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On the Water: Hiking, Paddle Boarding, Kayaking, & More

Tourists may hear “Long Island” and think only of it as the suburbs close to New York City, but locals know there’s far more to it than wine and dine. From hiking to trail riding to sea kayaking, Nassau County makes an excellent hub for embarking on a variety of outdoor adventures, and many of the county’s outdoor destinations have a rich history, as well.

We’ll cover the best things for outdoor enthusiasts to do in Nassau County. First, we’ll provide an overview of the top parks and wilderness areas, then dive into the best Nassau County hiking trails, biking trails, waterways, and beaches for kayaking and camping (for those who prefer to sleep under the stars)!

Best Outdoor Destinations in Nassau County

Muttontown Preserve

At 550 acres, Muttontown is one of Nassau County’s largest natural spaces. Miles of marked and unmarked trails beckon hiking enthusiasts, who can traverse serene woodlands, tranquil ponds, and vibrant meadows bursting with wildflowers. 

Keep your eyes peeled for diverse bird species flitting through the branches, or catch a glimpse of local wildlife like deer or rabbits. You can also rent a bike and explore the scenic paths at your speed or dive into dedicated cross-country skiing trails during winter (weather permitting) 

Muttontown was also home to the Knollwood Estate, the 60-room mansion of the Albanian monarch Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli, better known as King Zog. The building has fallen to ruin, but visitors can still explore some remains.

Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Congressman Lester Wolff Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a unique marine refuge protecting the waters and marshes of Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor, home to a diverse aquatic ecosystem. 

While paddling through the harbor on a kayak, you’ll have opportunities to spot sea turtles, harbor seals, diamondback terrapins, and over 25 species of waterfowl. The refuge also boasts New York’s last commercial oyster farm, a testament to the area’s healthy environment. 

Jones Beach State Park

Jones Beach State Park, a Nassau County crown jewel, offers over 6.5 miles of pristine Atlantic coastline along an eponymous barrier island off the Long Island coast. Jones Beach is perfect for everything from sunbathing and swimming to surfing, kayaking, and stargazing. 

The park’s two-mile boardwalk is great for cycling, while the Jones Beach WildPlay Adventure Park offers ziplining, a high-angle adventure course, and rope jumping. (There are also mellower attractions, such as basketball, corn hole, shuffleboard, paddle tennis, and pickleball.) A historic concert venue, the Northwell Health Theatre, regularly features top-tier artists. 

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

Sagamore Hill, known as “the Summer White House,” was the home of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt until his death in 1919. Today, it offers 83 acres of historic buildings and nature trails. 

This National Historic Site lets visitors explore Roosevelt’s 23-room Victorian mansion and hike the scenic nature trails that Roosevelt himself traversed, soaking in the beauty of the surrounding forest, tidal marsh, and bay beach. (Tours of the Roosevelt Home are only available Thursday to Sunday by reservation on Recreation.gov)

Hempstead Lake State Park

Spanning 737 acres, Hempstead Lake is the largest park in the area, offering a diverse playground for exploration. Lace up your hiking boots and traverse a network of trails winding through serene woodlands. Bikers can conquer scenic paths, while horseback riders have dedicated bridle trails at their disposal. Don’t miss the hand-carved carousel!

Hempstead Lake is also a haven for anglers, and one of the best fishing spots in Nassau County. Catch-and-release fishing lets you try your luck at largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and even trout (stocked in the fall and winter). Rent a car-top boat like a kayak or canoe to explore the calm waters from a different perspective. During the colder months, the lake is a haven for ice skating and cross-country skiing, offering a unique way to experience the winter beauty of Nassau County.

Bethpage State Park

While the 1,477-acre Bethpage State Park is renowned for its world-class golf courses, it offers a surprising abundance of outdoor adventures. Visitors can wear hiking boots and explore trails winding through tranquil woodlands, with plenty of opportunities for cycling and picnicking.

Valley Stream State Park

Valley Stream State Park packs a punch in its 97 acres. Picnic areas with grills, a playground, and a fitness course offer family fun. Kids’ nature trails like the Squirrel Nut and Hickory Nut provide a mini-adventure, allowing children to explore the park’s diverse habitats and local flora and fauna.

Leeds Pond Preserve

Leeds Pond offers hikes through a 35-acre preserve dotted with majestic oaks and tulip trees. Explore the nature trails that wind through a wooded valley, leading past a flowing stream and culminating at the peaceful Leeds Pond. The Science Museum of Long Island, housed in a historic Victorian mansion on the property, complements your outdoor adventure with educational exhibits.

Bay Park

This 96-acre park caters to athletes with its executive-level par-30 golf course, while families can enjoy picnics, playgrounds, and sports fields along the coast. Nature lovers will appreciate the dog park and access to fishing and boating facilities on the water’s edge.

