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Turn Around: A Walk to Fort Washington Park and the Little Red Lighthouse

On the New York side of the mighty Hudson River, directly underneath the George Washington Bridge, sits a little red lighthouse.

You may know the story - The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward, first published in 1942.

And like a story, every good walk has a beginning, middle, and end. This post illustrates a walk from the intersection of W. 181st St. and Broadway to Fort Washington Park and the George Washington Bridge and then back again.


The time of year is the weekend after Thanksgiving. The time of day is near sunset.  


Many years ago, I housesat an apartment for friends who were in graduate school at Columbia University. They lived in a one-bedroom near the corner of Cabrini and W. 181st St., and I enjoyed walking around their neighborhood. I loved trudging up the steep steps on Pinehurst Avenue and checking out a little Cuban Chinese cafe down on W. 181st. Being from Texas, I didn't know that combination even existed. Now a resident of nearby Inwood, I like coming over to W. 181st every once in awhile to see what's going on. A few years ago, a Starbucks appeared at the corner on Fort Washington Avenue. I told my old friends about it, and we chuckled.


I always remembered the stunning landscape and the glorious views of the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson River, and the New Jersey Palisades.


In recent years, as with other areas of the city, the waterfront has been repurposed for recreation. The historic riverbanks along Fort Washington Park have served many purposes - as home of the Lenape tribe, a strategic site in the Revolutionary War, and as a place for shipwrecks. The latter served as a good reason to build a lighthouse.



And there, down the Hudson, is the city, and New Jersey, and the harbor, and the ocean, and the world.



Looking back toward the bridge is a scene of surreal charm  - a massive wonder of engineering, a few humans, and a little red lighthouse hiding behind the trees.



The sun is setting.



Hey, little lighthouse, how did you grow so tall?



It's time to walk back. It's getting dark. I have grown cautious. A few people remain to catch the last light. It's always the best, the last light. It's easy to leave a sunset too soon.



I step into an Irish bar on my walk back up W. 181st St and rest a little bit. Often on my walks, I like to stop and turn around. Yes, the street looks a little different now. In the distance, the bridge is lit up in pearls of lights.



Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from the late afternoon of  Friday, November 27, 2015.




Notes: At the west end of W. 181st St., look for the footbridge just to the north. It goes over the highway. Some sections in the park get a little steep. Wear good shoes, and watch out (!!!) for fast-moving cyclists. Feel free to take this walk any time of year. In the winter, the steeper sections in the park leading from the heights to the river may get slippery. From W. 181st and Broadway to the lighthouse is about 1 mile.

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