The onslaught of winter was heavy on our minds and bodies. As a way to experience true spring, New York City dwellers can visit state parks and leave their winter nests. When contemplating the question is it too early to visit a state park?, the answer is surprisingly “no”. Though the trees and flowers are not yet in full bloom, it’s a chance to see nature without the summer crowds or the pesky mosquitos, and any birder will tell you spring is the best time to see an array of birds migrating from the south.
Long Island’s charming Cold Spring Harbor is one state park that offers great views, no matter the season. It’s always free and open to the public, and it’s only 45 minutes away from Queens (in light traffic), so getting there won’t be a lazy, long drive.
The park, situated on the north shore of Long Island, has 40 acres of mostly undulating landscape. It contains a mix of hardwood forest with large oak trees, measuring three feet in diameter, as well as bushes of wild mountain laurel. It’s also home to a variety of songbirds, horned owls, and red-tailed hawks.
You know you’ve arrived at the park when you see a blue body of water suspended under the sun. On a spring day with a temperature of about 65, the water glistens. Far beyond the harbor are small houses covered by large trees. There are some boats lined up on the shore, and others floating alone on the water. The pier itself is small and wobbly, and most likely used only for boats. To contemplate the quaint surroundings, one can sit on the sand or on the benches above.
The trail starts across the street near the parking lot, up a long staircase blended into the forest ground, then continues through a narrow trail. The whole path is only 1.5 miles, but it provides a challenge when going up steep hills. Some parts are flat, allowing visitors to gather their strength. It’s both an athletic and a recreational hike. Many use hiking poles for better balance. If you don’t own one, you can pick up a fallen branch and use it for support.
On this particular day of hiking, there was a decent amount of people, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded. While walking, the sun made it feel around 70 degrees; many hikers ditched their sweaters.
Cold Spring Harbor attracts young people, families, and children. It provides a good workout for the experienced hiker and a short challenge for the beginner. Many were doing power walks, running, or simply enjoying the scenic heights.
Chances of spotting flying birds are higher when using binoculars. Stay away from noisy areas that keep birds away and go where the foliage is dense. The trees are mostly naked at this time, but if you pay attention, the first signs of spring are all around: green moss on the ground, songbirds, and the earthy fragrance of soil and rain.
The trail ends when you arrive at Lawrence Hill Road. There is another trail across the street, which continues down the Nassau Suffolk Greenbelt Trail that extends to Bethpage State Park and eventually the south shore of Nassau County. If you’re done with hiking and want to see more of this seaside town, visit the Cold Spring Harbor Village along with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Library.
If you want to learn more about Long Island’s charming Cold Spring Harbor State Park, download the New York Pocket Ranger® app, and also make sure to download Pocket Ranger Trophy Case™ to take, share, and search for photos.