“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” said naturalist John Muir. There is no better time than Summer to savor the great outdoors. Beautiful island beaches, river kayaking, gentle hiking, and friendly farm animals are a short Zipcar or train ride away. Central Park has its perks, but New York State offers much more nature than Manhattan. Take the day off and venture out with your family and friends to these awe-inspiring and eco-friendly places to come back relaxed and recharged.
1) Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Willow
Surrounded by the Catskills Mountains and located just seven miles from the town of Woodstock, the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is a haven for more than 200 rescued farm animals. Turkeys and chickens run free, while pigs snooze in the barn and cows graze away on acres of green grass set amongst rolling hills. Visitors can feed and hang out with the animals, as well as learn about the impact of agribusiness on the environment and human health.
Petting the turkeys and rubbing the pigs’ bellies are just a few bonuses. My favorite part is mingling with the goats in a large open pasture. Spending time at the farm always leaves me with a positive feeling, knowing that these animals will never become food. End your day with a delicious vegan meal at the Garden Cafe on the Green in downtown Woodstock, and visit the local craft stores to bring home memories of your fun-filled day.
Adirondack Trailways buses depart from Port Authority and drop off right by the farm. Purchase tickets to Willow (800-858-8555, $27 each way). Onsite tours are available. The Sanctuary welcomes donations and animal sponsorships. www.woodstocksanctuary.org
2) Nissequogue River Kayaking, Long Island
Gliding down the river in a kayak is the perfect way to cool down on a hot Summer day. The Nissequogue River, located on the scenic North Shore of Long Island, makes you feel like you’ve traveled far into the wilderness without boarding a plane. This estuary winds its way along five and a half miles of picturesque coastline in Nissequogue State Park to meet the Long Island Sound, allowing kayakers in to explore both directions based on the tides. Vegetation transforms old oaks, elms, and maples into reeds and scrubby pines.
Paddle alongside frolicking swans, ducks, and geese. The occasional million-dollar home with gazebos and manicured lawns appears as you travel along. Those interested in deeper exploration can hike the Greenbelt trail that parallels the river. Canoe rentals are also available.
Call 631-979-8244 for tidal information and meeting locations. $50 for kayak rentals or you may bring your own. Nissequogue State Park is a five minute taxi ride from Kings Park Station (Long Island Railroad, Port Jefferson Branch). www.canoerentals.com
3) Watch Hill, Fire Island
Located on Fire Island National Seashore, across the Great South Bay, Watch Hill is only 60 miles from the City. It offers plenty of outdoor options, including swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, hiking, and native wildlife viewing. Take the Long Island Railroad to Patchogue Station (Montauk Branch) and hop on the ferry at Watch Hill Ferry Terminal ($17 round trip) to this enchanted island getaway where miles of (practically empty) white sandy beaches and easy trails await.
Take a leisurely stroll on an elevated nature trail through salt marshes or board a guided canoe tour. Hike the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area – the only Federally designated area of its kind in the state – but don’t get too close to the grazing deer. Relax at the tiki bar and enjoy a sunset dinner at The Pier Restaurant. Watch Hill turns lively on weekends, with boating families and visitors enjoying barbeques and music. Make sure to bring plenty of bug spray. Leashed dogs are permitted. www.watchhillfi.com
Hope you get to visit these awesome destinations this year. If there is a place you love, feel free to share it in a comment below. Have a great Summer!