Lots of families discovered hiking this year, and well, we’re thinking the trend will continue into the winter months. After all: hiking is basically free, it’s an outdoor activity you can do with kids and you can even socially distance as you walk. And so, we rounded up the best winter hikes in and around NYC. Some are in the city, some are mellow and stroller-friendly; others are upstate and beyond or a bit more challenging. So put on that long underwear and hit trails!
The sheer size of Central Park means that there are many options to choose from when it comes to family winter walks. Plus, the variety of options means you can cater the walk to your family — whether you decide to go off the beaten path or follow a paved and stroller-friendly walkway.
You could walk around the pond in the south, where the trees and bridge make a magical sight after snowfall. Climb to the top of Belvedere Castle for a winter wonderland view or wander around the Ramble for a chance to spot some wildlife like squirrels and birds. In the north, the North Woods are a great place to get a taste of winter hiking without ever needing to leave the city.
Roosevelt Island & Lighthouse Park
Hop on the tram or take the F train to Roosevelt Island for a nice walk alongside the city without actually being in it. You can take your time walking along the East River and see sights of both Manhattan and Queens on either side of the island. Benches along the way and a fully paved promenade make this a very easy walk to take with the opportunity for plenty of stops along the way.
Pay a visit to Lighthouse Park at the northern tip of the island for a photo-up next to the titular lighthouse. After your walk, visit the island's quaint shops along Main Street for a grab to eat!
Prospect Park is an excellent choice for a winter amble. Enjoy a beautiful winter view of the lake as you wind around the park's paths. Follow the official perimeter loop for a 3.68-mile walk around the entirety of the park, or stick to the inner loops for shorter walks. Some views are only visible in the winter — like the excellent view from Lookout Hill, which is mostly obscured by trees in other seasons — and the Prospect Park Alliance even has a suggested path you can take for a winter walk.
When you're ready to end the walk, there are plenty of winter activities to do in Prospect Park, including ice skating and sledding.
Forest Park Loop in Forest Park Reserve
For a bit of wilderness right in your backyard, take a walk around the Forest Park Loop. This oak forest path is heavily wooded and it's easy to forget that you're in the middle of the city when you're immersed in the area. It's a great place to see wildlife as well, like songbirds and small mammals, and if you're really lucky, you might even spot a wild pheasant!
There are several trails to choose from, although some aren't as clearly marked as others and it can be easy to get turned around, so keep a map handy — you can get one from a park Ranger at the visitor's center.
Alley Pond Park Loop
Take your walk to the trees with Alley Pond's adventure course, which features rope courses accessible for all ages. If you'd rather stick to the ground, there are plenty of sights to see, including a few ponds, one of the city's oldest trees in an oak-hickory forest, official hiking trails and more. Along your walk, stop by the Environmental Center to pay a visit to Alley Pond's 80+ animal ambassadors (visits are free but a $5 donation is encouraged).
Although Alley Pond is technically in NYC, don't be fooled — the trails are considered moderate difficulty, with some areas providing a bit of a challenge for visitors. In the winter, be sure to stay on the trails as some areas can get muddy and slippery due to the area's marshy nature.
Little Neck Bay to Springfield Blvd, Union Tpke
Van Cortlandt Park
Located in the Bronx
Grab a map at the Nature Center and embark on a walk that'll take you through various types of scenery in the city's third-largest park. The park provides fairly easy and tranquil walks and you may even spot a few horses, due to the nearby stable and much of the path being open to equestrians.
You can stay on a flat, paved track for most of your walk, or choose to veer off into the John Muir trail for a slightly more off-road experience.
For the John Muir loop, enter at Broadway & Mosholu Avenue or Van Cortlandt Park East & Oneida Avenue
St. Nicholas Park
Although it's a relatively small park and is much more of a city park than a wild spot in the middle of the city. If that's the kind of walk you're looking for, then this park is one of the best winter spots to visit.
St. Nicholas is a hotspot when it snows, as many people come to sled down its sizable hill. It's a nice place to visit for a brief and pleasant walk, whether you plan to partake in the snowy fun or just watch people having a good time.
