The North Fork’s mature trees, meadows and mix of fresh and saltwater wetlands provide for some of the most scenic trails on Long Island.
The relatively flat land also means most walks will be easy to moderate in terms of difficulty and the region’s small size means you’ll never be too far from civilization.
But there is one danger that might be lurking on the trails: disease-carrying ticks.
Three species of ticks — the lone star tick, blacklegged (aka deer) tick and American dog tick — are found on the North Fork: according to Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.
Ticks are found everywhere but on sandy beaches in full sun.
“Ticks don’t do well in hot, dry sites,” Gilrein said. “But they are not just in tall grass, as some say.”
Lone stars have been spotted in all types of terrain, he said. Deer ticks prefer shade, but can be found in sunny, irrigated lawns, and dog ticks are most common in shrubby areas of older fields, though they have been spotted at other sites.
That being said, the Centers for Disease Control recommends walking in the center of a trail and applying repellents that contain between 20 and 30 percent DEET to exposed skin. Clothing should be treated with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.
Hikers should bathe within two hours of being outdoors and conduct a full-body tick check. Tumble-dry clothing on high heat to kill any stowaways.
When hiking, Gilrein also recommends wearing a tick gaiter, a spandex tube that covers the ankle between pants and footwear.
“Larval lone stars can get through many kinds of socks, but not this material,” he said.
Now that you’re protected against ticks, you’ll need to select a route.
Finding North Fork hiking maps can be somewhat difficult, so avid hiker Gail Evans of Aquebogue has plotted the routes herself. You can find them on her website, GailsTales.com.
“There were no books that had the trails of the North Fork,” Evans said. “That’s what prompted me to purchase a GPS.”
She can also offer sound advice for tackling the North Fork’s trails.
While you might think sneakers provide the most comfort, for example, Evans advises against them.
“Don’t wear sneakers that breathe really well because the ticks can go right through the fabric,” she cautioned. “Wear leather shoes; that’s best.”
If you’re looking to take a trek on the North Fork, any of the following locations, three of our favorites, will provide a great introduction to the terrain.
See you on the trails!
This preserve is natural and historic resource that encompasses Fort Corchaug, a Native American archaeological site. The easy trail cuts through the 51 acres of woodlands, with a loop that’s approximately a mile long. During your hike you might spot glimpses of the vineyards at nearby McCall Wines and the tidal wetlands of Downs Creek.
“It’s a very simple loop and impossible to get lost,” said Downs Farm environmental educator Missy Weiss.
It’s also one of the North Fork’s more popular trails, so you might spot another car during your trip, but parking shouldn’t be a problem.
There is no fee to park, but be aware that bathrooms at the welcome center are only open during educational programs.
Be on the lookout for lots of indigenous flora and fauna, like great horned owls, foxes and maybe even a salamander.
“It’s a good representation of a lot of the plants and animals you would typically find on eastern Long Island,” Weiss said.
SOUND VIEW DUNES PARK
Sound View Dunes in Peconic encompasses 57 acres of beach, dune, wetland and forest habitat.
The unique park offers the best of two spectacular worlds — lovely vistas of Long Island Sound as well as peeks of interdunal swales, which are freshwater wetlands located between dunes.
The park offers two main routes.
The beach trail offers a low-intensity, one-third of a mile walk to the Sound. At brisk pace, this walk should take no more than 10 minutes.
But we recommend the forest, or hidden lake, trail. This moderately challenging trail offers glimpses of freshwater habitat in addition to the Sound. It should take about 30 to 40 minutes to complete.
The park is open to the public year round from dawn until dusk. Leashed dogs are permitted but horseback riding is not.
The park was acquired by Southold Town and Suffolk County in 2008 using a mix of town, county, state and federal funding.
INLET POND PARK
Inlet Pond Park also offers freshwater views as well as access to Long Island Sound, where you can see Connecticut on the horizon.
At the entrance to the 55-acre preserve is the Red House, headquarters of the North Fork Audubon Society.
The hiking trails are easy to moderate. The outer perimeter loop is about 1.2 miles and, according to Evans, the southern loop near the Red House is just a half-mile long.
You’ll find the trails well-maintained and well-marked. There is also a wooden wall designed for birdwatching, for which the park is known.