Let’s Go Hiking (and Biking)!

This morning DNAinfo.com put out a list of what they deemed the five best places to going hiking within New York City limits. While Pelham Bay Park was named on the list, it was disappointing when considered that our borough has more parks space than any other. I’ve created a diverse list of trails, some off the beaten path (literally) that you can enjoy.

Here are more trails that you can walk and bike on in our borough. An added bonus? At least two extend past the Bronx border into Westchester County!

Castle Hill Park

Castle Hill conjures images of the 6 train, the Cross Bronx Expressway, and J-Lo. To the casual passerby, there is no indication that there is a waterfront paradise just beyond the bend. Just past Castle Hill Houses the avenue reaches a dead end where one reaches the brand new YMCA and a new-ish development of prefab houses sporting above ground swimming pools and pristine gardens.

Quickly make a right onto Hart St. and continue until you reach the intersection of Howe and Barrett Avenues. You look out onto an inlet leading to Long Island Sound that resembles some some beachside town in Cape Cod more than it does the Bronx. This is not a place you’ll want to speed by on your 10-speed Schwinn.

With breathtaking views across the Sound, this is an excellent spot to sit on the grass and have a small picnic lunch as planes swoop down en route to nearby LaGuardia Airport. After your lunch, continue onto the adjoining Pugsley Creek Park, with its vast swampland. Ultimately you will stumble upon Harding Park, a small working-class enclave lined with bungalows. If you never knew it was there, the sleepy fishing neighborhood is a stark contrast with surrounding Soundview, which seems worlds away…and that’s just the way they like it.

How to get there: a loooong (20 minute+) walk from the Castle Hill Avenue station on the 6 train or the Bx22 bus to the end of the line. You’ll probably want to go via bike if you’ve got one.

Courtesy of Google Maps

Courtesy of Google Maps

Soundview Park

After visiting Castle Hill park and Pugsley Creek it makes logistical sense to mosey on across the peninsula to Soundview Park. The park goes on further south, but it will make sense to exit the park at Stephens Avenue and head west on O’Brien and Leland Avenues where the entrance trail to the park begins.

Much bigger the adjacent ones, Soundview Park sits snugly along the Bronx River where the East River meets. One special spot you don’t want to miss is the jetty the juts out just south of the trail. Bring your camera, because you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the Whitestone Bridge and Manhattan skyline. Looking to either side, you just might see small schools of fish swimming alongside.

An added bonus is that if you own or have access to a canoe or kayak, there is a launch ramp here should you desire to get out on the water. As you walk northwest, the park offers a sneak peek of Hunt’s Point Riverside Park. Large boulders at the riverbank where you may want to sit and just watch the world go by. This spot offers a great vantage point form which to observe a sunset.

How to get there: depending on where you decide to enter the park, get off the 6 train at either Elder Avenue, Morrison-Soundview Avenues, or St. Lawrence Avenue, which is a long (20-30+ minute) walk or about a ten minute bike ride. The Bx5 and Bx27 buses also stop a short distance from the park.

University Woods

This one is a diamond in the rough. You’ve probably never heard of it. Heck, nay people in the neighborhood haven’t even heard about it. Okay, so you can’t really take a hike in here.. You may in fact spend more time hiking to get there than you will once you’ve arrived. Still, this tiny park will be of interest to any hiking or history buff.

It’s lacking the love. Friend of the Woods, a volunteer group, has spent years cleaning up this neglected nook, and has tried to put it on the map. However, it never quite took and has been referred to as “a municipally protected disaster.”  The issue might be that while recognized as a NYC park, University Woods is just that: a small forest. If that doesn’t deter you from visiting, nothing will.

It is located off of a very desolate stretch of Sedgwick Avenue. Behind Bronx Community College and its Hall of Fame for Great Americans, University Woods takes its name from the days when New York University occupied the campus before abandoning it in the early 1970s. It played a part as a fort during the American revolution.

How to get there: take the Bx12 Select bus to the Cedar Avenue stop (opposite Dallas BBQ) and walk south on Cedar. You could also take the Bx3 bus to 183 Street, walk west until you reach Sedgwick Avenue, and walk south a few blocks.

* Old Croton Aqueduct

This isn’t just a hiking trail, but also history lesson. A very ambitious trailway and somewhat complicated, this one is my favorite. While much longer, the actual trail itself extends only about 26 miles, as the urbanization of Manhattan and the Bronx blurred most indications of it even existing.

The Old Croton Aqueduct starts at the Croton Reservoir in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, a town 28 miles north of the Bronx in Westchester County, and ultimately ends underneath what is now Bryant Park and the New York Public Library between 40th and 42nd Streets. Built in the 1830s and 40s, this tube extended from then the countryside to New York City to carry clean water to its residents. It works on gravity, as the elevation difference pushed the water down the an incline. While you can no longer see any remnants of the aqueduct in Manhattan, the Bronx is where signs of it begin to reappear.

high

While it’s difficult to tell where the aqueduct trail begins, one could theoretically start at Highbridge Tower at Sedgwick Avenue just above West 170th street. Working northeast to University Avenue (named MLK Blvd. for this stretch) where it zigszags, it begins to reveal itself with telltale landmarks, most notably a defunct gatehouse at Phelan Place. Several blocks to the east on Burnside Aveue is where the actual trail begins, though still more of an urban pathway.

