Stillwell Woods Preserve
of hike: Feb. 18, 2017
wanted to visit Stillwell Woods Preserve since I passed through it last year
while hiking the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail. It took me a while to get back there after
spending a few months exploring parks and preserves in the Long Island
Pine Barrens, but I finally made it.
With a coat of snow on the ground, I expected its trails to be very empty. Just
how I like it.
For starters, I did some pre-hike research to familiarize myself with
Stillwell Woods Preserve, but there wasn't much information online. Many results seemed to be mountain biking sites, with one commenter even saying the mountain bike trail is "the highlight
of Stillwell Woods." Luckily, since there was still some snow, this
was probably a good day to visit the preserve as a hiker since the bikers would likely be at a minimum. I accessed the preserve through an entrance on South Woods Road, just north of Syosset High School. The first thing you see upon arrival is
several athletic fields, leaving you wondering if you're in the right parking
lot for the Stillwell Woods trails. Fear
not. A kiosk marking the start of the
trails is located in the back of the parking lot behind all the fields. Unfortunately, the kiosk didn't have a trail
map for bikers and hikers, so off I went to find my own way using my geocaching app's map.
preserve starts with a sort-of access road that leads you to the trails. The biking trail is the first to make an
appearance with a big sign stating that it was made, and is
maintained, by Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists (CLIMB). It also includes a number of rules, such as always wear a helmet
and yield to hikers and horses. "If you
can’t follow the rules, ride someplace else!!!" the sign added. Noticing the muddiness of the mountain biking trail, I'd
decided to instead take an unmarked trail just opposite that one that took me southeast toward some railroad tracks. After
all, I often approach new hiking spots by just wandering around and following
my instincts – and I'm glad I did because the track-side trails were all peppered
with abandoned and rusted-out cars. Quite a
cool sight in the bright white snow!
wandering for a while and seeing a wide array of trail markers – white,
yellow and blue to name a few – I returned to the trailhead determined to learn
what each color represented. Like I said before, there was no map. However,
I now noticed a paper explaining the colors. "The beginner bike trail is blazed green
and is about two miles," it said. "The intermediate trail is blazed blue and is about four miles. The advanced trail options are blazed red and
adds about three miles. The trails are
loops that will bring you back to your starting point. The trail that connects Stillwell Woods to
Bethpage Park (about eight miles away) is also blazed blue. The hiking trail loop is blazed yellow and
the Greenbelt Trail is blazed white."
with that knowledge I tackled the yellow trail, a 4.8-mile loop that peaks at 383 feet, according to AllTrails.com. The trail skirts an open field sitting at the heart of the preserve, which on this day featured a man
cross-country skiing and a family flying a model airplane. The trail later strays from the field
and winds through hilly woods, while also paralleling the
Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, a 20-mile trail stretching from Massapequa to
Cold Spring Harbor. To me, this was the
highlight of Stillwell Woods. I liked
the yellow trail so much I hiked it a second time, taking a few
detours to scale hills and hike parts of the bike trails.
music of choice was The Neal Morse Band's two-disc progressive
rock concept album, The Similitude of a Dream. It's loosely based upon John Bunyan's 1678
Christian allegory, "The Pilgrim’s Progress," which is considered one of the
most important works of religious English literature. Drummer Mike Portnoy said the release is "THE ALBUM" of his career, which is quite a statement considering he played on Dream
Theater's Images and Words. That being said, I did enjoy a number of the songs, especially "The Man in the
I'd recommend checking out Stillwell Woods Preserve. There's so many trails that
you can visit several times and still see spots you hadn't seen
previously. Just make sure you pick the best trail for your needs.
Unless you’re a wanderer. If so, then wander away!