David Weld Sanctuary

Location: Nissequogue, NY

Size: 125 acres

Date of hike: Jan. 19, 2014

David Weld Sanctuary is a beautiful preserve that features beachfront bluffs, endless shells and enormous boulders along the Smithtown Bay.  However, when I pulled into the parking lot, I was skeptical whether this would even be a worthwhile hike.  It was a small gravel-covered lot with enough space for six vehicles and no roadside parking available.  If this place was as good as I'd heard, surely it would have a bigger parking lot, I thought.  But luckily, I was off base.  Way of base.

Prior to hiking, I researched the sanctuary to familiarize myself with its history and habitats.  The preserve is probably best known for its 50-foot bluff as well as a 60-foot-deep kettle hole that was created when a colossal block of glacial ice melted in place during the last Ice Age, according to the Nature Conservancy's website.  There are also approximately 1,800 feet of beachfront property and large boulders scattered throughout the area's forest and shoreline.  "The David Weld Sanctuary is a wonderful place for all birders, geology buffs and wildflower lovers to hike and explore nature," the website said.  "There's just enough elevation change to help make the trails interesting, but not too daunting for little legs and family excursions."  Apparently, the preserve was donated by Mr. and Mrs. David Weld between 1969 and 1979, with additional acres donated and acquired from neighbors.  Before the Weld family's tenure, a man named Alden Blodgett and his wife, famed author and actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, bought the land and on the bluff built a cabin, which burned in a storm in 1987, the site said.

The sanctuary is located on Short Beach Road just west of Horse Race Lane, and it is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  It features a peaceful three-mile trail that crosses a big field peppered with red cedar trees and loops around a red maple swamp, the conservancy's website said.  Since it was winter, the swampy section was all dried out, giving it an ominous appearance.  I heard the preserve's prettiest part is the beach region, so I figured I'd save the best for last.  That meant first following the loop trail into the woods.  The hiking was hilly but not too hard, and tree life ranged from black birch to hickory to tulip.  "The sanctuary landscape supports a remarkable diversity of trees, shrubs, vines, ferns and wildflowers, as well as various birds and small mammals," the website said.  "In spring, the giant tulip trees display magnificent blooms.  Look for their long and straight trunks, which were once used for masts on ships."
It took me about an hour to complete the loop.  Next, I headed for the long-anticipated beach using a bluff-top path that took me a couple stories up.  If I stood at the edge, I felt like I was floating for a moment.  Call me crazy, but I like being just a step away from significant injury.  It makes me feel aliveAnyway, I later learned the bluffs are home to birds.  "In the summer as you walk along the bluff, observe the burrow holes in the top two or so feet of sediment," the website said.  "These were created by bank swallows."  Other birds in the preserve are brant, hummingbirds and orioles, while eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies can be seen by the tulip trees since its leaves are one of their caterpillars' favorite foods, the website said.

As soon as I stepped onto the beach, I was mesmerized.  It was like stepping into heaven.  Thousands of colorful shells covered the sand.  Big boulders stood amongst the gentle tide.  And there wasn't a soul in sight.  It was all mine.  I climbed the boulders, one of which was filled with graffiti.  It said: "Pop a squat and enjoy the sunset."  Another said: "Embrace life."  The spot is so inspiringI also played Haken's The Mountain, which is a progressive metal masterpiece.  With an opening track titled "The Path," it felt like the perfect pick for a hike.  

I didn't stay for the sunset – a crime, I know.  Despite that, I still felt like I formed an affinity for the sanctuary and what it has to offer.  And, as I returned to the gravelly lot, I felt glad it was so small.  It makes the place feel like a special treasure only a handful of people can enjoy at a time.  And on this day, I was lucky enough to enjoy that treasure for a little bit.

(Updated: Jan. 19, 2019)

Video: David Weld Sanctuary (360-degree view)  



  1. Nice winter viewpoint of the sanctuary. Definitely worth a trip back in the summer for the sunsets.

  2. I am from Smithtown and have been there many times. Do NOT go there at night. I was chased out by a shadow-y thing at sundown and it followed me out of the park

  3. Dear Hiking Mike: I meandered around in here for about an hour. It was beautiful. No sign of the Bluff or the Beach though. Can you give a brand new hiker a few tips on how to get to that spot? It sounds lovely. I just didn't find it self explanatory at all.