Location: Kings Park, NY
Size: 300 acres
Date of hike: June 24, 2017
Kings Park Bluff is one of the coolest spots I've seen on Long Island. I first visited it three years ago when I hiked the Long Island Greenbelt Trail, a 34-mile trail that spans north to south (or south to north) across Long Island. Since I had traveled south to north, the Greenbelt passed right through the bluff before ending at Sunken Meadow State Park. But since the sun was setting that day and I was eager to complete the Greenbelt before dark, I pushed through the bluff without taking time to enjoy the views. Well, I decided it was finally time to enjoy them once and for all.
The bluff's entrance is at the end of Old Dock Road and just to the west of the Old Dock Inn, an old-fashioned steak and seafood restaurant. Since I'm not a Town of Smithtown resident, a teenage boy manning the entrance told me to park in one of the dozens of spaces leading up to the bluff on the west side of Old Dock Road. Signs indicated those spots are reserved for town residents with boat trailers, but the cluster of spaces furthest from the entrance was a sign-free section. And so there I parked amidst a handful of other cars whose owners were probably in the same boat (pun intended). Before exploring, I did some pre-hike research on my phone to acquaint myself with the bluff's history and habitats. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything of substance – not even the bluff's acreage, which I estimated above. I then turned to Google Maps to get a sense of the area's geography. I could be wrong, but it seems like the bluff is actually part of Sunken Meadow State Park, despite having a separate entrance. Nevertheless, I have decided to give the beautiful bluff its very own blog entry. It deserves it.
Upon exiting my jeep, the first thing I saw was a small sign for a Sunken Meadow dog path, which was located adjacent to the last parking space sitting furthest from the bluff entrance. I later learned that the path is a sort-of back entrance to the bluff trails, while also leading to Sunken Meadow State Park if you follow it entirely west. But since I was there for the bluff, my feet took me right to the water. It was breathtaking, just as I remembered it from hiking the Greenbelt Trail in 2014. The docks are located where the Nissequogue River meets the Smithtown Bay. To the right, a bevy of boats were anchored in the picturesque river beyond the Old Dock Inn. Straight ahead, only a stone's throw across that water, sits Short Beach. Although it seems to be close in proximity, you must drive a few miles southeast and cross the river at Landing Avenue to reach that beach, which is located at the end of Boney Lane. And to the left is the prettiest part: the bluff. But we'll get to that shortly. It's worth the wait.
After admiring the view from the docks, I headed west along a short boardwalk atop a dune. It seemed to be a popular spot on this summer day with numerous cars parked beside the boardwalk and families relaxing on benches, or in some cases even using lawn chairs right on the boardwalk. Instead of walking down to the beach though, I beelined for the bluff trail, which can be accessed through an opening in the rear of the parking lot. Keep an eye out for the white markers denoting the Greenbelt Trail and just follow them straight up the bluff. Then, prepare for your jaw to drop. The trail winds along the bluff top with periodic gaps in the trees offering unreal views. Changing tides seem to sculpt the beach below into funky peninsulas that stretch or shrink depending on the time of day. It felt like a tropical island.
I followed the white markers all the way to Sunken Meadow State Park. It took about a half hour, with a series of smaller trails branching off to zigzag down to the water. I also noticed faded yellow markers starting at the park and heading east into the bluff. Instead of taking that trail back, I used one of those zigzagging paths to make my way to the bluff's bottom. Boy, what a terrific decision it was. I highly recommend everyone hike both the bluff's top and bottom. You won't be sorry. A bridge at the bottom crosses Sunken Meadow Creek leading to the heart of Sunken Meadow State Park, but I saved that part of the park for a future hike focusing on Sunken Meadow. The bluff supplied enough beauty for one day.
As I leisurely retreated to the parking lot, I experienced a deep sense of peace that I've felt countless times while hiking. It happened between two fallen trees along the south side of Sunken Meadow Creek, with an osprey platform visible across the water. It was one those special feelings that shows you you're fully invested in the present moment. I touched the warm water and observed a tiny crab with one giant claw looking at me. I should note that my music of choice was Tesseract's Altered State album, which is my favorite album from the past five years. No doubt that helped set the mood. The track "Exile" is pure magic.
In summary, I suggest everyone visit Kings Park Bluff, even if you just stroll the boardwalk. All Long Islanders must experience these views at least once. And, of course, feel free to grab a post-hike cold one at the Old Dock Inn. They say the food is as good as the view.