Exploring Long Island’s Long-Distance Trail

Photo: CaptJayRuffins

Pick a worthwhile day-trip section to soak in the ever-changing views of the 125-mile Paumanok Path.

Long Island is home to a unique and, at times, dramatic landscape. In the famed words of its hometown comic legend Rodney Dangerfield, it gets no respect. The best way to appreciate and absorb all that this diverse environment offers (but rarely gets credit for), is traveling by foot. Fortunately, Long Island is home to a fascinating (and also ever-overlooked) long-distance trail. Called the Paumanok Path, the relatively new foot trail serpentines 125 miles across the eastern half of the island, beginning at Rocky Point and traveling east to both the trail and island’s end at Montauk Point State Park.

The trail rolls through the pine barrens at the island’s interior. It offers hikers a view to the geologic past with features that range from erratic rocks to kettle ponds. And then there’s the views as the trail traces Long Island’s bays and the Atlantic Ocean, opening up memorable vistas before its abrupt finale at the state’s most iconic lighthouse in Montauk.

Paumanok Path is inspired by the 50-mile daily walks of Stephen Talkhouse, a 19th-century Montaukett Native American who traveled between Sag Harbor and Montauk. The term Paumanok itself is a generational translation of a Native American name for the whole of Long Island. A hiker soaking in the ever-changing views of the Paumanok Path is passing through the traditional homelands of some of the island’s Indigineous people, namely the Setalcott, Unkechaug, Corchaug, Shinnecock, and Montaukett.

Similar to the famed Appalachian Trail, the Paumanok Path (officially completed in 2016) follows white blazes, along with its own blue placards to mark major intersections. For thru-hiking fans, however, few designated campsites yet exist on the Paumanok Path, though there are many campgrounds near the trail (requiring some logistics for a multi-day haul of the trail’s full distance). While piecemealing the camp-stops shouldn’t deter those seeking the ultimate Long Island hiking trip, most travelers won’t consider the entire 125-mile trail. Rather, one of the following top day-trip sections along the route (from west to east) will be the way to explore and experience the best of Long Island’s Paumanok Path.

Recommended Routes

Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest

The western terminus of the Paumanok Path begins at the northwest corner of Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest. The Paumanok travels close to 6 miles through Rocky Point before exiting this state forest trail network at Whiskey Road. Here the trail starts along state Highway 25A and enters the pine forest landscape at the core of Long Island. It rolls over hilly terrain, and dips into kettle holes left by the last glacial age. A summer hike through Rocky Point will include many wild plants including ferns, sheep laurel, and blueberries.

Manorville Hills County Park

At Manorville Hills and Otis Pike Preserve, the Paumanok Path climbs across the Ronkonkoma Moraine, where the trail reaches its highest points nearing 300 feet above sea level. The lands of Manorville County Park and Otis Pike Preserve also provide the largest roadless area remaining on Long Island. The Manorville Hills County Park trailhead is located off NY-111, halfway between Interstate 495 and NY-27. Hikers can make a 7-mile loop through the county park following the Paumanok then the park’s orange-blazed trail, or continue on the Paumanok into Otis Pike Preserve for another 2.5 miles out.

Hither Hills State Park

East of Napeague, the Paumanok Path travels through the unique “Walking Dunes” of Long Island’s South Fork. After passing these (slowly) moving U-shaped sand mounds, the trail traverses bluffs with stretching views of the Napeague Bay. Hither Hills State Park makes the best place to form a loop through this section of the Paumanok. To do so, begin at the large parking lot off Hither Hills West Overlook on NY-27. Head west on Petticoat Hill and Elisha’s Valley trails to connect to the Paumanok. Turn east to continue on the Paumanok through Hither Hills. Or, detour west for a loop around the Walking Dunes. Either way you loop, you’ll reach Napeague Bay and its lapping waters on cobbly beaches to cool off (with a high likelihood that you’ll have it yourself).

Montauk Point State Park

The Paumanok finds its eastern terminus in breath-taking fashion, ending at Montauk Point. If you’d like to reach the lighthouse by foot, park on the outskirts of Camp Hero on NY-27. From there, take the Oyster Pond Overlook Trail to connect to the Paumanok Path. Or, park at the Montauk Point State Park lot at the lighthouse and make a loop around Montauk Point. The Paumanok Path travels 3.5 miles from the western end through Montauk Point State Park and Camp Hero. It begins in woods and ponds before opening up to stunning views above the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and ends at the foot of the storied Montauk Point Lighthouse.

More Info

Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest: dec.ny.gov

Long Island Pine Barrens Society: pinebarrens.org

Hither Hills State Park: parks.ny.gov

Montauk Point State Park: parks.ny.gov

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.