Note: Thanks Sara Rall for this excellent post! From Sara Rall

Round Valley State Park in Lebanon, Hunterdon Co. is just east of where US Route 22 leaves I-78 at exit 18.

Directions from NJ State Park Website:

“Take I-78 west to exit 20 A to Route 22 west, follow signs to the park.

Take I-78 east to
exit 18 (Route 22 east), follow signs to the park.”

The park is huge, but the beach has the best playgrounds. There are two playgrounds right on the beach that are open even when there are no lifeguards and therefore no swimming. The playgrounds are identical fairly large metal and plastic climbers with about 3 slides each. The one closer to the dam has swings as well.

But it is the setting, and during the summer the swimming, that makes this park special. The beach works as a giant sandbox. The swimming area is guarded and roped off, no part is over 4 feet or so, and it’s set on a large pond, really, just off the main reservoir. There are bathrooms, changing rooms, and often a concession stand, picnic tables and grills all right by the playgrounds. We also went when the swimming was closed and the kids still had a wonderful time on the beach and the play equipment.

There are other picnic areas in the woods in this park with tables and grills and their own private playgrounds, but these are not much larger than a nice backyard set and not worth the extra stop.

When swimming is open and on weekends there is a fee ($5 during the week) to enter the park, other times it is free. This is also a nice place for a walk or bike ride, and there are large fields for other sports.

Check out this article Sheila wrote about Fishing at Round Valley as well, originally posted on The Patch:

“When I look back at my childhood memories I think of my brother’s birth, being in kindergarten, and receiving my first Tinker Toy set from my father. As I wonder what my sons’ first memories will be, I can’t help but think they will include those special moments with their father. For all the time they spend with mom, somehow those special days with dad seem to stick in their minds.

This past weekend we managed to make our way to Round Valley State Park for some fishing with friends.

We dropped our lines at a swimming area separated from the main reservoir by an earth dam. Covering more than 2,000 acres, the trout-stocked main reservoir is considered the deepest lake in New Jersey at approximately 180 feet.

Fishing with the boys at Round Valley 2009

Fishing with the boys at Round Valley 2009

Though this state park is about 45 minutes away from Cranford, it is gorgeous and a great place to visit if you want the change of scenery. The park offers fishing, swimming, beach playgrounds, and hiking trails. Wait a few weeks to see the park in its fall colors.

Our friends, who fish often, were a godsend as we didn’t bring any bait (we ended up using hot dogs) and my husband forgot his knife. We stopped at Modells on Route 22 where my husband acquired fishing poles for our boys and we packed our bags with picnic lunches and Capri-Suns.

IMG_3985The boys were really excited. I stayed back with my girlfriend and the babies, but managed to sneak a solitary jog to the South Lot and onto the Pine Tree Trail (about 1.5 mile loop). The kids took a break from fishing to climb around the playground. The best moments of the day were when my boys caught their first fish. I will never forget their smiles even if they do.

After we packed up the bags, we drove to a nearby boat launch and watched as the boats made their way into the clear water. Then we took the boys and bjorn-bound baby for a hike while my girlfriend stayed in the car with a napping toddler. It was a wonderful day and we look forward to coming back.

What to Avoid: The roofed picnic tables were plagued with flying beetle-type insects that managed to hang around the roof and dive-bomb our tote bags. I had to shake them out of more than a few of our belongings. Visitors may opt for wearing a hat and looking to the trees for shade.

How to Get There: Follow the signs to this state park from Exit 20A on Route 78W.   We fished in the beach section, which is close to the bathrooms and essential for those that are still potty training. Click here for a map of the area.

Sheila Sayah is a wife and mother of three who regularly blogs about playgrounds on her site,

Winter Update: There is sledding at Round Valley. We found this video online: