It seems like we sped from mid-March weather to mid-summer weather awfully quick, but, no matter, the Great Outdoors are bearable at last. It's easy to forget about greenery when you're smashed under another human's armpit on the Q train, but there are quite a few enjoyable non-urban spaces lurking far from your office and apartment, and once I stop sneezing from the pollen attacks, I plan to spend all my free time frequenting them. You should, too. Here are our favorite places to be outdoors in the city; leave yours and some extra Claritin tablets in the comments.
GOVERNOR'S ISLAND: The amount of space to explore at Governor's Island keeps expanding bigger and bigger—which is a good thing, considering the sheer influx of human bodies crushing into this concrete-lined town. Starting July 19th, visitors will get to play on the park's new hillside slides, which should be enough of a draw as it stands. Until then, though, you'll just have to make do with 360-degree views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, access to over a hundred acres of greenspace, bike rentals, music festivals, Civil War reenactments, art installations and more.
Governors Island is located in the New York Harbor, and can be accessed by a free Brooklyn and Manhattan ferry and by the East River Ferry; visit govisland.com for details.
The Old Putnam Trail (NilsPix/Flickr)
VAN CORTLANDT PARK: This Bronx park boasts 1,146 acres of green space, making it the third largest in the city, next to Pelham Bay Park and the Staten Island Greenbelt. And it makes good use of its land, offering visitors everything from tennis courts to a golf course to an ice skating rink to, for some reason, cricket fields. Hikers can hit the Putnam Trail, a 1.5-mile unpaved walk along a defunct railroad's old rail bed—it bleeds into the John Kieran Nature Trail, a 1.25 mile stroll that's home to a slew of plant and animal life, in addition to the site of a bygone Lenape settlement, a cemetery, and, where the nature trail meets the Putnam trail, these 13 stone pillars that helped builders determine which stone weathered best. Ultimately, the favored second stone was used to build Grand Central Terminal.
The southern entrance to Van Cortlandt Park is located between Broadway and Jerome Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx (nycgovparks.org).
OWL'S HEAD PARK: This Bay Ridge oasis is one of the most peaceful spots in the city, offering 25 acres of quiet lawns, rustic paths, massive trees, and fields. There's a playground for young children, a dog run and a number of basketball courts and baseball fields, for the active folk. But if you're looking for a break from all that commotion, there's plenty of natural-ish landscape to wander through, not to mention the stellar view of Lower Manhattan, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty you can glimpse from the park's pier. Bonus points: the hilly park is the best place to go sledding in the winter, making it a solid outdoor option with or without summer sun.
Owl's Head Park is located at Colonial Road and 68th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (nycgovparks.org).
Courtesy Atomische*Tom Goebbel's flickr
FOREST PARK: This huge (nearly 507 acres) Woodhaven park has everything a nature-seeking human dreams about, like hills, trees, bridle paths, leaf-strewn jogging/walking paths, a golf course, playgrounds, a running track, hundreds of trees—the list goes on and on. There's also an historic carousel that reopened a few years ago, after being shuttered for a seeming eternity (four years—all those kids are grown up now!), and Jonah Hill may have sat on or near it. Just do yourself a favor and stick to daytime strolls and runs here, since the wooded section of the park has a spotty history when it comes to crime.
Forest Park is located at Myrtle Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard in Woodhaven, Queens (nycgovparks.org).
LOUIS VALENTINO JR. PARK AND PIER: At a mere 4.5 acres, this little community park doesn't offer much in terms of size. Thankfully, the view from the pier more than makes up for the acreage, offering a spectacular shot of the New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, which is only about a mile and a half away. The long pier's got plenty of room for fishing and free kayaking when the weather's warm (DON'T EAT THE FISH), there's grassy, flowered space nearby for strolling and picnicking, and in the summer you can catch a free outdoor film, courtesy of Red Hook Flicks. If you like a little somber reflection with your sun, note that the park is named after Brooklyn firefighter Louis J. Valentino, Jr., who was killed in 1996 during a three-alarm Flatlands fire.
