Gardiner County Park

Location: Bay Shore, NY 

Size: 231 acres

Date of hike: April 19, 2014

Gardiner County Park is a popular spot for hikers and dog walkers with a beautiful beach that overlooks the Great South Bay and Fire Island Inlet BridgeIt also features a picturesque pond with benches, a fitness path, and a bevy of wonderful walking trails.  Upon arriving, I was surprised to find parked cars spilling over onto the shoulder of Montauk Highway, but I decided to see what the park had to offer since I was already there.  If it's this popular, it must be worth a stop.

Prior to hiking, I did some research to familiarize myself with the park's history and habitatsThe park was first owned by the Gardiner family, which were the first non-native land owners in Suffolk County, and later became part of the historic Sagtikos Manor Estate, according to the Suffolk County Parks Department's website.  The park's entrance is on the south side of Montauk Highway (NY Route 27A) across from Manor Lane, and the parking lot can fit a few dozen cars.  The property also has a half dozen or so short hiking trails with names such as Duck Trail, Plover Trail and Raccoon Trail all of which are well-marked.  These trails branch off of a main internal dirt path called Beach Road that leads straight to the Great South Bay.  While there were no trail lengths listed on the map, the website said the trails comprise a 1.3-mile loop.  I was also able to find trail maps in a kiosk near the parking lot.

My first stop was the park's picturesque pond, just a stone's throw south of the parking lot.  A handful of parkgoers sat and relaxed on surrounding benches, and I couldn't blame them.  The location was straight out of a painting.  But hoping for more seclusion, I headed for the main trail (aka Beach Road) for a vast view of the Great South Bay.  It's well worth the walk.  The first thing I saw was the black-and-white Fire Island Lighthouse, which was just an inch high from this distance across the bay, and to the right of that is the Fire Island Inlet Bridge.  I marched west to the edge of the park, where a wood bulkhead separated it from adjacent waterfront homes.  Then I went east along the shore until I encountered Thompsons Creek.

Upon retreating to Beach Road, I followed some signs for nature trails attached to that path.  I began with Plover Trail and subsequently explored all of the trails: Beaver, Duck, Fox, Gull, Puma, Raccoon and Wren.  There was also a little Canine Loop to the west of Beach Road.  Since Gardiner Park is a dog-friendly park, the paths were all peppered with energetic pets, but I tried not to let them negatively affect my enjoyment of the environment.  To my delight, most people seemed to have their tail-waggers leashed on the trails, as per the park's rules.

Other interesting sightings included a few bat boxes, likely to help quell the local mosquito population, and a makeshift teepee made of fallen tree limbs.  I also came across a fitness trail that invited visitors to do everything from jumping jacks to sit-ups.  I squeezed in some exercises as I listened to the solo music of British progressive rock legend Steven Wilson.

My assessment of the park is that it has beautiful spots, but it might attract too much traffic for most hikers.  If it was this busy in early spring, I wonder what it would be like in summer.  Still, the views are stunning and the hiking is easy, so I'd recommend it for all nature lovers.

(Updated: March 10, 2019)

Video: Gardiner County Park (360-degree view)
Map: Gardiner County Park (Google Maps image)

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