Montauk is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Long Island. Three hours by train away from Manhattan ($30.50 Peak, $22.50 Off Peak, both one way), Montauk is home to numerous walking trails that let you get fully immersed in nature. While the trails themselves may not be too long, they’re pretty easy to pack into a long day, or to add onto a beach excursion. Some of the best trails are a part of Montauk Point State Park, located at the very tip of Long Island. Next time you visit Montauk, try one of these four trails in Montauk Point State Park.
Seal Haul Out Trail
One of the shortest trails on this list, the Seal Haul Out Trail is more of a leisurely stroll for a mile or two than an actual hike. There are few, if any, slopes, so you won’t be huffing and puffing on your way. So what’s special about this short walk to the seaside? Well, it’s right in the name: seals! At the end of your trek, you’ll reach a point where you can see seals lounging on rocks near the shore. Wild seals, not the captive ones you may have become accustomed to in zoos or marine life parks.
Seals normally migrate to Long Island between November and April, so you’d be well advised to plan your trip during that time. Odds are you’ll see quite a lot of seals, not just one or two. It’s a great chance to observe wild animals so close to home, and it’s also a good educational experience to see how these animals act and behave without a glass wall or fence separating them from human watchers. One point of advice, though: you’re obviously not allowed to approach the seals, so you should pack a pair of binoculars if you really want to see the seals up close.
Fun Fact: The term ‘haul out’ is used to describe when seals literally ‘haul’ themselves out of the water to the shore or a rock, hence the name of the trail.
This trail is a bit longer than the Seal Haul Out, but not by much. It’s just under three miles long, or 4.7km to be exact. It’s not very difficult to navigate and the views are something special. It cuts through a lot of woods, which are pretty to look at themselves, but the highlight comes at the end of the trail. You’ll come out of the trail onto a beautiful shoreline with a wide ledge that stretches across the sea and looks out onto a rocky little beach. Weather permitting, it’s quite a spectacular sight. One other notable thing about this particular trail is that it’s also accessible for pets. So if your dog likes long walks, take him or her out to the Point Woods Loop. It’ll be a great way for you and your hound to get some exercise, and to let loose in the nature of Long Island.
If the Point Woods Loop was a trail located more inland, the Montauk Point Beach is the opposite. It runs parallel to the shoreline, so you’ll be able to see the ocean for the most part of your trip. It’s not a long trail; in fact, at around 1.5 miles, it’s even shorter than the Seal Haul Out Trail, and that’s saying something. But the scenic ocean views make up for the short distance, and it’s an easy trail for hikers of all levels. So if you’re looking for a challenge that’s only a bit harder than your weekly run to the grocery store, or if you just want a leisurely seaside stroll minus the crowds at Rockaway or Brighton, this is the place for you. This trail is also pet-friendly, so bring your dog along if you want. It’ll be a good experience for both of you. Plus, it’s also a great photo opportunity.
Montauk Point Lighthouse
Okay, this one isn’t really a trail, more of a half-mile long walk to the lighthouse, but the lighthouse does provide a splendid sight. You start inland right by Route 27, and start your walk towards the shore. Just follow the trail all the way to the lighthouse, you can’t miss it. The lighthouse has a bit of history behind it: built in 1796, it was the first ever lighthouse to be built in the state of New York, and was commissioned by George Washington himself. So if you consider yourself to be a history buff, a visit to this notable relic might be right up your alley. Of course, no lighthouse would be complete without oceanic views, and this one is no exception. You might also see some beautiful wildflowers if you go at the right time of year.
So there you have it! A series of short walks that don’t really pose big challenges for the experienced hiker, but are accessible and enjoyable to people of all ages. One might think this isn’t worth a three-hour train ride from Penn Station, but if you want to be by the seaside, surround yourself with nature, and maybe test your legs while doing so, Montauk Point State Park is the place for you. It’s a great way to get away from the sights and sounds of the city and let yourself relax not too far from home.
Of course, Montauk also has a lot to offer besides the state park. It’s one of the most popular surfing destinations on the East Coast, and it’s also home to some beautiful beaches that give off a different vibe from your typical New York City beaches. Don’t forget to sample some fresh seafood while you’re there! All in all, Montauk is a great place for a day trip in general, so you can plan your nature walks around whatever else you’d like to enjoy at the tip of Long Island.
Header photo by Tim Hettler