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Pawling Nature Reserve

Discover, enjoy, spend the day!

Some of my most favorite hikes are during the spring months when everything is turning green, the birds sound so sweet after a silent winter and the peepers can be heard loud and clear. During this time, when snow is melting, vernal pools are formed all over the Hudson Valley. These seasonal water holes are full of frogs, salamanders and other slippery critters. Pawling Nature Reserve is teeming with these small, active pools and such a great place to hike with kids. There are a few trails to choose from and all of them are appropriate for any hiking level.

Down a long dirt road, past beautiful summer homes and large, glittering lakes is the Pawling Nature Reserve. A small parking lot and large wooden sign announce the trail head. The paths are well marked and there are maps of the reserve at the kiosk. We chose to start our hike on the Yellow Trail because it leads right to a small waterfall, that is always rushing during the spring months.

The reserve is full of streams, ponds, vernal pools and small waterfalls which make for a very pleasant hike. My daughter loves splashing in the shallow water during the warmer months, turning over rocks to search for crayfish. This wet environment also helps serve the amphibious inhabitants of the area, providing them with places to find mates and hatch their young.

The trails in the Pawling Nature Reserve are also interactive! Colorful, wooden signs are hung all along the trail with tidbits of information about the plants, animals and history of this area. It was fun to search for things along the hike that we had learned about; places that would serve as a good hiding spot for animals or identifying native plants and trees.

Another interactive feature along the hiking trail are the "guess what I am" cards. Hidden all along the trail are white cards that make a game of identifying trees. This hike is definitely a good one for families!

You can hear the vernal pools alive with life as you pass by, we stopped at a few to take a gander at the frogs, hopping in and out of our sight. If you are lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the Eastern Spotted Salamander! We love taking a break, listening to the chorus of croaks and watching my daughter splash around in the murky water.

The paths here are well maintained and one of our favorite features is all the wooden walkways and bridges. These are fun and beautiful, making for a very unique hike. My daughter absolutely loves these, referring to them as "billy goat bridges." No worries on getting lost as all the paths go in a circle, feel free to hike for as long or short as your family desires! We can easily spend 4 hours hiking here and it feels like 30 minutes!

This reserve is such a special area and part of a larger area that is protected and studied by the local environmental group, Friends of the Great Swamp or FROGS. These amazing local volunteers educate, study and protect wetland areas, mainly focusing on the Great Swamp watershed in Putnam County. I recently interviewed a board member of the FROGS and local photographer, Justin Goodhart:

Why is educating the public important to the Great Swamp?

"As people learn more about the environment, the flora and fauna, and their importance they are much more likely to care about it. The Great Swamp plays many important roles.  It as a habitat for threatened species, a flyway for migrating birds, but is also important to us in our everyday lives.  This time of year especially it is an important for floodwater control, working as a huge sponge as the snow melt and the spring rains arrive.  It purifies and clarifies drinking water for millions of New Yorkers, some through it’s feeding of the Croton Reservoir system, and others by recharging the aquifer for people’s wells."

How can someone get involved with FROGS?

"First I always direct people to our website ( and/or our Facebook page ( We hold lots of public events for the public to come and see and learn about the swamp and it’s inhabitants. For those that want to take an even more active role, we are always looking for volunteers to help out in any way they can, educational programs, wildlife counting surveys, water sample collection and a plethora of other opportunities."  

Tips for this visit:
  • Being a very wet area proper shoes are a must, I suggest muck boots or rain boots. There is a lot of mud and water even during the summer months.
  • There are no public bathrooms or porta-poties anywhere on or near this hike.
  • This is not a stroller friendly hike, baby-wearing is a must, though it is an appropriate hike for small children.
  • There are maps for the reserve at the kiosk, at the Main Entrance just past Quaker Lake. 
  • There is a small parking area at the trail head.

For more information visit Pawling Nature Reserve online.

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