A Winter's Day Walk in Inwood Hill Park and Fort Tryon Park

(Update note, August 2013. This post needs serious updating. Inwood is now bustling with new businesses and amusements, especially in summer.)

With the present chilly gray day excluded, most of our winter days this season have been warm enough and cheerily sunny enough for something akin to a hike. Many days have hit the high 40s with several flirting with the 50 degree mark. It's good walking weather. But if more than a simple walk in the park meets one's fancy on such a winter's day, a rigorous walk through Inwood Hill Park and Fort Tryon Park should do. The parks of Upper Manhattan offer the opportunity to engage in the kind of strenuous exercise we typically associate with more bucolic areas farther north on the Hudson.

Upper Manhattan
Inwood Hill Park. View of Henry Hudson Bridge.

The A train's stop at Dykman Street is a good place to begin an exploration of both parks. Emerging from the station and into the busy commercial intersection of Dykman and Broadway, visitors should notice immediately that the flatter terrain of most of Manhattan has given way to hills. The monastery-like structure on the top of the hill to the southeast is The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval branch in Fort Tryon Park and one of the finest attractions in the whole city. For the purposes of this walk, we'll leave The Cloisters for another day, but suffice it to say that the Cuxa Cloister Tower, the particular medieval structure of the museum's monastical melange, provides a recognizable marker from several vantage points in the neighborhood and parks.

Upper Manhattan
Inwood Hill Park. View of The Cloisters in the distance

If occasionally bothered by Central Park's sublime artificiality, visit Inwood Hill Park instead. Its varied terrain of hills, valleys, glacial markings, forest, and salt marsh show something of what Manhattan would have looked like in its prehistoric state.

Upper Manhattan
Inwood Hill Park. Upper Manhattan.

There's a wildness to it, especially in the thick forest in the park's central valley, along with the sort of quiet that allows a sharpened focus on the sounds of birds and the rustling noises of busy squirrels on the forest floor. Wander north to Spuyten Duyvil Creek for a view of the Henry Hudson Bridge before walking south through the park. A walk in mid-February should bring some color to the landscape in the form of sprightly purple crocuses.

Upper Manhattan
The thick natural forest of Inwood Hill Park

Upper Manhattan
Crocuses near a path in Inwood Hill Park

At some point, saunter over to the Hudson River for the views. The end of Dykman Street provides pleasant views of the Palisades in New Jersey across the way, the George Washington Bridge to the south, and the river itself. (Update August 2013: The party scene at La Marina accentuates the view with the throbbing beats of house music and refreshments.)

Upper Manhattan
At the west end of Dykman Street, looking south. In the distance, The Cloisters is on the left, and
the George Washington Bridge is on the right. 

Upper Manhattan
Looking north. The Hudson River.

Before walking south through Fort Tryon Park, it may be time to sit down for a hearty lunch. (Update 2013: Many new cafes and wine bars have now arrived on Dykman Street. Pick one.)

Upper Manhattan
Perfect signage in Fort Tryon Park. 

From street level, Fort Tryon Park seems like a fortress to conquer, and it does take some strategy to figure how the best way of approaching the ascent. The path of least resistance would be to simply enter the park from the southern entrance. Several of the paths from other angles are indeed steep, so be prepared for a quickened heartbeat and a few heavy deep breaths. The views will be worth it. Fewer sights are more lovely than the park's Heather Garden and the George Washington Bridge in the distance.

Upper Manhattan
The Heather Garden. Fort Tryon Park.

The walk concludes at the 190th Street stop on the A train.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Friday, February 10, 2012. More at Flickr WOTBA.

View A Winter Walk in Upper Manhattan in a larger map

The walk suggested here is about 3.33 miles. Challenging!

NY Parks page on Inwood Hill Park.
Website of Fort Tryon Park Trust.
Website for New York Restoration Project.

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