On My Way: Hiking Cedar Tree Neck

Twists and turns abound along the trails of this popular sanctuary.


Are you looking for a mellow hike of a few hours in a terrain as varied as the Island? If so, the 400 acres of the Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary, located in rural West Tisbury, may be your best choice.

In this storied Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation property, you may be hiking the slope of a moraine, circuiting a bluff with a pond on one side and the Vineyard Sound on the other, walking a stretch of beach, and crossing numerous wetlands in the woods.

I have been hiking Cedar Tree for more than 15 years. I started with my family when my kids were young. We would walk to the beach and back, and climb trees along the way. Later, on Sunday walks with my mother, I discovered the true extent of this property — the Obed Daggett Trail atop a bluff, the white trail at the far end of the beach, the blue and orange branch trail, the many rock walls and creeks.

I heard the news over the past years as the property increased in size and added new trail heads. With some excitement, I have returned to explore.

On a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I set out with my 8-year-old terrier mix pup, Becham, from the Taylor Gate Trailhead at 8:30 am. (This is when the property opens. Most SMF properties open at dawn.) On the Orange Trail, we dropped right away into the forest.

We went downward over the slope of a moraine. (I believe I have this geologic feature right. A hill, basically.) The top of the trail was strewn with big rocks. I was full of enthusiasm. The fall morning was cool, with a nice chill in the air.

I stepped over carpets of tangled and knotted roots. An understory of green grew from the ground among the trees. A labradoodle attacked without warning from behind to say hi, and then nearly as quickly disappeared.

The trail was in no hurry. Occasional swells and gullies had us hiking upward a spell. The path, covered in dirt and leaves, always hid the next bend of trail. We climbed wood stepladders sawhorsed over rock walls. We crossed wood slat bridges over wetlands.

Near the bottom of the orange trail, we turned into the main body of the sanctuary on the orange blue trail. The terrain leveled as we went crosswise on the slope. A tree limb sticking straight across the trail defied gravity. A series of connecting trails brought us to the Daggett Trailhead, which used to be the sole entry.

We went on the red trail. The leaves in the trees rustled in the gusts of wind. The treetops swayed. We began downward. We crossed a small creek. The trail turned and opened to sand dunes in the back of the beach.

I trudged through the heavy sand. The path climbed up and over the dune. I was struck by an empty sea. Only the wind and the waves were on the water.

Clouds covered the sky. The Elizabeth Islands were across the way. Summer seemed a distant memory. We made our way up the beach into the northerly breeze.

The beach mostly ends where a bluff reaches the shore. The Obed Daggett Trail picks up here. I turned up the trail. As I came up, I saw Daggett Pond nestled behind the beach.

A magical canopy of bent and crooked trees was over the trail on the inland side of the bluff. The pond was below. As we looped around, the trees disappeared. The seaward side of the bluff was more bare and windblown. Vineyard Sound was harsh and lonely below. We made a full circle. A pair of swans floated in the pond.

Becham and I walked back in the other direction on the beach. I plodded and looked for the wetter and firmer sand. He trotted. We continued past our ingress. The salty and sea-moist wind was soothing on my back. I sorted through some complications.

At a promontory of sorts, the beach loses its sand. I navigated over tumbled rocks. The waves broke on the shore. I heard the crash of water. The smaller rocks rattled against one another in the wash. A short way ahead, we spotted the white trail. A lost lobster trap was ashore next to the marker. The trail leads back up into the bluff.

After a brief and more arduous climb than I would have liked, we reached the Bill Bridwell Trail. I turned us to the traverse. The water is always off the side of this trail, through the trees or over their tops. The trail dips, turns, and climbs. I never lose interest on the Bridwell Trail.

We came out onto the Bruce Irons Trail. A wonderful, small unexpected pond is off this trail if you know which way to go. Unfortunately, I missed it this time. We picked up the purple trail.

The green trail would take us back up the moraine. I turned onto the trail with some misgiving. There was more to see. We left the main body of the sanctuary behind.

Becham tensed on his leash. Possibly a coyote was out there. I readied in my hand the large stone I carry. Hopefully a hard throw would have some effect. Fortunately, I did not have to find out. Most likely a deer.

These last few miles were my favorite of the hike, if only because my mind had loosed all weighing on it. I was now just enjoying every step of the trail. I caught glimpses of sky through the trees.

The terrain was similar to that of the start. The shape of the land was the same, with swells and gullies, bends and turns. Tangles of knotted roots matted the trail. I expected as I made my way upward we would come to a rock-strewn section like the one on the way down. Instead, near the top, I was treated to a field of erratic boulders. There were five or six of the big fellows. For some reason, a glacier deposited them here.

Not far ahead was the Irvin Trailhead and the egress from the sanctuary. It was about a half-mile on Indian Hill Road back to Taylor Gate. Becham and I could not help some swagger in our walk.