Visiting Rockefeller State Park Preserve With Kids
Between the Dinosaur Garden at Lasdon Park, the waterfall at Croton Gorge Park, and a whole slew of trails, my family and I have recently spent some great days outdoors exploring parks in Westchester and beyond. Next up? The massive Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
Once the estate of John D. Rockefeller and his brother, William, the 1,700+ acre preserve has been run by New York State since the early '80s. These days, families can do everything from walking and horseback riding (with your own horse and a permit!) to hiking, sledding, and trying to spot diverse animals and wildlife, like butterflies and birds.
Read on for a closer look at our recent visit. For even more day trip ideas, check out our Guide to Weekend Trips.
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Visiting the Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Instead of our usual weekend morning outing, we decided to head over to the Preserve on a pretty, late spring evening for a pre-dinner/post-school hike. The main parking lot is in Pleasantville, right off Route 117—and wasn’t particularly busy when we arrived. There’s metered parking, which is $6 from April to October, though you don’t have to pay after 4:30pm.
Step through the entrance to Rockefeller State Park Preserve to explore the acres and acres of sprawling parkland.
Once we parked and gathered our things, we made our way through the well-manicured main entrance, which is paved and includes both the Visitor Center and The Art Gallery at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Though closed when we were there, the Art Gallery is open daily from 9am-4:30pm, and features a rotating roster of exhibits. While it didn’t look huge, it would be a nice jumping-off point for art-loving tweens and teens.
Even with easy walking paths, it's nice to hitch a ride from dad once in a while.
Hiking at Rockefeller State Park Preserve
After a quick stop to check out the map—you can grab a trail map at the entrance or download one on your phone—and for my 6 and 3.5-year-old to scope out what animals they could spot (woodpeckers! ducks! turtles!), we headed into the park.
One of the hallmarks of the Preserve, as the NY State website notes, is the 45 miles of carriage roads. Not only are they well-maintained, but they’re ideal for parents with kids: They’re super walkable, which makes them a great option for novice hikers and toddlers alike, and since they’re pretty flat, they’re also stroller-friendly. Since horseback riding is allowed in the park, the one downside is you have to watch where you step. Equine visitors tend to leave behind road apples.
After consulting the map, we debated between doing part of the 1.11-mile Brother’s Path, which rings Swan Lake, or the .69-mile Overlook Trail. Since we usually opt for the water views, we decided to go with the Overlook Trail this time. The carriage roads on this trail are lined on both sides with tall grass and wide fields, and while there wasn’t much in the way of a view—though we could see the lake as we got slightly higher in elevation—it was calm and mostly empty making for a nice walk. The kids could walk easily, and we made it about half a mile before turning around for another half mile back.
There are tons of other trails to try and areas to visit, too. This Destinations Guide gives a great overview of all that’s available—from the Fairy Circle on the Ferguson Lake trail to the re-creation of Hulda the Witch’s home on the Witch’s Spring Trail—perfect for an October hike. There are also several different sections, including areas close to the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and the Old Croton Aqueduct.
Wide carriage paths and towering trees make for an alluring area to explore at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Photos by Sara Marentette
What Else Can You Do at Rockefeller State Park Preserve?
Walking and exploring will be your go-to activities in the main Preserve since there is no picnicking—except for three tables close to the parking lot—and there is no bike riding, scooters, etc. This is a spot for mostly passive recreation.
If you do want to picnic or play other games, consider heading to Rockwood Hall, another area of the Preserve, which you can access on Phelps Way in Pleasantville. I popped into one of the trails by myself on our way home, and I’d love to explore this area with the kids next time. The views of the Hudson are gorgeous. Foundation Loop, where you can see the remains of William Rockefeller’s estate, looks like a great place to explore. Plus, along with picnicking, you can also do things like fly kites and go sledding in specific areas in the winter.
Know Before You Go to Rockefeller State Park Preserve
- The park is open from dawn to dusk.
- Parking is $6 daily from April to October and on weekends from November to March.
- There are bathrooms in the parking area, but there are no bathrooms in the Rockwood Hall area.
- There is no picnicking, except for a few tables near the parking lot of the main preserve. Picnicking is allowed in Rockwood Hall.
Unless noted, photos by the author