lthough I'm putting this report together in June, I first did this route with Melissa in late March, the first long run of spring, and it was beautiful. The flowering Trees were just gorgeous and the running route was spectacular. The route was actually a combination of two runs I had done previously: and . But to connect them together I made a few changes, such as starting at the Boat House in Central Park instead of Carl Schurz Park, and staying in Manhattan instead of going up to the Bronx. Those two runs are great runs in and of themselves, so consider doing them sometime. I've also kept the directions a bit sparse, but I think they are sufficient to keep you from getting lost. Please read the other reports (linked above) if you want more detail, including additional photos.
Here is a Google Map you can check (click on the "Show Map" button). I've kept it hidden initially to streamline the report. It can be useful if the directions are unclear, especially when running from one park to the next. You can hide it again if it gets in the way. To see a full size map in a new browser window, click here: .
I call this run the "Manhattan Parks 20 Miler" because it goes up to the northernmost point in Manhattan and back, almost exclusively in parks. It's true you could go over to Riverside Park and run up to the top of Manhattan and then turn around and come back (that's in fact, what "The West Side Run" does), but I like to cover more territory and hit every park just once. If you count all the parks both coming and going (not counting Riverbank State Park, which you go under), I think you get 11. That counts the little stretch along the Hudson at 125th Street as a park, since the sign says "West Harlem Piers Park". And guess what — I ran on one of those piers. And the real point is to minimize the distance run on city streets. In this run, the longest you run on the streets is getting from Riverside Park back to Central Park on 72nd Street. All other connections are just a few blocks. And to run over 20 miles in Manhattan through 11 parks (and not repeat any part of the route) — that's pretty darn good.
The running was made much more enjoyable than say, loops in the park, since almost all of the parks were nearly empty (except for bike riders along the Hudson portion), and the trees had that in-between look where the green buds were out, but few leaves, so you could still see the "backbone" of the terrain. And on the way up that meant steep drop offs and rocky outcrops. The site of St. John's Cathedral above Morningside Park or City College above St. Nicholas Park or High Bridge Tower above High Bridge Park or the Cloisters above Fort Tryon Park or the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River — all of them, the next after the next after the next — made the juxtaposition of the natural beauty with the man-made beauty startling. Only in New York!
As I mentioned, the run was the first long run of spring, which began the Tuesday before. And the city was really getting into spring. Callery Pears in bloom lined the streets as I walked to the park from the subway. Central Park's trees finally have green buds — if not real leaves — on all the branches. The Cherry Trees were making a good start (although I'd give them another week) and the Magnolia trees were literally exploding! The parks further north were not quite as far along, but they have definately made progress in the last week. And the weather, which was forecast to be chilly and rainy, was quite nice: temperatures in the 50°s and partly sunny. Just about a perfect day to be out there.
glance at a Manhattan map, such as the one above, reveals a remarkable fact: many of the parks line up with each other and follow the street grid along the length of Manhattan in an almost straight line. This is not accidental — it's the geography (or the topography, to be more precise). Manhattan is built on a series of long, high rocky ridges and outcrops (called escarpments) which have survived the overlay of the street grid. In many cases the terrain was simple too steep and rocky for laying out streets and those areas became parks. In particular, Morningside, St. Nicholas, Jackie Robinson and High Bridge Parks are all built along the same escarpment, or ridge line, and the gaps between them are generally only a few blocks long. Gorman Park lies on the other side of the same ridge and Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill Parks lie to the west on another ridge line which extends into The Bronx where it provides the "backbone" of Riverdale. We ran through these "Escarpment Parks" on the northbound section of this run and the photos will show quite vividly this wild and beautiful topography.
I met Melissa for an 8:00 AM start at the Boat House. Our agenda for the day was to run to the northern tip of Manhattan via what I call the "Escarpment Parks" (Morningside, St. Nicholas, Jackie Robinson, Gorham, Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill) and return via the west side (Fort Washington and Riverside Parks). Melissa, who had a heavy schedule later in the day (including a pub crawl, poor girl ) had to take the subway back from Dyckman Street, so I did the return half of the run solo. More of the details for the north bound portion of the run are given in the article (although we neither began in Carl Schurz Park nor finished at Wave Hill). Since I didn't bring my trusty Cannon S95 on this run, I borrowed some photos from other runs done at this time of year. Most of them match pretty closely what was there for this run.
Click on the next link to show the northbound directions, park by park, plus bathrooms and bailout points. Also note, that the pictures in the slideshows (above and below), besides being beautiful, can be helpful in navigating the route, especially in places like High Bridge Park along the OCA, Gorman Park and Inwood Hill Park.
As for mileage, In the sections below, I put the aggregate distance for the run at the entrance to each park. The numbers were determined from the maps produced by the and ARE probably accurate to .1 mile. Feel free to come up with different numbers. Hey! It's a free country!
Starting at the Boat House, head north on the park road. When we got to the reservoir we got onto the Bridle Path, but stay on the road if you prefer. We also went down and around the lake ("The Harlem Meer"). you could also skip that and stay on the road, but if you do you'll miss some really pretty spots. Generally speaking, if there was a choice between a direct route and a more picturesque route, we would take the latter. Finally, go west along the park road along the north side of the park and exit the park at its northwest corner.
