1600 acre parkland that makes up Heckscher State Park is one of Long Island’s few public spaces. It has spectacular views across the New York Skyline and the coast. This state park was at one time privately owned by George C. Taylor and J. Neal Plum. Despite significant public opposition, the State of New York bought the estate for public use, thanks to a donation from August Heckscher.
Today, the park has a lot of activities for visitors including walking trails and water sports. With 20 miles of cycling ad walking trails, the park attracts over a million visitors each year. Heckscher State Park is also known as “Home of the White-Tailed Deer” due to these beautiful animals that live within the grounds. There are also around 280 bird species here.
The park can be reached from the public transportation system on Long Island or by car. There is a large parking lot within the park area.
Heckscher State Park Campground
An easy and popular walking trail is the Hecksher State park Campground trail. This is a 1.5-mile walk and is generally straightforward and level. It is close to East Islip and the trail passes a river as well as the main park camping ground. It also goes through some wooded shady areas too. There is some very light traffic on this route and it is otherwise a gentle walk. It is accessed via the Southern State Parkway and parking lot.
Long Island Greenbelt Trail
The Long Island Greenbelt Trail stretches 32 miles across Long Island and crosses Heckscher State Park in the first part of the walk, finishing in Sunken Meadow State Park. For this walking trail, you could plan a hike to do the entire walk or do the section that traverses Heckscher State Park. Additionally, the trail is marked by white blazes which are clearly marked within Heckscher State Park. Some of the urban stretches across Long Island are less clear.
If you are doing this walk during October or November, the hiking trail is famous for the fall colors in the parkland areas. Views from the start and end across the water are stunning. The terrain is mainly paths and boardwalks with a few possible muddy areas on the coast. The Long Island Greenbelt Trail starts at Great South Bay and includes Connetquot River, Blydenburgh Park, Caleb Smith State Park, the Nissequogue River, and several other small parks before arriving in Sunken Meadow State Park on the other side of the island.
Done in its entirety it is a great mix of parkland and urban walking. As Heckscher State Park has a camping ground this hike could be split over several days to do in its entirety. Dogs are permitted but they must be on a leash.
One of the exciting things about Heckscher State Park is that it has two interesting kayaking routes for those interested in water sports. The Heckscher State Park to Fire Island is a 21-mile kayaking circuit with a number of activities and some spectacular views of the New York skyline and parks from the water. It is suited to most levels. Dogs must be on a leash. This kayak is best done from March to October.
The other kayaking trail here is the Hecksher Park South Bay kayak. This route takes in the Great River and heads round to the Heckscher State Park. It is a popular route for bird watching and is suited to most levels. This is best used from March to October. Life jackets should be worn and the trail can be busy at times.
The Pedestrian Path
Another pleasant walk in Heckscher State Park is the Pedestrian Path. This is a marked circuit within the park and is particularly known for its wildflowers in season. The walk is also suited to wheelchair users and buggies. It is mainly level and paved, and a 3.3-mile circuit. There are also views of the coast at the Great South Bay on this walk and it is within reach of comfort stations. Additionally, this trail is multi-use so also suitable for cycling and jogging. As it is a circular route, this can be joined at any point within the park trail. It is also easily accessible from the main entrance.
Hecksher State Park has several other activities for visitors to enjoy apart from hiking. Great South Bay is popular for swimming and just sunbathing on the beach. There are also possibilities of sailing, kayaking, and boat launching here as well as stand up paddleboarding. It is really popular in summer.
The park has a camping ground with comfort stations and areas to barbecue safely. The shaded picnic groves are popular with families and are a good option after doing one of the trails. Some of the pavilions are only accessible with a permit. If you plan to stay you can reserve a camping pitch via the state park beforehand. It is advisable to do this, especially in the summer season as the park is really popular at weekends. There are also holiday cottages on site that are available for rental. These have a bathroom, kitchen and sleeping area and are a great option for those who prefer to not camp.
Heckscher State Park also has a golf course and a multi-use games area where sports ranging from hockey to lacrosse are played. This is an excellent resource for the people of Long Island and visitors. It is perfect for a weekend break away from the busy atmosphere in New York. Wildlife watching is another popular activity, especially for deer and the many bird species in the park. Also, during winter there are opportunities for snowshoeing and cross country ski trails. There are also special one-off events themed around nature and other activities within Heckscher State Park.