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Long Island nature spots worth exploring with the kids

Looking to get the kids outside this summer? The Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Sag Harbor is a great place to take the kids to explore nature. The 187-acre peninsula contains fields, forest ponds, salt marsh, a beach, a lagoon and is famous for its bird feeding. (Credit: Linda Rosier)

If it's that time of summer when the kids are getting restless and you’ve run out of things for them to do, you might want to explore some of Long Island's parks and nature preserves. Here are a few off-the-beaten spots that are definitely worth the trip.

Lido Beach Nature Preserve

WHAT The preserve features a wide, circular 1.25-mile trail with grasses, marshes and a scenic overlook at the end to wetlands and Reynolds Channel. As part of the Atlantic flyway, the migratory route for birds heading south in the fall and north in the spring, the area attracts many species of waterfowl and marsh birds. “This trail offers families a fun, healthy way to spend their summer days while also learning about the importance of preserving and protecting the environment,” says Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen.

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 1051-1137 Lido Blvd., Lido Beach

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Bathrooms

INFO Free; 516-431-9200; https://hempsteadny.gov/preserves-and-nature-areas/lido-beach-nature-area

Prosser Pines Nature Preserve

WHAT One of the oldest surviving white pine forests on the East Coast, Prosser Pines has 15 acres of pine trees and a circular trail. Suffolk County Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt calls this preserve one of the county’s “hidden gems, with 55 acres that is situated almost directly in the heart of Suffolk County.”

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 67 Yaphank-Middle Island Rd., Middle Island

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES .7-mile nature trail

INFO Free; 631-854-4949, suffolkcountyny.gov/departments/parks

Shu Swamp Nature Preserve

WHAT There is a 1.3-mile loop trail with a lake for hiking, walking and bird watching within this 65-acre preserve, which features a wood boardwalk and bridge with benches along the edge of Beaver Pond. The site is owned and managed by the nonprofit North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary. "It's a just a wonderful place," says Tom Hornosky, warden of the preserve. "It's a gorgeous walk. It can be muddy at times; obviously it is a swamp. It's all very natural. What we try to do is keep it as natural as possible and still let people come in and enjoy the trails."

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily except Fridays at 28 Frost Mill Rd., Mill Neck

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Beaver Brook, which contains trout, sticklebacks and American Brook lamprey

INFO Free; 516-671-0283, nswildlifesanctuary.org

Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge

WHAT Located on Noyack and Little Peconic bays, this 187-acre peninsula contains fields, forest ponds, a salt marsh, a beach and a lagoon. A four-mile-long trail leads to a sandy beach on the Peconic Bay. “Morton’s is very famous for the bird feeding,” says Ann Marie Chapman, visiting services manager for the Long Island National Wildlife complex, which runs the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Long Island preserves. “People go there and feed birds out of their hands, so that’s a big draw,” she says of woodpeckers, titmice and chickadees.

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 25959 Noyack Rd., Sag Harbor

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Bathrooms; small visitor station open on weekends

INFO $4 per car, $2 pedestrian/bicycle; 631-286-0485, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/elizabeth_a_morton/

Garvies Point Museum and Preserve

WHAT Five miles of marked nature trails to explore 62 acres of glacial moraine covered by forest, thickets and meadows that attract more than 140 species of birds. "You can explore many different types of habitats," says Veronica Natale, director of the museum and preserve, referring to woodlands, marshes, ponds and 2,000 feet of shoreline on  Hempstead Harbor. "We have a lot of migratory birds that visit, and resident birds."

WHEN WHERE 8:30 a.m. to dusk daily at 50 Barry Dr., Glen Cove                                                      

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Bathrooms in administrative building

INFO Free; 516-571-8010, garviespointmuseum/com/preserve

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge

WHAT The preserve includes more than 2,500 acres, a visitor’s center with exhibits and over 6 miles of trails along the Carmans River. “It’s the largest protected wetland on Long Island,” says Ann Marie Chapman of the Long Island National Wildlife complex. “It preserves the lower half of the Carmans River.“ A bald eagle’s nest perched in a pine tree can be spotted with a telescope while canoeing or kayaking on Little Neck Creek or from Indian Landing.

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 340 Smith Rd., Shirley

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Bathrooms; interactive exhibit hall at visitor center

INFO Free; 631-286-0485, fws.gov/refuge/wertheim

Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge

WHAT An 80-acre refuge with a 1-1/2-mile trail that leads to a rocky beach. “This time of year, it’s pretty crowded with folks that fish off the beach,” says Ann Marie Chapman. “Picnicking is really popular there.” 

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 12 Target Rock Rd., Lloyd Harbor

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Bathroom, fishing and picnicking

INFO $4 per vehicle fee; $2 pedestrian; 631-286-0485, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/target_rock/

Walking Dunes

WHAT Scenic vistas abound on these continually shifting sand dunes, which were formed 100 years ago. Part of Hither Hills State Park, the one-mile trail is surrounded by dunes that are moving a couple of feet a year into the forest. "When you get to the edge of the Walking Dunes at the farthest points in the woods, you'll see branches sticking out of the dune, which is really the top of 30-feet trees," says Tom Dess, park manager. "The tree is growing all the way down through the sand and its roots are in nearby streams keeping the trees alive." In the middle of the dunes, there are a cranberry bog, wild orchids and sundew plants.

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 91 Napeague Harbor Rd., Montauk

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Ten different stations to see shrubs, dunes, wildlife footprints, tree tops, a sand funnel, among other attractions.

INFO Free; 631-668-3781, ehtps.org/walking-dunes

Quogue Wildlife Refuge

WHAT You’ll see diverse wildlife on seven miles of wood-chipped trails and a boardwalk that courses through bogs, wetlands, fields, a tidal estuary and the pine barrens with their unique-looking dwarf pines. “We have 305 acres and a beautiful freshwater pond that has a lot of variety of native wildlife use,” says Cara Fernandes, program coordinator for the refuge. “We’ve seen some really cool animals out on the pond and snapping turtles in the pond.” The refuge also has an outdoor wildlife complex with permanently injured wildlife, including a red fox, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle, owls and wild turkeys.

WHEN WHERE Dawn to dusk daily at 3 Old Country Rd., Quogue

FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES Bathrooms, visitor center

INFO Free; 631-653-4771, quoguewildliferefuge.org

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