Hiking Dover Stone Church Preserve in Dover Plains, NY
When I first heard of Dover Stone Church, I thought it was actually a church. To my surprise, it wasn’t a church, but instead a nature preserve with some great, easy hiking and beautiful sights.
The highlight of this small preserve is a stunning cave with waterfall flowing into a river that you can not only go to see, but can enter the cave and wade in the water of the river. This makes it great for the entire family, and fun for the little ones who enjoy the crisp water from the river.
Beyond the cave, there are a few small, easy, hiking trails and a great path from entrance to the main area. I find it great because a few people have places fairy villages underneath the trees – which is just so fun for the kids (and let’s not kid ourselves, the adults too…).
This place is hidden well though. Only a small sign notates where the entrance is and there is no direct parking. So, keep reading to get the details of where to go and what to expect if you’re visiting Dover Stone Church Preserve.
Location: Dover Plains, NY
Distance: 1.0 miles (to cave)
Time: 1-2 hours
Cell-Phone Service: Great. Full Service
Features: Cave w/ waterfall. Wading in water permitted. Small hiking trails
Hours: Dawn to Dusk, year around
Parking: None. Must use local parking areas
Dog Friendly: On-leash only
Location, Parking, and Bathrooms at Dover Stone Church
The entrance to Dover Stone Church is tiny – you will almost certainly miss it the first time you drive by. This is because it’s on a fairly trafficked road and the only thing notating the entrance is a tiny sign.
Further, when you finally do find this sign and turn up the road you’ll be hit with no less than 15 large “no parking” signs. Seriously, the people who live next to this entrance are very adamant that only residents for these buildings have access to park there.
So, where does a stranded hiker go to park? Back onto the road. There are a few options, but all of them include utilizing public lots for other institutions. A popular one is the lot for a building that contains a few local businesses. A separate option is the local Dover Elementary School, assuming, of course, school isn’t in session.
Wherever you pick, park there and walk up past the sign to the entrance of Dover Stone Church.
As you may have guessed, since there is really no parking for this area there are also no public restrooms. There are local business, who may allow customers (or even non-customers if you’re nice) to use their facilities. Otherwise, you are on a fairly main road with several establishments, so it’s probably best to make a plan for a bathroom before arriving to the preserve.
Dover Stone Church Trail Entrance and Path
When you walk up the gravel road and past the apartments on the left, you’ll see the large Dover Stone Church sign notating the entrance. Then, it’s a straight line, pretty much the entire way to the cave and waterfall.
When you first start on the trail, you’ll take a few flights of stairs down to a beautiful tree-lined pathway. This path alone is worth the visit by itself. It’s wide dirt path flocked on both sides by trees makes for an incredible start to this trail.
After you make it to the end of this section, you’ll have to go up a few more steps again before starting into the woods.
Once you enter the woods, you’ll start to see several fairy houses placed amongst the trees. Now, I know that this practice is somewhat controversial in the hiking and general outdoors community, because it doesn’t perfectly abide by leave no trace principles. With that said, it is clear that this part of the trail is very well kept and these material items are not completely abandoned here. This is done on purpose by people who take care of these objects regularly.
So, since it’s a part of the trail, you might as well enjoy it! Kids (and kid-like-adults) will love it. I know I did. I have a bit of an affinity for tiny things like these, and I truly just couldn’t get enough of these fairy villages! There were maybe around 4-6 of them scattered throughout the trees.
What to Expect When Hiking Dover Stone Church
After begrudgingly leaving the fairy villages behind you’ll set forth on the fairly flat trail that is Dover Stone Church. You’ll cross the water a couple of times, but there are sturdy and well constructed bridges to help you get across.
Eventually, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. It’s at this point you decide whether you want to do one of the other hiking trails at Dover Stone Church, or if you want to head to the “cave” as it’s labeled on the sign.
Most people, by far, head to the cave. But don’t discount these other smaller trails. They’re all 1.0-1.5 miles, and fairly easy, although there is definitely some incline at the beginning. I talk a little bit more about them later in this post.
Assuming you’re headed to the cave containing the waterfall, for which Dover Stone Church is known – you’ll want to head right.
This is close to where this trail changes from being a flat dirt path, to becoming a wet, rocky walk. I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly challenging for adults, but it is something that you don’t want to be in flip flops for.
