Blake Walsh

16 Free Things to Do in Union, NJ

  • Published 2023/03/06

Union is a small township in Union County, New Jersey.

Located near the historic cities of Elizabeth and Newark, Union is an exciting place to visit to expand your travel destinations in New Jersey.

With the Elizabeth River flowing through the town, Union has a lot of wildlife preserves and river parks that give it a scenic charm compared to the busier cities in New Jersey.

You’ll also find a few historical landmarks here since it’s close to plenty of historic districts in the state.

Best of all, Union is conveniently located near several famous attractions, many of which offer free admission.

There are many free things to do in Union, New Jersey.

Check this list for a comprehensive guide before your visit.

Take a Stroll around Kean University

Kean hall at Kean University

Zeete, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Union is home to a public university that’s a nice place to do some walking: Kean University.

The university has one of the prettiest landmarks in Union County, where modern architecture merges with nature in New Jersey.

Exploring the campus will lead you to many photo opportunities, such as the Wilkins Theater and the Miron Student Center.

Kean University also has several halls with beautiful facades for photography.

Located along Morris Avenue, Kean University is a convenient addition to beef up your itinerary in Union.

Go on a Picnic at Elizabeth River Parkway

Elizabeth River Parkway is a great way to kickstart your journey to Union, especially if you want to maximize the abundance of free attractions here.

It’s a small park that gives you access to the woodlands along the bank of the Elizabeth River, giving the place a rustic appeal.

It’s a fantastic family-oriented destination, as you can easily spend a chill afternoon or morning with the kids.

There are playgrounds and spacious open fields for picnics, a perfect respite if you’re coming from the busy commercial areas of New Jersey or New York City.

The Elizabeth River Parkway can be found along Union Avenue at the Lightning Brook section.

See the World’s Tallest Watersphere

The World’s Tallest Watersphere is a monument and historical icon of Union, New Jersey, which you should include in any itinerary when traveling to Union County.

Standing at 216 feet, this water tower is as quirky as it is awe-inspiring, and seeing it right in front of you is an excellent souvenir during your New Jersey trip.

Also called Union’s Watersphere, this is a unique attraction in the United States that adds to the quirky water tower landmarks found in other states, such as the “Earthoid” water tower in Maryland.

It was constructed in 1964 and has since been used as a strobe for pilots, considering the Newark International Airport is just a stone’s throw away.

Not every day do you see a place worthy of a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, so visit the World’s Tallest Watersphere along U.S. Highway 22.

Tour the Caldwell Parsonage

Exterior of Caldwell Parsonage

Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Caldwell Parsonage is a historical site where Hannah Caldwell was shot during the Battle of Connecticut Farms that dates back to the late 1700s.

Caldwell’s death became a trigger to rally the American troops against the British Army during the Revolutionary War.

Today, you can visit this historic building and get free tours through the Union Township Historical Society.

The four-room house was initially destroyed in 1780 by the British but was rebuilt nine years later.

You’ll find many artifacts here, such as vintage farm equipment, antique house decor, and even early versions of TV and radio.

You can find Caldwell Parsonage along Caldwell Avenue.

Bring the Kids to Phil Rizzuto Park

Phil Rizzuto Park is located at the southeastern end of Union, a perfect place to bring children for some exercise and fun.

The playground has a lot of exciting fixtures, such as a dinosaur tunnel and monkey bars, and they also have access to all the classic playground amenities like swings and slides.

There is also a soccer field and a splash pad if you visit Union during the summer.

Phil Rizzuto Park is also brimming with botanical life, headlined by its giant trees that provide plenty of shade and breeze.

Found along North Avenue, this park is a fantastic way to appreciate the calm lifestyle in Union.

Unwind at Ursino Lake

Just across the main campus of Kean University lies Ursino Lake, found on the other side of Morris Avenue.

This is a picturesque place to relax and enjoy the lake’s calm waters.

It’s also near the Elizabeth River, so you’ll see the nearby woodlands along its shores.

A few restaurants and establishments conveniently surround Ursino Lake, so it’s a great stopover before dinner.

If you’re looking to spend a couple of dollars, it’s just a few steps away from the Liberty Hall Museum, a famous historical landmark in Union and Elizabeth.

Trek along Rahway River Parkway

The waters of Rahway River Parkway

Tomwsulcer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Elizabeth River isn’t the only prominent body of water in Union, New Jersey.

You can also gain access to the Rahway River via Rahway River Parkway, found on its western end along Elmerwood Road.

Outdoor thrill seekers would be ecstatic to trek this river trail because its sprawling woodlands span roughly 950 acres.

Rahway River Parkway is so big that it connects to nearby parks and trails in the neighboring towns of Cranford and Springfield.

With almost four miles of wooded trails, this is also an excellent place to take your dog.

Tons of wildlife can also be spotted here, so put this on your priority list if you’re raring to be close to nature.

Practice Wildlife Photography at Kennedy Reservation

Given its proximity to the Elizabeth River and Newark Bay, it’s no surprise that Union has a ton of wilderness within its urban districts.

One of the best ways to experience this is through Kennedy Reservation, tucked in the corners of Green Lane near Kean University.

You’ll find deer and squirrels among the most prominent animals at the reservation.

Plenty of nature trails here are well-managed, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost.

As a great spot to connect with nature, Kennedy Reservation is an excellent attraction for any outdoor lover.

