When thinking about hiking on Long Island, most people envision flat, relatively monotonous terrain. Indeed, most hiking trails on Long Island are flat, or nearly so. But this hike is a notable exception. It is situated on the Harbor Hill glacial moraine, which features undulating terrain and some steep climbs and descents. In fact, this may be the most challenging hike (from the point of view...
When thinking about hiking on Long Island, most people envision flat, relatively monotonous terrain. Indeed, most hiking trails on Long Island are flat, or nearly so. But this hike is a notable exception. It is situated on the Harbor Hill glacial moraine, which features undulating terrain and some steep climbs and descents. In fact, this may be the most challenging hike (from the point of view of terrain) on Long Island.
From the parking area for Trail View State Park on Jericho Turnpike, head into the woods and proceed north, following the white blazes of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail. You will be following the white blazes for the entire hike. On the left, you will see blue blazes for a parallel bike trail, but bear right and follow the white blazes, which designate the hiking trail. The trail follows undulating terrain, passing many large trees. In three-quarters of a mile, the trail begins a steady descent on switchbacks, soon reaching Woodbury Road. It turns left and follows the road for a short distance to an intersection with a traffic light.
The trail crosses Woodbury-Syosset Road at a crosswalk, bears left and reenters the woods. Again, it follows undulating terrain until it climbs a rise, with the ruins of an old car on the left at the top, and levels off. A short distance ahead, the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail approaches the railroad tracks of the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. Here, the white-blazed hiking trail reaches a junction with the blue-blazed bike trail. You should follow the white-blazed hiking trail, which bears right, descends steps, and briefly parallels the railroad tracks. Just ahead, the blue-blazed bike trail joins from the right, and both trails turn left onto the private Whitney Lane and go through an underpass beneath the Long Island Rail Road tracks. Hikers should be alert for bikes that share the route in this area.
Just beyond the underpass, the trails turn left and pass through a bamboo thicket. A short distance beyond, the white and blue blazes turn right. Just ahead, follow the white-blazed trail as it turns right, leaving the blue-blazed bike trail, and climbs on wooden steps. At the top of the steps, you go through a wooden stile, placed here to prevent bicycles from using the hiker-only trail.
The trail now turns right onto a level path, but just ahead, it bears left at a fork and crosses another bike trail (marked with white triangles). In another quarter mile, the white-blazed Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail bears right onto a wider path, and just ahead, it bears right at a fork, joining a yellow-blazed trail. For the next 1.2 miles, you will be following both white and yellow blazes.
You are now entering the Stillwell Woods Preserve, a 270-acre Nassau County park. The white/yellow trail runs along the right side of an open meadow, with many wildflowers – a welcome contrast to the woodlands you have traversed along the route of the hike up to now.
Bear right at the next fork, leaving the meadow, and then right again at the following fork, just beyond. In another quarter mile, the trail joins a wider path coming in from the left, then immediately turns sharply left. Again, the trail begins to traverse undulating terrain. The trail soon passes a bench – a good spot to take a break.
About a mile from the meadow, the yellow trail turns right, leaving the white-blazed trail. You should continue ahead, following the white blazes. In a short distance, the trail crosses paved Stillwell Lane and turns right onto an abandoned railroad grade. This railroad grade was the route of the Hicksville & Cold Spring Branch Railroad, chartered in 1851 to construct a rail line from Hicksville to Cold Spring (as the village of Cold Spring Harbor was then known). This portion of the line, extending from Syosset towards Cold Spring, was graded in 1862, but due to a dispute between residents of that community and the management of the Long Island Rail Road, rails were never laid on the roadbed. Instead, a new line (the route of today’s Port Jefferson Branch) was constructed on a more southerly alignment. Over 160 years later, this railroad grade, still in remarkably good condition, has become a hiking trail.
After following the railroad grade for about a third of a mile, the trail turns right, leaving the grade. It crosses a footbridge over a stream and turns left to parallel Route 108. In 0.2 mile, it crosses Route 108 at a crosswalk with flashers, entering Suffolk County.
