I really love state parks. As an apartment dweller, I have limited access to my own outdoors space and rely on parks and natural spaces to get sun and fresh air. Over the next few months I'm going to be sharing my favorite parks around the region, and highlighting the best parts of each spot.
Imagine there was a natural retreat with walking paths, wildlife, barbecue pits, and peaceful rivers just a few minutes from your house.
Okay, you can stop imagining now, because Peebles Island State Park is it. And if you're not already taking advantage of this spot, then you're missing out.
Peebles Island State Park is one of my favorite parks simply because of its proximity to my apartment. I can literally walk there -- but its location between Waterford, Cohoes, and Troy makes it an easy trip for many Capital Region residents. (Its accessible from two different one-lane bridges, one from Waterford to the north, and one from Cohoes' Van Schaick Island to the south.)
As the name suggests, it is an actual island, situated at a convergence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, which provides for some beautiful scenery and small waterfalls.
Peebles Island -- once called Haver Island -- and the surrounding area were long inhabited by Native Americans, in part because of the riverside location and access to nearby attractive farmland in what's now Waterford. Henry Hudson's expedition may have visited the island in 1609 on a trip north to what's now Stillwater. In 1664, the Dutch are said to have purchased the island from Mahicans in an attempt to keep it away from the English, and the island was later used to graze cattle. During the middle part of the 1700s the location became increasingly important as a military location on the river, and during the Revolutionary War it served as a camp and fortification for colonial troops.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, Mary Peebles sold the island to Cluett, Peabody and Company, which constructed a bleachery on the island (buildings from the company still remain).
The state purchased the island in 1973.
(Here's a very detailed history of the island by Paul R. Huey.)
In my opinion, the best feature on Peebles is the wide range of walking paths. They offer spectacular views --either of the surrounding rivers, or of lush greenery.
They paths aren't strenuous hikes, and I've often strolled around in flip-flops. But it's a fabulous spot for trail running, if you're into that kind of thing, and lots of families bring children or walk dogs along the web of well-marked paths.
This probably isn't a spot for marathon training, though, since most routes are less than 2 miles.
Another one of my favorite aspects of Peebles is spotting wildlife. There are quite a few deer on the island and in the surrounding areas (I often make a game of counting deer). There are also groundhogs and dozens of species of birds. I've seen more than 15 unique animals on one island stroll.
The animals are generally not intimidated by people, and will often cross trails right in front of you.
Picnics and grilling
A lot of people visit Peebles to picnic on the large lawn at the north end of the island. There are also some basic camping grills. There are quite a few picnic tables and grills, but it can get crowded on busy summer weekends. I've never had problems securing a spot of cook s'mores during the week, though.
If you're into more formal celebrations, a large pavilion is available for rent. When it's not in use, you can sit on picnic tables situated on a large balcony looking out onto the Hudson River and Lansingburgh. Troy has never looked so peaceful.
Peebles, like most of the state parks in this area, does charge an entrance fee to access the park. Right now it's just on the weekends, but expect to pay $6 per car for island access.
I highly encourage all state park lovers to get the Empire Passport, which allows you unlimited state park entrance for $65 a year. It's a good deal if you're going to be a frequent park visitor.
Lauren writes about shopping, crafting, and living well on a small budget at The Thrifty Ginger.
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