Wildwood State Park

Location: Wading River, NY

Size: 600 acres
 
Date of hike: Nov. 14, 2014
 
Wildwood State Park was first brought to my attention by a Facebook friend who said that she often goes there to pick wild mushrooms.  I've never dabbled in mushroom consumption, but her words compelled me to look up some photos of the park online.  Needless to say, I liked what I saw.  However, since it's about an hour away from my home, I'd decided to wait to visit until I had an appointment on eastern Long Island.  Well, that day finally arrived.  I got there at 1:00 p.m. and parked in a large lot just south of the beach that had only two other cars.  It was a chilly day, so I expected it to be quiet.  Just how I like it.

First, I walked over to a sign displaying a trail map.  I even took a photo of the map in case I needed to refer to it during my hiking.  There were four trails – blue, yellow, orange and red – and none were more than a few miles in length.  The blue and yellow paths were the longest and formed rectangular loops around the park's outskirts.  The orange one was an oval loop positioned inside the blue and yellow, while the red was the smallest loop.  While studying the sign, I heard a few footsteps behind me.  It turned out to be a female park volunteer who explained the trail layout.  She also noted that the park was currently open to deer hunters.  "Hunters?" I anxiously asked.  But she clarified that they were only bow-and-arrow hunters, not gun and ammo hunters that I had envisioned.  "You’re wearing blue, so they should be able to see you with no problem," she said.  Then she pointed me toward the nearest trail. 
 
But before venturing into the wild, I went right to the beach.  Beaches are often the highlight of most coastal parks, and with the blustery weather I wasn't sure exactly how long I'd last – so I wanted to start at the park's best feature.  Here, a paved path led down an embankment, which led to a small shack containing bathrooms, refreshments and a cute deck looking out over the Long Island Sound.  The refreshment area was all closed up due to the time of year, but I could picture it bustling with activity during summer months.  I looked east and west as far as I could along the shore.  Boulders were scattered throughout the sand with giant bluffs set back a few dozen yards from the water.  What a sight.  I wanted to take it in a bit longer, but with the wind whipping I could only last a few minutes.  Then I sought refuge in the trees.

Instead of backtracking to the proper start of the trail, I took what I thought was a shortcut to the blue and yellow trails that bordered the bluff.  It was hard to tell if I was on an actual trail though due to fallen leaves.  Still, I marched on figuring I'd come across the trails eventually.  After a short time, I stumbled across an unofficial path that zigzagged along the very peak – and very edges – of the bluffs.  Colder weather and bare branches had made the trail visible.  Otherwise, I would've overlooked it.  Caution signs warned that the bluffs were "undermined," but I couldn't help myself.  I walked what felt like mile after mile along the stunning bluff trail, knowing one wrong step would lead to broken bones.  The view was too incredible to ignore.
 
Halfway through the bluffs, I had my first deer sighting – or should I say "sightings."  It was a group of eight deer about a stone's throw ahead of me and to the right.  The crunch of leaves caused me to look up and spot them.  I was instantly worried that a hunter was trailing them and an arrow would whiz by my ear at any moment.  "How much damage would an arrow do to me?" I wondered.  My only experience with bows and arrows was shooting them at camp as a child.  They were flimsy and weak, from what I remembered.  It shouldn't hurt too bad.  But then, I recalled the existence of crossbows.  And I thought of Daryl Dixon from AMC's "The Walking Dead."  That's some lethal shit.  But luckily, I didn't see any hunters – yet.

With the park's eastern boundary in sight, I headed inland in hopes of finally finding the blue and yellow trails.  And I did.  They were marked with bits of diamond-shaped wood painted blue and yellow.  This is when I finally broke out my iPod to help enhance the experience.  The dangers on the bluffs had kept me focused on every step, but things were safe now.  Threshold's 2002 album, Critical Mass, which I had discovered only a few weeks earlier, would be my pick this day.  Little did I know, it's actually one of the top-ranked all-time progressive metal albums on ProgArchives.com.  It's surreal listening to Andrew "Mac" McDermott's voice knowing that he’s passed, but on the trails he was alive inside me.
 
Eventually, I did spot a hunter.  He was headed right toward me.  I was eager to get a closer look at him and possibly snap a pic, but he diverted into the woods before I could.  I sped up my pace to put some distance between us, fearing he might misfire and accidentally kill me.  Clearly, that didn't happen because I am here to write this today.  But I should note I spotted at least 30 deer on the various trails.  They were everywhere.  I also hopped onto the orange trail since there was enough daylight to do so.  The paths pretty much looked the same and made me miss the bluff's views, but I continued on eager to conquer the park in its entirety.
 
Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to walk the red loop. Darkness was descending and I'd still have to make my way back to the car, which was no easy feat.  The trails seemed to end abruptly in a massive campground with few signs leading hikers back to the parking lot.  I'd later learn that Wildwood is home to Long Island's largest campground.  It took about 15 minutes of wandering until I finally found a road, which led me back to the park's entrance.
 
Looking back, I would easily recommend the park to any Long Islander.  The beautiful bluffs, the frequent deer sightings, and the picturesque beaches all combine to make an awesome afternoon.  But schedule, and dress, wisely.  Coastal parks are no joke on a chilly-ass day. 

Video: Wildwood State Park (360-degree view)  


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