Home to 30,000 acres of parkland — a third of them dedicated to natural areas, the city of New York is a wonderland of forests, beaches, marshes and wetlands. It truly is an urban wilderness that’s waiting to be explored.
A 172-acre island in New York Harbor, car-free Governors Island (govisland.com) is an oasis reached by ferry, either in Lower Manhattan at the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street or in Brooklyn, weekends only, at the Red Hook/Atlantic Basin, located at the intersection of Pioneer Street and Conover Street. Upon disembarking on the island, you’ll be met with a hammock grove, public art and seven miles of biking trails — not to mention some prime perches with skyline views.
Occupying more than a 1,000 acres atop the ridges and valleys of the northwest Bronx, Van Cortlandt Park (Broadway and Jerome Ave., The Bronx, nycgovparks.org) features the boroughs’ largest freshwater lake. It’s also where you’ll find the 1.5-mile John Muir Trail, which intersects a forest of sweetgum, red oak and tulip trees; a marsh emanating with the sound of croaking frogs; Croton Woods, with its its hickory and sugar maple trees; and the rolling hills of Northwest Forest.
The Bronx is one of New York CIty’s greenest boroughs and the 25-mile Bronx River Greenway (1490 Sheridan Blvd., The Bronx) is among its most treasured corridors. Meandering along the city’s only freshwater river, it takes you through Concrete Plant Park, Hunts Point Riverside Park, Soundview Park and Bronx Park, the latter home to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens. Hit the Bronx River trails to traverse a floodplain forest, pausing at lookouts to view towering silver maples, tulip poplars and American sycamores. As you cross Burke Bridge, keep watch for double-crested cormorants, red-tailed hawks and wood ducks — they’re among the many species that call the area home.
Occupying more than three times the acreage of Manhattan's Central Park, Pelham Bay Park (Middletown Road and Stadium Avenue, The Bronx, 718-430-1891, nycgovparks.org) is the city’s largest. Featuring bridle paths and hiking trails, it also features two golf courses, the Bartow-Pell Mansion and 13 miles of saltwater shores that skirt Long Island Sound. Make your way to the Kazimiroff Nature Trail, which journeys around 189-acre Hunter Island, offering short and long loops through wetlands and interior forest to scenic, 115-acre Orchard Beach, the so-called “Riviera of New York,” with its arc of sand, central pavilion, promenade, playgrounds and picnic areas.
Leave the bustle of the city far behind, entering Marine Park’s Salt Marsh Nature Trail behind the Marine Park’s Salt Marsh Nature Center (3301 Avenue U, Brooklyn, 718-421-2021, nycgovparks.org). Hoarboring a proliferation of birds, fish, crabs and a vast array of wildlife, its numerous lookouts capitalize on idyllic views of species-rich grasslands and tidal wetlands.
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