No less an authority on nature and natural beauty than Walt Whitman attested to the wondrous delights the Central Pine Barrens Region has to offer and all there is to explore. In one of his most famous poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Whitman is believed to be hearkening to his days exploring what is now Long Island’s Central Pine Barrens Region when, in expressing his grief over the death of President Lincoln, he recalled the hermit flush, “withdrawn to himself,” “warbling a song.”
Like Whitman, you can explore the region by foot on one of the many spectacular trails that have been established since the great poet wandered the woods. Or canoe one of the region’s rivers, lakes or ponds. Or take the family to a petting zoo or for a ride on a steam train. Whether you’re interested in birding, fishing, mountain biking, hunting, picnicking, horseback riding or camping, within the 105,000 acres of the Central Pine Barrens Region, the recreational opportunities are seemingly boundless. (Photo: Pine Warbler by L. Ormand)
Below are the activities available at some of the spectacular parks, wildlife refuges and other attractions included within the Central Pine Barrens Region (see tabs below “Explore” to see locations listed by recreational activity and for directions to each site):
Brookhaven State Park, William Floyd Parkway, Wading River:
Formerly the site of the U.S. Army’s Camp Upton, Brookhaven State Park is a 1,638-acre park containing 25 miles of trails suitable for hiking. Included within the park is the Brookhaven Trail, which heads south through the park before joining the Paumanok Path. The Brookhaven Trial winds through beautiful upland pine-oak and oak-pine barrens.
Cathedral Pines County Park, Yaphank-Middle Island Road, Middle Island:
Situated along the headwaters of the Carmans River, Cathedral Pines County Park features 320 acres perfectly suited for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or picnicking. Campers in particular will love this park, with sites available for individuals, youth groups, clubs and families, including 10 sites with water and electric hookups. Adjacent to Cathedral Pines is Prosser Pines Nature Preserve, featuring a stand of majestic white pines planted in 1812.
David A. Sarnoff Pine Barrens Preserve, Flanders and Northampton:
Open to hiking, biking, horseback riding and seasonal hunting for small and big game, the David A. Sarnoff Pine Barrens Preserve includes more than 2,700 acres of upland mixed oak and pine woodland. Access the preserve on Route 104, about a mile south of the traffic circle in Riverside.
Dwarf Pine Plains Preserve, County Road 31, Westhampton Beach:
Dwarf Pine Plains Preserve features a .6-mile hike through a rare ecosystem that exists in only a few locations in the entire world. Featuring primarily pitch pines and scrub oak, the preserve is home to bird species including the black-throated green warbler, American kestrels and marsh hawks. And don’t be surprised to spot several species of owls. Access to the trail is accessible at the Suffolk County Water Authority’s Eastern Regional Office just south of exit 64 on Sunrise Highway.
Long Island Game Farm, Chapman Boulevard, Manorville:
The largest combined wildlife park and children’s zoo on Long Island, the Long Island Game Farm features hundreds of animals, including an 18-foot giraffe, red kangaroos, cougars, monkeys, parrots, camels and peacocks. Children can also touch and feed some of the animals and enjoy themed nature trails.
Manorville Hills County Park, County Road 111, Manorville:
A hiker’s paradise, Manorville Hills County Park is considered to be the longest expanse of roadless land on Long Island. Situated along the Ronkonkoma terminal moraine in the heart of the Central Pine Barrens region, the trails of Manorville Hills feature mounds and depressions formed by the melting of glaciers approximately 22,000 years ago. Numerous trails, peaking at 275 feet of elevation, are open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The Paumanok Path is a 125-mile hiking trail marked by white trail blazes that passes through much of the Central Pine Barrens region (the full path extends from Rocky Point to Montauk Point State Park). Featuring rolling hills, panoramic vistas, coastal plain ponds, kettles, White Atlantic Cedar swamps, dwarf pines, grasslands and numerous species of wildlife, the path, wherever you decide to explore it, is fascinating from beginning to end.
Quogue Wildlife Refuge, Old Country Road, Quogue:
The Quogue Wildlife Refuge features 300 acres of ecologically-rate dwarf pines home to diverse wildlife. Here, you’ll enjoy seven miles of diverse walking trails featuring diverse habitats including forests and ponds. The Outdoor Wildlife Complex near the entrance houses permanently injured wildlife requiring human care, including a bobcat, owls, falcons, a bald eagle, foxes and other native animals. The refuge also hosts a nature center with wildlife exhibits, live animals and a nature library.
Robert Cushman Murphy County Park, River Road, Calverton and Manorville:
A favorite spot in the Central Pine Barrens region for bird watching, Robert Cushman Murphy County Park’s 2,200 acres are part of the Peconic River Watershed. The park also welcomes hiking, canoeing and kayaking and features a rare coastal pond habitat that provides scientists with ample opportunity for biological experiments. Hunting is permitted seasonally, and just across the road is a boat launch into Swan Lake where fishing is permitted.
Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, Rocky Point and Ridge:
The Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest features nearly 6,000 acres of pine oak forest and open fields offering miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, including a 20-mile mountain bike trail. Hunting is also allowed seasonally. The forest is accessible through parking areas located on Route 25A, Rocky Point Road and Whiskey Road.
Sears-Bellows County Park, Bellows Pond Road, Hampton Bays:
Sears-Bellows County Park in Hampton Bays is a sportsman’s paradise, offering hiking and horseback riding on an extensive trail system; camping for tents or trailers; rowboating on Bellows Pond; picnicking; freshwater fishing for bluegill, bass, perch and pickerel; hunting; and horseback riding. And right around the corner is the famous Big Duck tourist attraction.
Park office: 631-852-8290. Big Duck: 631-852-8292.
Southaven County Park, Victory Boulevard, Shirley:
One of the first Suffolk County parks opened to the public, Southaven County Park in Shirley offers visitors numerous recreational opportunities including hiking, bird watching, freshwater fishing, rowboating, picnicking, horseback riding, camping, hunting, canoeing and, of course, the incredible Long Island Live Steamers: steam, diesel and electric trains operating on eight acres of scale tracks that you and your family can ride. The Carmans River flows through this scenic, forested, 1,356-acre park.
Park office: 631-854-1414.
Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, Shirley and Brookhaven:
A beautiful 2,550-acre refuge bisected by the Carmans River, the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge features a wide variety of habitats including oak-pine woodlands, grasslands and fresh, brackish and saltwater wetlands. Wildlife abounds; the refuge is populated by white-tailed deer, osprey, muskrat, foxes, turtles, frogs, waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and songbirds. The refuge features an excellent visitors center, numerous sites for viewing wildlife and hiking trails. Access to the refuge is located on Smith Road, Shirley.