5 Great Places to Walk Your Dog in Orange County, NY (Plus Dog Walking Etiquette)

Many pet parents took advantage of a recent sunny day to walk with their dogs along the Orange County Heritage Trail. An elderly poodle enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature from the comfort of his stroller, an exuberant golden retriever begged to say hello to everyone, and in typical hound fashion, a beagle trotted along with his nose to the ground, tail held high.

For those of us lucky enough to share our lives with dogs there’s nothing quite like exploring the great outdoors with our best buddies. Walking is a healthy physical activity that helps to preserve your dog’s muscle tone and joint movement. Additionally, going for longer walks to new destinations provides mental stimulation for dogs.

Just as with any exercise program if your dog is new to taking longer walks start slowly with shorter excursions, resting as necessary along the way. Experts at the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend building up your dog’s stamina with one or more 15-minute periods of brisk walking followed by cool-down time and recovery. Professional dog walkers can play an important role in keeping dogs fit and healthy by offering daily walks. Some like The Traveling Leash also offer hikes, which help improve a dog’s cardiovascular health and muscle mass. These hikes also help build endurance so that dogs will be in tip-top shape to enjoy longer adventures with their families.

It’s important to have your dog on a flea and tick preventative before heading out on nature trails. And be sure to always carry along fresh water for your pup. Luckily, pet parents don’t have to travel far to find great places to walk their dogs in Orange County. Here are just a few of our favorites:

1. Great Swamp Boardwalk Trail in Stewart State Forest

Stewart State Forest is an outdoor jewel in Orange County located west of Stewart International Airport. The park consists of about 6,700 acres and is a mix of wetlands, fields, and forests. It includes 18 miles of gravel roads and more than 22 miles of major trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, dog training and trials, snowmobiling, bird watching, and fishing. Stewart State Forest is open year-round except during big game hunting season from early October to mid-December.  Forty-two species of mammals including deer, turkey, pheasant, grouse, rabbit, fox, and squirrel call the state park home. More than 60 species of birds have been observed in the park.

Out on the trail: From the Ridge Road Parking lot facing Route 17 K, strike off to the right along Maple Avenue. Depending on the season you might be lucky enough to spot Great blue heron perched on clumps of grass watching for fish in the swamplands on your right. The road will take you uphill through trees before you arrive at the Great Swamp Boardwalk sign. Follow the trail to the right along a gravel path over a stream, through trees, and pass between tall grasses before heading back into the woods. Soon you’ll pass an information kiosk before stepping onto the first of two boardwalks. In the spring and summer, be on the lookout for turtles hanging out on logs in the swamp on both sides of the boardwalks. After leaving the great swamp, you’ll be heading back into the woods and will soon come to an intersection of trails. You’ll take a right here heading back to the Ridge Road Parking area where you started. This trail can get a little muddy in sections after heavy rainfall but there’s always a workaround.

Length of walk: 4.77 miles

Dog Policy: Dogs must be leashed and under control.

Parking: Ridge Road Parking Lot off of Route 17 K, Montgomery

2. Upper Reservoir Loop Trail in Black Rock Forest

Black Rock Forest is a 3,920-acre forest and biological field station with 26 miles of trails and 17 miles of forest roads that are open to the public year-round. The forest is maintained by a nonprofit organization with the mission of advancing scientific understanding of the natural world through research, education, and conservation programs.

The waterways and ponds in Black Rock Forest attract beaver, mink, and muskrat while the grey squirrel, raccoon, opossum, and flying squirrel live in the trees. Other animals that live in the forest include white-tailed deer, black bear, red and gray fox, bobcat, and fisher.

Out on the Trail: From the main parking lot off of Reservoir Road pass the entrance kiosk and head out onto Sybil’s Path. This is a narrow gravel path with a rocky drop-off to the right. At the second bench stop and take in the amazing view of Schunnemunk Mountain on the left and Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains away in the distance. From here the path continues uphill ending at another information kiosk. Here, you make a right and cross over Mailley’s Mill Bridge and then walk over a second wooden bridge. You’ll soon arrive at a trail intersection and stay left following the Resevoir Trail marked with blue blazes. The stream will be on your left as you follow the trail through the trees. Eventually, you will arrive at a tree with three blue blazes in the shape of an upside-down triangle. This is where the blue trail ends. You’ll make a left here and step over rocks to cross the stream and head up onto the Reservoir Road. Make a right here and within minutes make a left back into the woods following teal markers. You will now see the reservoir on your right. Continue following this trail. When you reach the Educator’s Path Upper Reservoir sign, stay to the right. You will now be following burnt orange blazes. Watch out for beavers in the water along this stretch of trail. You’ll spot a large beaver dam and lots of evidence that these critters have been busy cutting down trees. The trail takes you onto rocks offering a terrific view out over the water before passing between pine trees and over the Rusty Wagon Bridge. Continue through the woods until you arrive at Old West Point Road and make a right. You’ll soon pass log benches alongside the reservoir. Pass the benches and make a right onto Reservoir Road back to Sybil’s Path and the parking lot.

