Getting Away in Manhattan: Two Parks Offer Quick Breaks from the City

A trail in Inwood Hill Park

Got an hour or two to kill in New York City? Need an escape from the concrete jungle, but don't want to get too far away from the attractions of midtown? No problem. NYC actually has lots of parks, from the famous one right in the center of Manhattan to verdant hills throughout the five boroughs.

Those with limited time will, of course, want to head into Central Park, which has several off-the-beaten track areas for a real breath of fresh air. Those with more time may want to head out to Prospect Park in Brooklyn or Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, but those who don't want to leave Manhattan can also hop the A train up to Inwood Hill Park, which has actual hiking trails that loop around the northernmost part of the island.

Central Park

Wrapping around the Pond at the southeast corner of Central Park is the four-acre Hallett Nature Sanctuary, one of the Park's three woodlands (along with the Ramble and North Woods), and originally called "the Promontory" by the Park's designers. This area is especially notable as it was closed to the public and preserved as a bird sanctuary by NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses in 1934, and remained untouched until 2001, when the Central Park Conservancy took up its restoration and maintenance. The Conservancy cleaned away invasive plants and brought the four acres back to what they may well have looked like when Manhattan was a wilderness. A year ago, the Conservancy began offering open hours in the sanctuary, and visitors will be able to tour the trees and bushes on August 12 from 1pm to 3pm, entering from the path just south of Wollman Rink. Entrance is free, but be sure to wear good walking shoes, and large groups (as well as dogs, bikes and strollers) are not allowed. 

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Hallett Nature Sanctuary

Inwood Hill Park

Head uptown to Dyckman Street, past the Cloisters, and head to Inwood Hill Park, the last all-natural reserve in Manhattan. (Even Central Park was a planned development.) Walk along the Hudson and watch locals play soccer (or host barbecues), and then turn left into the park itself and leave all sign of the city behind. Not far in, walkers will be able to turn 360 degrees and not see any buildings or sign of human development (except for the paved pathway, of course). There are several paths to explore, and some notable sights to see (a memorial to the spot where the Dutch--according to legend--purchased the island of Manhattan from the local Native Americans is at the edge of the woodland), and visitors can take their time to wander around and head out into the meadows to people-watch or sit when they need to. Keep an eye out for wildlife: Rabbits will occassionally scamper down the pathways. 

Inwood Hill Park and the Hudson River, Looking North

Best of all, walking out of Inwood Hill Park brings visitors close to some top dining: Try Indian Road Cafe or Bette Midler's New Leaf Restaurant in nearby Fort Tryon Park (just south of the Cloisters). 

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