To be an ‘orphan’ in New York City always raises interesting prospects. What to do? Without knowing just how good the weather would turn out to be, I decided to join Moe and Andrew on a #GreatSaunter of the island of Manhattan – a circumnavigation on foot. This is a grueling ~40 mile stomp (billed as 32 or 33.5 depending on what material you read, we closed at 39.59!) of one of the most densely-populated areas in the US (at nearly 70k people per square mile) yet includes some fabulous trails and waterfront features.
Our original plan was to begin at 8AM but we bumped it up at the last minute to both start ahead of the sunrise and because if 8AM was already early, why not begin earlier!
I like that we all began in shorts – even at 7AM it was that warm out, and we all knew once we got sauntering that full-length slacks would be a heat-burden.
We headed immediately down Rutgers Street, gaining access to the waterfront underneath the FDR Drive; off to our right we could see the Manhattan Bridge, which would serve as our endpoint later that night. Up ahead lay the Williamsburg Bridge. And so our journey begins!
At a certain point you have to head inland to 1st Avenue (we cut in at East 37 Street), in order to get around the United Nations (waterfront access for mere plebians is not allowed here). Just look for the ‘NYC Greenway’ arrows and you’ll know you’re more or less on the righteous path.
So we stopped here for a bit to apply sunscreen (sun was starting to peek through the cloud cover) and devise a gameplan for how to proceed.
From East 60 Street it should be a straight shot up the Walk.
Now I’m accustomed to bicycling west over the Ward’s Island Bridge and heading south to the Queensboro uninterrupted. Unfortunately during our walk there was construction of the footpath between East 79 Street and the area south of Carl Schurz Park, so we had to head back inland. While Google Maps did not account for the the blockage at the 51 Street pass, it did know about this one and plotted a re-route accordingly. We headed north up York Ave, and as always re-routes offer their own unique vantages that you’re otherwise not expecting to see, such as this Clayton Cleaner mural on the NW corner of York Ave and East 83 Street:
We continued up to East 87 Street then back to the waterfront, cutting through Carl Schurz Park:
The John Finley Walk becomes the Bobby Wagner Walk, spanning from East 90 Street to East 125 Street, and along the way you’ll see a number of interesting things:
At this point we opted for a zig-zag inland, staying as close to the water as we could while proceeding north, until we could eventually eye-spy a good reconnect with the edgewater footpath.
But again every re-route offers unique perspectives you’re otherwise not planning for.
We were now in Harlem River Park and there’s some pretty interesting sights:
Here’s a slideshow of Harlem River Heritage Plaques:
(You can read more about these and other plaques at the Harlem River Park Task Force website.)
Unfortunately our saunter would yet again be hampered by construction – it’s unclear why the parking lot on the north side of the 145 Street Bridge can’t also include a pedestrian footpath. Either way we had to double-back to the foot bridge that connects between West 142 and West 143 Streets:
Then we got stuck on the north side of the Colonel Charles Young Playground, with simple chain-link fence between us and our path forward. I think I can safely say at this point we were all sick of confronting construction obstacles in our path and circling back, so we opted for the absolute guaranteed path of least resistance to the Harlem River Drive footpath, and planned accordingly:
Because of our path we missed getting up close to the Macombs Dam Bridge, but it did present us with the opportunity to scale this awesome 110-step staircase on the north side of West 155 Street at the St. Nicholas Pl/Edgecombe Ave/Harlem River Driveway (not to be confused with the way-less ‘Drive’) intersection:
And now we can continue on the footpath for some time!
I’ll have to go back to cross that bridge another day.