For the next 1.2 miles, the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail heads north on a winding, undulating route, roughly parallel to Route 108. The sounds of traffic on this busy road can be heard, but the road itself is not visible for much of the way, especially when there are leaves on the trees. The ups and downs on this section are more pronounced than on the sections you have traversed so far. Portions of the route follow an old road, with gentle grades, but other portions are routed along steeper footpaths, with some wooden steps. You will encounter several stands of rhododendron, a species that is native to Long Island but not often found along its hiking trails.
After paralleling a chain-link fence on the left, the trail descends wooden steps, crosses paved Lawrence Hill Road, and enters Cold Spring Harbor State Park. The 1.1-mile route of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail that traverses this park has been described as “one of the most strenuous sections of trail on Long Island.” The ups and downs on this section are steeper than those on the previous sections, and this section is popular with local residents who are looking for a good workout. Numbered markers are posted on trees along this trail section, and the numbers correspond to those shown on the park map available online, thus permitting you to determine your exact location.
Towards the end of the section, you may notice the picturesque building of the Cold Spring Harbor Library below on the left. A short distance beyond, in leaf-off season, you’ll reach a panoramic viewpoint over the waters of Cold Spring Harbor. (When there are leaves on the trees, you can take in the view by climbing a little to an open area on the right of the trail. The trail now begins a steady descent, and it ends at a kiosk at the southern end of the parking area on Harbor Road for Cold Spring Harbor State Park.Publication: Submitted by Daniel Chazin on 09/27/2017 updated/verified on 08/28/2023
This hike traverses the northern end of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, with undulating terrain and steep grades, and reaches a panoramic view over the waters of Cold Spring Harbor.
Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The Hiking Essentials. These essentials will help you enjoy your outing more and will provide basic safety gear if needed. There may also be more essentials, depending on the season and your needs.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Water - Two quarts per person is recommended in every season. Keep in mind that fluid loss is heightened in winter as well as summer. Don't put yourself in the position of having to end your hike early because you have run out of water.
Map - Know where you are and where you are going. Many of our hiking areas feature interconnecting network of trails. Use a waterproof/tear-resistant Tyvek Trail Conference map if available or enclose your map in a Ziplock plastic bag. If you have a mobile device, download Avenza’s free PDF Maps app and grab some GPS-enhanced Trail Conference maps (a backup Tyvek or paper version of the map is good to have just in case your batteries die or you don't have service). Check out some map-reading basics here.
Food - Snacks/lunch will keep you going as you burn energy walking or climbing. Nuts, seeds, and chocolate are favorites on the trail.
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing - Rain happens. So does cold. Be prepared for changing weather. Avoid cotton--it traps water against your skin and is slow to dry. If you are wearing wet cotton and must return to your starting point, you risk getting chills that may lead to a dangerous hypothermia. Choose synthetic shirts, sweaters and/or vests and dress in layers for easy on and off.
Compass - A simple compass is all you need to orient you and your map to magnetic north.
Light - A flashlight or small, lightweight headlamp will be welcome gear if you find yourself still on the trail when darkness falls. Check the batteries before you start out and have extras in your pack.
First Aid Kit - Keep it simple, compact, and weatherproof. Know how to use the basic components.
Firestarter and Matches - In an emergency, you may need to keep yourself or someone else warm until help arrives. A firestarter (this could be as simple as leftover birthday candles that are kept inside a waterproof container) and matches (again, make sure to keep them in a waterproof container) could save a life.
Knife or Multi-tool - You may need to cut a piece of moleskin to put over a blister, repair a piece of broken equipment, or solve some other unexpected problem.
Emergency Numbers - Know the emergency numbers for the area you're going to and realize that in many locations--especially mountainous ones, your phone will not get reception.
Common Sense - Pay attention to your environment, your energy, and the condition of your companions. Has the weather turned rainy? Is daylight fading? Did you drink all your water? Did your companion fail to bring rain gear? Are you getting tired? Keep in mind that until you turn around you are (typically) only half-way to completing your hike--you must still get back to where you started from! (Exceptions are loop hikes.)
Check the weather forecast before you head out. Know the rules and regulations of the area.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
The Trail Conference is a 2015 Leave No Trace partner.
(c) Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.