Length of walk: 2.84 miles

Dog Policy: Dogs need to be kept on a leash and under control at all times. Owners are asked to pick up after their dogs as poop leads to unsanitary conditions and can contaminate streams and water systems.

Parking: Black Rock Forest Public Parking Lot, 70 Reservoir Road, Cornwall, NY. There’s a $5 daily parking fee per car and the automated pay station in the lot accepts cash and credit cards.

3. Nature Trail in Winding Hills Park

Located in Montgomery, this park has a total of 508 wooded acres including the 40-acre Diamond Lake. There are approximately 10 miles of interconnecting trails in Winding Hills Park that are used by both hikers and equestrians. In addition to hiking, the park offers seasonal campsites, fishing, boating, a playground, horseshoe pits, a volleyball court, a picnic shelter, benches, and picnic tables. If conditions permit in the winter, the park offers ice skating, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

Out on the trail: From the Ranger Station parking lot head towards the information kiosk facing the lake. Here you’ll be following the signs for the Nature Trail marked with orange blazes.  This trail takes you along a gravel road that runs beside Diamond Lake. After passing the lake, you’ll make a left into the woods. The trail passes between stone walls and over a stream before swinging to the right and heading uphill. At the top follow an arrow pointing to the left. This takes you through the woods and along a ridge overlooking the lake. Eventually, the path drops back down and runs alongside the water before coming out onto a grassy embankment offering a gorgeous view over the water. From here you cross a wooden footbridge before heading back into the woods and hugging the lake to your left. The trail eventually drops you out onto the road near the boathouse. You’ll walk past the boathouse and follow the road to a T-junction. Here you’ll make a left following the signs for the Rangers Station and back to the parking lot where you started.

Length of walk: 2 miles

Dog Policy: Dogs must be leashed at all times. Owners are asked to clean up after their dogs.  

Parking: Route 17 K, Montgomery. Follow signs for the Rangers Station Parking Lot.


4. Orange County Heritage Trail – Chester Depot Entrance

The Orange County Heritage Trail is a 10-foot-wide rails-to-trails pathway that was formerly the Erie Railroad main line. Stretching for 19.5 miles it features sections of both asphalt and limestone surface. The trail stretches from Middletown to Harriman and meanders through the towns of Middletown Goshen, Chester, Monroe, and Harriman. Along the way, it passes by farmland, wooded areas, a historic cemetery, a bird and wildlife sanctuary, and many historic landmarks. There are numerous smaller access points to the trail in addition to the three main parking lots in Goshen, Monroe, and Chester.

Out on the Trail: On September 23, 1841, the first Erie passenger train made its scheduled stop at the Chester Depot. The last train pulled out of the Chester train station in 1983. Today, walkers who enter the Heritage Trail at the Chester Depot can read about the history of the Erie Railroad on information boards posted along the walkway. As you step off of the station platform head right along the trail and you’ll soon see the famous black dirt farmland on your left. Depending on the season workers will either be working out in the open fields planting or harvesting or will be working inside the plastic tunnels. Soon the trail will pass by an old train carriage and you’ll see remnants of the old Erie Railroad tracks on your right before crossing over Seely Brook, a tributary of the Moodna Creek. From here the walkway winds between farm fields and past houses before passing the entrance to the 187-acre Jack and Louise Birnberg Preserve on the right. The trail continues on past woods, farmland, and a historic cemetery before arriving at the Museum Village in Monroe.

Length of walk: Round-trip from Chester Depot to the Jack and Louise Birnberg Preserve is 4 miles. Round-trip from the Chester Depot to Museum Village in Monroe is 10 miles.

Dog Policy: Dogs must be leashed at all times. Owners must pick up after their dogs.

Parking: Chester Depot, 19 Winkler Place, Chester, NY

5. Sterling Lake Loop, Sterling Forest State Park


Sterling Forest State Park in Southern Orange County encompasses nearly 22,000 acres including lakes, streams, and more than 80 miles of hiking trails. The forest is important for the survival of many resident and migratory species, including black bears, a variety of hawks and songbirds, and many rare invertebrates and plants.
Sterling Forest was once the nation’s leading producer of iron ore. Today, the park is a popular destination for hiking, hunting, and fishing.

