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Background you can feel free to skip:  The Nature Conservancy’s Nellie Hill Preserve page proclaims:  “From atop the rocky summit of a 120-foot calcareous cliff, enjoy gorgeous views of pocket grasslands that resemble savannas, sloping meadows, a rich oak woodland and a limestone woodland.”

120-foot cliff?  Rocky summit?  Gorgeous views?  Pocket grasslands, even though I don’t really know what those are?  Dude!  Sign me up!  I couldn’t wait to check this place out, and I couldn’t believe that I’d never talked to anyone who had visited this insanely awesome-sounding preserve.

Even the picture on the Nellie Hill Preserve homepage looked like something that couldn’t possibly be sitting right outside of Dover Plains, NY:

There should be gazelles in that picture, right?

I dragged my entire family out to Nellie Hill on a weekday summer evening.  “It’s a short hike with big fat cliffs and grasslands and gazelles – you’re going to love it!” I promised.

While Nellie Hill Preserve is a beautiful natural space that contributes to making the Hudson Valley a better place to live (including being a famous birding destination), the reality of the hiking situation there is not quite as glamorous as advertised.  There are no 120-foot cliffs (or any cliffs) visible from anywhere on the trail, there is no rocky summit, and the best view is a partially obstructed overlook of a nearby shopping center.

After I got home, confused about the grasslands and gazelles that we never saw, I took another look at the Nellie Hill homepage and that picture of the endless savanna.  In the bottom-right corner of the picture was a little orange circle that I hadn’t noticed before.  When I hovered over it, the text read: “Sandplain grassland at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts…”

So that makes a lot more sense about why we didn’t see that grassland, seeing as how it’s at Martha’s Vineyard, and not, say, at Nellie Hill.  Seems like the homepage for Nellie Hill would be an appropriate place for pictures of Nellie Hill, and not so much for pictures of Martha’s Vineyard, but that’s what I get for assuming.  (UPDATE 5/16/2015: The homepage now features a picture of Nellie Hill, rather than Martha’s Vineyard, which should help people temper their gazelle-related expectations.)

Which isn’t to say that Nellie Hill doesn’t have its charms.  There are some nice spots along the trail.

For the most part, you’ll be walking on short grass, rather than a well-worn trail, and most of the scenery is of dense deciduous forest.

Once you set your expectations appropriately, this can be a very pleasant place to visit.  And if you’re up for a slightly longer drive, Martha’s Vineyard looks like a cool spot, too.

Trail Guide

Bonus unsolicited advice: Don't depend on having cell service in the woods - it can be spotty out there! Download this trail guide to your phone before you head out. (It's easy to do on iPhone and Android.) May your connection to nature be strong, even when your connection to the internet is weak.

1.  From the shoulder of Route 22 (see directions to the trailhead below), follow signs to the well-marked entrance to Nellie Hill Preserve.  You can also check out the nice trail map available from the Dutchess County Dept of Planning and Development.

2.  Head uphill, through the woods to a wooden gate that you’ll walk around.  A welcome kiosk greets you a little further up the hill.

3.  We’ll be following the red loop trail around the preserve.  The prettiest spot on this hike is directly to the left of the kiosk, where there are some nice meadows and small views.  I like to save the best for last, so let’s turn right and begin venturing around the loop.

4.  That’s pretty much all there is to it – just follow the well-marked Red Trail around the preserve, ignoring the opportunities to take the white shortcut trails (we’re here for a stroll, after all.)

We hit a few obstacles along the way, on account of some recent storms, but nothing major.  Just keep looking for those little red markers and you’ll be all set.

5.  Besides the White Trail shortcuts, the only other option that you have to venture off the Red Trail happens about 2/3 of the way around the loop, when the Blue Trail departs to your right to visit a pond.  On our visit, the Blue Trail looked like it hadn’t been used in a while, and it was impassable with a baby on my back, due to the brush and blowdowns across the trail.  If it looks inviting to you, head on down there and do some explorin’.  The rest of us will keep heading around the Red Trail loop.

6.  Just after the Blue Trail junction, you’ll emerge into the nicest stretch of trail in the preserve.  It’s not Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s still a nice place to take in the scenery.

7.  Arrive back at the welcome kiosk and turn right to retrace your steps to your car.  Not a bad way to spend an hour, right?


Directions to the trailhead: 

From Poughkeepsie, take Route 55 East to Route 82 North.  Follow Route 82 for 9 miles, then turn right onto Route 343.  When 343 dead-ends into Route 22, take a right to head south.  The pulloff for Nellie Hill Preserve is on your left in about one mile, immediately after you pass Cemetery Road (also marked as S. Nellie Hill Road) on your left.  The preserve is marked with a large wooden sign.

Pull off here and let the little adventure begin.

You can also get directions by checking out the Nellie Hill entry on the Google map.

Sorta nearby address for your GPS:  The intersection of Cemetery Road and Route 22 in Dover Plains, NY is just a few feet north of the Route 22 trailhead.  My old-ish Garmin Nuvi lets me put in an intersection as a destination, so hopefully your GPS does, too.

GPS coordinates of parking area: 41.72917, -73.57979 (Clicking will open in Google Maps or the Apple Maps app, depending on your browser/device.)

Resources & Interactives

Super-cool Google Earth flyover of hike route:

Google Terrain Map of hike route:

Related resources:  If you’re looking for actual facts and/or useful information, visit these resources:

  • The official (if somewhat prone to hyperbole) Nature Conservancy Nellie Hill page
  • A nice online trail map from the Town of Dover (scroll down in the PDF for Nellie Hill)

More Nellie Hill Preserve pictures from the hike’s Picasa album:

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