Big City Foliage

September 7, 2010

More than 5 million trees fill New York City’s parks and line its streets. And that number is on the rise, with the mayor pushing a plan to plant 1 million additional trees by 2017. Those are a lot of reasons to stay in the city for the fall foliage season.

Even in the center of the urban environment, there’s no shortage of spots for foliage seekers. Central Park, of course, is the best known. In the Bronx, Van Cortlandt Park and Pelham Bay Park (three times the size of Central Park) are two popular options. But for arboreal diversity, the New York Botanical Garden trumps them all.

A mix of maples, oaks, and birches join more than 1 million traditional and exotic plants to fill 250 acres in the heart of the Bronx. The establishment of the gardens in 1891 allowed for the protection of 50 acres of native forest, which sit tight on the banks of the Bronx River in the center of the property. Some of the trees in this spot are more than 200 years old, and provide a glimpse of what New York City looked like before settlers began developing the area.

From the garden’s Mosholu Gate off Kazimiroff Blvd., follow Garden Way to the Rock Garden Path and turn left. Walk north until the path passes alongside Magnolia Way and enters a parking lot. Look for a wood-chip trail on the far side; this is the Spicebush Trail, the primary route through the Native Forest. Interpretive signs will help you identify various species, and the Bronx River can be seen and heard through the trees. Connect to the Sweetgum Trail and then turn right on Azalea Way to return to the main entrance, or extend your hike into the garden’s network of trails.

With its own Metro-North Railroad stop (on the Harlem Line), the New York Botanical Garden is an easy trip to make during leaf season—or any other time of the year. An entry fee is required.

Distance: 1.5 miles

Info: Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books); New York Botanical Garden

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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, writes the trail-running blog Running Wild.