January 2024: Connetquot River State Park Preserve

Welcome to this year’s first installment of 12 for 12! Though we’re a little late, we visited this park in January, and are just catching up on the writing.
Connetquot River State Park Preserve!
Located right off Sunrise Highway in Oakdale, Connetquot River State Park Preserve is the largest state park on Long Island! Home to a fish hatchery and a popular site for horseback riding, this park offers incredibly extensive and surprisingly varied locales for your hiking pleasure.
From the decently sized parking lot, you’ll find there are a handful of different directions that you can head. With your back facing the entrance, you’ll see a winding grassy trail leading into the woods. This path is incredibly spacious and is primarily meant for horseback riding, with the dirt paths frequently pockmarked with holes and divots of varying sizes. The smarter option is to continue heading straight from the entrance, down the main dirt road. This path will take you first to the Visitor Center, where the bathrooms are located (though on this visit they were closed) and, more impressively, the Main Pond. Benches both directly adjacent to the pond and on the porch of the Visitor Center will let you sit and enjoy the impressive array of waterfowl. Despite the cold, it’s better to go out duck-watching in the winter, as many species are present on the Island that spend summers elsewhere. On this visit, I saw Swans, Mallards, Gadwalls, American Wigeons and, my personal favorite, Ring-necked Ducks! The road is smooth enough leading up to the pond that it should be easily accessible for anyone with a love of wildlife.
After the Main Pond, it’s little difficult to find one of the various footpaths that take you into the park proper. A map showing the various trails appears relatively quickly on a large board, and it will detail the distance you’ll be traveling depending on which trail you choose. Of course, it’s very easy to lose track of your mileage if you jump back and forth between the trails, but there are plenty of markers placed along the way that will let you know what trail you’re on, and which way to continue. If you’re heading from the Pond, as I’ve described, then you’ll more than likely head onto either the red or blue trails (the red being significantly longer than the blue), and the horseback riding trails I mentioned earlier are going to intersect and overlap with the yellow and green trails. For my hike, I started on the horseback trails and then made my way back to the red trail. For a more varied experience, I’d recommend sticking to the red or blue trails, as these will take you along the river and down its various tributary creeks.
The main road continues past the Visitor Center quite a long way, eventually reaching a fish hatchery located on the property. While walking along the road may be easier for many due to its width and general flatness, you’ll have to be careful as trucks will periodically drive down the road, making deliveries to the hatchery.
If you stay off the road, the trails are generally quite thin, and are more subject to changes in elevation. There are benches at various points, but you will more than likely have to hike extensively between each one. Around some of the creeks, the trail is occasionally replaced by wooden boardwalks, and there are several designated fishing spots. These boardwalks are not much wider than the trails themselves and could do with a bit of maintenance. Although looking out onto the Connetquot River is a beautiful sight, I couldn’t help but feel more than a little anxiety hearing a board creak beneath my feet. Ultimately, the best experience I had at this park was at the end, when I’d made it back to the Main Pond and sat to watch the ducks for a while. Since you can access this area within minutes of your arrival, I can safely recommend making a visit here during the colder months of the year. If you’re looking for a more committed (and, potentially, strenuous) hike, then Connetquot offers a wide range of options, meaning you can ultimately get out of this park what you’d like, based on your own ability and interest.

By Travis Cutter, Long Island Pine Barrens Society