Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail

Location: Massapequa to Cold Spring Harbor, NY

Length: 20 miles

Date of hike: May 28, 2016

I'm proud to say I've officially hiked another epic trail that crosses Long Island: the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail.  For those who don't know, it's a 20-mile trail that runs north to south (or, in my case, south to north) between the Peter J. Schmitt Massapequa Preserve and Cold Spring Harbor State Park.  It also cuts through a handful of other parks and preserves along the way, which we'll get to later.  The first thing you need to know is that the trail can be hiked in a single day, if you dare.  Just expect to have some achy feet for a day or two (or three or four) afterwards. 

I've wanted to hike the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail ever since I'd hiked its sister trail the Long Island Greenbelt Trail, which runs roughly 34 miles between East Islip and Kings Park.  I'd hiked that bad boy two years ago over the course of two days and it was a very rewarding experience.  Completing a trail of that size gives you an overwhelming feeling of achievement, and I was excited to experience it again on the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail.  My first step was to obtain a detailed trail map from the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference's website, which my thoughtful parents took care of last year as a Christmas gift.  With Memorial Day weekend upon us and beautiful weather in the forecast, it felt like the ideal time to properly conquer the trail.  I set my alarm for 6:05 a.m. and, after some cereal and a quick shower, found myself at the Massapequa trailhead by 7:30 a.m.  I was ready to let the fun begin.

My first issue was there was no parking lot near or around at the trailhead in Massapequa, meaning that I had to improvise.  I was tempted to park behind the Massapequa Reformed Church at the intersection of Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, but the church's parking lot was entirely empty at that hour and I got paranoid.  I've never ever had my car towed before, and I'm not about to start now.  My second option was parking on a nearby residential road.  I chose Lake Court, a small road with a cul-de-sac just a block from the trail's starting spot.  Problem solved.  Then off I went to locate the first trail marker.  Within the first few minutes, there were so many outstanding photo opportunities that my head was literally on a swivel.  The Massapequa Preserve has a string of lily pad-filled lakes that are impossible to ignore.

I'd hiked the preserve before, so I knew about the challenging crossing at Sunrise Highway.  Luckily, the traffic was minimal at that early hour, so there was no trouble making it across.  From there, it was smooth sailing straight through to the Southern State Parkway overpass.  That's what I consider the end of the trail's "first phase."  It was probably my favorite section of the trail as well.  The "second phase" skirted along the west side of Bethpage State Park, paralleling the Bethpage State Parkway for what seemed like hours.  There were a bunch of bicyclists on this stretch since some of the hiking took place on paved paths, while the trail also went under a variety of bridges – including an overpass to the Long Island Expressway.  I must say, it was all well-marked and I didn't get lost once.  That made me a happy hiker.

When the trail left Bethpage State Parkway, I considered it the end of the "second phase."  That was also the least exciting section for me personally, but I understand that a trail that crosses an entire island is going to have a little down time.  Another minor complaint is the lack of benches.  Sometimes hours passed between bench sightings.  I'm cool with sitting on a log, but an occasional bench would've been nice.  Maybe some local Boy Scouts can get on it as their community service requirement to becoming an Eagle Scout.  Thankfully, as the trail emerged at Jericho Turnpike, I spotted a Stop & Shop within walking distance.  After snatching some junk food and fresh water, I sat and feasted for a good 45 minutes.

With my feet fully rested, I cranked out the remainder of the trail.  My parents were picking me up in Cold Spring Harbor at 8 p.m., so I paced myself accordingly.  This was likely my second favorite portion of the trail.  It took me through parklands including Stillwell Woods Preserve and Franklin Pond Preserve, both of which I'd never been to before.  I'll definitely make a trip back to both of them this summer.  The trail's wildlife, I should note, featured everything from herons to warblers and wood ducks to red crossbills.  I also encountered some good old-fashioned frogs, rabbits and chipmunks – as well as a skinny little snake.

My music of choice started with Haken's new album Affinity, which I purchased last month but have yet to connect with.  Well, that's changed.  I definitely felt an affinity for the album out on the trail, particularly the closing track, "Bound by Gravity."  But, for me, this trip will be remembered for the final song I heard: Redemption's 2011 tune, "Focus."  Its lyrics sum up exactly where my mind is at while I'm hiking, and I'll forever think of the trail when I hear the song in the future.  I think my iPod, which was on shuffle, was sending me a message.

The hike's closing moments were a bit stressful, as my phone died and my parents weren't waiting at the trailhead when I arrived.  Luckily, I planned ahead and jotted down my father's number in case such a situation arose.  But when I politely asked the closest couple about using their phone, the lady flat-out refused.  Not only that, but she gave me a huge attitude.  Who knew that asking to use someone's phone was akin to asking for their firstborn child.

Overall, I'd say the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail is a must-hike for anyone who loves both hiking and Long Island.  While the Long Island Greenbelt Trail included lots of road walking, the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail had none of it.  However, I feel the Long Island Greenbelt Trail had some more beautiful sections.  Whatever trail you choose, it's worth the achy feet.

Video: Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail - Part 1 (360-degree view)
Video: Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail - Part 2 (360-degree view)
 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info. Gonna try and hit this Saturday.

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  2. Hi Mike Who Likes to Hike. I am so excited to stumble upon your blog! I am more of an upstate mountains hiking mama but exploring LI State Parks and its trails have been started to being explored little by little when I need a quick and short drive away trail fix. The problem that I run into hiking on LI is worn out trails with many diverted footpaths and lack of maps. Although the cell service shouldn’t be a problem, it is something about looking at the map over google maps on the phone that makes it a more natural/wilderness experience. Here is my favor request. My friend and I who are both Appalachian Thru Hikers from Long Island wanted to thru hike the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail and the Long Island Greenbelt Trail for awhile. Doing a bit of research we came across your blog! We wanted to see if you would be willing to share your maps with us via email in pdf version, send to us via regular mail as we are in Bellmore/Bethpage area, or pick up to borrow in person. Let us know. You’d save our trip a lot of hassle. Thank you in advance!!! Love, love, love your blog and will be using it to explore LI! -Yuliya aka Kremlin

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