16 Free Things to Do in Paterson, NJ


Embarking on a quest to uncover the free things to do in  Paterson, New Jersey?

In this comprehensive guide, we've melded insights from locals and travelers to present you with a mosaic of experiences that define this remarkable place. While we've highlighted some must-visit spots, it's imperative to understand that these recommendations are shaped by personal opinions and experiences.

There are countless other wonderful places awaiting your discovery. Our goal isn't just to point you to the well-trodden paths, but to inspire you to explore and truly immerse yourself in the city's essence.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Dalia Gates, Jeremy Rivera, Naomi Harper, Julio Bennett, Sophia Smith, Fernando Nichols and Kelsey Hodge.

Spend the Day at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Daytime view of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
Brian Logan Photography / Shutterstock.com

If you've never seen a 77-foot waterfall in the heart of an urban area, you're in for a treat!

Located in my hometown, the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is a gem that's as unique as it is beautiful.

The soothing sound of rushing water greets you as you park your car in the limited but convenient parking lot.

Moreover, the main overlook near the parking area offers a fantastic view of the falls, especially on a sunny day when the rainbow colors hit the water spray just right.

I recommend going all out with your footwear for this visit. Trust me, comfort over style is the way to go here.

Multiple entrances through the main park gates give you different vantage points to admire the falls.

The waters of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
Andrew Tuttle / Shutterstock.com

The park is where history comes alive. Take a moment to read the plaques scattered around the park.

They tell the story of how this waterfall sparked water-power development in 1792.

One of the best parts of a day out here is the multicultural food scene nearby.

After a visit, I often find myself exploring nearby restaurants that boast a range of cuisines like Peruvian, Bangladeshi, and Dominican.

I hope you enjoy your visit to the falls as much as I do.

It's a piece of history and a great place to explore.

Footbridge trail at Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
Brian Logan Photography / Shutterstock.com

Gaze at the Great Falls from Mary Ellen Kramer Park

Entrance arch of Mary Ellen Kramer Park
Jorge Aguillon Ruiz / Shutterstock.com

When I first moved to Paterson, New Jersey, I heard whispers and rumors about the beauty of the Patterson Great Falls.

I decided to see them myself and wandered over to Mary Ellen Kramer Park.

Named after the former First Lady of Paterson, this park is where you can witness the grandeur of the falls from various observation areas.

The first time I laid my eyes on those falls, I was mesmerized.

Hearing the roar of the water causes a thrill to run through your veins.

The mist that rises and cools your face and the sun that paints rainbows in the spray are breathtakingly beautiful.

With every season, the park and the falls transform, showing a different side of its beauty each time.

In the fall, the park is adorned with gold, red, and orange leaves, making the falls seem even more majestic.

Meanwhile, the falls freeze in winter, forming an ice crystal palace that twinkles in the sunlight.

I often find myself at the park, whether for a morning jog, an afternoon picnic, or just to find a quiet place to read.

The rush of the falls is the perfect backdrop for any activity.

I highly recommend Mary Ellen Kramer Park for anyone who is seeking a serene and picturesque spot in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Paterson.

Enjoy the Day in the Heart of Paterson: Eastside Park

Signage of Eastside Park
Zeete, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I can't even remember when I first started visiting Eastside Park.

It seems like it's been there forever, a timeless gem nestled in a historic neighborhood along the Passaic River.

This 66-acre city park has been open since 1899, and it's no surprise why it's still a favorite spot for many in our community.

Eastside Park has something for everyone, whether you're looking to stretch your legs with a jog, do some general exercise, or spend a fun-filled day with your kids.

The water fountain is a hit among children, especially during the hot summer.

There's also an obstacle course, a play area, and a playhouse with slides next to the water fountain.

As a parent, though, I'd advise keeping a close eye on your kiddos, especially around the playhouse slides.

A house at Eastside Park
Zeete, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The play areas can get worn due to heavy use, and the padded floors could be safer.

