Lets be honest, a Saturday afternoon at any Hamptons public beach in July is not the most natural experience. It's hard to relax to the sound of rolling waves and soft sand when a thousand other people are screaming, running, and splashing around you. A walk past the jetties down to Georgica Pond may restore your sense of place in nature, but as soon as you return to your umbrella and towel, the beach celebrations continue.
If the beach just isn't for you, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy nature while visiting the area. Walking and biking trails are aplenty throughout the town, all the way out to the Montauk Lighthouse.
The hidden gem of East Hampton Village is the Nature Trail on David's Lane. This little pocket of woods and wetlands lies in the middle of town, just a few minutes walk from Main Street. It holds a small stream with a trail that follows it edge. It's shaded, cool woods have wooden footbridges that take the trail over marshes, streams, and frog ponds, all within the 24-acre preserve. Ducks, geese, deer, turkey, and frogs all inhabit the land. Visitors are welcome to walk on the trails. However, don't bring a dog or a bike. Picnics are also frowned upon. Visitors can feed the ducks, but are encouraged to read what is okay to feed them on the kiosk at the entrance.
For the more adventurous, there is the Paumonok Path and its many associated woodland routes. The trail, which runs from Rocky Point on Northern Long Island, to the Montauk Lighthouse is 125 miles and snakes through the towns of central Long Island and down onto the South Fork, connecting with other trails along the way. The trail is well marked, and an abundance of wildlife can be seen. There are many ways to access the trail, but the easiest is at the Montauk Lighthouse. There is a $8 fee for parking at the point, but hikers can quickly hit the trail by walking down the cement stairway along the snack bar, and traveling west along the beach until the trailhead. Another trailhead a little closer to East Hampton Village is on the corner of Old Accabonac Road and Stony Hill Road in the Springs Area of East Hampton. The path sneaks through many popular state parks on the South Fork, including Hither Hills State Park, Napeague State Park, and Camp Hero State Park.
Trail maps are available from the East Hampton and Southampton trails societies. Both organizations offer guided hikes, as do the Group for the East End, the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, and the South Fork Natural History Society.
Hither Hills in Montauk is one the most diverse state parks in all of Long Island. It offers sandy beaches for bathing and surf fishing, playing fields, walking dunes, hiking, biking, and even cross-country ski trails for the winter. A 168-site, by reservation campground is on the ocean, so visitors can have easy access to the beach, or the deep woods of Hither Hills. An expansive view of Gardiner's Bay and East Hampton can be seen on a clear day from the Hither Hills west overlook, which is directly off the Montauk Highway.
Napeague State Park lies on a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic and Gardiner's Bay. This 1,400-acre entirely undeveloped park offers a variety of hiking trails through its marshes and grasslands. Hikers can access the Paumonok Path by heading north on Napeague Harbor Road from Montauk Highway. The trail will cross the road after a railroad crossing.
One of the most historical state parks on the South Fork is Camp Hero State Park. Along with its well-known surfcasting, surfing, hiking, biking, picnic sites, and stunning views, the park boasts a fascinating military history. As hikers walk through the woods and marshes they may come across remnants of past military installations, which were used as part of an Air Force base from Word War II until 1982. The park is also a favorite for birdwatchers. To get there, visitors can pay to park there or at Montauk Point. It is also relatively easily accessible by bike from downtown Montauk. Nearby is Montauk County Park, with its own set of trails and guided horseback rides.