Where to hike in New York City: 10 tips from guidebook author Ben Keene

New York City offers fabulous shopping, Broadway plays and… hiking trails?

Guide book author Ben Keene has hiked accross the tri-state area. (Photo: Ben Keene)

Guide book author Ben Keene has hiked across the NY metro area. (Photo: Ben Keene)

A thriving metropolis of 8 million people is an unlikely place to experience nature. But as Brooklyn’s Ben Keene explains, there are plenty of opportunities to hike in and around New York City.

The author of Best Hikes Near New York City agreed to share his urban hiking tips exclusively with Downtown Traveler readers.

Read on for Ben’s insider tips for hiking in the Big Apple.

Where to Hike in NYC

1. When you talk to New Yorkers about hiking, what’s the typical reaction?

Honestly, a good percentage of New Yorkers seem surprised to learn that there are hiking trails so close to the city. Dozens of trails can be reached by spending about an hour on a bus or a train.

2. Many of the hiking spots in your book are outside of the five boroughs. Do you need a car to reach them?

There are numerous parks that are accessible via public transportation. More than half of the hikes in my book include directions for reaching the trailhead without a car. [See below for Ben’s favorite NYC hiking spot].

Sunfish Pond, Delaware Water Gap NRA, N.J.

The Delaware Water Gap is a two-hour drive from New York City. (Photo: Compass Points/Flickr)

3. If a New Yorker has a car and can venture farther off the beaten track, what hiking destination would you recommend?

With a car and a willingness to drive as much as two hours each way, I’d recommend Catskill Park upstate or the Delaware Water Gap along the New Jersey-Pennsylvania state line. Either is a good bet if you need some distance from the city.

4. What is your favorite hiking spot in New York City proper?

Definitely the Staten Island Greenbelt. As the second biggest park in the city it has six main trails of varying lengths that allow for repeated visits. And again, you don’t need a car to reach the Greenbelt.

Flowers at the Staten Island Greenbelt. (Photo: Ben Keene)

Flowers at the Staten Island Greenbelt in New York City. (Photo: Ben Keene)

Essential Gear

5. What advice would you give to first-time hikers?

First and foremost, be prepared. Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, a high-protein snack, and a map. Always a map. Boots are also worth investing in if you plan to go hiking regularly. Beyond that, I’d say determine your fitness level before you go.

6. Does a beginner have to invest a lot of money in buying hiking gear?

No, you don’t need to invest a lot of money in gear. As I mentioned, boots are a smart purchase (as are a few pairs of thick socks), but expensive outdoor apparel, hiking poles, fancy hydration systems, and the like aren’t essential. Start simple.

New Yorkers can skip the designer gear, but a good pair of hiking boots is essential. (Photo: EMS.com)

7. At a bare minimum, what gear should you always bring on a hike?

I want to stress the importance of water and a detailed topographical map. A smart phone is not a smart alternative. Do not head into the woods without these two things. It always upsets me when I meet people on a trail who are putting themselves at risk of dehydration by essentially hiking blind.

Beer, Rock ‘n Roll and Hiking

8. Do you listen to music when you hike? If so, what’s your favorite song to get in the outdoor spirit?

When I go hiking I want to hear birds, the wind in the trees, and other hikers. Not Katy Perry. If I had to pick a song that inspires me to get walking though, I’d say “Mykonos” by the Fleet Foxes—lyrically and musically it’s all about movement.

9. When did you first get interested in hiking?

I’ve enjoyed the outdoors since I was a kid. Many a family vacation involved visits to national parks—Acadia, the Smokies, Yosemite—and the best way to experience the natural beauty of those places is on foot.

10. You blog about craft beer. Would you recommend mixing that with your other love, hiking?

Beer and hiking can be good friends, but they get along much better if they meet up at the end of the trip. I’ve gotten into Black IPAs recently. It’s worth noting that alcohol consumption is prohibited in some parks.

For More Information

Ben Keene

Ben Keene

To learn more about outdoor adventures near Manhattan, read Ben Keene’s book, Best Hikes Near New York City.

Ben developed a love of hiking while growing up in Virginia and Maryland, and has been exploring New York City’s trails for the last decade.

When he’s not communing with nature, Ben runs the blog Where and Back and writes for DRAFT Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, Wend, The Village Voice, and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.

You can find Ben on Twitter (@Whereandback).

About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded DowntownTraveler.com after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.