Bears may hibernate, but humans can’t, so we have to face the winter. But just because it’s cold doesn’t mean families can’t have fun outdoors. Toss the electronics, layer up and take the kids to visit these eight natural wonders of Long Island. Afterward peel off the layers and grab a kid-friendly snack.
A giant beech tree
The tree is more than 50 feet tall and over 60 years of age, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “It’s along the main paved loop that we have here,” says Marlo Romero, parks and recreation aide at Caumsett. The loop is three miles long, and, if visitors begin walking the loop by turning left at the stop sign, the tree is about one mile in, he says. During winter, the leaves have dropped off and visitors can see the skeleton of branches. “It’s still quite a view,” Romero says. “Even when it snows, we try to do a good job having the paved trail plowed.”
WHERE Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve, 25 Lloyd Harbor Rd., Lloyd Harbor INFO Free entry during the off-season; 631-423-1770; parks.ny.gov
Stop for a snack: Stop into MB Ramen, 335 New York Ave., Huntington, on your way through Huntington’s downtown and warm up with a steaming bowl of soup. 631-923-3176, mbramenshop.com.
Standing on the bluffs offers “one of the most magnificent views on Long Island . . . if not the best,” says George Gorman, state parks deputy regional director. It’s become a popular spot for weddings, he says. “Five years ago, we had none,” Gorman says. This past year, more than 40 couples tied the knot at the park because of the vista, says Camp Hero State Park superintendent Tom Dess. “I’m a wedding planner now,” Dess jokes. Visitors can also hike along the shoreline.
WHERE Camp Hero State Park, 1898 Montauk Hwy., Montauk Point INFO Free entry during the off-season; 631-668-3781; parks.ny.gov
Stop for a snack: On your way back west, stop for homemade soup at The Candy Kitchen, 2385 Montauk Hwy., Bridgehampton. 631-537-9885.
Seals like the sun in winter just as people do, and at Montauk Point State Park visitors can watch them relaxing on the rocks offshore. Park in the lot and head toward the beach near the concession stand and follow the trail with red markers until you hit the informational signs that explain about the seals you’ll see, says park supervisor Tom Dess. “It’s a spot where the seals sit out on the rocks during low tide and sunbathe. If you really want to see seals, you need to go during low tide,” Dess says. Bring binoculars for an even closer look. The park also runs organized seal tours through March for $4 per person. Advance registration for park walks is required; call the park for scheduling and sign-up information.
WHERE Montauk Point State Park, 2000 Montauk Hwy., Montauk
INFO Free entry during the off-season; for reservations 631-668-5000, ext. 200; parks.ny.gov
Stop for a snack: On Saturdays and Sundays, warm up by the fireplace while you sip hot cocoa inside George’s Lighthouse Café, the park’s concession stand at 2001 Montauk Hwy., 631-668-2076 georgeslighthousecafe.com.
Photographers and bird lovers head to the Mill Dam Bridge in Centerport to catch a glimpse of a pair of bald eagles as they fly over Mill Pond. “It’s very exciting to see the birds flying in the sky. It’s so majestic looking,” says Jason Frank, a full-time photographer from Stony Brook who travels to Centerport twice a week to photograph the eagles. He says he would have thought people would have to travel to Alaska to see such a sight. “It’s amazing that they’ve made a big comeback to Long Island,” he says. Morning is the best time to catch them, because seeing them is hit or miss. He suggests between 8 and 11 a.m.
WHERE Mill Dam Bridge, Centerport INFO To see photos of the eagles, visit the Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook page
Stop for a snack: Sweet and savory choices are both available at Hometown Bake Shop, 2 Little Neck Rd., Centerport; 631-754-7437, hometownbakeshop.com.
An ocean vista
A great thing about the ever-popular Hamptons beach in winter: “You’ll have plenty of parking in the wintertime, and they won’t charge anything,” says Stephen P. Leatherman, a coastal science expert at Florida International University of Miami who comes out with a list of the 10 best U.S. beaches every Memorial Day. Cooper’s Beach was No. 4 on his 2018 list, in part for its huge sand dunes and wide beach. He says in winter, if it’s super cold, you can drive right up and enjoy the magnificent view. “You see the beach and see the waves and don’t even get out of your car,” he says. But he recommends you do exit. “Unless it’s bitter cold, I like to take a walk,” he says. He looks for shells and interesting pebbles, and also takes in the Southampton mansions along the ocean. “They’re sights to see,” he says. “Every one of them is different. They’re all phenomenal.”
WHERE Coopers Beach, 268 Meadow Lane, Southampton Village INFO Free entry during off-season; 631-283-2066 southamptonvillage.org
Stop for a snack: It’s cozy inside The Golden Pear Cafe, 99 Main St., Southampton; 631-283-8900, goldenpearcafe.com. When it’s time to warm up, the “classic, creamy mac and cheese” might do the trick.
“Planting Fields is known for its winter landscape. You have the woodland trees, one-of-a-kind trees from throughout the world. We have a lot of evergreens,” says arboretum director Vincent Simeone. And the two greenhouses on the grounds feature winter plants. The main greenhouse is filled with poinsettias through the first week in January. The Camellia greenhouse is filled with the winter-blooming flowering shrub of the same name, with blooms in white, pink and red peaking during Presidents’ Week, Simeone says. The arboretum has two festival days during the winter.
WHERE Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay. INFO Free entry to grounds and greenhouses in off-season; 516-922-8600, plantingfields.org
Stop for a snack: Grab a burger at Taby’s Burger House, 28 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay; 516-624-7781.
Highest LI point
Park on Reservoir Road and then hike the Walt Whitman Trail to Jayne’s Hill (there’s a trail sign at the end of Reservoir Road). Jayne’s Hill is the highest point on Long Island with an elevation of 401 feet. While it’s not exactly a peak, kids can brag that they’ve been to the top of Long Island. The high point offers wood bench seating and is marked by a boulder with a plaque inscribed with a verse from Walt Whitman’s poetry book, “Leaves of Grass.” The hike is about a quarter of a mile. The view depends on the foliage in the wooded area and the weather; on a clear day with no leaves on the trees it’s possible to see Connecticut.
WHERE End of Reservoir Road off West Hills Road, West Hills
INFO 631-854-4949; suffolkcountyny.gov
Stop for a snack: Have a slice of pizza at La Focaccia, 64 Broadhollow Rd., Melville; 631-385-5000, lafocacciaofmelville.com. A bonus for mom and dad: There’s a Starbucks in the same strip mall.