I've seen a few kids slide, fall hard, and even hit their heads after getting wet playing in the fountain.

For some local delights, don't miss out on the sugar cane and jelly coconut treats.

They're a delicious way to cool down after a day of running around the park.

Eastside Park is a piece of our history and a symbol of our vibrant community.

Take a Stroll through Upper Raceway Park

My house is just a stone's throw away from Upper Raceway Park, and it has become my private sanctuary in the heart of bustling Paterson.

Whenever I need to break from the urban chaos, I find myself drawn to its lush green landscape, where the city's noise fades into a distant murmur.

Upper Raceway Park is somewhat of an enigma - a verdant raceway abandoned and reclaimed by nature over time.

This park has a serene beauty that is difficult to put into words.

Overgrown trees weave an enchanting canopy overhead as I wander beneath, lost in the timeless tranquility.

The park is between Grand Street and Paterson Falls in the old Great Falls Historic District.

It is like a hidden gem, tucked away amidst popular attractions like Paterson Falls, the Gun mil Garrett Mountain Reservation, and the majestic reservoir within the park.

The pool has an ethereal quality - a serene water body fenced off from the world. It adds to the secluded charm of the park.

Then, there's the Stony Ridge Trail.

It’s odd how seeing an abandoned building in the middle of the trail can evoke a sense of intrigue.

Each time I walk this trail, I can't help but wonder about its past.

The path meanders through the park for about a quarter mile, running alongside a dry canal before veering uphill into the woods.

No matter how often I visit, Upper Raceway Park always has an air of tranquility that calms my senses and rejuvenates my spirit.

It’s a slice of paradise in the city - a place where I can breathe in the fresh air, bask in the serenity, and lose myself in the embrace of Mother Nature.

Enjoy Leisurely Walks and Family Fun at Westside Park

The waters of Westside Park
Jag9889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every weekend, like clockwork, you'll find me at Westside Park.

This place is an oasis in the city and my go-to spot for leisurely walks and weekend family activities.

Spanning 31 acres, this park never fails to charm me with its expansive playing fields, sports courts, and a community center that serves as a cultural hub for local events.

There's something comforting about the well-worn playground and the old trees that have stood watch over the park for years.

Westside Park's location along the Passaic River adds a serene element to my walks.

I often find myself following the trails alongside the river, soaking up the tranquility that's hard to come by in the city.

The large gazebo area is another favorite spot of mine, often playing host to our family cookouts, providing an idyllic setting for barbecues and casual get-togethers.

Then there's the tennis courts. You'll often catch a full-blown family tournament happening here.

It's an excellent way to bond, have fun, and stay active. The playground nearby is a hit with the little ones, where they can burn off their energy and make new friends.

If you plan to spend a few hours here, pack some snacks and drinks, and enjoy the simple pleasures of Westside Park.

Spend the Day at the Lambert Castle

Exterior of Lambert Castle
Zeete, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every time I pull up to the driveway of Lambert Castle, I can't help but marvel at the grandeur of this historic landmark sitting majestically atop Garret Mountain in Paterson, New Jersey.

It's not just a castle; it's a time machine that takes me back to the 19th century when silk manufacturing was at its peak in our city.

At first sight, the architectural magnificence of the castle captivates your senses.

Originally built as a private residence for the silk magnate, Catholina Lambert, the castle today stands as a testament to Paterson's rich industrial history.

If you want to learn more about the castle before visiting, their official website Lambert Castle has all the information you need.

Inside the castle is a museum showcasing an array of artifacts, antique furniture, and stunning artwork that transport you back to the city's glorious past.

Facade of Lambert Castle
Zaigoat, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But the showstopper of the castle is, without a doubt, the observation deck on the rooftop.

From here, I've enjoyed countless breathtaking panoramic views of Paterson and the surrounding countryside.

It's the perfect spot to admire the Great Falls, a significant catalyst in Paterson's industrial development, and to appreciate the intricate details of the castle's architecture.

Around the castle, the meticulously maintained gardens and pathways create a serene ambiance, perfect for a quiet stroll or a photo session.

