Stillwell Woods Preserve

Location: Syosset, NY 

Size: 270 acres 

Date of hike: Feb. 18, 2017

I've 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 emptyJust 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.

The 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!

After 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."

Armed 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.

My 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 WordsThat being said, I did enjoy a number of the songs, especially "The Man in the Iron Cage."

Overall, 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 wandererIf so, then wander away!   

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