BY BRENDAN MANLEY
For Long Island hikers, the term “Greenbelt” has expanded significantly over the years.
Starting with the original namesake 31.8-mile north-south path completed in 1982 — which runs from Sunken Meadow State Park on the LI Sound to Heckscher State Park on Great South Bay — LI’s Greenbelt Trail system now encompass several different routes, all offering their own unique glimpses of the island’s stunning natural beauty and ecological diversity.
Since much of the island’s landscape is relatively flat, some of LI’s Greenbelt trails are relatively easy for most hikers; the real trick is having the fortitude to walk the substantial length required to complete some of these hikes, like the 47-mile Pine Barrens Trail. Others, like those on the North Shore, can be quite hilly and rocky, offering a more intense aerobic workout.
But regardless of your ability and stamina, one of the Greenbelt trails below will surely scratch your itch for a stroll:
Long Island Greenbelt Trail
This is the original granddaddy Greenbelt hiking trail, a challenging but rewarding trek that takes hikers on a 31.8-mile north-south course traversing the island from shore to shore, following the course of the Connetquot and Nissequogue Rivers and traversing the Ronkonkoma Moraine. From the south, the trail begins at Heckscher State Park and terminates at Sunken Meadow, also bisecting Connetquot and Caleb Smith state parks along the way, as well as residential neighborhoods. In the undeveloped stretches you’ll observe a variety of ecosystems and wildlife as you walk along beaches, bluffs, marshes and deciduous forests. Dogs are permitted on the trail, but must be leashed.
Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail
Here’s a 20-mile path that runs north-south from Cold Spring Harbor to the Massapequa Preserve watershed, connecting with the Walt Whitman Trail in the Huntington area. You can pick up this National Recreation Trail from multiple spots; beginning at the northern Cold Spring Harbor portion is popular for its majestic harbor views and for its difficulty, due to steep terrain. Southern portions offer pleasing views of lakes, ponds and abundant waterfowl, but can get swampy in rainy weather. A special feature of the Nassau-Suffolk Trail is its bike paths, which are marked blue and run parallel to the walking paths, so both hikers and mountain bikers can enjoy the voyage. Some parts of the trail, such as Stillwell Woods in Woodbury, have their own smaller trails within. Dogs are permitted on the trail, but must be leashed.
Walt Whitman Trail
This 8.2-mile trail offers a quick, easy walk that even beginning hikers can tackle, while experiencing both the historic and natural beauty of the Huntington area. The trail begins at Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site in South Huntington and continues through West Hills County Park, including a 3.7-mile loop beginning at Reservoir Road, also accessible from the picnic area at Sweet Hollow Road. During the hike you’ll also be able to take in breathtaking ocean views from the top of Jayne’s Hill, the highest location on Long Island. Dogs are permitted on a leash, while walkers should be prepared to share the trail with riders on horseback.
Pine Barrens Trail
You’ll really have a chance to appreciate the vastness that is Long Island’s Pine Barrens as you hike this 47-mile trail, running from Rocky Point to Hampton Bays. As one ventures deeper into the Barrens’ unspoiled woods, passing serene ponds and streams, it seems like another world entirely. Start at the official Pine Barrens Trails Visitor Center (LIE to Exit 70, then north on County Road 111; the center is 1/4 mile north, on the right), located near several trail access points. Tasked with offering environmental interpretation of the Pine Barrens, the center offers exhibits, literature and brochures, as well as a quick, interpretive “Blueberry Loop” trail on the grounds that gives a taste of the larger hike. Also on the grounds is the accessible 3/4-mile El’s Trail, and the Pine Barrens Touch Museum for kids.
Long Island Seashore Trail
Explore 20 miles of Atlantic oceanfront at Fire Island National Seashore — New York’s lone federally designated wilderness — walking amid beach plums, holly, pines and sassafras. Start at Smith Point County Park at the southern end of William Floyd Parkway, then head westward along the beach, crossing through the Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven. Camping along the trail is allowed by permit; call 631-281-3010 for information. Be sure to bring a map with you, as this trail is unblazed.
*Safety Note: Before attempting a hike of several miles, be sure you are properly prepared for the journey. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, bring water and snacks, and use bug spray and sunscreen when appropriate.
Other Recommended Walks:
25A west of Jericho-Oyster Bay Road, East Norwich, 516-571-8500, nassaucountyny.gov/2839/Muttontown-Preserve
Meander through this preserve’s 550 acres of fields and forests and you’ll experience a unique mix of natural and manmade wonders. Historic highlights are the ruins of King Zog of Albania’s former mansion, as well as Nassau Hall and the Chelsea Mansion and Estate, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s also evidence of the pre-Revolutionary Duryea Farm.
Hempstead Lake State Park
Lakeside Drive, West Hempstead, 631-669-1000, parks.ny.gov/parks/hempsteadlake
This large 737-acre Nassau park’s trails span three ponds, offering great nature photo opportunities and a relatively easy stroll. As you walk through its shady groves, it’s hard to believe you’re in the heart of Nassau County.
Sands Point Preserve
127 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, 516-571-7901, sandspointpreserveconservancy.org
Enjoy a walk in serene woods along Long Island’s Gold Coast within this stunning 216-acre park, featuring six trails running through forests, on beaches and along high bluffs. The preserve’s 1.6-mile loop trail is good for all skill levels, and there’s even the short Dino Trail for kids, where they follow dinosaur footprints. Guided nature walks are periodically offered.
Quogue Wildlife Refuge
3 Old Country Road, Quogue, 631-653-4771, quoguewildliferefuge.org
This East End refuge’s 300 acres in the Pine Barrens provides hikers with three different trails (running .8 miles, 1.4 miles and 3 miles), as well as another 7 miles of connected trails, running through forests and along ponds, including patches of rare dwarf pines. The smaller .8-mile course circles a pond and small nature center and gift shop. Regardless of your path, be on the lookout for native wildlife such as foxes, eagles and various waterfowl. Dogs are not permitted.
Caleb Smith State Park Preserve
581 West Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, 631-265-1054, parks.ny.gov/parks/124
If you’re not up for the LI Greenbelt’s full 32 miles, you may want to just focus on one of its interconnected parks, like Caleb Smith. Here you can trek through 543 acres, spotting a wealth of wildlife and rare plants like Indian Pipe, Trailing Arbutus and Pink Lady Slipper. There’s also a nature museum with exhibits including a great blue heron, red fox, flying squirrel and river otter.
Trail View State Park
8101 Jericho Turnpike, Woodbury, 631-423-1770, parks.ny.gov/parks/39
Here’s a tract than runs between Cold Spring Harbor and Bethpage State Parks along the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, encompassing some 400 acres. Marshes, succession fields and hardwood forests typify the view, as well as bicyclists who share the paths with walkers, with elevations ranging from 60 to 300 feet above sea level. The park is a favorite spot for birdwatchers year-round, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
This story first appeared on longislandpress.com.