One of the factors that public health officials have said is contributing to the holiday season spike in COVID-19 cases is that people have been increasingly moving gatherings and activities indoors due to cold weather.

But with no outdoor capacity limits in New Jersey, as there still were to start 2021, the state Department of Environmental Protection is encouraging residents to maintain their health by getting outside to begin the New Year.

The state's annual series of "First Day Hikes," which two years ago drew more than 2,000 participants covering more than 5,600 miles of state park and forest trails, is returning on Saturday, New Year's Day, with 28 hikes plus a 64-step trek up the Twin Lights lighthouse in Highlands.

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DEP press officer Caryn Shinske said some of the hikes will be guided by state park officials, as in the past.

"This year, however, there are many self-guided options, and people can sign up for any number of First Day Hikes around the state," she said.

If you are interested in breathing in the fresh, crisp Jersey air to start 2022, Shinske said, this may be right up your alley.

Townsquare Media New Jersey Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow predicts temperatures could push toward 60 degrees on Saturday, although we are also expecting rain in the Garden State. Some of the events are weather-dependent, a DEP release said.

"Summer is a great time to visit our parks and forests, of course, but so is early January," Shinske said. "So we encourage everybody to get out, see what we have to offer."

The DEP is classifying the hikes into three categories: beginner, moderate, and difficult.

Among the most challenging is the 16-mile span of the Warren Highlands Trail, between Phillipsburg and Ragged Ridge in Warren County.

"Not every hike requires mountaineering experience. There are hikes of all levels," Shinske said. "There really is something for everyone, and New Jersey has a great wealth of state parks and forests."

First Day Hikes
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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New Jersey's First Day Hikes became a yearly tradition after a national program was launched 10 years ago, according to the DEP.

All of the hikes are free, but some do require pre-registration. You can find out about each individual offering by clicking here.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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