Summertime Day Trip to Duke Farms

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Duke Farms is located is Essex county on the board of Northern and Central Jersey. Yes, there is a difference between northern, central, and southern New Jersey. If you live in New Jersey, you'll completely agree!

I’ve heard of Duke Farms from a couple of people. I was mainly told about the 18 miles bike trails. I do have a bike, which I actually brought with the intention to ride. However, I went with my Mom and we opted to walk the grounds. It will take you longer to see it all, but whether you ride or walk, you'll enjoy the space. Also, did I mention it's free to visit?

What I researched, still doesn’t do the grounds justice. Which let me give some background to who the owner of Duke Farms was and how these grounds were created.


James Buchanan Duke was the owner of Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. James Buchanan Duke was an American entrepreneur who established Duke Power and the American Tobacco Company. While James was building this property he was also building a home in North Carolina.

A mansion to this magnitude takes time, when his business operations were in North Carolina over New Jersey he abandoned the project. After James abandon the property it was just left unattended until his death in 1925, it was given to his daughter Doris Duke.

Doris Duke was known as an environmentalist and she envied Duke Farms to be a place to protect wildlife through agriculture, horticulture, and research. The lovely gardens and sculture garden in the Hay Barn are thanks to Doris. She passed in 1993 and the house was then left to the Doris Duke Foundation which manages the property.

The grounds were not always open to the public. It was not until May 2012 that the grounds were open for visitors to come. It is free to visit, they just ask you come to enjoy the space, learn, and respect the grounds.

Items to Bring:

Grounds Info:

The grounds are 2,740 across and 1,000 of the acres are open to the public. On the grounds, you’re able to enjoy outdoor activities, educate and research the ecological sustainability and self-discovery is encourages.

There is an Orientations Center right by the parking lot. This includes the restrooms for the grounds. I visited Duke Farms when the stay at home order was lifted in New Jersey but buildings still had restricted access. In the Orientations center they have a place for you to learn through displays and interactive exhibits according to their website.

Most of the ground attractions are across the street from the parking lot. There is a walking path from the parking lot and Orientations Center to the street and down the path. When you go down the walking path, you’ll come to a fork in the road, I suggest going to the right. You’ll pass the Hay Barn which was abandoned following a fire in January 1915, Doris turned the ruins in an outdoor sculpture gallery. 

Around the grounds, you’ll also see a sign that directs you to different parts of the grounds. This is super helpful! But it is so easy to get lost. 

The Orchid Range is wonderful. I felt like I was in a scene from Sound Of Music or something when they’re in the greenhouse. That’s a scene right? I’m not making it up. Next to the greenhouse for the Orchid Range is a butterfly room. The Orchid Range has two different Orchid displays, Tropical Orchid Display and Subtropical Display.

Coach Barn we did not get to see since it was a bit of a distance. Checking out the map, you can see how spread out the grounds is. Also - I did mention it is 1,000 acres!

The Old Foundation is a must-see. It is unbelievable to see the foundation of this abandoned mansion. Seeing the stairway to the meadows it is unbelievable to imagine the view you would have had for your home. I was in awe! The steps going out to the meadow, the body of water off to what is expected to be the front entrance.

On one hand, I wish I had a drone because the stairs going up with the surrounding meadow and flowers it would have been an amazing shot. Ahh, if only!

Lake System which includes Great Falls. According to the Dukes Farms website, by 1909 James Buchanan had created seven lakes on the property that is estimated to be 75 acres. There is the Great Falls within the park.

Do not mistake this or compare it to ether Great Falls of Patterson. This is nowhere near that level of a great fall. I would call this more of a sprinkle.

My Reaction:

What a stunning place to enjoy?! Come here with comfortable shoes!

It was about an hour's drive from where I’m based, at first sightseeing at the Orientation Station, I wasn’t sure if we went to the right place. However, I knew from my research of this location, if offering a lot but was easily hidden from the main road that cuts through it.

You will have gorgeous grounds to explore or bike trails that seem endless. It is so easy to get lost and turned around in this space. Thankfully when you’re going from one spot or trying to think of where to go next you stumble upon a sign directing you where to go next. It is helpful to guide you where to go, also gives you new spots to explore.

When first crossing the street we went to the Hay Barn by going right, which is a great spot for photos. The statues also have masks over some of the ladies' mask. Some of the statues are PG-13 just an FYI, so depending on the age of your kids you could bypass this and they would have no idea! Saying it’s a barn with sculptures might be easy to have them move on.

In front of the Hay Barn is a guidepost and we were curious about the Orchid Range since it most likely meant beautiful flower arrangements. We made our way there down the walking path passing families enjoying the grounds by walking as well, having a picnic, or on their bikes.

Even though we could not explore the Orchid Range fully, it was such a stunning structure and place to observe from the outside. It must be even more beautiful to experience from the inside. The greenhouses were updated in 2011 to make the buildings more energy effecient and eco friendly. When you visit you can see two different displays, a Subtropical Display, and a Tropical Orchid Display

Dukes Farms does offer free bike rental, however during the current situation they were not available. Since you can only have a bike for an hour, they wanted to limit contact with an activity that has a high turn over. However, if the option is available when you visit, you'll have an hour to ride the grounds!

Bathrooms are around the grounds so it is not limited to the Orientation House which I appreciated! Something to keep in mind, there is one by the Orchid range.

From here we made our way to the Old Foundation. I was actually speechless seeing the foundation in person. It’s massive. All the work that was put into this space and to just be abandoned? Honestly, it was mind flowing to me. I could not get over the view of the meadow or the lake.

James Buchanan actually built seven different lakes on the grounds. The seven lakes cover about 75 acres of the grounds. This was in 1909! They had to build a canal to bring the water to his property using steam-powered engines, large crews and shovels! Let that sink in.

So much manual work to a property he abandons. Since there was a canaol from a river feeding the lakes, the system has been updated with new wells to feed the lakes.

Surround Local Attractions

Places to Stay Nearby:

Facts of Attractions of Summit, New Jersey:

  •  Trenton is the capital of New Jersey

  •  Summit incorporated as a city in 1899

  •  American currency is in American dollars and cents

  •  The area is known for its climbing, art scene, and breweries

I hope you enjoy this blog post about Duke Farms! If you have any questions about the area please email me at 

If you want to experience this day with me, check out my vlog!

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Copyright  © 2020 by Rebecca Noelle