Scenic trails offer a refreshing change of pace for runners who want to break away from crowded multiuse paths — and sight-see while sweating off pandemic pounds.
Here are paths ranging from flat to hilly terrain, running through some of Long Island’s loveliest off-the-beaten path scenery — ranging from woodlands and wetlands to human-made nature preserves.
Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve, Merrick
Hidden behind a trash collection station on a busy neck of the South Shore, this 52-acre preserve is an oasis for runners of all ages. It features three miles of nature trails with quirky landmarks such as a small working windmill, which feeds the preserve’s freshwater ponds. Along the trail you’ll see a Peruvian hardwood fishing pier reaching 500 feet into Merrick Bay, and you may run into — no kidding — the resident herd of grazing Nigerian dwarf goats (the critters keep the undergrowth in check). Even curioser, Levy park is a miracle of engineering — built on environmental principles with recycled materials, atop the site of a former Town of Hempstead landfill. Cross-trainers should note the exercise stations lining the path and the kayak launch site. Save energy for a short uphill trek to one of Nassau County’s points and a view of the city skyline and the Jones Beach tower.
INFO 1600 Merrick Rd., Merrick, 516-804-2000, hempsteadny.gov
The Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway
Generations of runners have trod (and shared) The Ellen Farrant Memorial Bikeway, which stretches for 5 miles from Cedar Creek Park in Seaford to the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh. But even in pandemic times this uber-popular shared-use path can be overwhelmed with foot and wheel traffic, creating a social distancing nightmare for solo runners. For more room to sprint and breathe the fresh salt air, opt for the new 3.6-mile extension heading east through Jones Beach State Park's maritime forest and tidal wetlands to TOBAY Beach. If it seems to end abruptly, that’s because work is progressing on yet another scenic leg all the way to Captree State Park in Babylon.
Argyle Park, Babylon Village
The park beloved as a bridal party photo backdrop closed in April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but it’s wide-open again for runners, says mayor Ralph A. Scordino. The footloose can continue north under a trestle and into woods on a bridal path around lovely, hidden Southards Pond. Further north, the trail runs under the Southern State Parkway overpass to Belmont Lake State Park and its myriad trails.
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University is relatively quiet during the pause, which means a bonanza for runners. Take a crash course in natural beauty on the Paul Simons Memorial Bike Path, a 6-mile, paved trail circling the wooded, 1,100-acre campus. The 26-acre Ashley Schiff Preserve, also part of the campus, is rife with 75 species of plants and wildlife ranging from great horned owls to red foxes.
ALSO TRY More than 5 miles of trails weave through a landscape of picturesque ponds and hills at Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook, past glacial boulders and occasional glimpses of the Long Island Sound (200 Harbor Rd., 631-689-0619).
Makamah Nature Preserve, Fort Salonga
Work your calves over hill and dale on a 2+-mile loop through woods and marshlands, with peeks at adjacent Crab Meadow Golf Course’s manicured greenery. Need a soundtrack? The grounds ring with the calls of a super-diverse bird population.
INFO 1026 Fort Salonga Rd., Fort Salonga, 631-854-4949
Cranberry Bog Nature Preserve, Riverhead
A 1-mile trail traverses the 165-acre Suffolk County Park, which in cidebtally doubles as a natural reservoir for Long Island's fresh water supply. The juicy sights include sections of the Little Peconic River, a historic pump house from the old cranberry farm, and a wooden footbridge over the abandoned cranberry bog.
INFO Lake Avenue, Riverhead, 631-854-4949