After getting in a good uninterrupted multi-mile saunter up the Harlem River Drive (it’s back to being a ‘way’-less Drive!), and after swinging around Swindler Cove, we headed north up 10th Ave, opting to stay on 10th instead of heading east one block to 9th Ave (because we’d only have to jaunt back to 10th Ave to head towards Inwood Hill Park (we might have cheated here, just a bit); either way this area of Manhattan is far-away and forgotten, and you can park whatever vehicle you have here without concern, like this whatever-this-is trailer chain-locked to a shopping cart:
OK now is when we fess up. When we emerged from Inwood Hill Park, coming south down the footpath on the western edge of the park, we proceeded down the path directly in front of us; this path is apparently not the actual Hudson River Greenway and instead an un-named (as far as I can tell) useless footpath on the western edge of the island running from Dyckman Street to West 190 Street. I say useless because then there’s a sign that says ‘no pedestrian access’ but it doesn’t say ‘no trespassing’ – it is technically possible to proceed, but without knowing if the path ahead would mean scaling the rock face (bluffs, essentially), or be blocked by train infrastructure (it is, but that won’t stop you – see ahead), we decided to double-back to the proper Greenway. So this threw off our time by walking around 18 minutes south, then north again, then south again just to get to the point of when the outer-path circled around.
But who cares! We’re sauntering (and so should you)!
Had we proceeded south along the outer-shore of the un-named footpath on the exterior of the island, you would have to walk along large rocks for about 1/4 mile (seen in the middleground in the image below), and then cut back in via this hole in the fence, cross some railroad tracks, and scale back up (quite easily I might add) to the Greenway – but we couldn’t see this access point from the north side of the rocks, therefore we didn’t know:
OK from here on south it’s more or less an obvious path down the Greenway past the many piers on Manhattan’s west side before heading to Lower Manhattan – but first, the George Washington Bridge!
We paused briefly on the south side of the bridge in Fort Washington Park for a snack and liquid refuel – I forgot to but thankfully Andrew took this wonderful photograph of Manhattan’s last remaining lighthouse:
From here we headed one block west to the Esplanadem, where parking costs what some outer-borough rent-controlled apartments go for.
We walked south down Esplanadem, proceeding through South Cove Park, around the Museum of Jewish Heritage, around the Pier A Harbor House, and into Battery Park.
We’re nearly there – we’re so close!
We proceeded across the Staten Island Ferry plaza, down Whitehall Street and would continue up South Street the rest of the way to our point of origin!
Only two more bridges remain!
But it doesn’t stop there…
So I’m exhausted. My feet are sore, my knees pop when I stand, and frankly my mind is still a bit jellied. But wow was that fun!
Honestly I cannot imagine doing this walk in even mildly-warm weather. A 60F-70F day is ideal. We were each mentally prepared to go the distance, but I admit that final 5 miles was nearly the death of me – I slouched behind Andrew and Moe by a good 10-15 seconds the last length of the trip (I’m not making excuses, but Moe has done the walk before, and Andrew is a marathon runner, so that helps!). A few tips include being positive regardless of the elements, bringing enough various snacks and liquids along, and of course having good dinner plans ready for when you finish! Also bring a few spare USB battery chargers if you’re doing anything processor-heavy like GPS tracking similar to what I did – you’ll need that extra juice to get through the whole walk. We each wore comfortable shoes; I brought along multiple pairs of socks. Shoes are fine but I might wear my Sorel boots given the amount of hard-surface asphalt along the path – I thought they’d be too heavy and indeed they probably would have been, but they also might have saved me some current discomfort. Also have your schedule the day after you saunter open (or even empty) – you’ll want to recover. And of course a bicycle is always an option – a bicycle might be your best bet for first-time exploring this, and other paths around the boroughs.
Go outside! Explore your neighborhood – I guarantee you you don’t know everyone or every architectural feature or historical tidbit! Saunter forth!
UPDATE | To clockwise or to counter-clockwise: Had a few comments on this issue, so thought I’d clarify. We went counter-clockwise; the #GreatSaunter typically goes clockwise. It was Xmas Day, so daylight was only up from 7AM-4PM. Therefore going counter-clockwise maximized our direct sunlight – thankfully it wasn’t too bright that sunburn was a concern. In the Summer, I could imagine going clockwise would be better, as to minimize your direct sunlight (the sun would rise on the east side of Manhattan while you’d be on the west side, and set in the west by which time you’d be on the east side). (A saunter in the Winter also meant most of the trees were barren and you could see through them, maximizing views of bridges, structures, etc. – a Summer saunter would probably mean more green-watching and observation of plants and birds.) Which ever route you go, plan accordingly.
UPDATE 2 | the full photo album from the Great Xmas Day Saunter of 2015 is now avaialable – complete with metadata and geomapping