Long Island is celebrated for its iconic white sandy beaches. But did you know we also have some excellent places for a day walk or hike?
As a Nassau resident who grew up on a brook near conservation land in northern New England, I must admit, I had my doubts about falling in love with the scenery across Long Island. But I’ll admit it – Long Island is spectacular in the summertime (I still think New Hampshire is unbeatable for autumn foliage, though, and yes you can debate with me about that one!). As time has passed, I have been happily surprised to find some great day trips across Suffolk and Nassau.
If you are willing to bundle up, consider even doing a beach stroll in the winter! Bring your binoculars. You will be rewarded with waterfowl which have come thousands of miles south from the tundra, including my personal favorite, the exquisite long-tailed duck. You may also see grey and harbor seals!
Here is a list of some of my favorite places to go hiking or walking on Long Island – as well as a few other things, such as horseback-riding!
A familiar favorite located on the Long Island Sound, Sunken Meadow is one of the more accessible parks for people with limited mobility thanks to its long, sturdy boardwalk. It features three miles of beaches, along with six miles of hiking trails. Want to horseback ride? There are bridal paths, too. There is also a golf course.
Sunken Meadow also has softball and soccer fields, along with playgrounds, making it an excellent choice for families who may want to do more than spend their entire day solely on the beach.
Are you curious about foraging? This is one of the locations where the famous forager “Wildman” Steve Brill offers classes. He will show you which plants are edible, which to avoid, and what to do if you contact with poison ivy. I have taken a Wildman class at Sunken Meadow, and it was quite informative!
I will admit it – I have not done the Greenbelt in its entirety. But there is no way I could skip mentioning the ultimate of the Long Island hikes.
The Greenbelt is an impressive 32 miles long, running parallel to the Connetquot and Nissequogue Rivers. The trail varies in terrain, at times being a boardwalk and then changing over to sand. It also has numerous trails with break away from the main one, allowing for this to be a hike or walk that can be experienced many times.
Blydenburgh is another popular, family and dog-friendly destination. In addition to scenic views for walks, Blydenburg offers birding, fishing, and horseback riding. Rowboat rentals are available from mid-May to Labor Day. Finally, tent and RV sites are available for campers from April 1st through November 11th.
The six-mile walk around New Mill Pond is easy for families, and is beautiful in the autumn during peak foliage.
Blydenberg is $7.00 for Suffolk residents and $15 for non-residents.
West Hills is a historical park which reaches Jayne’s Hill, a beloved spot by Walt Whitman and near his birthplace. At 400 feet elevation, this is the highest point on Long Island; it is a 2.4 mile loop considered easy and possible to complete in about 55 minutes. Ideally, this hike is most suitable in the autumn.
Caumsett is a large park with various activities. It features an impressive stable and dairy complex, excellent trails for biking, paved trails to walk with a stroller, and even snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails.
This is also a beautiful park for a walk or hiking, as the wooded areas gradually elevate to be the tops of sand dunes that then look down into the water. As you continue along the trail, you will descend at a seashell-bountiful beach.
Wertheim is one of the few protected, undeveloped estuaries on Long Island. It offers rich biodiversity, perfect for those most interested in seeing wildlife.
Unlike most of the parks and preserves here, Wertheim is not best in the summer or early fall, but rather in late October through early April. This is the time for the most ideal wildlife-viewing, with migratory waterfowl who winter here. Come the early springtime, there will be migratory warblers and other such songbirds. However, all year, you may encounter red fox, white-tailed deer or wild turkey.
Personally, I find Wertheim to be most precious on the water. The placid waters of the Carmans River meander through cattails and reeds, offering a smooth and almost effortless paddle. You are guaranteed to see great wildlife, such as the green heron. Additionally, you may choose to stop at Indian Landing, a small beach where you can take a swim to cool down, or you can continue onto the Great South Bay.
This is my favorite place on all Long Island to launch my paddleboard or kayak. Thanks to being in a refuge, I do not have to deal with wakes or noise. It is also beautiful from the start since to get to the refuge you must go under two bridges, the first being a nesting site for tree swallows.