The directions to Gorman Park and from Gorman to Fort Tryon Park are tricky enough that they deserve a map. Click on the "Show Map" button and use that as a reference for the directions.
Cross the traffic circle and enter the park. Go to the left before the gardens and get on the westernmost pathway and head north. Stay on this past the high point and circle around the highway overpass. When you get to the open field with a view of the Cloisters, stay on the westernmost path and head north. When you pass the parking area the path will head down. Stay on the main path which switchbacks several times and ultimately exits the park onto Riverside Drive opposite Payson Avenue.
he return run was pretty much entirely along the Hudson River, or close to it. The route traverses Inwood Hill Park (from the tip of Manhattan to Dyckman Street), Fort Washington Park, Riverside Park and back to Central Park. But let's not forget Riverbank State Park (which we ran under) and West Harlem Piers Park, a recent creation (see below). For more details (as well as some altrernate routes) see the article .
A note on Fort Washington Park and Riverside Park: I used to think of the entire strip of park along the Hudson from 72nd Street to Dyckman Street as "Riverside Park". In fact, the park, together with Riverside Drive, was originally laid out by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead. The drive was eventually extended to Dyckman Street (north of 181st Street it was taken for the northbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway in the 1930s). Remnants of the old boulevard remain in the promenade and the pavilion (named "Inspiration Point Shelter") at around 190th Street. This far northern part of Riverside Drive still exists as a short segment of road from the Dyckman Street exit of the HH Parkway east to the intersection of Dyckman Street and Broadway. But as for the park, officially, the strip of the park north of 158th Street is called Fort Washington Park. So although 125th Street or the GWB might seem logical places to separate the two parks, it is 158th Street which goes completely unnoticed when you traverse this boundary.
Now some smart aleck who has looked carefully at the map might ask "Why did you run around Inwood Hill Park up along the Hudson side and back along the inland side? Shouldn't you have run it the other way so all the Hudson River segments are in sequence?" Answer: because I like to do it that way! Don't be so doctrinaire! Besides, that little figure-8 at the northern tip of the map looks kind of neat.
You'll notice that the northbound slideshow has a lot of beautiful spring photos. On the other hand, the southbound slideshow has a combination of
sunny, winter pictures and rainy day photos. That's
because these photos were "borrowed" from other runs, and the ones for the southbound route (the parks along the Hudson)
were borrowed from the report, taken in Janary 2010
(on a cold but sunny day) and another similar run taken on a rainy day (with snow flurries at one point) in February 2012.
For the summer, just add
My legs and my running had felt good all the way up. But on the way back I started to feel first a tiredness and then some soreness in my legs. And on the long stretch of Riverside Park where there is little or no shade, I started to feel the affects of the sun. Fortunately, the tempratures stayed in the 50°s, so this did not get bothersome. But it brought back some unpleasant memories of a few of last summer's death marches along this same stretch. Remind me never to train for a marathon in the summer in New York City again! But enough of what hurt or what was sore.
Click on the next link to show the southbound directions, park by park, plus bathrooms and bailout points.
You won't know when you enter Riverside Park — there's no sign. Just keep going south on
the pathway until you get to Riverbank State Park, which is a huge structure (actually built over a sewage treatment plant) blocking the way.
Dispair not! Just
keep following the pathway which turns left just before Riverbank and then runs along side of the tracks, goes under a few highways and ends opposite
a large Fairway Market.
I have no idea where "West Harlem Piers Park" came from. It basically sits on what used to be
a parking lot that ran for a few blocks along the waterfront centered on 125th Street between the end of the ramp down from Riverside Park to the south
and the bikepath that
circles Riverbank State Park to the north. I'm guessing that a neighborhood group and/or a City Council member raised the money to build the piers and
landscape the area. Sort of like Stuyvesant Cove Park on the East River — it's great to see this happen once in a while.
This is the last part of the Hudson River run. Just go south all the way and take the exit at 72nd Street, you know the way. If it's summer you can stop at the 79th Street Boat Basin Cafe for a beer, but if you do, make sure you get going again and complete your 20 miler! Fat chance!
To get back to Central Park, just run east on 72nd Street. Watch for traffic. When I was doing my death march 20 milers last summer, I died each time I had to stop for a light and then start up again on this section.
When I finally got back to Central Park, I wasn't sure of the mileage, so I did the lower loop of the park rather that cutting straight across the 72nd Street transverse. It turns out I didn't need to do this since I ended up with over 21 miles. But it was good to know that I felt just as strong that last extra mile as those leading up to it — subject, of course, to the aforementioned aches and pains. When I finally got back to the Boat House I had a nice sit down, drained my hydration pack and then made my way over to 79th & Madison for some French Toast at the Nectar Café. Having lunch solo is no more fun than running solo, but my body appreciated the replenishment.
The final mileage (including the lower loop) was 21.4 miles. If you decide to just run across the transverse to the Boat House (wimp! ) it would be 20.4 miles, just about a mile less.
You can also run the whole thing going the other direction (West Side up, Escarpment Parks back).