Location: Port Jefferson, NY
Size: 113 acres
Date of hike: May 28, 2018
It was love at first sight when I visited McAllister County Park. Sure, I've become accustomed to seeing dunes and coves across Long Island, but there's something special about the way they join forces at McAllister. The funny thing is, I only came across the park while zooming in on various patches of green on Google Maps in search of possible beachy hiking spots in northern Suffolk County. Luckily, my map shenanigans led me to McAllister.
Before exploring, I did a little research to familiar myself with the park's history and habitats. It seems the land was deeded to Suffolk County by a man named James McAllister in 1971, with the county subsequently dedicating the seafront property for parks purposes, according to the Suffolk County Parks Department's website. The park largely borders "Pirate's Cove," which is a small cove that was apparently dredged in the early 20th century by the Seaboard Dredging Company. "The original name was Seaboard Hole, but it was changed for the sake of appealing to tourists, and several large sand dunes artificially created by the dredging can be found there," according to Wikipedia. "The place itself doesn’t have anything to do with pirates, but the cove is surrounded by 100 foot dunes and seems like it would make for a great hideout or a place to take refuge from stormy seas," added a 2011 article on Patch. Lastly, MountainZone.com lists the park's highest point as being 177 feet above sea level.
To reach the park's entrance, I drove north along the winding Cliff Road through the Village of Belle Terre and went left on Anchorage Road. Regarding the community of Belle Terre, a fun fact is that the peninsula on which it is situated is also known as "Mt. Misery," so you might see or hear people using that name as well in reference to McAllister County Park. Anyway, a bumpy patch of dirt big enough to fit six cars can be found at the end of Anchorage Road. When I got there, all six parking spaces were taken, so I patiently waited for a few minutes until someone returned to their car. Yes, I was tempted to park along the side of the road, but I was scared off by the numerous "no parking" signs. I wouldn't totally enjoy my hike with a possible parking ticket in the back of my brain. Plus, the county's website warns McAllister visitors: "Be sure to park in the marked parking area, or you will be ticketed."
The park was well worth the wait. As soon as I stepped onto the beach, I was blown away by the various views: jumbo rocks dotting the shell-covered shore, beautiful boats anchored in the calm water, and majestic swans floating along like they owned the place. But for me, the highlight had to be the huge dunes in between Pirate's Cove and the Long Island Sound. I immediately marched along the cove's edge and scrambled up the dunes, where I was met with one of the best views I've seen on Long Island. If you venture into the trees at the tippy top of the dunes, you'll find a tight trail with occasional openings overlooking the lovely cove. But the real treat was the park's peninsula that divides the sound and Port Jefferson Harbor.
The peninsula had several surprises. First, I encountered a cluster of hundreds of tiny crabs tiptoeing across the sand, almost making it seem as if the ground were moving. The second surprise was an odd conglomeration of rocks and shells that were stuck together like a funky work of modern art. The third surprise was the proximity of the ferries traveling between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, Conn. I was only a stone's throw away as one entered the harbor. I should also note much of the peninsula is roped off to protect piping plover nesting areas.
My music of choice was British progressive metal band Valis Ablaze. I've really connected with their new album, Boundless, in recent weeks since reading a review in Prog magazine. I'll never forget standing atop the tallest dune as the band's addictive riffs assaulted my ears. In fact, I couldn't help but play air guitar as if I was starring in my own personal music video.
All in all, I'd definitely recommend McAllister County Park to all local hikers. Yes, it's a little out of the way and parking is a hassle. But once you get there, you'll treasure this treasure.
Video: McAllister County Park (360-degree view)