You can either launch from the free boat launch (although I warn you, the path is muddy and completely unmaintained) or you can use spend $10 to use the dock at Carmans River Canoe & Kayak II. I recommend the later as it is much easier.
Bayard Cutting may be the most famous of all the locations I have mentioned, thus, I will not get into detail. Simply put, Bayard Cutting is the place to go if you want to walk and see gorgeous flora – along with Planting Fields in in Oyster Bay.
While I do love Bayard Cutting (who doesn’t?), what draws me there more is not so much the arboretum itself, but rather the picturesque Connetquot River which runs alongside it. In fact, after the Carmans River, this is my other favorite waterway for kayaking and paddleboarding on Long Island.
To paddle — Drive down to Timer Point Park in Oakdale to launch your water vessel, which you can then paddle toward Bayard Cutting if going left. You can continue beyond Bayard to the many different canals which meander through town. Once you get to around Paradise Island, I recommend you cut straight through the river toward the canal on the other side, rather than continue straight, as this will offer a much longer, quieter, and more interesting experience. Going this way, you will eventually cut through marshland which will eventually lead you out at the canal next to the Snapper Inn. From there, cut straight across the river (be cautious of boats) and you will get right back to the launch.
As an alternative route, you may also go right which will take you to the bay. There is an island where you can relax. However, I do not recommend this route unless you are experienced due to the rapid changes in water conditions and because you will be dealing with wakes caused by jet skis and powerboats.
The Stillwell Woods Loop, located at Trail View State Park, is a 7-mile loop considered to be of moderate difficulty. It can be completed in around 3 hours. However, what truly sets Trail View apart from other Long Island hiking trails is that it has more range in intensity and elevation – giving it a different feel than the typical flat trails. For the avid hiker, this is one of the few trails where they can truly say “this is a hike, not a walk” and feel challenged.
The park itself skirts Bethpage State Park and Cold Spring Harbor State Park. Thus, you can spend a day (or even two!) hiking and doing other nature-based activities.
Sands Point is one of the lovelier parks in Nassau County. The Loop is a 2-mile walk that is popular for birders. There are also cliffs overlooking the water, which offers a great opportunity for photographers.
Sands Point also hosts special events, such as yoga.
The price is $4 per person or $10 per car.
Cedar Creek is a 259-acre park best for families and sporting.
Cedar Creek has an excellent playground. It has been voted the best playground across all Long Island in both Long Press and on News 12. Also, a fun activity for the children includes a roller-skating rink.
There are eight handball courts, three basketball courts, and various athletic fields (please note the fields must be reserved and include a Leisure Pass, insurance and permit, and fee). Also of particular interest, there is an archery range open to the public but note you must bring your own equipment.
Additionally, there are paths suitable for walking, jogging, and biking. There are entrances from Cedar Creek to both Tobay Beach and Jones Beach. If you want to get a challenging work-out followed by crisp, relaxing water, consider doing this bike ride!
Massapequa Preserve spans across an impressive 423 acres. Some parts of the park are frequented by bikers, so do exercise caution if you want to be here for a leisurely walk. However, should you go onto one of the quieter trails, you will quickly be rewarded by various species of deciduous trees as well as some endemic birds. I myself have spotted many different birds here, ranging from various species of warblers to the occasional northern flicker, a unique-looking woodpecker. There is also a popular residential wood duck drake.
Massapequa Preserve is where I offer the majority of my forest therapy sessions. You may read more about that on this blog post: https://www.suffolkfamilytherapy.com/forest-therapy/
At 550 acres, Muttontown Preserve is by far the largest nature preserve on Long Island. It offers many different ecosystems ranging from upland forests to woodlands to waterways, offering a spectacular opportunity to see different birds, including characteristic species such as the chestnut-sided warbler, indigo bunting, Baltimore oriole, and American woodcock. If you are lucky, you may also spot a great-horned owl or screech owl.
Personally, I do not think you will need top-notch gear for almost any Long Island trail… or even gear at all. Disclaimer – I am quite a hiker – I have summited Black Elk Peak in South Dakota, scrambled waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains, traversed the rock fields of Mount Washington, and even backpacked the Alaskan tundra. That said, I do have some impressive gear which has been needed.
