Island Beach State Park is one of New Jersey’s greatest treasures. The pristine barrier island is located on the Jersey Shore in Ocean County. Containing over 10 miles of white-sand beaches visitors have plenty of space to enjoy outdoor activities.
The park has many diverse habitats: saltwater marshes, woodlands, and freshwater ponds. Each varying environment is home to hundreds of unique wildlife species.
The history of Island Beach State Park is interesting. The park was acquired by New Jersey in the early 20th century when it was utilized as a hunting and finishing resort. After some time it evolved into a state park in the 1930s. Since then, it has been open to the public as a recreational area.
Today, the well-maintained park features: boardwalks, nature trails, lighthouses, and more. The park is one of the most popular in the state, and attracts approximately one million visitors annually.
IBSP is a peaceful and secluded retreat with plenty of opportunities to connect with nature or soak up the sun.
Planning a trip to IBSP? Continue reading for an in-depth guide on the best attractions, activities, and insider tips for parking and beach access.
Getting Island Beach State Park Entrance
Navigating Island Beach State Park is relatively easy, even without a GPS.
The directions are similar to Seaside or anywhere on the barrier island. The parking lot is located at the end of the road after driving South on 35.
ISBP collects entrance fees year-round, but those who plan on going more than a few-times per year should consider purchasing a yearly vehicle pass. It only costs $50 per car for New Jersey residents, and can be used at any NJ State Park that collects entrance fees. There’s an additional discount for more than one vehicle as well.
Are you allowed to drive on Island Beach State Park?
Driving a 4×4 on the beach is allowed, with some exceptions. Island Beach State Park can be explored by car with a mobile fishing permit. It’s essential to review the requirements before attempting to purchase a permit, and important to note that active fishing is required. The State Park Police strictly enforce this rule (even more so in recent years).
Here’s the list of requirements. It’s quite long, but it will be worth it!
Since Island Beach State Park is a popular summer destination, it regularly fills during summer. The beach occasionally closes on popular days, so getting there early is essential.
To secure a spot even on the busiest days, travelers should get there before 10 AM to guarantee admittance. The park does an excellent job of making everyone aware of their status via signage soon after crossing the Mathis Bridge, mobile alerts, and on their Facebook page.
Everything You Need to Know About the Beaches
Who knew some of the most pristine and undeveloped beaches in the northeast are right here in New Jersey?
Island Beach State Park has miles of gorgeous white sand beaches, and yes, the sand really is white! Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if photos are taken in the winter or summer!
The first two beaches (Beach 1 and Beach 2) are guarded during the swimming months. These beaches also have a pavilion with the necessary services and facilities.
After Beaches 1 and 2, there are 21 more entrances — each with a small roadside parking lot and a scenic walk to reach the oceanfront.
The main advantage of these (other than avoiding large crowds) is that dogs are allowed!
Important Note: Beaches 3-21 are not guarded, and a flotation device, such as a boogie board or surfboard, is always required.
Check out the park map for more areas to explore. The possibilities are endless!
Things to Do at Island Beach State Park
There are a wide variety of fun activities at the park and in the area! Visitors can engage in: photography, fishing, biking, surfing, birding, kayaking, and hiking, to name a few.
Here are some helpful feedback and insight tips into the park for planning a visit.
Fishing at Ocean Beach
Visitors of Ocean Beach can go on a fishing trip in the 2.5-mile area north of Barnegat Inlet. Underwater fishing is available 24 hours a day in this section, but a permit is required. For New Jersey residents, a Mobile Sport Fishing Permit costs $150, or $175 for non-residents.
Kayaking at Island Beach State Park
Island Beach State Park is ideal for a chill day on the water. There are a bunch of water trails perfect for kayaking and friendly for all experience levels.
The Barnegat Bay trail is a popular route featuring a peaceful paddle through marshes and unbeatable views of the nearby barrier island. Another favorite is the Sedge Island trail. Kayakers are taken through a maze of cedar trees with the opportunity to spot some ospreys or herons along the way.
Adventurous travelers can check out the Island Beach Trail or the Cedar Creek Trail that ends at the famous Barnegat Lighthouse.
Hiking Trails at Island Beach State Park
There are plenty of hiking trails to explore during a trip to IBSP.
Hiking trails at Island Beach State Park include:
- Reed’s Road Trail
- Coast Guard Station Trail
- Ocean View Trail
- Tidal Pond Trail
- Fisherman’s Walkway Trail
- Cranberry Trail
- Johnny Allen’s Cove Trail
- Spizzle Creek Trail
Starting at the park’s entrance, the Reed’s Road and Coast Guard Station Trails offer a moderately-difficult stroll before reaching the main swimming areas. The park’s southern end holds Spizzle Creek Trail, another short walk with a wide, flat trail. The Fisherman’s Walkway Trail is an excellent way to get views of the gorgeous dunes while adventuring.
