Living in the urban jungle, it may be tempting to just hit the same parks week in and week out. You know how long the run or hike is, you know how long it’s going to take, and you know where to get the best snack afterwards.
But if you’re looking for a bit more adventure, now that the weather is starting to turn, consider planning a day-trip or even a full weekend and exploring lesser-known areas near the city. Or, if you can only spare a few hours, there might be some places in the city you haven’t tried yet!
The Full Weekend of Adventure
If you want to get away for a weekend, enjoy some time on the trails, hit a few types of terrain, maybe sample some local seafood and flop on the beach for a few hours, consider hopping the ferry to Sandy Hook , either for a day or as a weekend camping trip.
The running and hiking at Sandy Hook itself is fairly basic: some sand, some trail, and some pavement, but just a couple miles down the road is Hartshorne Park, a great mountain biking and hiking destination. Between the two spots, you can do a huge variety of activities within a 48 hour period, and Sandy Hook is a much nicer beach getaway than any of the other Jersey Shore options if you’re hoping for some peace and quiet.
(Sandy Hook has a clothing-optional beach, so don’t be shocked if you stumble onto it.)
The Day Tripper
To stick fairly close to the city, head to Palisades Interstate Park , just over the George Washington Bridge. Whether you're looking for a hellish climb or just a long run along the Hudson, and just want to be free from the crowds of NYC, this is the spot.
The Dyckman Hill Trail is right at the bottom of the basin where most people park (but you can easily walk into), and it’s a brutal hike or run. It’s marked with yellow blazes and ready for some serious running action. It climbs 340 feet, but not an easy 340 feet. There are four more similar climbs as you make your way north on the run route, and the Forest View Trail is the steepest. The trail runs 11 miles, so if you’re looking for a long run route, this is a fairly simple way to work in 22 miles of running in an out-and-back. With picnic areas peppering the shoreline of the Hudson, there are a few spots to stop and hit a restroom, and the State Line Lookout (right near the Giant Stairs, close to the end of the park) is a great place to stop, and has a refreshment stand if you need to refuel before turning around.
Further north, you’ll find Bear Mountain, the ultimate classic hiking experience. You can park at the Bear Mountain Lodge and head up the Appalachian Trail to see why the trail is so legendary (just don’t fall under its spell and end up in Maine by the end of your hike). For an epic day that won’t end you out of state, start at the Appalachian Trail for 6 miles, then pop onto Timp Torne for another 6.5, hang a left onto Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail, then a right onto the Cornell Mine Trail, which will bring you back up to the Appalachian Trail and the park’s main attractions. It’s about 16 miles, but not a fast 16.
If Bear Mountain and Palisades are old-hat for you, check out the Camp Smith Trail back on the NY side of the river. The New York/New Jersey Trail Conference refers to this trail by saying, “Without a doubt, the most rugged trail in Westchester County is the Camp Smith Trail.” They aren’t exaggerating. It’s brutal. But it’s awesome. At 4.3 miles long, an out and back takes about two hours for even a more experienced trail runner, since the trails are no joke.
Start with Inwood Hills (or run there via Riverside Park), and you’ll be hiking in some seriously technical trails in minutes. Head down the paved trail for about a half mile and you’ll see a bridge with stairs up and down, designed to go over the train tracks and bring you in to the real park. When you get down, there’s more paved path, and if you’re feeling skittish, stick to that for a while. But if you’re feeling bold, hike through the short tunnel and pop out staring at a set of stone steps covered in moss and leaves. Blast up the 15 stairs and take in the singletrack that’s lying in front of you, begging to be explored. It’s overgrown and dense with foliage in the summer, but don’t be intimidated—the trails are still easy to spot. But unlike the manicured landscape of Central Park, this is a true hiking trail, not a well-worn walking path.
Next door to Inwood Hills is Fort Tryon, where you can stop and visit The Cloisters if you’re so inclined, or just do some Rocky-style stair repeats on the awesome stone steps while taking in the nifty gardens and crazy stonework architecture.
End with a long run that can even extend onto the Hudson Greenway and head into lower Manhattan by hopping into Riverside Park where admittedly, your hike won’t be very hike-y. But if you’re running or just trying to add an extra couple of miles in, this is a really nice and relatively uncrowded spot. Bonus: the Covo Trattoria is a bit south of Inwood Hills and Fort Tryon and has amazing brunch, if you want to end on a high note.
If you want to add more trail, head to Van Courtland and just finish there, then take the subway home. Van Courtland is legendary for trail runners: it’s home to one of the most legendary New York cross country courses, with Cemetery Hill being the high/low point of the three mile course, depending on who you ask. So if you want to run in the footsteps of high school giants, head here.