The Wilderness and the Garden: A Walk through Northern Central Park

This walk from west to east in the northern section of Central Park explores a variety of terrain, from the open spaces of The Great Hill to the wilderness of The Loch and The Ravine to the highly cultivated Conservatory Garden. A map follows.

The Great Hill on the west makes a fine place for a pre-walk picnic.

Getting lost in the wooded areas of Central Park may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it usually doesn't last long. Amidst thick and tall trees, abundant vines on the understory, gentle waterfalls, busy chipmunks, and running streams, the city falls away. Landmarks that usually function as helpful exterior compass marks - for example, the San Remo apartment towers on the west, the Carlyle Hotel on the east, the Essex House Hotel on the south - disappear in the thicket.

The Glen Span Arch, over the Loch, built in 1865

Yet, context is everything. Knowing that this adventure is happening within well-defined boundaries on one of the busiest islands in the world lends the sojourn a tinge of artifice or simulation. More than once, I have found myself turned completely around in the park's woodlands, only to locate a clear path in the next minute and soon after, a cafe and a glass of wine.

somewhere in the wilds of northern Central Park

Central Park's landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux intended certain areas in the northern area of the park, especially the Ravine and the North Woods, to evoke the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Other parts of northern Central Park offer completely different, even opposite, landscape vignettes. The Conservatory Garden alone features Italian, English, and French landscape design.

The Conservatory Garden includes English (above), Italian, and French gardens. 

A walk from west to east, as illustrated in this post, can feel like a succession of scenes at the opera, a movement through different stage sets. Throughout the walk, sounds of nature frequently blend with the sounds of park staffers tending to the landscape off stage. Other routes in northern Central Park would take in different features, such the Harlem Meer, Lasker Rink, and the Pool.

One of the peaceful border alleys of the Conservatory Garden

The walk is approximately 1.23 miles. The wild sections require a sense of balance and well-souled shoes.

Wisteria pergola, Conservatory Garden

Resources: The official website of Central Park offers detailed self-guided maps.

View of the Italianate central garden of The Conservatory from the pergola.
Beyond, on Fifth Avenue, the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Center (left), and  El Musee del Barrio (right). 

Explore additional lateral Central Park walks on Walking Off the Big Apple:

East Side to West Side: A Spring Walk in New York's Central Park
Near 79th St, from Lenox Hill on the east to the American Museum of Natural History on the west.
A Walk by Design: The Cooper Hewitt and a Stroll in Central Park 
The Carnegie Hill neighborhood on the Upper East Side, a visit to the renovated Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum on E. 91st St. and 5th Avenue, and a stroll in Central Park around the southern rim of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from September 14, 2015.

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