Get Outside, Grace!

A Central Park snow day. Image courtesy of Elif Caliskan ‘25 

What percentage of your day do you spend staring at a screen? What about sitting at a desk? For the average American teenager, these numbers clock in at about 41% or about 10 hours per day. Our lives are leaning significantly toward dependence on technology for happiness. 

Exposure to nature, whether it be on a stroll through a city park or a day hike in the wilderness, has been scientifically linked to a number of advantages, such as increased empathy and collaboration, better mood, reduced stress, and enhanced focus.

Though I have always had a love for the outdoors and spend most of my summers backpacking, whitewater kayaking, or surfing, I always feel a bit lost during the school year. Initially, I thought I had no access to these outdoorsy activities in New York City. After some brief research, I was quickly proven wrong. All it takes to find a trail for your skill level and desire for challenge is a quick Google search. Here are some of the best hiking trails in or near the city:

For the beginner, looking for an easy commute and a short option:

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir Running Path:

A 1.7 mile loop with an average completion time of 31 minutes (walking), this trail has only 29 feet of elevation gain and is open to the public all year round. With a beautiful view of the skyline across the reservoir, this is a popular path for bird watching, running, and walking. Keep in mind that NO DOGS are allowed in this area.  

Media provided by All Trails

Central Park East and West Drive Loop:

If you are looking for a longer route, this 6.1 mile loop with an average of 2 hours and 2 minutes for completion (walking), is still considered easy, but creates the perfect 10k trail! 285 feet of elevation gain adds a small and gradual challenge if you are looking to push yourself a bit. This is the most popular trail in the park and is always very crowded. Dogs WITH LEASHES are allowed.               Media provided by All Trails

The High Line Park

With a length of 1.2 miles, the High Line is the perfect spot for a run or a walk with friends. While it does not quite have the same sense of “nature” as other options might, this is a much more convenient option for many, and a good (paved) stepping stone for beginners.

Media provided by Public Spaces

Prospect Park Loop

For the Brooklynite, this 3.6-mile loop is the perfect option for an easy afternoon, with an average walking time of 1 hour and 11 minutes. This path is great for a light jog or a bike ride. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Media provided by All Trails

For a more experienced hiker or a trail running path:

Forest Park has the largest oak forest in Queens. Discover a pine grove that has stood for a century by following the orange path. Stop at Strack Pond to go birdwatching while traveling the red route, and see some of the park’s historic locations, such as the Richmond Hill War Memorial and The Carousel.

Tallman Mountain State Park in Sparkill, New York, about an hour drive, is situated between the river and the slope. It has forested area on the eastern side of the Palisades uplands with views of the Hudson and Piermont Marsh. The marsh is a component of the National Estuarine Research Reserve on the Hudson River. With its running track, tennis courts, playfield, cross-country skiing, walking trail, hiking, and picnic sites, the park is open to the public for day use.

Remember, according to the US Department of Agriculture

  • People who live near parks and green spaces have less mental distress, are more physically active, and have longer life spans. 
  • Time in nature has been linked to improvements in mental health and wellbeing.
  • Exposure to nature may decrease death from chronic disease.
  • When people exercise outdoors in nature, they do so for longer periods of time and at greater intensities than when they are indoors.

Veronica Hatch ‘25 is a staff writer for The Gazette.