The castle's beauty and natural scenery present countless picturesque views waiting to be captured.

Moreover, Lambert Castle is a treasure trove of stories from a time gone by, stories that have been carefully preserved for future generations to appreciate.

The castle’s dedication to preserving its history is, in itself, a sight to behold.

Discover the Hidden Jewel of Paterson - Overlook Park

There's a hidden jewel in the heart of Paterson, where the city's hustle and bustle fades into the harmonious sounds of flowing water and rustling leaves.

Overlook Park is a sanctuary of calm and beauty that radiates energy from every corner.

For years, I drove past the mesmerizing Great Falls, visible from the park, engrossed in the daily grind.

One day, overwhelmed by curiosity and the need for a respite, I explored Overlook Park.

This decision led me to discover a tranquil haven right in my backyard.

The park has several hiking trails, each offering a unique perspective of the Great Falls and the city skyline.

While not too strenuous, the trails are enough to give you a good workout and a hearty dose of fresh air.

Every hike in this park is a retreat, a chance to escape from city life and soak in the richness of nature.

Overlook Park is also a great place to meditate and enjoy the simplicity of life.

I've spent countless mornings and evenings here, immersing myself in the calming noises of nature, drawing inspiration and strength from the serene surroundings.

Every day at 2 pm, guided tours are available, a perfect way to learn about the history of the park and the Great Falls.

If you're in or around Paterson, I'd recommend you take some time to visit this hidden gem.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Enjoy the Day at Garret Mountain Reservation

A pond at Garret Mountain Reservation
Zeete, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The charm of Garret Mountain Reservation is hard to resist.

Nestled amidst 568 acres of the Watchung Mountain Range in Paterson and Woodland Park, this spot is a cherished treasure in New Jersey.

Elevated 500 feet above sea level, the park offers a spectacular city view.

Over the years, I've found that the park has something to offer everyone.

For fitness freaks, the miles of walking and running trails provide the perfect spot to sweat it out while enjoying the serenity.

Kids can have a great time at the newly added playground, while for nature enthusiasts like me, the rich bird life is simply a treat to the senses.

The park serves as a stopover for several migrating songbirds, and spotting orioles, sparrows, and thrushes has become my favorite pastime.

One unique aspect that I particularly love is the designated open field for flying drones.

It adds an exciting dimension to the visit, especially when kids and adults try to navigate their drones in the open sky.

Not every day do you come across such an opportunity in a city park.

A feature that not many might know about is the park's yearly festival in August.

It's always been vibrant, with fun rides, games, and delicious food stalls.

However, this year they outdid themselves with the organization.

The provision of a shuttle bus to the entrance from a huge designated parking lot was a pleasant surprise.

I still remember my last visit, which was two years back.

There have been noticeable renovations since then, including new playgrounds by the Great Meadow, repairs to the Overlook walls, and new signage throughout the park.

Whether you're a local or a visitor, a day spent here promises a refreshing experience.

Unwind at Goffle Brook Park

There's nothing like a peaceful day at Goffle Brook Park, my favorite local gem.

This sprawling green wonderland stretches across our town and offers a little something for everyone.

Whether you're a sports enthusiast, a dog lover, or just someone who appreciates natural beauty, this park is the perfect escape.

The park's sports fields and playgrounds are usually buzzing with activity, but there are plenty of tranquil spots too.

I've spent countless afternoons by the pond, rod in hand, hoping to reel in a big one.

Even if the fish aren't biting, the captivating view more than makes up for it.

The park comes alive after a rain shower, as the water droplets bring out the vibrant colors of the trees and plants.

For those with canine companions, the dog park is a must-visit.

Everyone is diligent about using the provided waste disposal bags, ensuring the park stays clean for all to enjoy.

And if you're a birdwatcher or a nature enthusiast like me, you'll be astounded by the variety of plant, tree, and bird species in the park.

