Anybody who follows this blog knows that few things excite me more than getting lost in thick woods while in the middle of a major city. I guess it’s the introvert in me that needs to temper the excitement of metropolis with the peace of thick, untouched nature.
In my many travels to Manhattan, one thing in the back of my mind is always this: how far to I have to go to be utterly alone? If your goal is to be the only person for the radius of a mile, say, then you’ll likely have to get in a car and drive for hours and hours. If you’re willing to settle for half a mile, then the same probably applies. If you’re willing to settle for being the only person in, say, a 100 yard radius, then all you need to do is go three or four subway stops from Times Square to the far north end of Central Park, where you’ll find the North Woods. And, owing to the thickly wooded nature of the spot, you’ll find it hard to believe you’re in geographic center of one of the most densely populated places on earth.
There are plenty of paved walking paths through the North Woods, but the real magic of the place you’ll find once you leave the asphalt and start poking around the many ad hoc dirt trails you’ll find. These are barely maintained and wind up hillsides in such a way as to make it seem you’re discovering some corners where humans never tread. It’s exciting. If you try to ignore the hum of the streets you’ll struggle to believe are just a few hundred feet away, you may hear the sound of running water. There are little waterfalls punctuating little streams here and there at the base of these hills. Get close enough and the sound of water soon overcomes the sounds of the city. This is where the illusion of being lost in the woods is complete.
It’s worth inserting a quick caveat here. Manhattan is a remarkably safe place, even late at night. But the north end of Central Park changes slightly after the sun goes down, and one gets the feeling that it’s not quite as safe as the rest of the island there after dark. This is born out by the increased presence of law enforcement in the area, compared to the south end. So if you explore the north end of Central Park, I recommend doing so while the sun is up.
Personally, I’d recommend getting there on foot, beginning at Columbus Circle in the extreme south west corner of the park. It’s a two and a half mile walk, but closer to three taking into account all the meandering you’ll do. There are almost no straight lines in Central Park.
If you want to get there via the subway, take the A, B or C lines from toward the Bronx and get off at the Cathedral Parkway subway (110th Street) stop.