Do you like to hike, but get tired of the crowds on the well-worn trails near the Hudson River? Try the other side: the stress-melting trails of the Great Swamp, where you are as likely to encounter wildlife or surprising natural features as you are other humans.
The 6,000-acre wetland lies in a 20-mile long valley at the eastern edge of the Hudson Highlands near the Connecticut border. From open views of shrub swamp on the Appalachian Trail, to forested hikes along babbling tributaries, to vistas of the glacially-carved Ice Pond basin, hikes offer a rewarding way to enjoy the Great Swamp in every season. Three of the hikes feature boardwalks. Though there are many hikes within the watershed of the Great Swamp, only a few offer hikers a view of the Swamp itself. Here are some of the more popular ones:
From north to south, here are seven hikes to enjoy:
1) Appalachian Trail, Pawling
Part of America’s longest and oldest trail crosses the Great Swamp just north of the village of Pawling. Follow Route 22 north to Native Landscapes on the left. Park at the pull-off just north of the parking lot. The trail is obvious from there. This is a relaxing, rambling boardwalk through a shrub swamp, with places to sit and enjoy the view. If you keep going into the forest on the other side, you could hike as long as you want for the day …or all the way to Maine.
2) Patterson Environmental Park, Patterson
Drive into Patterson on Route 311. Turn south onto Front Street and follow it to the Patterson Recreation Center. The half-mile dirt access road to Patterson Environmental Park will be on the left. This is an easy and fairly level hike, but use extreme caution; the dirt road crosses ungated, unsignaled, active railroad tracks. There is a network of short, unmarked trails to the right of the access road, and the road itself takes you to the edge of the Great Swamp where beaver have recently taken up residence. On your way, look for the remains of an old marble quarry which provided the foundations for many Patterson buildings in the 1800s.
3) Michael Ciaiola Conservation Area, Patterson
From Route 22, turn east on Haviland Hollow Road, which is just a little north of Route 164, and drive about 2.5 miles. Parking area is on the left, just before a small bridge. This is Putnam County’s largest conservation area with over 800 acres. There are miles of hiking trails, and a couple of them follow a tributary stream of the Great Swamp. One of the most popular spots is the stream’s waterfall and gorge. You can reach the area by following the White (easy) trail or the Red (slightly harder and more elevated) trail from the lower parking lot. All the trails are clearly marked. If you want to make a day of it, you can hike all the way up to Stagecoach Road on steeper inclines and the Blue trail. Lovely vistas.
4) Laurel Ledges/Turtle Pond, Patterson
From Route 22, turn west on Route 164, and then north on Cornwall Hill Road. In about .4 mile, there is a pull-off on the right, across from Devon Road. Owned and stewarded by Putnam County Land Trust (PCLT), this hike has a boardwalk along the edge of Turtle Pond, which is part of the Muddy Brook drainage flowing into the Great Swamp. After crossing the boardwalk, the trail heads uphill and gives you a nice view of Turtle Pond and the surrounding hills. There is also a rock shelter that historians tell us was used by the Native Americans.
5) Clough Preserve, Patterson
From Route 22, turn west on Route 312 and follow it to the intersection of Route 312 and Farm-to-Market Road. Turn right, heading north on Farm-to-Market Road, for about ¾ of a mile. Shortly after Brewster High School on the right, there is a sign for the preserve on the left. The trail is a gentle walk along a marsh filled with birds, frogs, and peaceful vistas. See if you can spot signs of otter and beaver activity, including an active lodge. The trail goes through different habitats including a power line cut that has some great wildflowers, and a hemlock forest, and then out to a view of Ice Pond and the surrounding hills.
6) Ice Pond Preserve, Patterson
From Route 22, turn west on Route 312 and follow it to the intersection of Route 312 and Ice Pond Road. Turn right, heading north on Ice Pond, for about 1.3 miles. The parking area is on the right. Putnam County Land Trust owns and manages a network of trails in this area, most with enough slope to discourage the faint of heart. But the trail that leads up to the “knob” has its rewards; hikers sometimes picnic and stay for hours. One of the lower trails ends at an active MetroNorth railroad bed, where a sign clearly states that it is illegal to cross the tracks, but you get an eye-level view of Ice Pond across toward Clough Preserve.
7) Green Chimneys Beach, Brewster
From Route 22, turn east onto Doansburg Road. The parking area is directly across from the Green Chimneys main campus, and is only available to the public Monday through Friday after 5:00 p.m. and on weekends. Other times it is strictly off limits, as school is in session. This is by far the shortest hike listed. From the beach, you can walk across a boardwalk over the Great Swamp and into a lovely wet meadow with grasses and wildflowers, and a lone “sentinal” tree. This is a favorite spot for artists.
There are many other hikes in the Great Swamp watershed. See the PCLT website for the open trails on their properties. See the New York State DEC website for directions to and trail maps of the Cranberry Mountain Wildlife Management Area and the Great Swamp WMA, both in Patterson. Pawling Nature Reserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy, has lovely hikes, and one offers a vista of the Harlem Valley; you can find a map and directions on line.
Friends of the Great Swamp (FrOGS), the non-profit organization that works to preserve and protect the watershed, requests that hikers take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints. The group recommends that you bring bug spray, a first aid kit, water, and wear protection from ticks and poison ivy to enjoy a hiking adventure in the Great Swamp.