Exploring the Natural Areas of Westchester

Westchester County’s environment is incredibly unique. We are located along the Hudson River to the west, the Long Island Sound and salt marsh habitat in the southeast, the forested ridges of the Hudson Highlands to the north, and are crisscrossed by a network of rivers and tributaries such as the Croton River, Saw Mill River, Bronx River, Hutchinson River, Kisco River, Mamaroneck River, and the Sprain Brook. Being situated in the Atlantic Coastal Plain among many hills and valleys has resulted in a diversity of habitats throughout Westchester, such as upland hardwood forests and lowland forest swamps. 

With all this beautiful nature out there and with summertime approaching, it’s time to get outside and explore! Here are some of my favorite natural areas in Westchester that showcase nature’s beauty and diversity. I invite you to check them out and see for yourself. Being among the trees may inspire you to bring back more nature to your yard, such as planting more native shrubs and creating a sanctuary for songbirds.  

Blue Mountain Reservation, picture by Amanda Bayley.

Blue Mountain Reservation 

Blue Mountain is the perfect place to just relax in the sun or go walking in the woods. There is something special that I feel about this place whenever I visit. It’s 1,500 acres of nature tucked into the northwest corner of Westchester with views to the Hudson River. I love the variety of habitat, such as walking streamside among the hemlocks along the Dickey Brook Trail or hiking through hardwood forest along the Ned’s Left Lung Trail with striking outcrops and boulders. Depending on your mood, you can casually stroll around the beautiful lake or take a hike and get up to higher ground along the Blue Mountain Summit Trail. parks.westchestergov.com/blue-mountain-reservation 

Cranberry Lake, pic by Amanda Bayley.

Cranberry Lake Preserve 

About 18,000 years ago, a glacier carved out Cranberry Lake and deposited the boulders and outcrops surrounding the lake. Fast forward to the early 1900s, and the preserve was the quarry location to supply stone for the Kensico Dam. In the 1960s, local residents in the Birchwood Swim Club would swim in the quarry pond. Today there are hawks, turtles, owls, dragonflies, salamanders, and many more taking up residence in the preserve around the lake and among the vernal pools, swamps, and hardwood forest. This is an essential, must-visit Westchester County Park, with such a rich diversity of life; 155 different bird species alone have been observed in the preserve as per ebird.org. parks.westchestergov.com/cranberry-lake 

Rockefeller State Park Preserve 

This is forest bathing central, with miles and miles of wide, easy-to-walk-on carriage roads winding along woodland streams and farm pastures. The Rockefeller family has donated over 1,700 acres of preserve land, along with the adjacent farmland and restored barns of the Stone Barns Center, a nonprofit farm that serves as a leading model for agricultural stewardship. Sometimes I come here and just zen out while walking under the tulip, oak, maple, and beech tree canopy or walking past the sheep grazing. The panoramic views of the Hudson River along the Upper and Lower Trails adjacent to Rockwood Hall will take your breath away. parks.ny.gov/parks/Rockefeller. 

All photos by Amanda Bayley. 

Amanda Bayley is the CEO & Co-Founder of Plan it Wild, a sustainable land management company that is bringing back native habitats to Westchester yards.  

More Nature. Now. www.PLANitWILD.com 

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About the Author: Amanda Bayley