How far would you travel to explore a historic lighthouse, ride a hand-carved carousel, row around a picture-perfect lake or share a garden’s pleasures with a disabled person?
Actually, you don’t have to go far at all to enjoy our list of unusual and unique attractions located within Long Island’s state parks.
ONE BEACH, FOUR LIGHTHOUSES
Orient Beach State Park
On a clear day you can see four lighthouses from Orient Beach State Park. Two are visible with the naked eye along the park’s entrance road: The Orient Point Lighthouse, nicknamed The Coffee Pot because of its shape, and Plum Island Lighthouse, in the waters between Southold and mysterious Plum Island. The other two require binoculars. Look south from the parking lot across Gardiner’s Bay to East Hampton’s Cedar Island Lighthouse, and east to the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, called The Bug Light for it’s unusual architecture. The Bug Light can also be seen close-up from the shore, after a two-mile walk on the beach.
WALK A SCENIC TRAIL
Robert Moses State Park, Babylon
What could be more quintessentially Long Island than the boardwalk linking Power Broker Robert Moses’ eponymous park to the lighthouse that was the first glimpse of America seen by transatlantic immigrants? From the marked entrance at the east end of Field 5, the path winds through an enchanting landscape of dunes, pine trees and berry bushes. Keep your eyes open and camera ready for red fox and wild deer encounters. The 168-foot tall, black-and-white banded Fire Island Lighthouse, completed in 1858, is both a monument listed on the National Register of Historic Places and an active aid to navigation visible 24 miles out to sea. The keepers quarters museum was recently renovated, and new displays were added to an adjacent building housing the original first order Fresnel lens, a beehive-shaped mass of brass and glass prisms.
HIKE AND FEED THE HATCHERY FISH
Connetquot River State Park Preserve, Oakdale
The fish are jumpin’ again – and, yes, you can feed them – at Connetquot’s historic hatchery, a Gilded Age relic located in a clearing a mile from the parking lot. At the head of the marked trails you’ll see The South Side Sportsmen’s Club building, where famous guests including U.S. Presidents overnighted on flyfishing expeditions. Nowadays, the hatchery raises rainbow, brook and brown trout to stock streams anyone can fish, for a modest fee. For the kids, a quarter buys a handful of fish feed from the hatchery vending machines.
RIDE THE HISTORIC CAROUSEL
Hempstead Lake State Park, West Hempstead
Thirty-six hand-carved painted wooden horses and two chariots spin around under a festive canopy on one of the nation’s most historically significant, still operating antique carousels. Hempstead Lake’s was handmade between 1910 and 1917 by the famous Coney Island carousel-creator M.C. Illions, and donated to the state by the noted industrialist and philanthropist August Heckscher, Sr., according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Originally a traveling carnival attraction, nowadays it’s whirling a new generation of children.
PEDDLE AROUND THE POND
Belmont Lake State Park, North Babylon
Manhattan has Central Park Lake, but Long Island has its own picturesque lakeside playground at Belmont Lake State Park. On a summer’s day, you can take a stroll, bicycle or walk a leashed dog on trails encircling the springfed lake, or barbecue at grills under a canopy of trees. Anglers of all ages cast lines in the water hoping to snare a bass or trout (fishing licenses required). No swimming is allowed, but you can rent a paddle boat, row boat or two-person kayak for a self-powered cruise. Alas, the swan pedal boats have been retired from the fleet, but they are still moored by the dock, offering a quirky backdrop for Instagrammers.
A FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Planting Fields State Historic Park, Oyster Bay
Planting Field’s Sensory Garden is a special place. It’s wheel chair accessible, so people of all ages and abilities can indulge all five senses as they move through the manicured 3,500 square foot area shaded by pergolas. Wind chimes and songbirds serenade as you stop to smell colorful and fragrant lavender, lilies and bayberry, and handle soft-to-the touch lamb’s ear plants. The garden also grows berries and herbs (thyme, basil). If you want a taste, don’t help yourself — ask a park horticulturalist for a sample.