Picnic areas are dotted around the park, making it the perfect place for a family outing or a tranquil solo lunch.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the same mind behind the iconic Central Park, also designed the park.

So, come spring, it is a sight to behold when the trees and plants are in full bloom.

Whether you're a local or just passing through, I highly recommend taking some time to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the beauty of nature here.

Explore the Trails at Rifle Camp Park

The view from Rifle Camp Park
quiggyt4 / Shutterstock.com

On a beautiful weekend, I finally decided to explore the much-talked-about Rifle Camp Park, a sizable 225-acre park in our town.

The park is known for its hiking trails, an amphitheater, and fitness course. They even have an astronomical observatory!

They offer two trails, red and yellow.

I suggest sticking with the red trail for hikers looking for an easy, relaxing walk.

If you're up for a challenge with more inclines, rocky terrain, and exciting scenery, the yellow trail is your way to go.

One distinct advantage of the hikes here is that most trails are shaded, relieving hikers from the scorching sun.

If you're in the mood for a leisurely hike and a chance to enjoy some beautiful views, Rifle Camp Park is worth a visit.

It's quite an attractive spot for families, with panoramic views of NYC and plenty of picnic tables for a delightful outdoor lunch.

Two dog parks are conveniently divided for small puppies and larger dogs.

Other facilities include water, potty pages, a playground, and restrooms for dog owners.

Respect the park rules and enjoy exploring Rifle Camp Park!

Enjoy the Day at the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

Entrance to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo
Amy Lutz / Shutterstock.com

I remember first setting foot in the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo.

I was just a kid then, but the memories of the wild animal exhibits, the petting zoo, the carousel, and the mini-train ride have stuck with me till today.

Now, I go as an adult, and I still find the joy and excitement I felt as a child.

Navigating the zoo is a breeze.

Whether I'm just walking, pushing a stroller, or assisting someone in a wheelchair, the paths are easy and accessible.

And misters are dotted around the zoo on those hot summer days to help cool you down.

One of my favorite stops in the zoo is the Touch Tank.

The feeling of the stingrays' soft bodies gliding under my hand is an unforgettable experience and worth the small $3 fee for feeding them.

If it's your first time, you should try this!

I also love the Giraffe and Otter exhibits.

One thing I appreciate about this zoo is the abundance of seating close to the animal exhibits.

It's perfect for taking a breather, eating lunch, or just soaking in the view.

The zoo is not just about looking at animals.

It’s very educational too.

The signage around the exhibits is well-placed and filled with interesting facts.

I usually spend about 2-3 hours here and sometimes even take a detour to explore the South Mountain Reservation.

The zoo also has a sea turtle hospital where you can view live feeds!

Check Out Abma's Farm Market, Greenhouse, and Barnyard Petting Zoo

A trip to the charming Abma's Farm has always been a highlight of my weekends.

This lovely place offers a lively barnyard petting zoo, a greenhouse, and a fantastic farm market.

My daughter and I share a ritual; we always start our visit by feeding “the moo,” as she fondly calls the cows.

We've learned to save our buckets from past visits for cheaper feed refills - a nice touch they offer.

And let’s not forget our little furry friends, the bunnies, who love munching on carrot tops, available at the market.

What I genuinely appreciate about Abma's Farm is its hassle-free ticketing system.

You can order tickets online, which makes the whole process smoother, especially during the weekdays when it’s not too crowded.

After spending quality time with the animals, we usually head to the market.

It's a food lover's paradise, housing an array of delicious treats to enjoy or take home.

Their small outdoor wine-tasting area is a treat, where they let you sample wine before you purchase any.

The market is filled with fresh, tempting produce that will make anyone want to cook a hearty meal.

Their deli items are also worth mentioning, as you can pick up some pasta or chicken salad and have a little picnic in their courtyard.

Abma’s Farm, with its rustic charm and variety of offerings, is a joy to visit.