Valentino Pier is located at Coffey and Ferris Streets in Red Hook, Brooklyn (nycgovparks.org).
Courtesy michbunny's flickr
STATEN ISLAND GREENBELT: The Greenbelt is the city's second biggest collection of public parks, with trails, wetlands and wooded areas covering 2,800 acres in the center of the borough. There's plenty of wildlife here, with reptiles, amphibians, birds, deer, chipmunks and fish alike flocking to find refuge in the landscape and waters.
Hikers, bikers, walkers and runners can take on the preserve's six main trails, which wind through rough terrain, ponds, woods and open fields; curious botanists can also learn more about the area's history and ecology at the Greenbelt Nature Center, and there's a seasonal carousel for kiddies at Willowbrook Park that includes a PANDA to ride. A PANDA. (Not a real panda, but beggars can't be choosers, and the world's most adorable animal is still a sight to behold in ceramic form.)
The Staten Island Greenbelt is located on 2,800-acres in the center of Staten Island; the Greenbelt Nature Conservancy is located at 700 Rockland Avenue (718-667-2165, sigreenbelt.org).
HUNTER ISLAND IN PELHAM BAY PARK: Hunter Island's name is a bit of a misnomer—though the 97 square mile space was once an actual island, it's since been connected to the Bronx's mainland via landfill. But the area, poised on the edge of the Long Island Sound, has retained its idyllic nature, boasting a half-moon beach, an oak forest, nature trails, play areas, promenades and an array of flora, fauna and wildlife. Take a stroll along the 189-acre Kazimiroff Nature Trail and see if you can spot the remnants of the Hunter mansion, where former island owner John Hunter lived until his death in 1852.
Hunter Island is located along the Long Island Sound in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (nycgovparks.org).
A pathway at Wave Hill (Courtesy Pine Ear's flickr)
WAVE HILL: 170 years ago, Wave Hill was just another rich lawyer's mansion; but after decades upon decades of landscaping, gardening, greenhousing and curating, it's now a public garden boasting 28 acres of Northeastern flora and fauna. For a small entrance fee ($8, $4 students and seniors, $2 children), you can spend a few hours wandering through flower and wild gardens, winding woodland paths and vistas overlooking the Hudson River, along with plenty of other natural wonders. And although the bike ride up there can be pretty treacherous, it's a solid reward, especially on Target First Saturdays and Tuesdays before noon, when admission's free.
The entrance to Wave Hill is located at 675 West 252nd Street in the Fieldston section of the Bronx (718-549-3200, wavehill.org).
CENTRAL PARK'S NORTH WOODS: Avoid the throngs of half-naked sunbathers on the Sheep Meadow and venture into this wooded oasis in the park's upper quadrant. Modeled after the Adirondack Mountains, the North Woods offers a serene and picturesque respite from the mobbed grassy knolls and also provides welcome shade during the hotter months. The central part of the North Woods, known was the Ravine, is allowed to grow wild by the Parks Department; unless it's a hazard of some kind, fallen trees and branches are left to "provide nutrients to surrounding plants, homes to wildlife and a natural look to the landscape." As if the section could be any more tranquil, running through the center of the woodland is The Loch, a quaint stream that flows between the trees and over scenic waterfalls. (Nell Casey)
Courtesy Brett Weinstein's flickr
JAMAICA BAY WILDLIFE REFUGE: This Queens park is a haven for birdwatchers, salt marsh eco-life enthusiasts and pretty much anyone who'd rather see turtles frolic IRL than have to flush them down the toilet in your apartment. The refuge, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, sits on 14.3 square miles of marshland and is intermittently home to over 300 bird species.
There are a number of trails available for hiking, along with sunset tours, boat trips, woods, water ponds, horseshoe crabs, turtles, butterflies and dozens of other animals and reptiles you probably don't get to hang out with in the urban jungle. And though Jamaica Bay sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy, rehabilitation efforts have gotten it back on its feet, if not completely restored to its former glory.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is located at West Pond near Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel, Queens (718-318-4340, nps.gov/gate).
