Are you sad the Easter egg hunt season over? Over the past thirty-five years New Jersey Audubon’s World Series of Birding has made bird conservation fun by turning it into a giant all-ages treasure hunt over the course of 24 hours. Groups of all experience levels drive, walk, sit, listen, and comb New Jersey and identify an average of 165 different bird species. Game on. My recommendation: Join the crowds on the beaches around Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, and join NJ Audubon’s fun events.

Fascinated by birds of prey? Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania was named one of the 10 Best birdwatching destinations in the nation, according to USA Today’s annual reader’s poll. The fall boasts the best views of migrating hawks, bald eagles, and osprey. Hawk Mountain’s 2500-acre sanctuary was the world’s first refuge for birds of prey, and overlooks an eight mile trails system.

5. Wave to the Turtles and Raccoons as you float on by
The large number of outfitters on the Delaware River make it easy to hop in an innertube, canoe, or kayak, and see the great stretches of habitat on which so many species depend. But, remember, habitat is everywhere — including in Philadelphia’s backyard!

Young raccoon in crabapple tree
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA
Photo: Bill Buchanan, USFWS

At John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia you can wend through the largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania, and see eye-catching wildlife from a new vantage point. Reserve your spot on an expert-led kayak birding tour of the refuge where you may see some bald eagles that have been known to nest at the refuge.

Although the policies coming out of Washington, D.C. right now may be challenging to understand or accept as conservation minded folks – from attacks on the Clean Water Act to the gutting of rules that protect migratory birds – we can take action locally.

As we plan our family outdoor adventures this summer, it’s important not to take our National Parks and local wildlife for granted. We can ensure our children and future generations can enjoy the same summer wildlife-watching and outdoor activities we did by asking our state and federal politicians to take simple steps to protect the homes of river otters, shad, and bald eagles.

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