Despite predictions in March, the COVID-19 virus has not died in the summer heat. But most seasonal travel plans have withered because of the virus and “stay local” has become the mantra of risk-averse Long Islanders — even those increasingly desperate for extended outdoor exercise and a therapeutic change of scenery.
Avoiding the hordes of others seeking the same, however, generally requires driving well beyond the metropolitan area to expansive, but often lesser known, outdoor recreation spots. Profiled below are six such destinations, all within 100 miles of Long Island, for those seeking a day trip or maybe an overnight getaway.
With the exception of the open-access Catskills, most state parks are minimizing health risks by simply closing parking lots once the park itself is deemed “full,” even if spaces are still available. But unlike before, visitors are not then allowed to park on the access road and walk in. As it’s impossible to know in advance when lots will fill up, day trippers — and especially those venturing out over the weekend — are advised to arrive as early as possible (but not before they open) and have a viable Plan B. And be sure to check websites before heading out for any last-minute updates or policy changes.
Harriman State Park, Sloatsburg, New York
Stony Point, New York
With 47,500 acres, including 31 lakes and reservoirs, heavily-forested Harriman State Park is nearly 10 times the size of its much better known, more developed — and hence much more crowded — neighbor to the east, Bear Mountain State Park. Just don’t expect to have Harriman’s 200 miles of hiking trails, two swimming beaches, and miles of scenic roads, including Seven Lakes Drive, all to yourself. For those who really do want to take the path less traveled, there’s adjacent (to the west) Sterling Forest State Park with its 22,000 acres of minimally-accessible, pristine forests and lakes.
Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle
Making a day of it: Explore scenic Stony Point Battlefield; shop safely at Woodbury Common Outlet Mall.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Kerhonkson, New York
Historic New Paltz, New York
Consisting of some 22,000 acres of the Shawangunk Mountains in Ulster County, Minnewaska State Park Preserve features picturesque rock-girded lakes, waterfalls, a dwarf pine forest still recovering from a 2016 fire, and dramatic ledge-top vistas out over the Hudson River Valley. Connecting them are 35 miles of carriage roads and 50 miles of trails. Among the more popular excursions are the hike out to Sam’s Point, the highest prominence in the “Gunks,” the descent into the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves, and peering out over 187-foot Verkeerder Kill Falls.
Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle
Making a day of it: Stroll Huguenot Street in New Paltz, the oldest street in America; stock up at numerous nearby fruit and vegetable farms.
Taconic State Park, Millerton and Copake Falls
Occupying a narrow, 16-mile-long stretch of the Taconic Mountains along the Connecticut and Massachusetts border, Taconic State Park consists of two separate areas, Copake Falls in the north and Rudd Pond in the south. From Copake Falls, visitors can hike to 80-foot Bash Bish Falls across the border in Massachusetts or hike or bike the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. The trail up Brace Mountain (2,316 feet) begins at the Rudd Pond area, where visitors can also swim. (Cabins and cottages are available at nearby Lake Taghkanic State Park.)
Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle.
Making a day of it: Admire the grounds of artist Frederic Edwin Church’s Orientalist “villa” Olana; be enchanted at Innisfree Garden in Millbrook; take in a flick at the Four Brothers Drive-In in Amenia.
Catskill Park, New York
With more than 700,000 acres, it’s easy to find safety in low numbers in the Catskills, especially for those seeking less accessible or popular destinations. But even the more rewarding ones should allow for plenty of perfectly safe hiking. Among them: Slide Mountain, at 4,190 feet, the highest peak in the Catskills; Panther-Giant Ledge, and fire-tower topped Hunter Mountain. More of a long walk is the service road up Overlook Mountain near Woodstock for amazing views out over the Hudson River Valley. Younger and less ambitious hikers will enjoy the walk in the woods (and subsequent swim) to Vernooy Kill Falls, Plattekill Falls, and Peekamoose Buttermilk Falls and adjacent Blue Hole. In a class by itself is mesmerizingly beautiful, two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, which at 230 feet is the state’s highest, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation website.
Entrance fee: none
Making a day of it: No matter what you do, the Catskills require a full day. But as you will need sustenance anyway, explore your options in the quaint towns of Phoenicia, Tannersville, or Woodstock.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, along the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border
Stretching along both sides of the scenic Delaware Rived for roughly 40 miles, this 70,000-acre forested preserve offers day trippers a combination plate of activities, most notably — and differently — the opportunity to tube, raft, canoe or kayak down the not-so-lazy river with your choice of a half dozen, safety-conscious outfitters.
Determined hikers have their choice of two relatively short, but demanding routes up the two sentinels of the 1,000-foot-deep gap, Mount Tammany on the New Jersey side and Mount Minsi on the Pennsylvania side. For those just looking for a pleasant walk in the woods, there are numerous waterfall trails, mostly on the Pennsylvania side. The most impressive of the lot, Bushkill Falls, however, is on private property and entails an adult admission fee of $14.50 weekdays/$17.50 weekends.
Similar opportunities, albeit with fewer people and less dramatic scenery, can be found farther upstream in the Upper Delaware River National Scenic and Recreational River, along the New York-Pennsylvania border.
Park entrance fee: none
Making a day of it: Find sustenance and entertainment afterward in the historic towns of Milford or Stroudsburg.
Wharton State Forest, Hammonton, New Jersey
If flat is more your inclination, head south to the Pine Barrens of south central New Jersey. With nearly 123,00 acres, Wharton State Forest has plenty of room to spread out and enjoy one or more generally less strenuous activities such as hiking, trail biking, fishing, and kayaking on the Mullica or Wading Rivers. For a little human-made history, take the free self-guided smartphone tour of Batsto Historic Village, an abandoned 19th-century, industrial community.
Entrance fee: None for the state forest itself, but $7 per vehicle for Batsto Village
Making a day of it: Take advantage of numerous access points.