Courtesy mudpig's flickr
FORT WASHINGTON PARK: This massive 160-acre coastal park is a welcome escape from the humid curtain blanketing the rest of the city. Located in Washington Heights, with views of the Hudson River, the New Jersey Palisades, and the George Washington Bridge, Fort Washington Park is not only a haven for nature-lovers, but also for history buffs. The park’s named for the nearby Fort Washington, which was the site and namesake of the legendary battle during the Revolutionary War. It’s also home to the adorable Little Red Lighthouse, which has earned some fame of its own. In addition to the historical sites throughout the park, there are also basketball courts, tennis courts, and baseball fields. (Emily Siegel)
Fort Washington Park is located along the Hudson River from West 155th Street to Dyckman Street in Washington Heights. (nycgovparks.org).
(John Del Signore / Gothamist)
FORT TILDEN: Fort Tilden is the most remote of the Rockaway area beaches, since it's not directly accessible by train (though the Q35 bus does stop there). There are also no convenient amenities, unlike the bar scene at Beach 96th or the beach bazaar at Jacob Riis Park, so you have to bring your own food and drink. The good news is, that means it's (relatively) quiet, so you can enjoy the ocean without a million children and hipsters screaming at you for stomping all over their sand art. The also part of Gateway National Recreation Area, and when you're done with the sand there's plenty to explore along the trails. See here for a very detailed description of how to get there by bike; and here, for alternate transportation.
Fort Tilden is located at 169 State Road in Breezy Point, Queens (nyharborparks.org).
Courtesy Scoboco's flickr
EAST RIVER ESPLANADE: The East River Esplanade, also known as the East River Greenway, is comprised of 9.44 miles of parkland running along the East River from Battery Park to 125th Street. It connects to the Manhattan Greenway, providing a continuous bike and walking path for two miles. There’s a 1.3 mile gap between 34th and 60th streets, in which bikers and pedestrians must take city streets to get to the rest of the park. A long bike ride through the park takes you past Gracie Mansion, the United Nations, and South Street Seaport, making it an easy way to see many different parts of the city in one day. The southern part of the park at the end of Wall Street also includes some pretty swanky bar and lounge seating to relax on while more active park-goers pass by. (Emily Siegel)
East River Esplanade is located along the East River from Battery Park to 125th Street. (nycgovparks.org).
(Jenna Bascom on Flickr)
INWOOD HILL PARK: If you’re looking for dense forest on the island of Manhattan, this is your place. Inwood Hill Park is a 196-acre park located on the northern tip of the island in Inwood. And this ain’t no High Line—it’s largely un-landscaped forest that’s perfect for hiking and exploring. The park lies on a high ridge that is 200 feet above the Hudson River, making a walk in the park more of a hilly climb (hence the name Inwood Hill Park). The park boasts great views of the Hudson River and the Henry Hudson Bridge, as well as a small dog run, and caves that were used as seasonal camps by the Lenape people in the 1600s. Here, you can feel like you’re in Upstate New York without actually having to go to Upstate New York. (Emily Siegel)
Inwood Hill Park is located on Dyckman Street and the Hudson River in Inwood (nycgovparks.org).
Dead Horse Bay by ataferner on Flickr
DEAD HORSE BAY: Despite the creepy name, you won’t find dead horse carcasses along the water, and Dead Horse Bay is actually a pretty cool place to visit. Located in Brooklyn off of Barren Island between Gerritsen Beach and Rockaway Inlet, the spot consists of a small beach that was originally used to manufacture fertilizer from dead animal remains. Pleasant. Most recently, it was a landfill to dispose of the city's garbage, and currently it's a fun place to look for odd objects from the past. The entire beach is covered in broken and unbroken glass bottles, so leave your flip flops at home when heading to this beach. Still, it's popular with port fishers and boasts a nice view of the water, making Dead Horse Bay an excellent non-traditional place to escape the summer heat. (Emily Siegel)
Dead Horse Bay is off of Flatbush Avenue on Barren Island in Brooklyn.