SYNOPSIS: The name is deceiving. It is not a manmade church, but rather an extraordinary cave-like rock formation, complete with a waterfall inside. This is one of those places that should be much more well-known than it is. If you want to impress an out-of-town guest with how beautiful our area is, take them here. It is a relatively short hike with a striking natural feature. When you return to town, you will think “I can’t believe that is right there!” This is one of the places that inspired me to write this book.
APPROXIMATE TIME: One to one-and-a-half hours.
DIRECTIONS: From Brewster, head north on Route 22 until you reach the town of Dover. Park at the Dover Elementary School on the east side of Route 22, provided school isn’t in session. Cross the street and walk a half-block north. The entrance to the right-of-way is a small dirt road that will have you feeling like you are walking into someone’s driveway, but after about 150 feet you break through the trees into a large meadow.
THE HIKE: Take the right-of-way from Route 22 to the edge of the meadow. The path heads down a short, steep hill then across the meadow and straight for a large tree. Once you get to the large tree at the far end of the meadow, the path heads under the canopy of the treetops.
You will come to a Y in the path. Turn left to head for the Stone Church. The path will lead closer to the edge of Stone Church Brook and a bridge will take you over the brook into a grassy clearing with a series of small ponds.
Once you have crossed over the bridge, stay toward the right to continue following the stream uphill. Watch your footing since this part of the hike becomes increasingly rocky as you walk deeper into the ravine and closer to the Stone Church. Many of the stones you will be stepping on are wet and covered in moss or algae. In the summer, the moisture in the air and the plants give the ravine a rainforest-like atmosphere.
The walls of the gorge will steepen and soon you will see the entrance to the Stone Church. If the stream is running strong, expect to get a little wet trying to get into the hollow in the rocks that form the Stone Church. The waterfall is pretty loud, and the acoustics amplify the sound. Once inside the ‘cathedral’ – and once you are there you will understand how it got its name – there is a nice view back out of the entrance. The main part of the waterfall is still hidden from view, but there is a ladder constructed so you can get a good view. Be careful because the ladder is wet and slippery. At the top of the ladder is a small landing that you can stand on to get a better view of the main part of the falls. It is nice and cool inside the cave, which can be refreshing on a warm day.
When you head back the way you came in, stop at the clearing near the footbridge. You will find a grassy area with a series of still-water pools which provides a great spot to take a rest and have a snack. My kids spent some time searching the edges of the ponds, and found a few creepy-crawlies as well as some unidentified eggs.
HISTORY: The Stone Church was a tourist attraction many years ago, even boasting a hotel bearing the Stone Church name. For some reason, it fell out of favor as a tourist destination, and until a few years ago it was on private property so access was limited. The Town of Dover has since acquired the property. Improvements to trails, signage, etc. are planned over the next several years.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in May 2009, though we have hiked here on at least four occasions. According to the town of Dover website, since our last visit both a bridge and some stairs have been added to the trail.
The first time we visited the Stone Church, it was still privately owned. A local organization had arranged group tours and we signed on. I remember the day – it was rainy, gray, and my wife was very pregnant with our first child. In retrospect, not the smartest thing we ever did, but she was a trooper and made it the whole way.
Pets are neither expressly prohibited or allowed, but watch Fido on the rocks and when the water is running rough. More info on the Stone Church can be found at www.townofdover.us.
Update: In February 2011, a Dover town official told me that trees have been planted along the path that leads through the meadow (in anticipation of a nearby condo complex being built) and the rungs were removed from the ladder for safety reasons – no word if this is permanent or temporary.