The Walking Dunes

Imagine sand like a slow motion tsunami covering whole forests and wetlands. Instead of protecting land, dunes moving inland at about 3 1/2 feet a year. At places reaching 80 feet high.

Welcome to The Walking Dunes in Hither Hills State Park in Montauk, NY.

Northwest winds for over 100 years or more have been blowing sand from nearby headlands to the shore and causing the dunes to “walk” across the land. The Walking Dune Sign and PamphletsStart of The Walking Dunes trailrunning up to dune from forest path

A 3/4 mile trail leads you in a loop around the northernmost Walking Dune. A guide is available at the start of the trail at the end of Napeague Harbor Road. We followed the trail markers along a path lined with trees and shrubs. I warned my children to keep to the trail and not touch any plants or – as usual – seek sticks as this area is known to have poison ivy.

And then Luce and Theo saw a gap and behind a hill of sand. The pamphlet warns that children will want to run up the sand dune but that we should continue following the trail. But…they were off before I could stop them.

Bay and The Walking DunesIn distance of top of a Walking Dune

Running down U of The Walking Dune

The wind had carved a distinct U shape bowl. Arms of sand extending to the sides. No vegetation able to hold onto the sand in the middle of the U of this parabolic dune.

I finally managed to get them to rejoin me on the marked trail. I explained to them that the few dune plants appearing here needed to be protected from trampling feet.

Back on the trail, on our left were trees being engulfed by sand. On our right was a pine and oak forest. Tree covered in sand in Walking DunePath between forest and Walking Dune Montauk

Slowly the sand was moving across here. Some day these trees will be hidden below the sand.

Sand from Walking Dune taking over forestThe Walking Dunes taking over wetland

As well as the freshwater wetlands by the side of the forest. Sweet pepperbush and marsh grasses and sand slowly mixing together. Soon this wetland will be gone as the dune marches on.

Treetops sticking out of The Walking Dunes

These are not bushes (above). They are the tops of trees being buried alive. Some perhaps originally as high as 30 feet. Their roots digging down and down till they reach water.

The Walking Dunes and forest

And then the trail led us up the sand dune.

Sand Forest Bay at The Walking Dunes

To the west was Napeague Harbor where I had parked our car.

contrast walking dune and forest

To the east and south was a towering sand dune walking across a forest.

Silhouettes on top of The Walking Dunes

American beachgrass, fond of shifting sands and high winds, has found roots on the top of these dunes.

American Beach Grass and U shaped Walking Dune

Forest being covered by The Walking Dunes

At the peak of The Walking Dune I look at the forest below. Someday it will be under sand too.

Sandcastle on The Walking Dunes, Montauk

But while I ponder at the force of nature, my children run in the sand. Even stop to make a sandcastle with a moat.

playing n The Walking Dunes Montauk

And then they run down the center of the U where winds blow during tempestuous weather.

Panoramic View The Walking Dunes

And as the dunes take slow but giant steps to the southeast on their walk, behind them trees begin to reappear as the sand shifts forward.

Phantom Forest Montauk

This is part of the “Phantom Forest.” Dead trees rising as the sand departs. Once there was a forest thriving here.

And just past these silent witnesses the wind has left a depression where groundwater can escape. Wilds orchids, carniverous sundews and cranberry plants grow in this wetland called “The Cranberry Bog.”

buds on tree in sand

Path leaving The Walking Dunes

And then we follow the path to the beach on Napeague Harbor. The sand a deep orange from iron-rich sediment. And behind us The Walking Dunes continue their slow journey pushed onwards  by the wind.

Napeague Harbor Beach

This is a Google Earth image of The Walking Dunes showing the northern dune. On the left is Napeague Harbor. (The image is courtesy of Google – no commercial rights – for the copyright conditions read here.)

Google Earth The Walking Dunes, Napeauge Harbor
Copyright Google Earth

The Walking Dunes, Montauk, Long Island, NY

The Walking Dunes are located in Hither Hills State Park next to Napeague Harbor on the north shore of  South Fork in The Hamptons.

Turn off Montauk Highway onto Napeague Harbor Road. Park on the shoulder at the end of the road. The beach is on the left and the trail starts on the right. Make sure children keep to the path following the trail markers as there is poison ivy as well as ticks in the forest area.  The Walking Dunes, considered one of the most fascinating dune areas in the world, is a great outdoors nature walk with kids in The Hamptons anytime of the year.

Other great hikes and cool places near Montauk

If you’re in the Montauk area I have some great suggestions for other walks and hikes which I’ve written about in these following posts.

If you’re into paranormal stories and conspiracies then explore Camp Hero.  For more war bunkers and if you want a walk with a coastal view and history then head to Shadmoor State Park where Theodore Roosevelt was quarantined with his Rough Riders.  In the winter watch the wildlife up close at this Seal Haul Out Site. And don’t miss out on the view and museum at the Montauk Lighthouse.

I can’t wait to go back some day soon to find out how far the dunes have walked since my last visit.

30 thoughts on “The Walking Dunes”

  1. Thank you for posting these great photos. The inclusion of the google earth picture helped provide insight.

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  3. Wow! What an extraordinary place! Imagine, your kids may well return here with their kids and they’ll be able to show the pictures from this post about how it has changed since. That is pretty mindblowing.

  4. Gorgeous photos as usual and what a fascinating place! Felt sorry for the poor dead trees!

    Would love to go visit one day

  5. Ting at My Travel Monkey

    What a wonderful place to visit and explore. I’ve never hear of Walking Dunes and the landscape is phenomenal. Your photos are stunning. #CountryKids

    1. I hadn’t heard about it until recently and I go on walks with the kids all over The Hamptons every week!

  6. Oh my word Kriss what an incredible post. Not quite sure where to start! It sounds like the most amazing place to visit and the photos are just amazing. I always sigh when I see your daughter looking beautifully into the camera, POD always runs off! Awesome post 🙂

  7. Whoa. An interesting landscape! And always changing right so if you visited today its going to be a different one tomorrow. Nature is really awesome. Thanks for sharing your trip. I dont know that this area exist adn now I do and its the most fascinating thing I learned today =) #countrykids

  8. Mother nature is amazing and I’ve never heard of the walking dunes before – how wonderfully interesting. I also find it a little sad how the forest and trees are being buried as it sweeps through though. Fantastic photos as usual and a great adventure for the children, thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

    1. I only recently discovered about them Fiona despite them being such an amazing place to take kids to see nature at work.

  9. Amazing photos –
    I love sand dunes on days when you still need a jumper –
    so reminds me of my childhood!
    Emma 🙂

  10. The buried trees are impressive. Fantastic scenery and photos as always and it looks like you had the entire place to yourself!

    1. Thanks Christine. It was late on Monday afternoon which meant we did not see one other person there although we spent almost two hours exploring!

  11. What an amazing place. It reminds me on Braunton Sands in north Devon, but on a bigger scale, Very impressive to see the leading edge. Love your description of it being in slow motion. I’m not sure I’d be able to stop my children running up the dunes either. #CountryKids

    1. Apparently the trees keep surviving for ages as their roots just dig deep for groundwater. It really was an interesting place to see nature at work

  12. This place is amazing and judging from the google image, it’s huge!!! I’ve never heard of Walking Dunes before. What an interesting place to visit.

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