Day Trip: James Baird State Park

Trails, golf and more

By Michael Turton

Trails lead visitors through the wooded landscape.
Trails lead visitors through the wooded landscape.

You are not alone if you have driven past James Baird State Park, located just 25 miles north of Cold Spring on the Taconic State Parkway, and said to yourself, “I should check this park out sometime,” but have never quite gotten around to it. It’s worth the short drive and for more reasons than simply satisfying your curiosity.

The variety of pursuits that the park can accommodate must be unique among state parks. Where else can you hike a trail, sink a 30-foot putt, play a little pickup basketball, enjoy a picnic, finish your day in a pleasant pub — or even host your daughter’s wedding — all in one peaceful, natural setting?

Trails, picnics and ‘a beautiful place’

The park is a throwback to a simpler time. Almost 600 acres in area, its gently undulating terrain features more than six miles of wooded trails to explore. Numerous spacious, tranquil picnic areas are set on the forest’s edge. Outdoor recreation facilities enable visitors to play basketball, softball, tennis or volleyball. Two large picnic pavilions make the park worth considering for family reunions and other gatherings. Both can accommodate up to 300 people.

One contributor to Trip Advisor described the park this way: “This is our family’s favorite place to go with the kids — a beautiful spot that is both not busy, yet beautiful with nature around you. Bring the kids with their bikes, kite, Frisbee or whatever you like. This place [has] it all from grounds to trails, to barbecues and picnic tables, as well as swings and slides. Did I mention it is a beautiful place …?”

A golfer’s delight

An 18-hole golf course that is mainly flat to gently rolling is the park’s dominant feature. Its designer was the renowned Robert Trent Jones who also designed more than 500 courses in the U.S. and in 40 countries around the globe. His designs reflect his philosophy that golf should be a “no risk, no reward” sport, challenging golfers to “go for it.” Two of the par-5 holes at James Baird are considered by many to be among the best in the Hudson Valley. The course also has a driving range and pro shop. A new irrigation system has delighted the course regulars, keeping the fairways green even through August.

A cozy pub

The Eagle's Nest pub has a cozy atmosphere — and a varied menu.
The Eagle’s Nest pub has a cozy atmosphere — and a varied menu.

Also unlike many state parks, James Baird features a pleasant restaurant and pub that offers catering and facilities suitable for weddings, graduations or corporate outings. The Eagle’s Nest restaurant and pub overlooks the golf course and has a warm feel thanks to the beautifully rich wooden floors and walls.

The menu is as diverse as the park itself offering everything from salads, burgers and other sandwiches to mussels, prime rib and chicken Francaise. The pub has a full bar menu. The indoor facility can accommodate up to 100 people and in spring, summer and fall the tented patio can host another 150 guests for special vents.

Historic roots

Even history buffs have reason to visit the park. A small display between the golf course pro shop and the Eagle’s Nest illustrates the park’s history. The park is named for James Baird (1873 — 1953) who moved to nearby LaGrange in 1932 where he farmed 200 acres of land. Baird studied engineering at the University of Michigan and was the Wolverines’ quarterback from 1893 to 1895. He also played on the baseball team. After graduating, Baird established his own construction company, which went on to build some of America’s most famous structures including the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He also built New York City’s Flatiron Building, the nation’s first steel skyscraper.

The 18-hole golf course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and boasts a new irrigation system.
The 18-hole golf course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and boasts a new irrigation system.

In 1939 he deeded 590 acres of land to New York State, resulting in the creation of the park that now bears his name. Work began on the golf course in 1940 and it opened in 1948. Baird was a man with an eye to the future. During construction of the park, in a 1944 letter to the head of the Taconic State Park Commission, he wrote: “After all, the important thing is how the entire park will look … 100 years from now.”

Directions, pets and more information

James Baird State Park can be entered directly from the Taconic State Parkway, 11 miles north of I-84. Household pets are allowed but must be kept on a leash. Pets are not allowed in buildings, picnic areas or on the golf course. Visitors should note that the Nature Center mentioned on the park website is no longer open.

Learn more about James Baird State Park at nysparks.com or download a trail map. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The golf course is open from April to mid-December.

Photos by M. Turton