But here on Long Island? To be honest, I leave most of my gear at home! For my adventures here, I am fine with a water bottle with a shoulder strap, along with an ultralight daypack. I also pack the following essentials: sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, a protein-packed snack, birding binoculars, and my homemade jewelweed salve (for contact with poison ivy). Sometimes I will bring a plant or bird ID guide.
I do recommend appropriate footwear, but hiking boots are overkill unless you need the ankle support. I have a pair of Teva’s which I wore for many years before eventually retiring them. I then bought a pair from LLBean which cost considerably less but seem to be just as durable.
In addition, dress in layers and make sure you have a light raincoat available just in case. Do not wear cotton.
Camping in Suffolk County
Kayaking, Paddleboarding, and Canoeing in Suffolk County
Horseback-Riding Sites in Suffolk with a Suffolk Green Card and Riding Permit
Valerie Smith, LMSW, CFTG, is a therapist, social worker, and certified forest therapy guide at Suffolk Family Therapy under the supervision of our clinical director, Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW. Valerie possesses a bachelor and master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University and Fordham University, both from which she graduated summa cum laude. Valerie is also a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), where she trained in the Rocky Mountains to master sensory-based, mindful activities through a biophilic perspective. Valerie is passionate about the health benefits of a plant-based diet as well as holistic wellness. Valerie is trained in EMDR and TF-CBT, with experience in DBT-informed skills. She focuses her treatment on adolescent girls and young women with C-PTSD and PTSD. Additionally, she helps people with life-threatening disease and their caregivers. Finally, she works alongside those experiencing grief and bereavement, especially young adults who lost one or both of their parents/guardians.
In the chaos and rush of the modern world, do you feel stressed, tired, and disconnected? Do you experience racing thoughts, feel “on edge” to meet the demands of a deadline, or yearn for a break? If so, forest therapy is for you! Forest therapy is found to reduce the production of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Forest therapy can help. It is clinically supported to improve cognition and mood.
Forest therapy is shown to improve directed attention and boost executive functioning skills.
Yes, forest therapy is for you, too. Unlike hiking, forest therapy is a slow walk, generally in an accessible area, which makes it suitable for various populations. Forest therapy can even be done remotely, only requiring access to a window.
Forest therapy is evidenced to lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, boost immune system function, and even combat cells associated with cancer risk.
All forest therapy guides (or “guides”) are required to be certified in Wilderness First Aid and Infant/Child/Adult CPR, at minimum. They also have training in herbalism, thus can teach you of edible and medicinal plants.
At Suffolk Family Therapy, we proudly have a certified forest therapy guide, Valerie Smith, LMSW, who’s been trained by the world’s leading school on the topic pf Forest Therapy.
Join Valerie in experiencing simple yet powerful techniques to help you feel whole and well again, while celebrating our kinship with the earth. Mindful and bodyful practices that bring about serenity and can foster a newfound awakening for what is most significant to you. Valerie will lead you through sensory encounters which allow for care, compassion, and connection toward yourself and all other beings in this world.
A forest therapy walk (hereon also referred to as forest therapy for simplicity purposes), is a platform for fostering wellness, healing, and wholeness through engagement in natural settings. Forest therapy is inspired by the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”), but they are not synonymous concepts.
Research indicates forest bathing carries a myriad of health advantages in the immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as psychological benefits such as mood improvement. From this foundation, forest bathing seeks to move beyond the health benefits alone and to instead celebrate that humankind is in kinship with nature, not above or separate from it.
Forest therapy is a practice; a gateway to allow a relationship of reciprocity to develop and strengthen, whereby the guide and forest (or other setting) partner together to allow for both to feel complete. The guide is useful in that they can navigate the participants through a particular sequence of events that provide a foundation for the experience. However, there are no set expectations of what should or could happen – participants are given freedom to interpret the experiences as they desire.
Forest therapy is about creating relationships between humans and the more-than-human world, in which the relationship itself becomes a source of healing and joyful well-being. Besides being a deeply healing practice, Forest Therapy is also an emerging community of friends and activists who are making a global impact. As we learn to love the forests, this connection leads naturally to an ethic of tenderness and reciprocity, we become more engaged in working for their well-being.
