As the Long Island beach driving season gets into gear, Keri Shea just can’t wait to get off the road again in her 2018 Toyota 4Runner.
Shea, 44, of Massapequa, a special-education teacher, is a lifelong angler and boater. Last year, she decided to add some adventure to the offseason by taking a how-to course with the Long Island Beach Buggy Association (LIBBA), and nowadays she’s cruising the sand from Gilgo to Montauk.
“I like the feeling of being free, smelling the salt air and getting out for sunrise and sunset,” Shea says. She adds, “I’m always looking to see if people are catching anything and have my rod ready if the fish are biting.”
Ready to hit the beach in your own 4x4? You don’t have to join an off-roading club to take your SUV or Jeep for a beach ride to go fishing, camping, swimming or tailgate partying at the surf’s doorstep. All you need is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, an adventurous spirit and a special permit to reach the playland beyond the dunes.
“It’s a great mini vacation and a great sense of camaraderie," LIBBA president Klaus "Cooky" Rondinella, of Williston Park, says of off-roading. The 1,839-member organization also advocates for greater beach access and hosts beach cleanups and other conservation activities, Rondinella says.
DRIVING ON THE LONG ISLAND SAND
The 5-mile outer beach at Smith Point County Park in Shirley is among the most popular off-road destinations in Suffolk County, according to Hilary Hoffman of the county Department of Parks. On any given day, off-roaders pitch tents in front of their vehicles for a waterfront cabana vibe.
That’s where Dylan Jewell, 34, of Shirley, finds great fishing and peace of mind off-roading night and day in his 2017 Dodge Ram.
“I love driving out there with my three kids,” says Jewell, who seeks out quiet stretches of the beach away from crowds. On solo trips, he enjoys surf-casting. On family trips, he sets up a tent for shade and digs a kiddie pool in the sand for his children to play in.
“It’s like therapy,” Jewell says of off-roading: “It brings you to a different place in your life where you get to slow down.”
BEST-BET BEACHES PERMITTING OFF-ROADING
Suffolk County Parks outer beach access
Off-roaders can explore eight county beaches — Smith Point, Cupsogue, Cedar Point, Montauk and others — with an annual recreational vehicle use permit ($100 Suffolk residents with Green Key pass, which costs $30/three years) and $33 vehicle day use fee.
Long Island State Parks
Four-wheel-drive beach vehicle access fishing permits ($80) for Democrat Point and Sore Thumb Beach in Robert Moses State Park, Gilgo State Park in Babylon and Hither Hills, Montauk Point and Napeague state parks in Montauk are sold by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation from the Tuesday after Labor Day to Dec. 31, and then from Jan. 1 to March 31.
Fire Island National Seashore
Recreational driving permits for anglers and hunters are available for the 1 ½-mile beach west of the Fire Island Wilderness Center to Old Inlet. Permits cost $50 and can be purchased beginning Sept. 1 for use between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31.
Long Island Beach Buggy Association (LIBBA), 516-859-5266, libba.com. Get info on mandated gear, upcoming beach environmental projects, tours and classes.
Long Island Off Road, liorclub.org. Group trail rides on private and public lands throughout the Northeast (excluding Long Island).