Skip to main content

A Walk in the Ramble

For those who enjoy a long walk in nature but who also like their creature comforts not far away, a visit to The Ramble in Central Park should fit the bill. This 38-acre site of wild woods, outcroppings of rock, man-made rustic features, and confusing trails, all set to the tune of birds and sometimes screaming children, sits roughly between 78th St. on the north and 73rd St. on the south. The Lake is to the south.

A walk through this intentionally contrived wild northern shore affords great views of the water, its seasonal recreational boaters, and beyond, the formalities of Bethesda Terrace. New York Central Park's landscape designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designed the Ramble this way as a counterpoint to the nearby formal elements of the park.

Entering the Ramble on the west side of the park

From the days of its construction in the late 1850s, when scores of workers moved the earth, constructed masonry, built artificial hills and streams, carved out paths, and planted a diversity of trees and plants, the Ramble has interested many visitors for its elaborate mimicry of nature.


View of boaters on the Lake

From the 1869 book, A description of the New York Central park by Clarence Cook:
"Nature having done almost nothing, art had to do all. And yet art, trying to contradict nature in nothing, but only to follow her hints, improve her slight suggestions, and take advantage of her help, however stingily it may sometimes seem to have been proferred, has been able to produce a result, which, on the whole, so closely resembles nature, that it is no wonder if the superficial observer does not clearly see how vast is the amount of work that had to be performed before the Park could reach its present perfection." (A description of the New York Central park, Princeton University, 1869, p. 115)
Below, a page from A description of the New York Central park, Princeton University, 1869:



The Ramble Arch

George Haven Putnam, a cousin of Olmsted, remembers working on the park during the summer of 1859. His cousin assigned him to the staff of an Austrian landscape gardener in charge of the Ramble. In his memoirs, he writes,
"I remember taking a good deal of pride in the success of the curves of one of the paths in the ramble, for the shaping of which I was responsible, but I have never been able since to identify that path with any degree of certainty. I received the daily wage of $1.10; the dollar being for my work and the ten cents for the payment of my fare back to town."(Memoirs of my youth, 1884-1865. Putnam, 1912, p. 87)
Deep into the Ramble, with paths in different directions and a lamp post to mark the way.

A humorous account from 1868 describes a country visitor encountering the big city Ramble:
"It is curious to see how folks' minds work. Here in the country, the great object seems to be to get rid of water, rocks, and brush. You see, I spent considerable in draining the horse-pond, and Uncle Jotham made dry land where the muskrats built their nests. But Fred Olmsted has got things turned tother end foremost, and gone and filled up a valley of well-nigh twenty acres with water, and made all the shores of the pond as crooked as a ram's horn. I shouldn't think there was a rod of it any where in a straight line."(The Tim Bunker papers: or, Yankee farming by Willam Clift, 1868, pps. 136-137)

The irregular shoreline

"Nature in her own moods" is how Daniel Van Pelt described the Ramble in Leslie's History of the Greater New York:
"In 1858 a plan for laying out the park, submitted by Messrs. Olmstead (sic) and Vaux, landscape gardeners, was adopted, and the park became what it is now in general features, somewhat artistically, perhaps artificially, arranged in the southern portions, below the main lake; but on the east side of the lake, and north of it, left studiously and comparatively wild, the paths, almost labyrinthine, allowing the most perfect enjoyment of nature in her own moods." (Leslie's History of the Greater New York, 1898, p. 387)
For those worn out by the dainty and picturesque pleasures of the artificial wilderness, stroll over to the nearby Boathouse for some refreshment.

In our day, some might conceptualize the Ramble as a sort of virtual reality, a theme park based on 19th constructions of nature, but contemporary caretakers of the park view these acres as an "ecosystem." Hence, signs in the Ramble urge visitors to not trample away from the paths and to not leave anything behind. A great variety of birds in the park have long taken to the Ramble for its combination of tree canopies, understory, and water, so the area often teems with birders quietly tracking them. Because of this, the best detailed descriptions of the Ramble may be found on sites and in books devoted to birds.

Aside from birding, the Ramble is a good place to sketch nature, sunbathe, picnic, exercise or to make scenic images with photographic or digital equipment. Individuals also enjoy the area for their own preferred social amusements, and so one might stumble upon couples in the woods engaged in various forms and stages of bliss. The Ramble, though hardly an untouched wilderness, continues to provide a pleasurable intersection of nature and art.

Another view of boaters on the Lake. Created with the Hipstmatic app for the iPhone.

Visualizing the Ramble can also include the use of Google maps, but the maps won't help in the likely event of getting turned around in the woods. Still, cellphone coverage in the wilds of Central Park is excellent, and as soon as the lost visitor starts to panic, an oasis appears in the form of the Loeb Boathouse. Getting lost in the woods and then ordering a glass of Sauvignon Blanc can all happen in the space of a few minutes. The map notes a few of the landmarks and bridges and other ways of stumbling into the wild side of New York City.


View The Ramble, Central Park in a larger map


Read the related post, For the Flâneurs: After the Museums, A Walk in Central Park.

Read the April 2012 post about Azalea Pond in The Ramble here.


Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Friday, May 7, 2010. Click on images to enlarge them.  Many more conventional images of the walk at Flickr WOTBA. The artier iPhone images are in this set. Quotations above come from sources in the public domain. Follow links in the post to read more.









Popular posts from this blog

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park. The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands. A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature!  A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl. The owl is in this picture. I know, hard to see.  Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the o

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors.  New landscaping in Battery Park At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020.  Shade plants like hosta thrive in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance. With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out.  Statue Cruises is still sailing. It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video , filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.” Approaching The Mall in Central Park  When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months. The Mall in Central Park I hadn’t v

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington. Recommended purchase - a map det

Facing the Dark Ages

A close look at The Met Cloisters Update: The Met Cloisters reopened on September 12, 2020. See the museum's website for ticket information. The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82-year-old home for its medieval collection in Fort Tryon Park (known as The Met Cloisters in recent years, the result of rebranding), dominates Northern Manhattan like a mystical fortress, like some object of a mythical quest. From nearly any direction, it’s easy to see the tower with its sandy-colored walls, double-arched windows, and Mediterranean style tile roof. Walking south on Broadway north of Dyckman Street , the way of everyday serfs and pilgrims going to market, the otherworldly sight of the imposing structure can transform an otherwise pedestrian journey.  View of The Met Cloisters from the northeast Culture and architect critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), reviewing the museum’s opening in 1938 for his regular column in The New Yorker, didn’t care much for the tower, but that was his