Photo courtesy of J the Travel Authority http://www.jthetravelauthority.com/2012/10/an-idyllic-walk-in-bronx-old-croton.html

Photo courtesy of J the Travel Authority

Recently reconstructed by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, the rail continues north alongside the aptly named Aquduct Avenue, continuing across Fordham Road. Frustratingly, the path ends abruptly several blocks north when you hit Kingsbridge Road. This is when things begin to get a bit murky again. Jerome Reservoir is the last landmark for several blocks until arriving at Van Cortlandt Park. However, once there, it’s smooth sailing.

Map courtesy of http://www.waterblogged.org/

Map courtesy of http://www.waterblogged.org/

From there, it becomes progressively easier to follow the trail north. The caveat is that because the population of adjacent cities and villages grew rapidly after the aqueduct is built, there are some intersections where the trail breaks off, winds around, and is not completely evident (for example, a rather long stretch of Yonkers Ave. just above the Bronx.) New York State Office of Parks has posted a hand drawn map of the Westchester County segments, should you desire to venture to points further north. Biking can be bit of a challenge in areas due to the terrain, which can be alternately rocky and muddy, crossing streets in various Hudson River towns.

Photo courtesy of NYC Parks & Recreation

Photo courtesy of NYC Parks & Recreation

How to get there: there are various points of entry. Decide what segment of the trail you want to hoke or bike, and plan accordingly. The Bx3 is useful for points along University Avenue, while the Bx 11 and Bx13 will take you deeper into Highbridge, should you want to begin there. Generally speaking, the 4 train is your best bet, as it runs parallel and the walk is just blocks. For points northwest of Jerome Park, the 1 train is best.

Should you decide to venture beyond city limits, the Hudson Line of Metro-North is rarely ever more than a short walk or taxi drive away, as you get closer to Croton. Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct is provides a full history, information about tours, and great resources.

* Putnam Trail

Photo courtesy of Stephan Nesherman

Photo courtesy of Stephan Nesherman

Like the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, the Putnam trail also is rich in history and extends past the city line. As you may have guessed from the steel girders at the entrance to the trail, the Putnam trail is based on a segment of the former New York Central Railroad, the Putnam Line. It began at 155th Street in Manhattan, crossing the river, stopping at Segdwick Avenue station, and up the west side off the Bronx.

Stretching some 40 miles into Putnam County, this trail is best accessed via Van Cortlandt Park. It can be muddy with puddles after rain or a winter snowstorm, a fact that was the catalyst for the city to consider paving the length of. The quality of the trail vastly improves upon crossing the Westchester border, covered in blacktop, a terrain much easier on bicycle tires.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Much more straightforward than the aqueduct trail, historical signage, maps, and narratives adorn the trailway at the sites of former stations. There is the opportunity to easily travel several miles in a single trip.

How to get there: the 1 train Van Cortlandt Park, but the Bx 9 will also take you there. However, running through the middle of Westchester and Putnam counties, train and bus lines can be few and far between, and increasingly less frequent in service the further north you go.

* Bronx River Greenway 

This one should perhaps be the most obvious due to its namesake. Beginning at the Kensico Reservoir and Dam in Valhalla, NY, it is possible to hike or bike ride on the trail is largely paved, but includes dirt paths in sections of the wooded areas. The added bonus is that if you have one, it is possible to kayak or canoe  (or even swim, as the Baron Ambrosia did last summer, though it’s highly recommended that you don’t) the length of the Bronx River into the East River.

Photo courtesy of Jim Henderson

Photo courtesy of Jim Henderson

This is the quintessential #BronxCentric nature trail, which cuts through over a dozen parks and include historical bridges, and other landmarks. What’s especially noteworthy is that the Bronx River passes through two major Bronx cultural institutions, New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo. Along the riverbank one can observe the snuff mill of the former Lorillard Estate, as well as various forms of wildlife, which the garden as produced a PDF guide to.

Photo courtesy of Nick Leshi

Photo courtesy of Nick Leshi

Perhaps one of its best features the various waterfalls that adorn the river, my personal favorite located at River Park on east 180th Street just south of the Bronx Zoo entry point. The fairly recent Concrete Plant Park utilizes old industrial parts of defunct factories to create a unique vibe all its own. Another must-see is the peaceful Hunt’s Point Riverside Park that incorporates artistic touches, which gives it an eclectic flair.

The best  part is that the river is at the cleanest its been in decades! The Bronx River Alliance hosts various events along the river, which you can check out on their website.

How to get there: the 2 train north of the Cross Bronx expressway, the 6 train to Whitlock or Elder Avenues south of the expressway, and various bus lines (see the MTA bus map of the Bronx.)

* Extends into Westchester County

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