I know it’s tempting, when bringing kids who are going to play in the water, to just throw on some crocs or flip flops to take them out. But, it’s really important for everyone to be wearing proper shoes. If you don’t feel up for the hiking boots or tennis shoes, then wear some sturdy water shoes.
The rocks are slippery, and they can be sharp. No one wants to fall or have someone they’re with fall, so be prepared with some proper shoes for the journey.
As you get closer to the cave the water definitely picks up. What was a small trickle at the beginning, is clearly now some faster moving water. This assumes, of course, that there’s been some recent water to make it all flow. If you’re visiting after a dry spell I wouldn’t expect too fast of a river or too large of a waterfall. Just measure your expectations with recent rainfall amounts.
You can, if you choose, to wade in these areas. There are signs that say you choose to do this at your own risk. I wouldn’t recommend it without proper shoes or if there has been a lot of rain recently. This water can move fast, and these rocks are sharp. If you or your child aren’t strong enough to withstand that when it’s moving quickly, then I’d recommend observing from afar.
However, if you’re a confident swimmer and the river isn’t moving too fast from recent rainfall, then it’s a blast to wade in the crisp water as it flows past you. You can choose to wade in the water at any point on this trail.
Entering the Cave and Waterfall at Dover Stone Church
As you get closer to the cave, the trail will get rockier and less clear-cut. This is the part where you’ll be glad you have proper shoes. These rocks are wet, slippery, and sometimes located under running water.
You can enter the cave – but to do so you’ll need to rock-hop your way into the river and into the cave. Be careful doing this. I went on a day where the water was flowing pretty quickly, and if it had been any faster I probably wouldn’t have gotten in the cave at all. But, I was able to make it to the entrance to peek inside.
Inside the there is light streaming in from the top of the waterfall, and then the cave entrance and that’s it. So, it’s definitely not as bright as it is outside the cave, but this gives it a really isolated feel that you don’t get in the crowd outside.
Unless you go during the week, you should expect to share the cave and its entrance with several other people. Due to the short distance and relative ease of this trail, it’s extremely popular. This isn’t a place where you’ll get much time completely by yourself to explore and soak it all in. Don’t let that discourage you though – the roar of the water can drown out other conversations pretty easily, so you do still get some quiet (or river-quiet) when inside the cave.
The only thing that I can’t stress enough is be careful on these rocks! Especially if you have kids, or if you’re a fairly clumsy person – take your time. Go slow. No need to rush and you’ll be much better off visiting Dover Stone Church without falling on rocks in the cave.
Once you’re ready to leave you’ll just head back the way you came.
Exploring the Other Trails at Dover Stone Church
Other than the cave trail there are three other trails at Dover Stone Church. A red trail, blue trail, and yellow trail.
If you were to do all the trails at Dover Stone Church, including the one to the cave they total about 3.5 miles. So, each trail is fairly short.
The blue trail is the most intense, as it is straight up to the top where you get a small overlook of the area. It’s about 400 ft of elevation in around 0.5 miles.
The red trail is the least intense, being fairly flat exploring the bottom of the park the entire way around.
The yellow is somewhat in the middle. It starts up the incline, but then levels off as you explore the middle elevation level of this park. This is the one I explored. I would say it was a fairly average walk through the woods. Nothing that stood out to write about but it was an enjoyable stroll nonetheless.
All the trails are fairly average, enjoyable, short hikes, where you get to explore the other parts of Dover Stone Church. If you’re looking to extend your time here, there are great options to round out your visit.
Other Tips to Remember
Dover Stone Church is a fantastic, family and dog friendly park with a unique cave/waterfall, and some other easier hiking trails to explore. Before heading out know that it will be crowded most of the time, but especially on weekends. Since most people are with kids and/or dogs, who may struggle with the slippery rocks, just be prepared with patience and kindness as everyone tries to see the beautiful sights at the cave.
Proper hiking etiquette should always be used. Be prepared to give people more time as they try to traverse the slippery rocks. The entire trail to the cave is beautiful, so soak in the sights of the river and enjoy. No need to rush!
With that said, everyone should be prepared with proper equipment. This includes proper shoes (either water shoes or hiking boots) and also a first aid kit. It’s likely someone will slip on a rock and you want to be prepared for that if it’s you or someone in your group. There are so many tiny first aid kids that fit into your backpack so pick one of those up and have it with you on this trail.
Other than that, enjoy! It’s a beautiful trip and one that the entire family is sure to love.
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