The perfect waterfront ride

It's possible to circumnavigate Manhattan in an (almost) perfect loop.

Hudson River Park at the 79th Street Boat Basin

Hudson River Park at the 79th Street Boat Basin

Bicyclists, in-line skaters and, perhaps, the odd recreational ultramarathoner have long dreamed of encircling the 32-mile perimeter of Manhattan along a dedicated, protected path. While the Parks Department currently has no master plan to ring the island with esplanades, the department is working with public and private organizations to fill in some of the gaps. For now, we’ll have to be content with the virtually uninterrupted stretch of bike paths and greenways that extend from Battery Park up to Inwood Hill Park along the Hudson, and a couple of long ribbons of riverside lanes along the East River. Still, cyclists armed with a fat-tire mountain bike, an urban-pioneering spirit and a willingness to turn a blind eye to the occasional restricted area can circumnavigate the island while staying next to or within eyeshot of water. (Estimated travel time, pedaling at a leisurely pace, is four hours.)

Mileage: About 32 miles
Time: Four hours
Highlights: Looking at Jersey from Battery Park, Inwood Hill Park

A After Battery Park, it’s smooth sailing on bike lanes clear up to Riverside Park. From 83rd to 91st Streets, the single-track path along the river has disintegrated, and cyclists are warned to follow a detour; however, a mountain bike with knobby tires can traverse the rough terrain.

B Near the Fairway market (at 132nd Street), the path forces you left on St. Clair Place. Follow the green bike path signs along Twelfth Avenue. The bike path resumes at 135th Street. The path runs east to skirt Riverbank State Park, returning to the river at 145th.

C At the Little Red Lighthouse you must climb a killer hill; the path switches back to a bluff overlooking the Hudson, parallel to the northbound Henry Hudson Parkway (9A). Ignore the pedestrian bridge that crosses 9A and stay on the trail; you’ll pass the shell of an arcade on the left.

D At the Dyckman Street exit of 9A, a stairway on your left leads down to street level, forcing you to portage (though daredevils can ride it out). At the bottom of the stairs, veer left down the hill on Staff Street; you’ll have to turn left on Dyckman. Don’t follow the green bike-path signs—they lead you in a circle. Follow Dyckman to the entrance of Inwood Hill Park (Dyckman ball fields). Turn right into the park.

E Portage over the pedestrian bridge (just past the ball fields) and turn left; you’ll climb in the forests high above Spuyten Duyvil, where the Hudson meets the Harlem River. Follow the path downhill and stay riverside. Follow the path past Baker Hill and around the lake to exit the park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Go uphill on West 218th Street until you hit Broadway. (Now you’ll have some tricky navigating along city streets.)

F Turn right on Broadway then left at 215th Street. Turn right again at Tenth Avenue. Turn left at 207th to avoid the congestion of the merging streets, and turn right on Ninth Avenue. Turn right again at 202nd. At Tenth Avenue, turn left.

G Where Tenth Avenue crosses Dyckman Street, head into High Bridge Park. A small path runs parallel to Harlem River Drive. Another runs along the park. Be sure to ride path along the water on Harlem Drive; the path along the park is a disaster.

H The Harlem River Drive exit for Fifth Avenue and 155th Street cuts you off from the river. Veer right with traffic, staying on the parallel path, which turns into a sidewalk. Climb a moderately steep hill as you pedal away from the river (a housing project will be to your left). At 155th Street, turn left. At Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, turn right. (Note: Ignore the streets behind the Harlem River Houses at 153rd; while they will seemingly take you closer to the river, they’re not through streets. Likewise, the promenade behind Esplanade Gardens at 143rd Street is a dead end.) Turn left at 142nd. Hug the frontage road along Harlem River Drive. Go through the intersection at 135th Street. At 132nd Street, the road veers into Park Avenue. Turn left on 131st, right on Lexington and left on 127th.

I At 127th Street and Second Avenue, you’ll encounter Crack Is Wack Playground (yes, its actual name). Two streets form a “V” intersection there: The one on the right is Marginal Street; follow it to 124th Street and make a left. Continue on 124th as it curves to the right and becomes Paldino Avenue. At 120th Street, follow the pedestrian bridge over the FDR.

J The bike path, which resumes at 125th Street, continues unimpeded to Carl Schurz Park. It gets too rough for a road bike, so walk past the park. At 80th Street, you’ll need to portage down a stairway. Keep going along the river until 60th Street; turn right. Turn left on York (which turns into Sutton Place at 59th Street). At 53rd Street; turn right.

K Turn left on First Avenue. (You’ll be going against traffic, but you’ll need to do this to keep the river in sight; if it’s early enough in the morning, ride on the sidewalk—but look out for cops. Or play it safe and go down Second Avenue with the direction of traffic.) Stay on First Avenue to 37th Street. Turn left. Turn right again at the river. From here, you’re on bike paths almost all the way to Battery Park.