Established in the late 1800's/early 1900's, the mysterious Duke family estate in Hillsborough, New Jersey provides for voyeuristic ventures into past riches, free of charge. One of the largest privately owned properties in the state, Duke Farms features twenty-two miles of trails, allowing bikers and pedestrians to meander throughout a portion of its 2,740 acres. Nine lakes, fountains, sculptures, and enormous stone bridges sit peppered throughout woods and meadowlands, along with other treasures like a clock tower-equipped coach house, and two massive greenhouses containing 1,500 varieties of orchids. And while the family's old mansion remains mostly out of sight to those touring this garden region, the remnants of their oddly abandoned, yet barely-begun second mansion sits atop a slope that overlooks a Versailles-like lawn, with oversized staircases on the ascent. Historic, spacious, and scenic, the place exudes an extremely impressive, almost surreal, Gatsby-esque air.
Want to explore Duke's for yourself? From parking to peering in, it's completely free! Self-guided audio tours and bike rentals are available at the information center upon filling out a one-time registration form, and there's even a tram that drives by the second mansion's old foundation. Strollers and outside bikes are also welcome, and the only caveat seems to be a mandatory helmet rule.
All in all, Duke Farms stands as a truly great day trip destination for visitors of all ages.