Most importantly, such walks are focused on the heart rather than the brain, and they celebrate the significance of the kinship between humans and nature. Forest therapy walks are effective, non-prescriptive, and simple, which encourages each participant to have the experience on their own terms and to bring meaning to it all on their own accord, rather than expecting the participant to feel or think a certain way. As a result, forest therapy should never be mistaken for psychotherapy, which is about the treatment of a diagnosis and/or life issue.
Ultimately, the aim for all forest therapy guides is to serve as the “doorway” between humans and other beings, in which the relationship becomes the source of healing and serenity. And so by having a reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human world, we all benefit in increased connection and wellbeing — from the smallest mushroom to the grandest of trees.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir
Forest therapy should not be confused with hiking. When a person hikes, they tend to have a set destination in mind. They want to ascend to the summit of the mountain, reach that hidden beach, or traverse that one crevice at the top of the mesa. Hiking also tends to be a timed event, with people competing against each other for the newest record.
Forest therapy is different because it uses the aspects of nature in a way that amplifies our senses to let us know the forest in a new way. For one, a forest therapy walk is slow and usually is restricted to a small area. A walk can last for up to 3 hours and the entire experience can be held in a few acres. Furthermore, beings are not things to be passed by on by, but rather to be recognized and explored. Beings are not only organisms, such as the birds and the plants, but also include abiotic entities such as rocks, sunshine, and weather.
Thus, it is more appropriate to think of such forest therapy walks as sensory immersions to foster mindfulness and body-fulness in a natural setting. Whereas mindfulness is about awareness of the present moment without judgment, body-fulness is for harboring that awareness through the senses and experiences within the body. The immersion is done through a sequence of invitations (activities) that participants are allowed to adapt if needed.
Finally, forest therapy should never be mistaken for psychotherapy, which is about the treatment of a diagnosis and/or life issue.
As was previously stated, forest therapy is inspired by shinrin-yoku.
Shinrin-yoku is a wellness practice that came from Japan in the 1980s by the Ministry of Health to promote improved health across the urbanized, changing population. At the time, Japan was transforming into a technological leader, which the government noted was resulting in diseases related to sedentary lifestyles and chronic stress.
Over the next two decades, Japanese research has showcased the myriad health benefits of forest bathing. These include, but are not limited to:
• Lower stress
• Reduce blood pressure
• Improve metabolic and cardiovascular health
• Weight loss/weight management
• Lower blood sugar levels Improve memory and concentration
• Improve mood disorders, especially depression
• Increase pain tolerance
• Boost energy
• Improve the immune system with an increase in natural killer (NK) cells
In more recent years, research across the United States and the United Kingdom has supported the association between time spent in nature and directed attention. Directed attention is one of the primary functions of the frontal lobe in the brain, which is also in control of other executive functions like critical thinking and problem-solving. The stressors of modern living burden us with attention demands that are more exhausting versus that of mankind in the past. This is a reason why we may “space out” when trying to complete a task, feel sluggish, or struggle to concentrate. Much like a computer needs to be rebooted when it freezes, so too, do our brains.
Fortunately, through immersion in nature, the executive functions of our brains are allowed to rest and become replenished. This results in improved directed attention later. In addition, nature experiences offer other psychological benefits such as overall improvement in mood, including in people with depressive disorders.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, ongoing research from Nippon University suggests that phytoncides, the chemicals found within conifers and some other plants, may be effective in cancer prevention. When breathed in, the phytoncides fight infection while also increasing the number of NK cells, which increase anti-cancer proteins.
For more information on the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, along with links to the studies to support the research, please click here.
Valerie Smith hosts forest therapy walks throughout Suffolk and Nassau. These walks are open to the public; thus, you do not need to be a client at Suffolk Family Therapy to participate. Bring your friends and family!
Please note: All walks require prior registration, payment, and completion of paperwork. Valerie cannot accommodate “walk-ins”.
To learn more and/or to arrange a walk, contact firstname.lastname@example.org