Out on the trail: Leave the parking lot and make a left onto Old Forge Road. Before long you’ll see a sign for the Sterling Lake Loop Trail. Follow the footpath across the grass and into the woods. For this trail, you’ll be following the blue blazes. At the first trail sign, you’ll have the option to make a slight detour to the left to read an information board explaining how the Sterling Furnace operated. Once back on the Sterling Lake Loop Trail, you’ll be heading over a wooden bridge before taking a left down over rocks and heading out onto the road. Make a right on the road heading in the direction of the lake. Along the road, you can once again take a short detour onto the Lakeville Ironworks Trail to learn about the history of the history of the ruins you will pass along the way. Once back on the Sterling Lake Loop Trail follow the blue blazes through a barrier and onto a gravel path. The trail rises above the lake for a few minutes before dropping you back down to walk along the water. There are some nice beach spots on this walk where dogs can splash around and cool off. After about two and a half miles you’ll come to an intersection of several trails. Stay right here following the blue blazes. You will now be high above the lake and there are a few short climbs. This trail is well marked and as long as you keep your eyes open for the blue blazes you can’t go wrong. You will eventually come out onto Old Forge Road where you’ll make a left to walk back to the parking lot where you started.

Length of walk: 4.2 miles

Dog Policy: Dogs must be on a leash not more than 6 feet and under the owner’s control. Hikers are asked to pick up after their dogs.

Parking: Sterling Forest State Park, 116 Old Forge Road, Tuxedo, NY. Hikers should use the parking lot across the road from the visitor’s center.

Practice Good Dog Walking Etiquette

It only takes one irresponsible dog owner to ruin a day out in nature for everyone else. That could be a loose dog ambushing other dogs on the trail or an unruly dog jumping all over children or other walkers. Not everyone loves dogs and even those who do might not be comfortable with a strange dog running at them or their dogs. Practicing the following dog walking etiquette will help ensure your outdoor adventure is safe for you, your dog, and other hikers.

  • Know the dog rules and regulations before heading out on the trails. Don’t allow your dog to run loose if the rules of the park say that dogs must be leashed at all times.
  • When hiking with your dog or with a group of dog owners, move all dogs to the same side of the trail to allow oncoming hikers to pass by without feeling intimidated.
  • If your dog is reactive when leashed, consider taking training classes to work on this behavior so that walking is a more pleasant experience. Ken Nolte, a professional dog trainer and owner of Etlon Dog Training Academy in Middletown teaches clients how to get their dogs to focus on them when out on the trails. For example, asking a dog to sit off to the side of the trail with his back to passing dogs and people and using treats to get the dog to focus only on the owner. This training needs to be practiced consistently at home and around the local community before hitting the trails so your dog understands what you want, Nolte says.
  • In general trainers discourage allowing leashed dogs to meet when out walking because of fear of the unknown. Even if an owner tells you that a dog is friendly, that dog might not like your dog. If you do allow a greeting, Nolte recommends keeping it short. Just let the dogs touch nose to nose and then continue on your way.
  • Some parks allow dogs off leash when under the owners’ control. That means your dog needs to have 100 percent reliable recall. While there certainly are owners whose dogs have consistent recall no matter the distraction, Nolte says this usually isn’t true for the average dog owner. If your dog is loose, never allow him/her to run up to other people and dogs on the trail. When you see other hikers and dogs approaching, leash your dog.


What to do if approached by a loose dog

Just because there are leash laws, that doesn’t mean that every dog owner will obey them. If a loose dog approaches you on the trail and you’re concerned about an altercation, there are a few things you can do. If there’s time to turn around and walk the other way, Nolte says that may be all it takes for the approaching dog to lose interest. If there’s no time to walk away, Nolte recommends using the Pet Connector to act as a deterrent. This product emits a hiss of compressed gas to interrupt a dog’s unwanted behavior and is small enough to be carried in a waist bag. Nolte says the Pet Connector should be used behind your back and not aimed directly at the approaching dog. Another deterrent is the Dog Horn which produces two distinct sounds and is recommended by humane societies, dog trainers, and veterinary specialists to help stop an approaching dog and prevent a fight.

Dog trainer Ken Nolte offering assistance during a group dog walk 


Finally, with spring fast approaching now is a great time to start getting your dog ready for walking on public trails. One great way to do this is to take your best buddy on group dog walks. The Traveling Leash and Etlon Dog Training Academy will once again sponsor a series of free group dog walks and hikes. The walks are open to everyone and Nolte will be on hand to offer tips and assistance to owners having trouble with their dogs.