Winter will soon be here, but mild fall weather on Long Island is providing some extra time to get out and enjoy the spectacular autumn foliage before the cold weather settles in.
There are several ways to enjoy the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows splashed across the landscape as you hike or bike the many trails of our parks, preserves and mansions/arboretums. Here’s a complete list of the best spots to catch fall color across Long Island.
Best Leaf Peeping Spots on the North Shore
The North Shore of Long Island is generally favored for scenic fall excursions, as its hilly wooded terrain and quaint harbor front villages have an almost New England feel. Visit Oyster Bay/East Norwich, Northport Village, Port Jefferson or Stony Brook, where you can combine a love of nature and foliage with some great shops, restaurants and historic sites.
While on the North Shore, visit Caumsett State Park. This former estate of department store tycoon Marshall Field in Lloyd Neck has miles of scenic paved trails that wind past open fields, flowers, a farm, specimen trees, woods and the Marshall Field mansion before reaching a sparkling beach on the Long Island Sound.
If you’re up for a real ‘uphill’ challenge, try Cold Spring Harbor State Park. This park features a daunting incline at its start off of Rte. 25A, but you’ll be rewarded with a vista overlooking the colorful woods surrounding the scenic harbor and village there. This 40-acre park has a mixed hardwood forest with notable large oak specimens measuring three feet in diameter, as well as thickets of wild mountain laurel.
Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, also on the North Shore, is known for its expansive paved roadways offering miles of walking, jogging or biking from end to end; and its beachfront boardwalk for walking and jogging. Or if you’re feeling especially adventurous the back woods and hills of this massive beachfront state park offer amazing hills and terrain challenges and rewarding water views once you’ve reached the bluff-top peaks. If you hike or bike in, remember there’s a reason they call it ‘Sunken Meadow.’ There’s a huge incline back up to Rte. 25A if you’re trekking back out.
Also spectacular is Caleb Smith State Park in Smithtown, one of only two state nature preserves on Long Island. Within its 543 acres are a variety of habitats offering picturesque views that change with the seasons. Caleb Smith is a passive use park. The Nature Museum here was recently renovated and showcases natural history exhibits.
And nearby in Smithtown, the 627-acre Blydenburgh County Park has hiking, picnicking, camping, freshwater fishing, rowboat rentals, bridle paths, playground, dog run, and historic trust area. It features richly forested hills and valleys at the headwaters of the Nissequogue River, rowing and fishing on Stump Pond, and tours through the Blydenburgh Farm and New Mill Historic District featuring a grist mill. Horseback riders may ride or trailer their mounts to Blydenburgh to utilize an extensive bridle path system and practice ring.
While You’re There…
You can also explore the mansions and park-like grounds of Muttontown Preserve, Old Westbury Mansion and Gardens, or Planting Fields Arboretum/Coe Hall. Here you’ll find historic architecture combined with rare plantings and beautifully planned gardens. Or Sand’s Point Preserve, with three magnificent Gold Coast mansions, miles of trails and a beautiful waterfront garden. While in Sand’s Point be sure to plan some time in nearby Port Washington where you’ll find amazing shops and restaurants.
Other parks in the area include the Vanderbilt Mansion and Museum in Centerport, with stunning waterfront grounds and gardens; a natural history museum and the mansion of William K. Vanderbilt, heir to one of America’s greatest rail road fortunes. Want to combine a love of art with nature, visit The Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor where you’ll find the 145 acres of fields, woods, and ponds combined with massive sculptures and art installations.
There are new bike trail options. The 6.8 mile Bethpage Bike Path from the picnic fields at Bethpage State Park is extended through Trail View State Park on to Woodbury Road for a total length of 12.5 miles of shared-use bikeway. An additional 2.4 miles of on-road biking can be found, with kiosk maps providing guidance to the downtown Syosset area. You can rent a bike from Long Island Bicycle Tours.
Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway runs four miles between Jones Beach State Park and Tobay Beach. The paved trail runs parallel on the north side of Ocean Pkwy. and offers views of the Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. From the western end of that trail, you can extend your journey onto the Jones Beach Bikeway and head north to Cedar Creek Park
Enjoy an opportunity for a secluded bluff-top hike overlooking the Long Island Sound at Wildwood State Park. Wildwood State Park comprises 600 acres of undeveloped hardwood forest terminating on the high bluffs. Beach, salt water fishing, 11.5 miles of trails and cross country skiing are all available. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also enjoy camping here with 242 tent campsites, and 89 trailer sites.
Best Leaf Peeping Spots on the South Shore
On the south shore, one of Long Island’s largest state parks is Connetquot River State Park. This Park Preserve has 50 miles of hiking, horseback bridle paths, cross-country ski trails, birding and nature trails, as well as fishing on the Connetquot River. Tours of its 18th-century grist mill and main house are by appointment.
Nearby is Bayard Cutting Arboretum, a beautiful spot for taking a walk through landscapes and tree plantings designed by the famous design firm Fredrick Law Olmstead who also designed New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Located on the Connetquot River it has 690 acres of lawns and open meadows, a wildflower garden, a marshy refuge, and many paths that make this park a good bird watching location. The English Tudor-style manor house features fireplaces, antique woodwork, Tiffany stained windows and a cafe is located in the library.
Or, head Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a ‘living history’ village that takes you back to a simpler time with historic homes, a farm, general store and docents in costume set along rolling hills, woods and trails.
If You Really Want to Get Away…
If you want to really feel like you’re on a ‘getaway,’ head out to the furthest reaches of Long Island. A hidden treasure is Shelter Island, reachable only be ferry. There you’ll find Mashomack Preserve, a natural area comprised of nearly 2,100 acres edged in white by 10 miles of coastline. Its combination of interlacing tidal creeks, woodlands, fields and coastline makes it an important wildlife habitat. The Pine Swamp complex at the western edge of the Preserve has been designated a freshwater wetland of unique local importance by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. And fourteen hundred acres of upland oak and beech forest are now being allowed to develop into an old-growth forest. Open, grassy meadows provide another contrasting habitat.
At the end of your outdoor adventure, you’ll want to warm up at one of our local restaurants, breweries, wineries or make a reservation at a charming B&B so you can stay another day and enjoy the local color.
STONY BROOK PHOTO BY: NICOLE MULLEN