Exploring the Albany Pine Bush Preserve

CapNY is home to one of the rarest habitats in the world – get ready to explore!

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve boasts one of the largest inland pine barrens in the world — one of only 20 in existence!

A Delightfully Uncommon Preserve in CapNY

Maria Gigliello

The sandy stretch of land around the Thruway in the Guilderland/Colonie area is the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. It is a totally unique and ecologically rare piece of preserved land, teeming with rare plants and animals. Come explore the Pine Bush Preserve — am amazing jewel right in our CapNY backyard.

During college I interned at the Albany Pine Bush, where I spent many days in the preserve leading school and camp groups. I know many of the trails like the back of my hand. Yet, I never tire of meandering among the towering pitch pines. There are so many elements to the Pine Bush that make it a unique place. Yet 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 exploration options!

The Discovery Center

An indland buck moth
An inland buck moth

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. 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

Dog enjoying the Madison Ave Barrens
Remy enjoing the Madison Ave Barrens

Moving down the road to Madison Ave Extension, we come to my favorite trailhead of the Albany Pine Bush. The Madison Avenue Pine Barrens is one of the best spots to feel dwarfed by the distinct pitch pine trees that tower overhead. This gentle, rolling terrain makes for a relaxing walk. Meanwhile, take in the beauty of the land around you. My dog Remy and I love the wide, sandy paths on this trailhead. The full loop at this trailhead is only about .6 miles. Add the purple connector trail for an extended 3.7 mile walk to DiCaprio Park in Guilderland!

The Great Dune Trailhead

Pitch pines at the Great Dune Trailhead
The preserve’s characteristic pitch pines 

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! Most of the Pine Bush’s habitat is made up of sandy soil, pitch pines, and other species that prefer a dryer climate. However, the Kaikout Kill stream runs through the Great Dune area, supporting ferns and mosses providing some charming greenery. During spring look for the endangered Karner blue butterfly, which 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

Wild Lupine
Wild lupine ready to be snacked on

Finally, make 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 a hiker, you can pick up a .5 mile trail from Six Mile Waterworks, leading 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

Chicken wings from Blessings Tavern

Blessing’s Tavern in Colonie is located on Watervliet Shaker Road, just down the road from the Albany Pine Bush. This local favorite has 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

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.

Written by: Maria Gigliello

Maria 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.