The Nature Sanctuaries of New York: 6 Easy Escapes

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary is in New York's Central Park
The Hallett Nature Sanctuary is in New York's Central Park A. Strakey
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There's still enough time before the ground is covered in snow for fall hiking and exploring. The nature sanctuaries of New York are smaller parks and preserves big on fresh air and beautiful views—ideal for mini-city escapes. In some cases, it's not even necessary to leave the city! These natural spaces show a different ecological side of the New York mega-tropolis—salt marshes, woodland forests, meadows, and other natural environs for short, rejuvenating hikes close to home.

Westmoreland Sanctuary/Arthur W. Butler Memorial Sanctuary, Bedford, N.Y.

Arthur W. Butler Sanctuary in New York
Arthur W. Butler Sanctuary in New York By Stephanie Cohen

You can visit two sanctuaries in one outing at the Westmoreland Sanctuary and the Arthur W. Butler Memorial Sanctuary . They basically just across the road from each other in Westchester County, and are an easy 90 minute drive north of the city.

The 365-acre Butler sanctuary is owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy. You’ll disappear into towering multicolored trees just a few feet away from the parking area as you hike up to the sanctuary’s highest peak—775 feet up—for a view of Long Island Sound and Hawkwatch, a major attraction for birdwatchers. Access an online mapof the color coded trailheads before you go; the marked trails are between 1.3 and 1.7 miles in length.

Hop back in your car for the quick drive to Westmoreland Sanctuary—when you see a big gray house on a hill with a weather vane on top it means you’re in the right place. Westmoreland is the perfect place for families with young kids with more than a dozen well-marked short-distance trails to choose from (distances vary from less than half a mile to 1.5 miles). Leave your dog at home though, as they are not permitted on sanctuary grounds.

Hunter Island Marine Sanctuary, Pelham Bay, N.Y.

Hunter Island Marine Sanctuary is located at Pelham Bay Park
Hunter Island Marine Sanctuary is located at Pelham Bay Park By June Marie

Pelham Bay in the Bronx is home to two sanctuaries, a wildlife refuge and a preserve so you have some choices when you visit, depending on whether you’re looking to explore marine ecosystems, woodlands, birds and wildlife, or geological deposits.

The Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary offers a rare (in New York) glimpse of a unique intertidal marine ecosystem. The sanctuary includes Twin Islands, Cat Briar Island, Two Trees Island, and the northeastern shoreline of Hunter Island. The Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary is home to Goose Creek Marsh and the saltwater wetlands that run into the Hutchinson River.

The Sanctuary is about a 30-minute drive north of Manhattan. When you’re done hiking, leave some time to stop at the beach, or the basketball courts or the playground. Or better yet bring your bikes and hop on the paved bike trails for a great ride.

Greenbrook Sanctuary, Tenafly, N.J.

Greenbrook Nature Sanctuary in Tenafly, N.J.
Greenbrook Nature Sanctuary in Tenafly, N.J. Stephanie Cohen

Membership certainly has its privileges when it comes to the 165-acre woodland preserve known as the Greenbrook Sanctuary . Technically it's in New Jersey but it offers magnificent (and elevated) views of New York and the lower Hudson River--and it's just a short, 30-minute drive out of the city. The Sanctuary is primarily an oak forest and a bird watcher's paradise--over 250 species have been identified at the sanctuary. It was once part of the Palisades Interstate Park until a group of citizens purchased the grounds and took over management.

You’ll need to become a member before you visit but it's as easy as going online. It costs $36 for individuals or $51 for a family. The six miles of marked trail at the sanctuary are an easy hike and as a member you’ll have access to a full-time on-site naturalist.

Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, Rye, N.Y.

Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary near Rye Playland
Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary near Rye Playland Bonnie Council

The Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary sits right behind an amusement park. It’s easy to forget about nature when you’re riding the roller coasters at Rye Playland (the first, largest and oldest county run amusement park in the country). But on a quiet fall day, when the roller coasters have closed for the year, the 179-acre sanctuary is a little slice of heaven on Manursing Island.

Visiting this Sanctuary also requires becoming a member. Apply online at least two weeks before your planned visit through the Friends of Read Wildlife Sanctuary (FRWS) site. Membership is $20 for students and individuals and $50 for families.

Hallett Nature Sanctuary, New York, N.Y.

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary, in New York's Central Park, offers a glimpse of the City's natural landscape
The Hallett Nature Sanctuary, in New York's Central Park, offers a glimpse of the City's natural landscape A. Strakey

In the heart of Central Park, the tiny four-acre Hallett Nature Sanctuary is a woodland enclave. The sanctuary was long closed to the public and preserved as a bird sanctuary from 1934 until 2001.

It's once again open to the public, but hours are limited. Check online before you go and also to register for free guided tours. The next tour is on November 22. You can reach the sanctuary by entering the Park from the southeast corner between 60th-62nd Streets.

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