Wantagh Park

Wantagh Park packs a punch in 111 acres. Families flock to the aquatic center with its kiddie pool, water slides, and lap lanes. For those seeking dry land adventures, Wantagh Park offers scenic walking paths ideal for a stroll or a brisk jog, as well as mini golfing, horseshoe courts, a dog run, and more. Fishing enthusiasts can cast a line at the year-round fishing pier, while boaters can access the water via the launch ramp (permit required).

Hewlett Point Park

Hewlett Point Park offers a slice of paradise in Nassau County. Sink your toes into 1,100 feet of beachfront, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, or building sandcastles. Dive into the refreshing pool or challenge yourself on the tennis and volleyball courts. Launch your kayak from the designated area and explore the scenic Hewlett Bay for a touch of adventure.

Lido Beach Wildlife Management Area

While not open for public recreation (special use permits are available for purposes like biological research or environmental education), Lido Beach Wildlife Management Area is still a testament to the rich coastal ecosystems of Nassau County. In particular, Lido Beach serves as a critical sanctuary for diverse birdlife. It’s home to a variety of waterfowl, such as majestic black ducks and Atlantic brant, nesting clapper rails, black-crowned night herons, and ospreys.

The Best Nassau County Hiking Trails

Hempstead Loop

This 3.1-mile route encircling Lake Hempstead is great for everything from running to cycling and is among the best hiking trails in Nassau County. Most sections of the loop are paved, but some are predominantly gravel and sand. There are also a number of side trails and opportunities to extend the loop.

Muttontown Preserve Loop

This 2.5-mile loop through Muttontown Preserve provides a perfect overview of the 500-acre wilderness. With a mellow elevation gain (144ft), it is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, but it can be muddy after rains.

Hoffa & Aspen Loop

A 3.2-mile loop in Bethpage State Park, this heavily wooded trail is slightly more rugged than the previous paths and popular among mountain bikers. There are several intersections and offshoots, making it a great starting point for a longer hike around Bethpage’s sprawling woods and making it quite easy to get lost! Be sure to take a map.

The Best Nassau County Biking Trails

Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt

The Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt is a worthy goal for any cyclist and certainly one of the best Nassau County biking trails. The greenbelt extends north-south across Long Island, from Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island Sound to Massapequa. The full trail is around 19.5 miles each way and entails 1,128 feet of elevation gain.

Jones Beach and Ocean Parkway

This fully paved bike path stretches 18.7 miles one way, runs the full length of Jones Barrier Island between two state parks, and is an incredible way to experience the pristine Atlantic coastline. It begins in Cedar Creek Park on Long Island, runs south across the water to Jones Island, and then travels east to the end of the island at Captree State Park. Be warned, those oceanfront winds can be high!

Massapequa Lake Trail

Try this 6.3-mile route (one-way) to the Massapequa Reservoir for a shorter outing. This paved trail is great for cycling and walking as well. The reservoir is also home to many fish: largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, golden shiners, banded killifish, black crappie, brown bullhead, common carp, and American eel. Trout are stocked every spring and fall for fishermen.

The Best Kayaking in Nassau County

Hempstead Harbor

This protected harbor is a great option for beginners and families. You can paddle around the harbor and enjoy views of the mansions and boats. There are also a few small islands that you can explore.

Magdalen Bay

This bay is located in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Long Beach. It’s a great spot for experienced kayakers looking for a more challenging paddle. The bay is home to various wildlife, including birds, fish, and dolphins.

East Bay

This bay is located between Freeport and Long Beach. It’s a good option for kayakers of all experience levels. The bay has various wildlife, including birds, fish, and crabs. You can also paddle past some of the historic sites in the area, such as the Sands Point Preserve. 

NOTE: New York State law requires all kayaks to have a life jacket for each person on board, a “sounding device” (whistle), and a lighting device (lantern) to prevent collisions.

Where to Stay? The Best Established Campsites in Nassau County

You can always rent an Airbnb or book a hotel room, but there are plenty of camping options in Nassau County. Even if you live nearby, camping can provide a stellar chance to relax and escape from daily life for a night or two.

Battle Row Campground and Nickerson Beach Campground are two of the best camping spots in Nassau County. Battle Row Campground, located in the island’s center near Old Bethpage, is better suited for traditional camping, cycling, and hiking. It offers 52 hookup RV sites with water and electricity and 12 tent sites for primitive camping.

Nickerson Beach is ideal for R.V. campers and those looking to experience aquatic activities, with cabana rentals and a Par 3 golf course. In addition to several RV sites, Nickerson has a new rental property, “The Tiny,” a full-fledged house that sleeps four. 

There’s much more to see and do in Nassau County than meets the eye. From cycling across Long Island to exploring the same nature trails strolled by Teddy Roosevelt to kayaking the wild Atlantic Coast, there’s a wealth of adventure opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and experience levels. 

 

As you embark on your adventures outside, share your pics with @VisitNassauCountyLI to be entered to win special prizes!  

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