Choppy waters at the preserve
El Dorado Beach Preserve Choppy waters at the preserve © The Nature Conservancy

Places We Protect

New York

El Dorado Beach Preserve

The forces of nature shaped El Dorado's beautiful shoreline.

PLEASE NOTE: El Dorado is closed during rifle season (Oct 22 - Dec 4)

El Dorado's beautiful shoreline was shaped by dramatic forces of nature. It all began about 20,000 years ago when the one-mile thick ice sheet that covered most of New York State began to melt. Torrents of meltwater poured out of the retreating ice sheet and with it came sediment of all shapes and sizes. Sand, gravel, and enormous boulders that were once encapsulated in the ice were now flowing across the landscape.

Eventually, the meltwater pooled into a giant lake, called Lake Iroquois. This pre-historic lake was about three times the size of modern-day Lake Ontario

Over time, the lake level receded to its present size. Lake currents moved sand deposits along the lake’s southern shore toward the lake’s eastern shoreline. Westerly winds and waves transported sand from this underwater sandbar and piled it up to form dunes along the beach. This process of dune formation still occurs today.

This freshwater dune barrier system along Lake Ontario is one of the Conservancy's first conservation areas in central New York, acquired in 1969.  It is now part of our Eastern Lake Ontario priority conservation landscape, a 17-mile stretch of Eastern Lake Ontario that contains the largest and most extensive freshwater dune system in New York.

How We Work Here

Dunes are fragile. The beach grass and other vegetation that blankets them can be easily damaged by trampling or motor vehicle use. Once the vegetation is gone, winds can blow away the sand and destroy the dunes.

The Nature Conservancy has worked cooperatively with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and New York Sea Grant to establish an educational program that helps inform beachgoers and other recreational users how they can enjoy their visit to Eastern Lake Ontario without impacting the dunes, birds, or wildlife.

Every summer, five dune stewards patrol the 17 miles of Eastern Lake Ontario beaches, reminding people to stay out of the dunes, keep their dogs leashed and avoid areas set aside for birds and wildlife. 

PLEASE NOTE: El Dorado is closed during rifle season (Oct 22 - Dec 4)

The preserve is open from early May until early fall. Visitors are welcome to enjoy our 1.4-mile trail (but please watch your step, the trail is wet and slippery in spots). The trailhead is located at the grassy parking area. The rich blooms of algae in the shallow offshore shoals support dense populations of crustaceans, insects and other invertebrates. These small animals provide the food base that supports the abundant birdlife. On land, keep an eye out for monarch butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and deer. Please help us protect the incredible plant and wildlife at El Dorado by observing the following:

  • Please stay off the fragile sand dunes.
  • Motor vehicles, bicycles, fishing, trapping and swimming are not allowed.
  • Please don't collect or disturb plants, birds or wildlife.

Migratory birds are the specialty here. From July through September every year, a large and diverse concentration of migratory shorebirds stops at El Dorado on its journey between James Bay in Canada and wintering grounds in Central and South America. Excellent viewing of the rocky shore along the north end of the preserve is available at the bird blind, which can be reached from the trail. It provides a great vantage point for viewing ducks, terns and, in the fall, shorebirds. To protect birds and bird habitat, please do not walk directly along the shore. In the interior wetland areas, you will find water birds, waterfowl and song birds. Impressive concentrations of migrating flycatchers, warblers, vireos and sparrows are here from early August through early October.

El Dorado Beach Preserve is located on Lake Ontario in Ellisburg (Jefferson County, New York).