Craving a hike? Skip the traffic jams and packed commuter rail. Why deal with all the fuss when there are plenty of trails you can visit right here at home? Whether you want to take your tot on a short starter hike or to treat older kids to a full day of exploration, here are seven family-friendly urban hikes that offer fun for adventure seekers all ages.
Walk The Highline
It might be overrun with tourists, but The Highline is still the hippest greenspace in town. It’s also one of the best spots in NYC for an urban hike. The path is built on an historic freight rail line that runs from Gansevoort Street to 35th Street and boasts spectacular views of the Hudson. Take the kids on an adventure on the abandoned train track as you explore miniature forests and lush gardens. Be sure to spend some time at the Pershing Square Beams in the park’s newest section just west of 11th Avenue. You’ll find unique play structures, like old rail switches, beams for climbing and a kid-sized gopher hole. The area’s surface is coated in silicone so you won’t have to worry about your little one walking away with scrapes and bruises. The Highline also offers activities for kids throughout the year, including singalongs, story hour, bubbles and nature classes.
Best way to get there: Take the A, C or E to 14th Street station; at Gansevoort and Washington Streets, take the elevator or stairs to the start of the trail.
Discover the secret Tribeca boardwalk
For new walkers not up for a full-blown hike, you might feel comfortable letting your tot loose on the 893-foot boardwalk in Hudson River Park. It’s a secluded path that runs from Watt to Laight Street. This special section of the Greenway features a planked wooden floor as well as breathtaking gardens, trees and natural grasses. There is also an unobstructed view of One World Trade Center; be sure to take a photo if you have out-of-town visitors tagging along. There are also plenty of benches along the boardwalk in case you need a breather. When you reach the end of the path, spend a few minutes walking down to Pier 25 where you’ll find a water park and 18-hole miniature golf course.
Best way to get there: Enter park by crossing West Street at Watt or Laight Streets.
Hike the Kazimiroff Nature Trail
Want to let your little Tarzan loose in the wilderness? Take a trip to the Bronx. The Kazimiroff Nature Trail in Pelham Bay Park is a beautiful sanctuary for nature lovers big and small. You can either take the full two-mile hike through 189-acre Hunter Island, or opt for the shorter 30-minute loop. Either way, the path winds through shrubland, rocky shores and wetlands, offering fantastic views of Long Island Sound. Expect to see plenty of wildlife, including geese and small crustaceans; the kids will also get a chance to collect seashells and explore Orchard Beach. While you’re on the Island, look for large boulders left behind after the last ice age nearly 15,000 years ago.
Best way to get there: Hop the 6 line to its last stop, Pelham Bay Park.
photo: Ethan Hartman via Flickr
Venture into the Ravine in Prospect Park
There’s something about old arches, romantic bridges and steep waterfalls that sparks the imagination. Instead of spending hot summer days indoors, head to the Ravine in Prospect Park and watch your little one’s creativity run wild. Along the way, you’ll want to see the Nethermead Arch and the Rock Arch Bridge and travel through Brooklyn’s only forest. The highlight of the trek is Ambergill Falls — yes, a waterfall— a sight you’d never believe you could find in NYC. Pick up a map in the Prospect Park Audubon Center to make sure you don’t miss any of the attractions.
Best way to get there: Enter park at 15th Street and Prospect Park West
Explore the trails in Alley Pond Park
Nestled in Little Neck Bay in Queens, this expansive park offers a variety of trails for young hikers that include forests, swamps, tidal flats and expansive meadows. We recommend taking a trip to the north end of the park, where you’ll find spectacular marsh views. To make your hike truly memorable, stop at the Alley Pond Park High Ropes Adventure Course, where free programs are offered to families with kids ages 8 years old and up throughout the year. You’ll have the opportunity to show off your superhuman strength, but be prepared for the kids to volunteer you for the Human Swingshot.
Best way to get there: Take the 7 to Flushing-Main St., then take Q12 bus to Northern Blvd at 223rd St.
photo: John N. via Yelp
Trek the Greenbelt Nature Center Trail
The one-mile Nature Center Trail at the Greenbelt Conservancy in Staten Island is so picturesque, you’d think it came right out of a fairy tale. Your little bookworms will have a blast pretending they’re escaping from an evil witch or trying to dig up hidden treasure. The site includes footbridges, tulips in spring, wildlife and tall birch trees and the trail is designed for novice hikers, so you shouldn’t need to offer piggyback rides or strap on an Ergo. (For very young hikers, check out the shorter section of the path called the “E Trail”.) The Conservancy holds several events for kids throughout the summer such as a story hour, snacktime and sprinkler activities, so check the calendar before your visit.
Best way to get there: From the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, take bus S74 to Rockland Avenue, transfer to the S54 or S57 to Brielle Avenue.
Hike up to The Cloisters
The best urban hikes offer a mix of nature and culture. Spend a morning hiking to The Cloisters and take a trek through the northern section of the museum’s home, Fort Tyron Park. Enjoy views of the Hudson as you climb the museum’s hilly grounds and roam its blooming gardens, then take some time to explore the thousands of medieval works and ancient architecture inside the museum. If the kids aren’t quite old enough to appreciate art history, don’t let that discourage you: the museum offers hour-long family workshops for children ages 4 through 12, including medieval music and entertainment that will fascinate your little ones.
How to get there: Take the A train to 190th Street. Walk north on Margaret Corbin Drive for approximately ten minutes.
Do you have a favorite urban hike? Tell us about it in the comments below!
—Michelle McIvor Cohen