Earth Day is April 22, and all 30 days in April are part of “Earth Month.” But celebrating Mother Nature is a year-round affair in these parts. Though the Hamptons name may be synonymous with glitzy summer soirees to outsiders, those who live in or frequent the area know the landscape is the real star. And it takes center stage on the South Fork’s top hiking trails.
The paths wind through wooded areas and the pristine beaches that draw people from the west (as in up-Islanders, NYC residents and, yup, Hollywood) each year. They make perfect havens for bird watchers and plant enthusiasts, offering the chances to catch a glimpse of some of the East End’s lesser-heralded residents.
From Dwarf Pines in Quogue to a historic stroll at The End, these hiking spots make for off-the-beaten-path fun on the South Fork.
Take a five-minute ferry from Sag Harbor to Shelter Island, and make a beeline to the sprawling 2,039-acre Mashomack Preserve. Situated on 10 miles of coastline, the Nature Conservancy-protected preserve is home to more than 200 species of birds, including the endangered piping plovers and least terns (so no dogs allowed). The views are as gorgeously diverse — take in beaches and marshes, kettle holes, tidal creeks, forests, scrubs, fields and more along 20 miles of hiking trails.
This nature preserve is open 365 days per year from sunrise to sunset, so people can head there for a break from holiday celebrations or everyday life. Home for wildlife that requires human care for survival, like owls and falcons, it includes seven miles of hiking trails. A three-quarter mile loop around Old Ice Pond is ideal for beginners, while a 3.1-mile path allows people to take in ecologically rare Dwarf Pines. Give your pups and bikes a break — they’re not permitted.
Glacial processes formed these coastal plain ponds, and they look like they’ve been untouched ever since. Nestled between wetlands and fringing forests, the area is home to some of the state’s highest concentrations of rare species, including more than three dozen rare plants like sun dews and silvery aster as well as creatures great and small, like the tiger salamander.
Situated on 415 acres, Camp Hero State Park has hiking trails that give way to the vistas of the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean and picturesque bluffs that draw people to The End in the first place. The trails at the park, once an Air Force station commissioned in the 1940s, are built for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Though Montauk has emerged as a destination, the terrain at Camp Hero offers an unspoiled respite from the “rosé-all-day” crowd. The songs of Carolina Wren and percussion of the Hairy Woodpecker make for the perfect antidote to the Harry Styles and Justin Bieber tunes bellowing out of the other type of local watering holes.
This East Hampton hiking spot has a rich history worth exploring alongside its woodland-meets-waterfront landscape. Artifacts indicate that three separate Native American communities once inhabited the land. In 1910, W.R. Grace purchased 845 acres. The Town of East Hampton now owns it, thanks in large part to a $500,000 contribution from The Nature Conservancy. Today, visitors can walk through the wooded area — mostly oak-pine forest — taking in kettle-hole wetlands created by a glacier. Harbor views and a stop at the freshwater pond are also favorite parts of people’s walk on the main trail.