Probably no time of year shows the diversity of New York City—and the diversity of our Parks—as autumn does. The fall is a wonderful time to experience the sights and sounds of Parks’ thousands of acres of forestland. Expect fall color to peak somewhere around Halloween (a week later in Central Park). The two weeks leading up will be good times to go see the array of fall colors.
Here are some suggestions for taking a leaf-peeping tour without ever leaving the city. Vermont has nothing on us!
Queens – Alley Pond Park is the second largest park in Queens at 657 acres. The tulip trees, oaks, and beeches in Alley Pond Park’s forest are some of the largest in the City, including the largest tulip tree on Long Island. Miles of hiking trails are yours to explore!
Brooklyn – Brooklyn may be the second largest borough by area, but it has only one forest and it’s in Prospect Park. The splendor of that one forest does very well in carrying the viewing responsibility of the whole borough. The Park’s 585 acres include the 90- acre Long Meadow, 250-acres of woodlands, and a magnificent 60-acre lake reflecting the autumn trees surrounding it.
Manhattan –Inwood Hill Park, with almost 175 acres of forest, is the last natural one in Manhattan and spans an elevation of almost 200 feet from top to bottom. Different forest communities
(and different colors) exist at the different elevations. There is also a rich, moist valley between two rock ridges called The Clove, which hosts one of the largest tulip tree forests in the City. Ten miles of meandering trails lead to breathtaking views of the Hudson and the Palisades. Looking up at the fall colors is nice, but looking down on them from atop a rock outcrop is much better. And a great deal of what you see here is practically the same as what the first European settlers saw. That’s right: on Manhattan Island.
Staten Island –There are six walking trails in Staten Island’s High Rock Park, along which visitors can see stands of red maples (Acer rubrum), highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum), and dense forests of American beech, oaks and hickory. Visitors can also view a rare grove of persimmon (Diosyros virginiana), a tree more common to the South. The opportunities for leaf-peeping are wide-ranging across our greenest borough.
Bronx –It’s a long way from the Rockaway Peninsula but the rewards are worth it on the newly rebuilt Aqueduct Trail in Van Cortlandt Park. The Trail provides a wonderful woodland walkway through the Croton Woods section of the Park, one of the largest forest preserves in the City. In this rich forest, stands of black walnut (Juglans nigra), American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and American elm (Ulmus americana) are present, along with sugar maple (Acer saccharum), which is native to New England and rarely seen in these parts. And while you’re at Van Cortlandt, you can walk or run along the Park’s historic cross-country trails.
These are just some suggestions for excursions; over the coming weeks the city will come aglow with brilliant leaves almost no matter where you look. Whether it’s one of these parks or trails or just about any parks property — even our street trees —I’d like to personally invite you to come out and see the leaves and make it part of a picnic, hike, or staycation just a ride away from the Rockaway shore. And don’t forget to pack your camera and share your favorite photos of how you GO PARK on Twitter and Instagram at #GoPark.
Go Peep! Go Park!
Tim Wenskus is the Special Projects Manager for NYC Parks’ Natural Resources Group.