Nearby Things To Do:
Seaside Heights Boardwalk
Seaside Heights Boardwalk is a must-see at Island Beach State Park that can provide an action-packed or relaxed day. The lively boardwalk is full of energy with something for everyone, from classic boardwalk games and amusement park rides to delicious food and souvenir shops.
The iconic Star Jet roller coaster is a necessary experience while visiting. It was damaged during Hurricane Sandy and rebuilt shortly after, now it is open to the public. The boardwalk also offers a variety of food options and low-key activities like taking a stroll by the water or visiting the arcade.
Casino Pier & Breakwater Beach Waterpark
Casino Pier & Breakwater Beach Waterpark is the place to go for excitement, and entertainment in Seaside Heights. The amusement park and water park combo have a variety of rides and attractions to explore.
It’s packed with thrilling experiences like the Musik Express, and the sky coaster. Here, visitors have the opportunity to check out the large selection of family-friendly rides. There is something for everyone to enjoy, including classic boardwalk games like skeeball, and whac-a-mole.
At Breakwater Beach Water Park, there are several water rides which include: a lazy river, speed slides, and a wave pool. The park has a kiddie area which includes: smaller water slides, a splash pad for the little ones, a large sun deck with plenty of lounge chairs, and umbrellas for relaxing between rides.
Forked River Interpretive Center
This educational center offers a unique glimpse into the IBSP ecosystem, and the wildlife species that call it home. There are a number of interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages. Some of these exhibits are touch tanks, where patrons are given the opportunity to touch a friendly aquatic animal. Another interactive component of the center is an open maritime-forest open for exploration. Finally, a guided ranger history tour of Island Beach State Park.
Don’t Forget About The Bayside!
Although most visitors to the park stick to the oceanside, a rich ecosystem on the bayside should be noticed.
From the southern tip of the park and several bayside trails, the Barnegat Lighthouse is visible. It’s the most photographed lighthouse in New Jersey for a reason!
Guests can wander down some of the bayside trails to catch sight of some wildlife and birds, including, but not limited to: Great Egrets, Blue Heron, Ospreys, Falcons, and more! Those who visit at the right time of day or year may also catch a glimpse of a Snowy Owl or Fox at the park.
It’s a little-known fact that Island Beach was the test site of a former secret military weapon, Project Bumblee.
Visitors can learn more about it and other great historical and environmental facts about the park by visiting the Nature Center on the southern end.
The Nature Center runs summer programs for all ages, including; kayaking, fishing, and hikes.
Volunteering at the Park
Those looking to become more involved in the park should check out Friends of Island Beach State Park, a non-profit volunteer organization formed to enhance: interpretive, educational, recreational and research programs.
What a fantastic way to give back to New Jersey!
Protecting Island Beach State Park
When visiting Island Beach State Park, beachgoers must do their part in conserving its natural resources and local species. To protect the delicate ecosystems that host migratory birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles, staying off the dunes and maintaining a safe distance from wildlife while enjoying the park is recommended.
The dunes protect the inland areas of the park from storm surges and waves, so visitors need to stay on the designated pathways instead of walking through these areas to keep them stable and healthy.
Keeping the beach clean is another important aspect. Litter not only affects the aesthetic of the park, but it can also harm the animals. To maintain the natural beauty of the beaches, visitors are encouraged to properly dispose of their trash before leaving.
These are just a few ways to conserve Island Beach State Park for future generations to enjoy!
Island Beach State Park FAQ
How much does it cost to get to Island Beach State Park?
The cost to enter the park is $6 per car for New Jersey residents and $12 per car for non-residents. Annual passes are also available for purchase.
Does Island Beach State Park get crowded?
The park can get quite busy during the peak summer months, so it’s a good idea to plan your visit accordingly. Remember that the park may close at capacity, so arrive early in the day to secure a spot and beat the crowds.
How do you drive on Island Beach State Park?
Visitors can drive a four-wheel vehicle on the beach with a valid permit. Permits cost $75 for New Jersey residents and $90 for non-residents, with limited availability during peak season. These permits are solely for fishing access, and the related equipment must always be in the vehicle.
Can you stay overnight at Island Beach State Park?
While the park has no camping areas or overnight accommodations, visitors are welcome to enjoy the park during the day and are encouraged to check nearby locations for overnight options. There are many beachfront hotels and motels located nearby.
Island Beach State Park is a gold mine for thrilling recreation, stunning views, and interesting landmarks. Regardless of the activities chosen, visitors of all ages will surely have a memorable trip!
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