Bucket List: Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Bucket List: Rockefeller State Park Preserve: From Ward Pound Ridge Reservation to the Greenwich Audubon and Westmoreland Park, our area hosts a variety of great hiking trails and back to nature experiences. Our favorite by far is the system of 25 miles of carriage paths winding through 1400 acres of Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville.
The Preserve was deeded to the New York State Office of Parks in 1983 from the Rockefeller family to safeguard the natural beauty and wildlife of these lands. Originally designed as horse and buggy carriage trails for the Rockefeller’s, the trails wind through forested hills and valleys and a pastoral landscape of hayfields and meadows in the Pocantico River watershed.
These multi-purpose trails are ideal for year-round activities from strolling, jogging, horseback riding, hiking and cross-country skiing. With 180-recorded species of birds and its IBA (Important Bird Area) designation by the National Audubon Society, the Preserve is also popular for birders. And in season, licensed anglers can fish for bass in the 22-acre Swan Lake and for brown trout in the Pocantico River.
What’s to like about Rock Park
If you feel a hike isn’t a hike unless you have to climb over fallen trees or wade through impassable stretches of than Rock Park may be too tame for you. But these low-impact, impeccably maintained trails offer a wide range of hiking opportunities from relatively flat walks to moderate grades and even a steep climb.
From the stonewalls at the entrance of the preserve to the beautiful visitor center with bathrooms, trail maps and a gallery with exhibits of contemporary art everything is top shelf at Rock Park. But the rustic deep forest, river and lakeside trails, while accessible to even the novice hiker, never feel too manicured. And it doesn’t take long on any of these trails to get that “back to nature” feeling.
Dog owners will love that you can bring your dog to Rock Park – if you keep it leashed. And it’s always a treat for the kids (of all ages) when you run into the horsey set on the trails. Almost all the trails are suitable for jogging strollers so you can bring the toddlers. We pushed two in our sturdy off-road Big Bob.
If you prefer to run your hikes, these trails attract local cross country teams and play host to the annual Rocky’s 5K and the Rockwood 10K Ramble. There’s even a vending machine in the parking lot if you forget to bring water.
Start Out on Swan Lake
Start off with a stroll or jog around Swan Lake – right off the entrance to the park on Rt. 117. Stop to skip stones on the lake and check out the turtles resting on lily pads, the migrating waterfowl and the herd of cows at the far end of the lake.
If you need more exercise than this 1.1 mile flat trail provides, you can branch off at several points to add some mileage and some moderate climbs onto a series of 11 deeper woods trails all of which loop back to Swan Lake.
You can add on as little as a .4-mile loop on Deer Run or Peaceful Path that will take you into the woods and alongside streams. David’s Loop, a winding forested trail past fern-lined wetlands will add a mile to your trip around Swan Lake. If you want to get your heart pumping, Ridge Trail will take you uphill from Swan Lake and Ash Tree Loop is a hilltop trail with large trees and dramatic rock outcroppings – both are just under a mile long.
Hike along the Pocantico River up to Eagle Summit
The Eagle Hill Area offers ten more trails including the Pocantico River Trail, a 1.9-mile hike along the river with arched stone bridges. The 13 Bridges Loop (also 1.9 miles) passes through a mature hardwood forest and crosses Gory Brook – you guessed it 13 times.
And if you need a really good climb, take the 1-mile Eagle Hill trail to the summit where you will find panoramic views of Kykuit and the Hudson River Valley. The Eagle Hill area is accessible from the main parking lot at the entrance of the Preserve but you’ll add on 1.2 miles to your walk if you do. If that’s a deal-breaker, you can park road-side on Sleepy Hollow Road – though you won’t have access to rest rooms if you do.
And of course, there’s Hudson River Views
Finally, there’s the Rockwood Hall Area where there’s four short trails – two with Hudson River views. And one that leads to the foundation of Rockwood Hall, once the 220-room estate of William Rockefeller and offers Hudson views, copper beeches and specimen trees. To get to this area of the park you will pass the Preserve entrance and take Rt. 117 to its end.
Whether you are a serious road warrior, an avid hiker or you just like to stroll and take in the scenery add Rock Park to your Bucket List. If you don’t really like to move your feet very much – bring a camera and a bird book. Or a rod and reel. Check out the trail map online before you go. (photos courtesy of Joe Golden, Friends of Rockefeller State Park Preserve)
(Rockefeller Park, 914.631.1270, 125 Phelps Way, Pleasantville; www.parksny.gov)
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