Intersection of St. Nicholas Avenue, 127th Street, and St. Nicholas Terrace and 141st Street
The Staten Island Greenbelt is the closest you'll come to visiting a forest without leaving the city. The large park (the city's second-largest) boasts many forested areas and natural-feeling trails and paths. While many of the other parks mentioned previously constantly remind visitors that they're in a city park because of noise from cars along nearby roads and highways, the Greenbelt is a truly peaceful, scenic oasis, and it becomes truly quiet as you head deeper into the trails. You might even get to see a deer (or a few — the animals frequent the park and are a fairly common sight there). See more info on the many trails here.
There are some hillier and more difficult areas, but nothing too difficult for most kids to handle. The winter months are the best times to see the abandoned Farm Colony in the center of the park, when the vines that cover the structures are stripped of their leaves by the weather. (Just maybe don't share the lurid details of the place's past with your kids!)
Cornish Estate Trail in the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve
Located in Cold Spring, NY, 1h 9m from NYC
We now leave NYC and find ourselves just over an hour away from Penn Station, at the Cornish Estate Trail in Cold Springs. This trail might be outside of the city, but it's still a super easy walk and a great first step toward hiking outside of NYC.
Most of one trail is stroller-friendly and paved, although there are challenges to try as well if your family is up to it. If you're a fan of ruins, the Cornish Estate ruins are a great spot to check out (though they aren't accessible along the main, paved path). This trail is the perfect choice for families who want to try something similar to but much easier than a hike.
Cold Spring, NY
DELAWARE WATER GAP
Delaware Water Gap: Council Rock and Lookout Rock
Located in Bushkill, PA, 1h 10m from NYC
This trail is definitely a ramp up in challenge from your leisurely walks. For families who want a bit more of an adventure, the Delaware Water Gap is a fun hike that's still easy enough for kids to tackle. The payoff is worth it: There are spectacular views at the end of the Council Rock and Lookout Rock trail, especially when the land is blanketed in snow.
It's a fairly well-populated trail, so you're unlikely to be entirely alone here. Be sure to stay on the markers and don't follow worn paths away from the main trails, as it can get slippery in the winter.
Delaware Water Gap, PA (just off Route 611)
Old Mine Railroad Trail, Sunken Mine Road & Three Lakes Loop
Located in Cold Spring, NY, 1h 17m from NYC
This spot is a great beginner's hike for families, and it's gorgeous in the winter. The trails feature a variety of terrain and scenery, including fairly flat paths, more challenging rocky sections, and, as the name implies, lakes and an old rail trail.
Though there are a few scrambles to tackle here, this is a favorite among parents of young kids. Despite this, it typically doesn't get much traffic, so you can really get out there and enjoy some family time without seeing too many other hikers.
291-295 Dennytown Rd.
Putnam Valley, NY
Wallkill Valley Rail Trail: New Paltz to Rosendale
Located in New Paltz/Rosendale, NY, 1h 30m from NYC
If you want to make your walk a whole day adventure, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail is a great choice. This bike trail is wide, spacious and mostly flat, so it's a great walk for families with young children and even strollers (in most places).
The entire trail is probably too long to tackle in one go, so we recommend completing the Rosendale portion of the hike. That on its own is an impressive 11-mile path, so only undertake this one if you have some experience and the kids have enough endurance. If you can manage the length, though, be sure to visit the Rosendale trestle bridge, which spans 940 feet and rises 150 miles over a creek — at one time, this was the largest bridge in the states — and features spectacular views in the winter (and all year round!).
At the end of your hike, stop by the hamlet of Rosendale to explore and grab a bite to eat.
Sojourner Truth Park
55 Plains Rd.
New Paltz, NY
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center Game Farm Road
Located in Delmar, NY, 2h 28m from NYC
A favorite among hikers with children, this trail is a must-visit in the winter. It's a fairly flat walk throughout, and has opportunities to snowboard and cross-country ski if you're looking for a bit more excitement than just a walk. If you're just walking, make sure to wear grippy shoes as the path does get icy in places in the winter.
This is a top spot to visit if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of some wildlife, like birds, deer, bunnies and much more. Pavilions and rest areas are scattered throughout the trail for a chance to catch your breath. Stop by Beaver Tree trail for a burst of nature — though it's best in the spring and summer, you may still get to see a variety of critters in the winter.