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The To-Do List: 10 Ways to Enjoy the East End Outdoors

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 14:40
Cross-country skiing
Judy D'Mello

The temperatures have mostly shifted solidly into the sweater category, but the chill in the air now is but a hint of what's to come. In some years, shorter days, skies that promise snow, and a biting northeast wind might bring with them the merry anticipation of cozy winter nights cuddled up with the ones you love most. In some years, the coming of winter might be just the excuse you need to turn inward and build what the Danish might call a happy hygge bubble, hygge being the notion of cheerful coziness — mittens and hot cocoa while a woodcutting marathon plays on the TV and a fire crackles in the wood stove. 

Not this year. This year, haven't we had enough of turning inward already? And hibernating? Been there, done that . . . for what seems like forever. This should be the winter of not hibernating, of bundling up in all the right gear in every kind of weather and getting outside, because it's one thing we can do, together or alone. And you'll feel so much better when you do. Promise. Here's how:

 1. Stargaze. Crisp, cold winter nights are the best for this. Find a dark place and look up, or turn to the experts at the Hamptons Observatory ( for tips on what to look for when. 

 2. Seal watch. Seal haulout trail, Montauk Point State Park. Park naturalists may offer guided hikes on weekends through the winter, depending on Covid guidelines; also check with the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton (

3. Ice-skate. Town Pond in East Hampton is a favorite spot, or try the dozens of little freshwater ponds all across the South Fork; find pickup hockey games at Hook Pond in East Hampton or Fort Pond in Montauk. Take a thermos of hot cocoa.

 4. Hike. Southampton, East Hampton, and Shelter Island have hundreds of miles of trails open to the public. Two gems among dozens: Long Pond Greenbelt, between Sag Harbor and Sagaponack (, and Big Reed Pond, Montauk. Or do the entire 125-mile Paumanok Path, from Rocky Point to Montauk Point, in sections throughout the winter. Check with the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society (, the Southampton Trails Preservation Society (, the South Fork Natural History Museum, or the Nature Conservancy (

5. Feed the birds. Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge, Noyac. The trails are pretty, but the birds are the most fun; they will literally eat from your hand.

6. Cross-country ski. Try the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, which has more than 10 miles of dedicated skiing trails, and Montauk Point State Park, or ski on the beach in freshly-fallen snow. 

 7. Sledding. Of course. Every kid can tell you the best spots, but one that affords a little more space for social distancing (not to mention a killer view of Fort Pond Bay) is the hill by Eddie Ecker County Park in Montauk. 

 8. Surf. Not for the novice, but those who know say winter surfing is the best surfing. Destinations: Ditch Plain, Montauk; Flying Point in Water Mill. Don't surf? Bundle up and watch from the clifftop at Camp Hero in Montauk.

 9. Dig clams. Shellfishing permit required from your town of residence. Gear up with cold-water waders and a clam rake. Dinner never tasted so sweet.

 10. Watch a sunrise. Montauk Point, the easternmost point in New York State, is the obvious spot, and the benefit of doing it in the winter: You don't have to wake up as early. Stop for breakfast afterward in downtown Montauk.

Feeding the birds. Durell Godfrey

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