NYC Marathon training guide: The best scenic running trails in Manhattan

When you think of Manhattan, jogging trails probably aren’t top of mind. But Manhattan offers many scenic running paths – in parks, up and down the waterfronts and on islands in the East River.

As I train for the ING New York City Marathon, I’ve discovered a few runs that stand out as especially scenic. In order to make my short list, a run must have a combination of great views, well-maintained running paths and a refreshing lack of crowds.

Below are my favorite scenic running paths in Manhattan (in no particular order), ranging in distance from 1.5 to 6 miles. Each of these runs can be extended or combined with other paths for longer marathon training sessions.

NYC Central Park boats

Enjoy scenic views while jogging in Central Park

1) Upper West Side – from 54th St to 96th St

Distance: 2 miles
Type: Waterfront
Views: New Jersey
Transportation to Starting Point: The closest subway stops are the 1 at Columbus Circle or the N,Q, or R at 57th Street. Once getting off just walk (or run) about a mile straight west.

Although most of the Hudson River Park path offers amazing views, this two mile stretch is my favorite. It begins at 54th Street where the path hugs the water’s edge. Jogging down this quiet, well-maintained green space you’ll forget you are just paces from the West Side Highway. This stretch is usually a bit quieter than the southerly parts of the Hudson River Park path near Chelsea, where it’s often over-crowded on nice days.

2) Upper East Side – from 59th St to 103rd St

Distance: 2.5 miles
Type: Waterfront
Views: Roosevelt Island, Queens and Several Bridges
Transportation to Starting Point: Take the 4,5,6,N,Q, or R train to 59th Street and walk a half mile east on 59th Street to the water.

The East Side running path top to bottom is generally not as well-maintained or as nice as it’s counterpart on the West Side. It is also incomplete; there is a large gap from 34th Street to 59th Street, and there are some particularly ugly stretches near the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges where it runs beneath the FDR Highway. However, this two-and-a-half mile stretch is very well maintained and has great views of Roosevelt Island and Queens. Other than an annoying large set of stairs at 79th Street, the path is uninterrupted for this 44-block stretch. The trail is particularly nice inside the small Carl Schurz Park, despite weekend crowds. If you are coming from Queens, you can combine it with a run across the Queensboro Bridge, which has a great pedestrian walkway on the northern side.

3) Battery Park Esplanade

Distance: 1.5 miles
Type: Park, Waterfront
Views: Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center, New Jersey
Transportation to Starting Point: Take the 4 or 5 train to Bowling Green station and walk about 5 minutes west to the waterfront.

Battery Park is usually so crowded with tourists that running through it is almost impossible. But if you head just west of the park  towards the water, there is usually much more space to run.  This 1.5 mile stretch along the esplanade takes you along the waterfront through a series of tiny parks and has great views of Jersey City and Hoboken.  It also goes around the marina and waterfront cafes that encircle the World Financial Center, and leads right into a great running path up the west side of Chelsea. This makes it an ideal starting point for long marathon-training runs.

4) Central Park

Distance: Up to 6 miles
Type: Park
Views: Manicured Gardens, Ponds, Trees (!), People Watching and Sculpture
Transportation to Starting Point: There are countless train lines and stations that will take you near Central Park. For the west side of the park, take the 1,2,3,B,C, or D lines.  For the east side, take the 4,5, or 6 lines.  The N,Q,R, or F lines will also take you near the southern edge of the park.

Pretty much all of Central Park allows for great running; just enter the park at any point and head inward towards the circular running/biking path. One of my favorite runs is completing the full 6-mile loop. There are many ways to create shorter runs using smaller walkways and trails as shortcuts; combine the transverses at 72nd Street and 103rd Street and the loop becomes about 4 miles. If you are looking to avoid crowds, the northern half of the park is much much less crowded than the stretch below 72nd Street.  Also popular is the 2-mile loop around the reservoir in the interior of the park, though the path is very narrow; walkers and slow runners are a constant annoyance. Keep in mind that the park is very hilly (look out for a killer hill at the far northern stretch). Visit Central Park’s official website for maps and info.

5) Roosevelt Island Loop

Distance: 4 miles (more if running over the bridge from Queens)
Type: Waterfront
Views: Midtown Manhattan, Queens
Transportation to Starting Point: The Roosevelt Island stop on the F train is the only subway stop on the island. A quick tram ride is the best way to get there as it provides you with great views along the way, for the same cost as a subway ride.

Though technically part of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island can only be reached on foot from Queens, via the Roosevelt Island Bridge.  However, it is a short subway or tram ride from midtown Manhattan. There is a running/walking path that circles the island, hugging the waterfront. The full loop is roughly four miles, and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Manhattan along the western side of Roosevelt Island. Other highlights include the new FDR Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip and a small lighthouse at the far northern tip of the island.

6) Randall’s Island

Distance: 5 miles
Type: Waterfront
Views: Uptown Manhattan
Transportation to Starting Point: Take the 6 train to 103rd Street, then walk east about 3/4 of a mile to get to the bridge over the island.

Also technically part of Manhattan, this large island is another great place to escape city crowds. Randall’s Island is easily reached by a short (but steep) footbridge near 103rd Street in Manhattan. As soon as you get to the island you’ll notice how empty it is, and that there are loads of running paths. I’ve yet to explore them all, but a full loop of the island would be about 5 miles. If you head left from the bridge, you’ll quickly enter a densely forested area; if you head right from the bridge, you’ll be treated to great views of Manhattan.  The city has a helpful website with maps, directions, and other info.

What’s your favorite place to run?

If you have a favorite run I’ve left off this list, please share your pick by leaving a comment below! If you are reading this via email or RSS feed, visit Downtown Traveler to leave your comment.

About Jake Semmel

I'm a blogger and round the world traveler. I'm always on the lookout for new places to scuba dive, hike and ski.