Go Jogging at Kawameeh Park

Kawameeh Park is one of Union’s most spacious recreational areas, accessible through Morris Avenue.

This is a fantastic place to do some jogging, as you’ll have access to vast fields accentuated by tall trees that provide plenty of shade.

The park also has several sports amenities, such as soccer and baseball fields.

You can also play basketball, cricket, and lawn tennis at Kawameeh Park.

This is also a great place to see the Union Watersphere, as it’s adjacent.

Kawameeh Park is a great all-rounder if you want to burn some calories.

Read a Book at Union Public Library

Union Public Library is an excellent place to read, thanks to its resources and modern facilities, especially during the colder months of winter.

The library has a lot in store for avid readers, as it has a ton of books geared toward children and researchers.

While not the biggest, the library does a great job of keeping things quiet.

It’s also a great place to visit because it’s in the historic commercial districts of Stuyvesant Avenue.

You’ll also be happy to know that Union Public Library is next to a series of shops and restaurants.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Appreciate History and Architecture at Boxwood Hall

Exterior of Boxwood Hall Historic Site

Dmadeo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Boxwood Hall Historic Site is one of the most prominent historical landmarks in Elizabeth, that’s only 10 minutes away from Union.

The building was the home of Elias Boudinot, an Elizabeth pioneer and statesman during the American Revolutionary War.

However, Boudinot is more known for playing an integral role in the Treaty of Paris.

Dating back to the mid-1700s, Boxwood Hall will transport you to centuries worth of American life.

Plenty of vintage furniture and houseware are preserved there.

Touring Boxwood Hall is free, letting you see the gorgeous Georgian design throughout its interiors and facade.

Boxwood Hall is in Elizabeth, New Jersey, 13 minutes from Union.

Traverse the Elizabeth River Trail

Entrance arch of Elizabeth River Trail

Jim.henderson, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the best things you can do for free near Union is to walk along the scenic Elizabeth River Trail, located in Elizabeth, 16 minutes away.

The Elizabeth River Trail offers stellar views of the pristine river waters of the city, with a bit of historic architecture along the way.

The trail is paved and well-maintained, making this a great and safe family activity with children.

As you walk along the trail, you’ll find a couple of reading materials and maps to enhance the experience.

This place is one of the prettiest parts of Elizabeth and a must-see during your trip to Union.

Hike the South Mountain Reservation

A waterfall at South Mountain Reservation

Richard Scalzo /

South Mountain Reservation is only ten minutes away from Union, found in the township of West Orange, New Jersey.

This public outdoor area is an oasis in New Jersey, offering many activities and picturesque spots that won’t cost you a single penny.

Spanning 2,000 acres, South Mountain Reservation is best known for its hiking trails leading you to beautiful waterfalls, dense woodlands, and diverse wildlife.

Paved trail at South Mountain Reservation

Art by Amart /

If you’re bringing your pet, the mountain reservation has a neat dog park and picnic grounds, a perfect family getaway.

Depending on which season you go, South Mountain Reservation’s aesthetic changes, with spring and fall being the best for photographers.

Calm waters at South Mountain Reservation

Art by Amart /

Join the Elizabeth Historic Heartline Walking Tour

Elizabeth is one of the tourist hotspots more than ten minutes from Union.

Joining the Historic Heartline Walking Tour is a no-brainer when visiting the area.

The Historic Heartline Walking Tour is a self-guided tour of Elizabeth’s midtown district, spanning roughly 3.5 miles.

The unique selling point of this tour is it will take you to some of the picturesque areas of Elizabeth, centered on its beautiful architecture.

Plenty of historical landmarks are found in this self-guided tour, highlighted by renowned ones like the Ritz Theatre and the Bonnell House.

Part of the tour will also lead you to other attractions of Elizabeth, like its public library and the Elizabeth River.

Enjoy the Waters of Echo Lake Park

The waters of Echo Lake Park

Logan__123 /

Echo Lake Park is another outdoor tourist hotspot that you may want to check out in Mountainside, New Jersey, nine minutes from Union.

The large Echo Lake is the primary attraction here, famous as a spot for boating and fishing.

Tons of water lilies are found in Echo Lake, making it an excellent spot for photography, especially with all the woodlands that border it.

Stream at Echo Lake Park

Logan__123 /

If you’re visiting during winter, Echo Lake Park is a famous recreational area for winter activities when it gets covered with snow.

During the other seasons, it’s a popular place to hang out and do picnics.

A heron at Echo Lake Park

Logan__123 /

Play Sports at Warinanco Park

A lake at Warinanco Park

quiggyt4 /

One of the most visited parks in New Jersey is Warinanco Park, located in Roselle, New Jersey, 11 minutes from Union.

It’s a vast city park in the town of Roselle with many free sports facilities available for residents and guests.

Basketball courts, soccer, and baseball fields are found at Warinanco Park, like track fields and an ice-skating rink.

You might spend a few dollars to get into these spots.

Cherry blossom trees at Warinanco Park

quiggyt4 /

Warinanco Park also has a ton of groves that you can explore via its nature trails.

The park also has a small lake offering rentals for paddle boating or kayaking.

Close view of magnolia blossoms at Warinanco Park

quiggyt4 /

Final Thoughts

Plenty of history is found in the humble township of Union; likewise, an abundance of nature surrounds it.

Best of all, it’s surrounded by many free attractions in nearby cities and towns.

Thanks to the free things to do in Union, New Jersey, you won’t have to break the bank to experience the Garden State.

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