You can see Long Island from a fresh new perspective — far from cars, noise and crowds — if you just take a hike. Fall is a great time to lace up boots and fill backpacks with a picnic lunch. Major strides have been made with new trails debuting on the North and South Fork, the Walt Whitman Trail reopening in West Hills, and walker-friendly improvements to Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. All the traffic is other hikers — or wildlife.
HALLOCK STATE PARK PRESERVE, JAMESPORT
This new 225-acre preserve opened a year ago, ironically on land previously proposed for a nuclear power plant. These days, the only plants you’ll see on the 2 1⁄2-mile trail are growing wild as you power through the coastal forest, past glacier-carved hills, potato fields and a fresh water pond. The trail begins at a visitor center with restrooms and a gift shop, and ends at a secluded Long Island Sound beach fit for fishing, sailboarding and kayaking. The preserve is surrounded by 250 acres of protected farmlands and vineyards, so you can toast your hike’s success at a nearby winery, brewery or distillery.
INFO 6062 Sound Ave., Jamesport, 631-315-5475, parks.ny.gov
MONTAUK POINT STATE PARK, MONTAUK
Naturalist-guided seal hikes usually head out amid winter snows, but, pre-deep freeze and on your own, you can witness these visiting critters’ shoreline frolics. At just under a mile (two-mile round-trip), the Montauk Point State Park seal haul-out trail leads to a beachfront known to attract the roly-poly pinnipeds. The trailhead is on Montauk Highway, about a mile west of Montauk Point Lighthouse. Bring binoculars, and if you encounter seals relaxing on the rocks or frisking around in Block Island Sound, keep your distance and follow the seal-viewing rules of engagement at cresli.org.
INFO 2000 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk, 631-668-3781, parks.ny.gov
NAPEAGUE STATE PARK, AMAGANSETT
A sparkling Hamptons beach lies at the end of the two-mile Promised Land Trail, the newest addition to the hiker’s havens of Montauk Point, Camp Hero, Montauk Downs and Hither Hills state parks. Hewn from 1,364 acres of dunes, pitch pine, oak and holly forests between the Atlantic and Napeague Bay are a short loop, a 1.5-mile main route and an overlook. Park in the 10-car lot at the intersection of Lazy Point Road (aka Cranberry Hole Road) and Napeague Meadow Road in Amagansett. And save time to visit the interpretive kiosk for info about the historic fish factory in the eponymous community of Promised Land. For more fresh air, hike among the mysterious shifting sands of Napeague’s Walking Dunes Trail.
INFO Lazy Point Road, Amagansett, 631-668-3781
SAGAMORE HILL, OYSTER BAY
After a tour of President Theodore Roosevelt’s house, explore the “backyard” of the nation’s youngest-ever commander-in-chief, himself an avid hiker. T.R. and family often walked downhill from the Summer White House to swim and camp out a nearby beach. The trailhead situated next to the Old Orchard Museum leads to a rugged dirt road through a tulip tree forest. (The right fork is moderately hilly, the left features more challenging terrain.) The trail opens up at the 366-feet-long Eel Creek boardwalk, part of a recent $10 million restoration, which spans a salt marsh rustling with native horseshoe crabs. The beach, on sailboat-dotted Cold Spring Harbor, is part of the 3,209-acre Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge. By the way, Teddy was a dog-lover, so leashed hiking companions are welcome.
INFO 20 Sagamore Hill Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-922-4788, nps.gov
WEST HILLS COUNTY PARK, MELVILLE
Hikers once again can follow in the Long Island bard’s footsteps on The Walt Whitman Trail up Jayne’s Hill — the Island’s highest point at 401 feet above sea level. Most of the trail has reopened following clean-up of an illegal dumping site, according to Suffolk County Parks officials. About 8 hilly miles meander from the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center through 800-acre West Hills County Park. A hike through chestnut, birch, oak and hickory forest leads to a boulder with a plaque bearing the full text of Whitman’s (short) Paumanok poem at the summit.
INFO Sweet Hollow Road, Melville, 631-854-4423, suffolkcountyny.gov