Enjoy a Tranquil Retreat at Van Vleck House & Gardens

Facade of Van Vleck House & Gardens
Brian Logan Photography / Shutterstock.com

Whenever life in the city gets a bit too hectic, I find myself drawn to the peaceful retreat that is the Van Vleck House & Gardens.

This hidden gem, an 1868 Italianate Villa, is in the heart of our bustling town.

Every time I visit, I can't help but marvel at the well-maintained and clean gardens.

A walk through these gardens feels like a step back in time.

The serenity that washes over me as I stroll through the gardens is unmatched.

I often find myself sitting on a bench, admiring the scenery and forgetting about the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

During spring, the gardens turn into an explosion of colors.

I was slightly late for the wisteria blossoms this year, but the greenery was refreshing nonetheless.

Exterior of Van Vleck House & Gardens
Brian Logan Photography / Shutterstock.com

If you visit in May, you'll be greeted by the sight of the most stunning wisterias.

It climbs around a courtyard and up the porch, casting a dreamy purple hue over the villa.

One unique aspect of Van Vleck House & Gardens that I truly appreciate is the cellphone tour.

It's a great way to learn about the different flowers and plants and the history of the Van Vleck family who once lived there.

But the gardens aren't just for casual visits. The romantic ambiance of the place makes it a perfect spot for vow renewals or weddings.

The sight of beautiful flowers and cherry blossoms serves as a perfect backdrop for such special occasions.

Whether looking for a tranquil retreat, a place to learn about horticulture, or a picturesque location to host an event, Van Vleck House & Gardens never disappoints.

Enjoy an Underwater Adventure at New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium

There's something otherworldly about walking through a mall and suddenly finding yourself in a vibrant underwater world.

That's the sensation you get when visiting the New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium in the American Dream Mall.

With a cup of morning coffee in hand, I've found that arriving early brings a serene calmness to the experience; the aquarium is virtually devoid of the usual crowds.

The journey through the aquarium doesn't take long, usually wrapping up within an hour.

Still, the mesmerizing beauty of the sea creatures is enthralling enough to take your time and appreciate the spectacle.

Strolling through the exhibits, there's a sense of stepping into a fairytale underwater adventure.

Although there may be larger aquariums elsewhere, the charm lies in the intimacy of this place and the surprising variety of sea life on display.

From the formidable sharks to the graceful stingrays and delicate seahorses, there's a myriad of marine life to marvel at.

What particularly stands out is the diversity in aquariums—around ten different ones!

Each showcases a unique aquatic world with colorful fish, starfish, jellies, and even sea turtles.

Plus, a visit isn't complete without a stop at the fun jungle gym and a trip to the gift shop to take a memento home.

The New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium offers an unforgettable experience, making it a delightful destination for families, especially for kids.

Whether you're there for a day out shopping or to visit, the aquarium is an oasis of marine splendor worth exploring.

Discover Art at the Montclair Art Museum

Exterior of Montclair Art Museum
Chris Lawrence Travel / Shutterstock.com

My weekend trip to the Montclair Art Museum was nothing short of fantastic.

Nestled in my hometown, this gem features exhibits that strongly focus on American art and Native American objects and jewelry.

I was particularly drawn to the Vanessa German Exhibition, an intriguing mix of beauty and emotion that left a deep impression.

One thing I love about this museum is its cleanliness and ample free parking - such a rare treat for an urban dweller like me.

The museum also offers various educational programs, which I find incredibly valuable for anyone wanting to delve deeper into art.

But what makes the Montclair Art Museum a favorite go-to spot for me is the abundance of events it hosts.

I remember attending a First Thursday music event with a food truck, music, and cocktails.

It was a lot of fun, and I even got a free guided tour.

Plus, they offer a variety of art classes that you can register for in advance.

The Montclair Art Museum is a vibrant community hub where art, culture, and fun intersect. I can't wait for my next visit!

Final Thoughts

I can't help but marvel at the abundance of free activities in Paterson, New Jersey.

This place is a gem of a city full of surprises and adventures, where every day can be an exploration.

I can't wait to uncover more of this incredible city!

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