By: Maria Gigliello
Did you know that the Cap Region is home to one of the rarest habitats in the world? Out of only 20 in existence, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve boasts one of the largest inland pine barrens in existence. You might know it as the sandy stretch of land around the Thruway in the Guilderland/Colonie area, but the Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a totally unique piece of preserved land teeming with rare plants and animals that we are lucky to have right in our own backyard. Take a trip with me as we explore this delightfully uncommon preserve in the Cap Region.
I had the opportunity to intern at the Pine Bush when I was in college and spent many days leading school and camp groups around the preserve. I still know some of the trails like the back of my hand and I still never tire of lingering among the towering pitch pines. There are so many elements to the Pine Bush that make it a unique place but one thing to note is that the preserve is not just one chunk of land. The Thruway, Crossgates Mall and suburban neighborhoods split the land up into several parcels. With 12 trailheads and over 20 miles of trail, you have endless options of exploration!
The Discovery Center
Let’s start right at The Discovery Center off of Route 155. Several miles of trail start from here, including a 1 mile loop and a 2.5 mile loop over rolling sand dunes. This is a great part of the preserve to explore if you’re interested in seeing wildlife. Pretty soon, in September, you’ll catch sight of black, orange and white inland buck moths flying above the scrub oak. Be on the lookout for turtles, deer and a wide variety of birds as well!
The Madison Avenue Pine Barrens
Moving down the road to Madison Ave Extension, I want to bring you to my favorite trailhead of the Pine Bush. The Madison Avenue Pine Barrens is one of the best spots to feel dwarfed by the distinct pitch pine trees that tower over the preserve. Gentle, rolling terrain makes for a relaxing walk while taking in the beauty of the land around you. When lockdown first started, my dog, Remy, and I frequented this trailhead as the wide, sandy trails make for a good spot to walk a four-legged friend. The full loop at this trailhead is only about .6 miles but take the purple connector trail for an extended 3.7 mile walk to DiCaprio Park in Guilderland!
The Great Dune Trailhead
Just down the road from the Madison Ave. Pine Barrens is one of the crown jewels of the whole preserve, the Great Dune trailhead. This area contains–you guessed it– the largest sand dune of the preserve standing at 75 feet tall! While most of the Pine Bush’s habitat is made up of sandy soil, pitch pines and species that prefer a dryer climate, the Kaikout Kill that runs through the Great Dune area supports ferns and mosses providing some charming greenery. In spring, this is also a great area to look for the endangered Karner blue butterfly that only feeds on the leaves of wild lupine. Several loops can be made from here, the longest being just under 2 miles.
Six Mile Waterworks
Finally, we’re making a stop at the Six Mile Waterworks trailhead! Home to Rensselaer Lake, this section of the preserve allows for fishing, paddling and picnicking. If fishing is your thing you can try your hand at catching bass, carp, pike and pumpkin seed. If you’re more of a hiker, you can pick up a .5 mile trail from Six Mile Waterworks that will lead you to the neighboring Rapp Road Barrens.
There are several more trailheads in the preserve with superb hiking and bird watching opportunities! You can check out all of the trails and what they have to offer by visiting the preserve’s website.
Eat & Drink
When you’re done hiking, paddling, or fishing, there are some great eateries in the area to stop by as well:
- Blessing’s Tavern in Colonie: Located on Watervliet Shaker Road, just down the road from the Pine Bush, this local favorite has some top notch pub food to refuel after your day of adventuring. You can’t go wrong with any of their sandwiches or wings!
- Fiden’s Brewing Company: Mere minutes from several Pine Bush trailheads is Fidens, a local microbrewery. If you’re a fan of IPAs, they’ve got you covered with their “Socratic Questioning” lineup that features 7 different kinds of IPAs and DIPAs.
Maria Gigliello is an avid hiker, paddler and writer who enjoys spending as much time as possible doing all three things in the Adirondack State Park. She is just as passionate about beer as she is about responsible outdoor recreation and is always in search of a good view and a brew. You can follow her adventures on her blog, The Dirt.