New Jersey Trails

3 Trails for Beginner Birders

Pack your binocs on these day trips along fall migration paths.

Goat Cliff-Hickory Loop, Pere Marquette State Park, IL

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Hundreds of bald eagles winter in this park beginning in November. Find them perching on outcroppings and treetops throughout Pere Marquette State Park, but snag a bird’s-eye vantage above them on the Hickory Trail, which winds across the steep bluffs. The best way to get there is by making it the centerpiece of a 3.5-mile circuit beginning on the Goat Cliff Trail. Climb to Illinois River views before merging with the Hickory Trail and looping around the catwalk-like bluffs to scan for eagles. (If you strike out, don’t worry: Some 230 other bird species call this 8,000-acre park home.) When you return, check out the visitor center’s eagle cam, which broadcasts life in an eagle nest. 

Four Birds-Wildcat Ridge Loop, Farny Natural Area and Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area, NJ

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This trail passes through mixed hardwood forest that provides habitat for A-list birds like northern goshawks, barred owls (pictured), and the endangered red-shouldered hawk. Head out this fall during peak migration, where you’re all but guaranteed sightings on the 12-mile lollipop-loop of the Four Birds Trail and Wildcat Ridge. From the southern end of Four Birds, trek 2 miles to the Hawk Watch Overlook, a ledge with a vantage across the Rockaway Valley (scan for hawks riding thermals). More than 10,000 raptors have been recorded passing through here in a single fall season. On the latter half of the route, see the remains of Civil War-era Split Rock Furnace and glacial erratics. 

Cape Flattery Trail, Makah Indian Reservation, WA

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Test your identification skills at the Lower 48’s northwesternmost corner, where more than 300 avian species stop over each year. In fall, keep your eyes peeled for black oystercatchers, marbled murrelets, sooty shearwaters, pelagic and Brandt’s cormorants, and rhinoceros auklets (pictured). For your best chances at spotting these guys, tackle the 1.5-mile Cape Flattery Trail on the Makah Indian Reservation, which traverses prime bird habitat, from the forest to the rocky shoreline. Pick up a day-use parking permit ($10), and start hiking through stands of Sitka spruce and across boardwalks to the shore. Add on short spurs to see sea caves (second turnout) and Tatoosh Island and Lighthouse (fourth turnout). On clear days, you can spot the Cape Flattery reef to the north and the Kessiso Rocks to the south.