RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC
Ditch the sidewalks and subways! It’s time to pack a light picnic and set out on one of NYC’s coolest hiking trails with the kids for an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones will love checking out birds, frogs and other creatures that might be hiding around the paths, and while you’re at it, you might even want to stop by one of the city’s best playgrounds. If you simply can’t get enough of all the fresh air, it might be time to pay a visit to one of these awesome carousels as well. Last, in cooler weather, these trails are an excellent place for leaf peeping—they’ll have some pretty fall foliage in September and October.
Hiking trails for families
Forest Park's nob-and-kettle topography (think lots of hills and valleys) makes it a particularly alluring spot for children. The intermediate Blue Trail, which meanders through a forest of white oak, black oak, hickory and soaring tulip trees, is marked by a large boulder and three blue trail blazes just a short walk east of the Visitor Center. Gray and black squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons are a few of the many furry residents that may cross your family's path. Forest Park Visitor Center, Woodhaven Blvd at Forest Park Dr, Forest Park, Queens (718-846-2731, nycgovparks.org
Tucked away in Staten Island's middle is a web of excellent hiking trails, all of which connect to the Greenbelt Nature Center. (The center has a tiny loop that's perfect for new walkers, as well as some cool nature exhibits.) For an easy but spectacular walk around the Greenbelt's Loosestrife Swamp, walk up Nevada Avenue, which climbs a steepish hill, to the parking lot at the very end and follow signs for the Lavender Trail. Sharp-eyed little hikers could spy migratory birds, chipmunks, frogs and even deer amid the sweetgum and oak trees, which will be turning colors along with the marsh vegetation. Enter at Nevada Ave at Rockland Ave, Staten Island (nycgovparks.org)
The most accessible of the vast park's many wooded trails is the Old Putnam Trail, near the 242nd Street entrance. Follow it east as it skirts Van Cortlandt Lake till you reach a concrete bridge signaling the presence of a small pond to the left. After traversing it, find the small trail veering left toward the water. You'll cross a wooden bridge, then continue north along the pond's edge. There eagle eyes could catch a glimpse of the pond's two wood duck families, plus the likes of green herons and redwing blackbirds. Bid adieu to the ecosystem at the fallen mulberry tree, on the pond's northern edge, where kids can make a beeline for the wide-open parade grounds. Van Cortlandt Park, enter at Broadway and 242nd St, Bronx (nycgovparks.org)
Introduce kids to the park's Ravine, a forested stream bed in the North Woods where the skyline disappears from view completely. The trail starts at Glenspan Arch, just east of the Pool (at 101st St); walk through it and follow the path beside the Loch as it flows northward toward Harlem Meer. Along the way, little ones can keep an eye out for migratory birds, raccoons, squirrels and even possums in the surrounding woods. The remarkable Huddlestone Arch marks the Ravine's end. Be sure to tell the kids it was built entirely of natural boulders, with nothing but friction and gravity holding it together. Central Park, midpark, enter at W 103rd St (centralparknyc.com)
Venture into Prospect Park's hidden gem: the Ravine, a steep, waterfall-peppered gorge in Brooklyn's only forest. Pick up a map at the Audubon Center and head north past Binnen Water and over the Nethermead Arches. Soon thereafter, veer right onto the small trail leading into the Ravine. Once you hit Rock Arch Bridge, look for the Ambergill Falls, a sight kids won't believe is in the heart of Brooklyn. Tanagers, vireos, warblers and thrushes all stop over here on their fall migration south. Audubon Center, Prospect Park, enter at Lincoln Rd and Ocean Ave, Brooklyn (prospectpark.org)