I’ve visited many incredible outdoor spots in the Hudson Valley, but few have left me in as much awe as Dover Stone Church in Dutchess County.
Despite its name, Dover Stone Church is not actually a church. Instead, it’s a small cave created by giant metamorphic rocks with a stream and waterfall running through it. These come together to create a truly majestic scene, and it’s not really surprising that past visitors would have ascribed a religious name to this spot.
Dover Stone Church can be found in the community of Dover Plains in eastern Dutchess County, New York, less than four miles as a bird flies from the Connecticut border.
This site has been drawing visitors for hundreds of years but has only been protected since 2004 as part of the Dover Stone Church Preserve, which has grown over the years to 174 acres in size. Like many sites in New York, this site has legends from the early days of European settlement in the area related to Native Americans using this as a hiding spot.
The hike to Dover Stone Church is only about a mile roundtrip and is relatively flat. However, the trail does get quite rocky as you approach the cave, so care does need to be taken when hiking here.
Parking for Dover Stone Church
There is no official parking lot for Dover Stone Church, but there are several spots where the preserve has worked out agreements with landowners. Please be respectful when parking in these areas and don’t park in areas where you are not supposed to park when hiking.
The best spot to park (when school isn’t in session) is in the lot for the Dover Elementary School. This is the biggest of the parking areas and parking here doesn’t impact any businesses. This lot can be found at the following address: 9 School Street in Dover Plains, New York.
Should school be in session, there are several other spots you can park that require only a slightly longer walk to the trailhead including the Tabor Wing House at 3128 Route 22 in Dover Plains and Freshco 22 Deli and Restaurant at 3156 Route 22 in Dover Plains.
These secondary lots are much smaller than the lot at the school, so parking is a bit limited when school is in session. And, of course, please make sure to be respectful when parking in these areas and leave enough room for paying customers of the businesses.
Hiking to Dover Stone Church
From the parking areas, it’s a short walk over to the trailhead for Dover Stone Church.
There is no address for this trail, but it can be found at the end of Stone Church Lane at the following coordinates: 41.739619, -73.581500. There is no specific sign denoting the trailhead at the start of this short gravel road, but you will see a historic marker for Dover Stone Church along Route 22 directly adjacent to the road.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]
Do NOT park at the end of Stone Church Lane. See the notes above for the allowed parking areas for the preserve.
At the end of Stone Church Road, you’ll see a sign in the shape of the gap in the rocks at Dover Stone Church and a set of stairs that mark the start of the trail. Head down the stairs to start your half-mile hike to Dover Stone Church.
At the bottom of the stairs, the trail runs through a beautiful tree-lined path that is sat in the middle of an untamed field. The sugar maples here are absolutely gorgeous in the fall. On this portion of the trail, the land adjacent to the trail is private property, so make sure to stay on the maintained portion of the trail.
After about five minutes of walking, you’ll come to another set of concrete stairs that head up into the forest and the official entrance to the Dover Stone Church Preserve. About 100 yards into the woods, there is an information sign that offers a bit of history of the area along with a map of the property.
It’s worth noting that despite there being a map with well-defined trails, the trails here aren’t overly well-marked, at least on the route to Dover Stone Church. That being said, it’s easy to find if you follow these directions and use some common sense.
At the kiosk in the woods, start by following the trail to the left of the sign. You’ll soon see Stone Church Brook on your left, and you’ll be following this upstream all the way to the end of the hike.
Soon after reaching the stream, the trail will cross Stone Church Brook on a bridge. This is where things could get a bit confusing if you don’t know where to go. That’s because there was, as of October 2022, no sign here pointing to Dover Stone Church. In fact, the only sign here points away from it and onto the longer trails within the preserve.
To reach Dover Stone Church, as soon as you cross over the creek, take the obvious trail to your right that continues to follow the waterway upstream. Since the brook flows directly through Dover Stone Church, you’ll just want to continue following it on the left bank all the way until it dead ends.
As you continue upstream, the trail begins to get much rockier and the entire feel of the area changes as the gorge starts to close in on the creek. This area has a very primitive feel to it and is in very stark contrast to the rest of the hike.
It’s worth noting that the trail follows very closely to the stream in places, and if water levels are especially high, the trail might be underwater.
After only a few minutes of hiking from the bridge, you’ll round a bend and come face to face with Dover Stone Church. To be honest, I feel photos don’t really do this spot justice, and I was a bit awe-struck when I saw it for the first time.
This is truly a special place.
The area leading up to Dover Stone Church is strewn with huge boulders, and the water of Stone Church Brook dances between these rocks, filling the gorge with the sound of falling water, even though the drops outside of the cave are only a few feet in height.
These boulders make getting close to the cave or entering into it a bit of a challenge, and careful maneuvering is required here. In recent years, a bridge over the brook has been added because getting into Dover Stone Church is both easier and safer on the right bank.
It’s worth noting, however, that this is definitely an enter-at-your-own-risk situation, as the large boulders offer a small peek into the occasional instability of this area. It’s also worth pointing out that, if you want to enter the cave, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do so without getting your feet wet, even when water levels aren’t overly high.
Make sure to bring shoes that can get wet but also have good traction for the rocky terrain.
While the outside is awe-inspiring, the inside of Dover Stone Church is somehow even more amazing.
The ceiling here towers at least 30 feet overhead with small slits in the rock allowing a bit of light in. Still a good flashlight would be worth bringing to add a little more light to the space.
The giant metamorphic rocks twist and turn inside the cave, leading to a 6-7 foot waterfall, topped by a large log jam. Above this log jam and hidden from view by another twist in the rocks, the waterfall is said to be 30 feet in total height.
And, while you can only see the bottom 20% of it, the sound of this water fills the cave.
Looking back toward the cave entrance, make sure to take a moment to enjoy the view of the boulders and forest through the unique shape of the split in the rocks. This shape is quite famous locally and is used on the entrance sign at the trailhead.
Once you’ve finished enjoying the interior of Dover Stone Church, carefully pick your way back over the boulders out of the cave. Then, follow the stream back towards the rest of the preserve.
If you are looking to continue hiking there are three other trails within the preserve that are each 1-1.5 miles in length. Unfortunately, I’ve never hiked these trails, so I can’t really comment on them. If you have, feel free to comment below and let us all know what you thought of them.
Dover Stone Church is a spot that had long been on my radar, and seeing it in person more than met my expectations. This is certainly in part because I was able to visit it on a slow day when no one else was there (which isn’t common), but even if it was busy, this is still an incredibly beautiful spot.
Given its location, you’ll almost certainly have to go out of your way to visit it, but I would strongly encourage you to do so if you are looking for one of the most beautiful and unique spots in the Hudson Valley region of New York.