Manorville Hills County Park

Location: Manorville, NY

Size: 6,000 acres

Date of hike: Oct. 14-16, 2016

I loved Manorville Hills County Park so much that I went back three days in a row.  That's something I've never done before, so it says a lot about how much I enjoyed it there.  Firstly, the park is so massive that the hiking is pretty much limitless, which is up my alley.  Secondly, parts of the park are so isolated that hours can pass without a sign of civilization, which is also up my alley.  In fact, this might be my new favorite hiking spot on Long Island.

Before exploring, I pulled up some information about the large park to familiarize myself with its geography and history.  Apparently, Manorville Hills has the "longest expanse of roadless land on Long Island" and is managed by Suffolk County and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, according to the Long Island Pine Barrens Society's website.  It is located in the heart of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens with terrain that was formed roughly 22,000 years ago when glaciers stopped, melted and receded during the Wisconsin Glacial Episode, according to local forestry technician David Waring's website.  The park is situated along the Ronkonkoma terminal moraine, a debris line left at the glaciers' southern edge.  The topography is "knob and kettle," which consists of various mounds (knobs) and depressions (kettles) that formed when the blocks of ice left behind by the glaciers melted.  More recently, Manorville Hills was the site of a few small-scale farms, which were located along what was Eastport-Manor Road (now County Road 111).  Despite all of those details, Waring's warnings most stood out to me: "The area is expansive, which is great for getting away from the rush of Long Island, but it can quickly turn into a maze of winding trails and narrow tracks that can soon look all the same.  Make sure you know where you're going."

The park entrance is along the east side of Captain Daniel Roe Highway (County Road 111) in Manorville.  The entry road quickly turns into a dirt road that loops and leads to separate paths for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.  I pulled into the hiking lot, which is also the biking lot.  It's a gravelly patch big enough to fit about 10 cars.  My first step was to take a photo of the park maps on display in a kiosk.  A passing biker who saw me snap the shot said he liked the idea and planned to start doing it himself.  The maps looked confusing at first glance, but they were easy to follow once I hit the trails.  I must say the trails were all well-marked, which is important for a park of this size.  The hiking starts on the yellow trail, which is a half-mile in length and leads to the orange and white trails.  The orange trail is a seven-mile loop that is paralleled a portion of the way by the Paumonok Path, which is the white trail.  For those who don't know, the Paumonok is a 125-mile long trail spanning from Rocky Point to Montauk.  However, the Paumonok only covers 9.7 miles in Manorville Hills, stretching to Field 1 at Suffolk Community College, off County Road 51 south of Riverhead.  The Paumonok also passes over Riverhead's Bald Hill, which has an elevation of 295 feet.

The yellow trail is like an appetizer wetting your appetite for what's to come later in the park.  It cuts through a flat tract of land lined by ferns, eventually leading to a patch of white pines.  The trail zigzags right through the patch of pines like some sort of outdoorsy hall of mirrors.  It was certainly an early highlight.  Before long, I'd encountered the orange and white trails.  Since I plan to one day hike the entire Paukonok Path, I decided to follow the orange trail.  What an experience.  I felt like I'd been transported into a pine tree paradiseThe path is very scenic and relaxingly winds through endless hills.  I hiked for hours without seeing a single human being.  I felt like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" or Will Smith in "I Am Legend."  Ironically, I did a little geocaching and came across a cache last found about six months earlier by my friend Chris.  I texted him a photo of his signature, and he replied saying he found a few caches there that hadn't been logged in four years.  It shows you how isolated parts of the park can get.  I hiked at a leisurely pace between two and three miles per hour, ultimately cutting it close with daylight.  I ended up hiking in darkness for about 10 minutes.

The next day the park was calling to me once again, and I returned to explore some more.  This time I chose the blue trail, a 13-mile biking trail that loops starting at a boulder named Terrapin Rock.  It was already mid-afternoon, so there was no way I'd finish the whole thing.  This is where my pic of the park maps came in handy.  I studied it to see if there were any shortcuts back to the entrance midway through the trail.  Luckily, there are a series of dirt roads that run north to south across the park, each one separated by a mile more or less.  They're labelled "2" through "6," with "2"  the closest to the entrance and "6" the furthest.  There is also a dirt road running along the edge of the park just north of County Road 111.  My geocaching app called it Hot Water Street.  I wondered if some of the dirt roads were once actual roads.  Whatever their past purpose, they helped cut the bike trail in half by taking one south to Hot Water Street, which led to the entrance in time to beat the dark.

My third visit came the very next day, as I strived to cover the remaining areas of the park.  So far, I'd done the orange trail and half of the blue.  I decided to save the riding trails for a future visit.  It would give me incentive to come back.  This visit was all about the blue trail.  For starters, I took the white trail to the dirt road I left off at the previous day.  Then I made my way north to the blue trail.  There were several bikers out, likely since it was a Sunday.  They each shouted out as they spotted me, and I'd politely step aside as they whizzed by.  Of course, I kept the volume low on my iPod, so I could hear them.  Speaking of my iPod, while I can't remember everything I listened to, I rocked out to some of Pain of Salvation's 2004 album, Be.  It's a concept album that explores the many facets of human existence.  

When I returned home, I did some further research about the park and was surprised to read a body was found there in 2012.  Apparently, a St. James man dumped a woman's body and it was found shortly thereafter by a jogger.  The article said the man and woman had injected heroin and taken Xanax, resulting in her death.  Another story said a fully-decomposed body was also found a month before that by a man walking his dog.  Years before that, two torsos were found that were later linked to the Gilgo Beach serial killer.  Thankfully, I didn't spot any bones or bodies, but I did see what looked like a deer skull hanging on a tree.  Poor Bambi.

Without a doubt, I'd highly recommended Manorville Hills County Park.  I've never felt so way out in the wilderness at a Long Island park or preserve.  At other local parks, there are often homes or roads a short distance away.  But not here.  It's just you and the pines for miles.  And miles.  And some more miles.  And, for me, that equals miles and miles of smiles.   

Video: Manorville Hills County Park (360-degree view)


4 comments:

  1. This is my favorite place to hike on Long Island too. Lots of solitude which is rare to find. I've done the loop there many times. Fall is a great time to go. I would just warn against the summer months when ticks are out.

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  2. Just wanted to say I love your blog !!! So glad I found it ! Long Island can be beautiful but unfortunately hiking spots are not well publicized and hard to find and get info on . Keep up the work !

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  3. Found you while looking for a map of the Ward Melville Nature Trail. Best I have been able to find is your verbal description. Saw that you reviewed the network of trails in Manorville. With the assistance of many volunteers I planned and implemented those trails for County Parks. There is a "Safety Trail #1" I'd be happy to send you a digital map that you can share if you like. Curious if you are disturbed by how much damage the dirt bikes have caused to the trails. Ken@hikeli.com

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  4. thanks so much for your review. I love your blog. So many trails I did not know about.

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