I like to take detours when traveling. At the end of a summer work day, I often walk 47 city blocks home to Inwood from my office in Washington Heights. I vary my walk to see new things. The best part of my favorite route is from 181st Street and Fort Washington Avenue to Fort Tryon Park. This is my least direct path home yet has the most sensory pleasures. I think of it as my "wild walk" because of the river, forest, and garden along the way.
This walk is more than an evening commute. It is a destination in its own right, a place to go with friends or family on a Saturday afternoon. It has a little something for everyone, from nature lovers to foodies to art and architecture aficionados. It may just make you fall in love with upper Manhattan, one of the finest areas in New York City. Maybe I'm biased because I live here. Come and see for yourself. Plan ahead with my tips:
- Go hungry as there is a good Italian restaurant at the start of the walk.
- Bring a backpack. You may want to buy a few things along the way.
- Time your walk to spring or summer, when the most flowers are in bloom in Fort Tryon Park.
- Take a camera. You'll want to photograph the scenery.
Now follow in my footsteps.
Into the Woods Uptown Walking (De)tour
1. Take the A subway to 181st Street.
Exit the subway station on the corner of Fort Washington Avenue and 181st Street. The A's 181st Street Station is mentioned in the lyrics of the Broadway musical In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The title song goes like this:
"Well, you must take the A train
Even farther than Harlem to Northern Manhattan and maintain
Get off at 181st and take the escalator
I hope you're writing this down I'm gonna test ya later."
Take a moment to orient yourself. You are on a hill that is the highest point of Manhattan island. During the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army led by George Washington built a fort nearby to defend against British troops. This area has long been known as Washington Heights, though in recent years it was rebranded by realtors as Hudson Heights. The Hudson River is a few blocks away. Walk west (downhill) toward the river.
2. Eat up before most of your walking.
You will pass two places worth stopping between Fort Washington Avenue and Cabrini Boulevard, which is leg two of the walk. The first is the Russian food market Moscow on the Hudson. Pick up a few indulgences here, such as caviar, chocolates, and kielbasa. For a sit-down meal, walk another block to the Italian restaurant Saggio. I rarely recommend Italian restaurants, so you know this one must be good.
3. Admire the architecture.
Finally it's time to walk off the antipasti you ate at Saggio. Make a right out of the restaurant and another right onto Cabrini Boulevard. This arched doorway engraved with animals and plants is one of the first things you'll see around the corner.
Cabrini Boulevard is one of the few streets in Manhattan named for a woman. Her name is Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American canonized as a Roman Catholic saint (in 1938).
4. Behold the bridge.
The George Washington Bridge is another sight seen from Cabrini Boulevard. If you're in the market for a move uptown, Castle Village is a neat and sprawling series of co-op buildings with bridge views and the Hudson River in its backyard.
Once you pass Castle Village, you're more than halfway to Fort Tryon Park. In fact, I consider W. 190th Street the start of the park, though you have yet to enter it. That's because you're about to walk by one of the oldest forests in Manhattan.
5. Follow the forest on the Atlantic Flyway.
The Cabrini Woods Nature Sanctuary starts at W. 190th Street and Cabrini Boulevard. This narrow forest rises above the Hudson River on a steep slope, blunting the roar of traffic below on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Imagine this area was once all trees less than 100 years ago. In the 1930s, the city cleared most of the forest to pave the parkway and build apartments on Cabrini Boulevard.
As you walk along this strip, read the signs that tell about the birds and the vegetation in the forest. Cabrini Woods is on the Atlantic Flyway, one of four main bird migration paths in America. Songbirds fly this way on their spring migration from late February to the first week of June. They are American Redstart, Wood Thrush, Magnolia Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Cabrini Boulevard dead-ends at Fort Tryon Park. This is one of the best dead-ends in all of New York City as you are now at the park's front entrance and stand a few feet away from the Heather Garden.
6. Explore your options.
Linger in the Heather Garden, where you'll find more than 30 varieties of heaths. According to the Fort Tryon Park Trust, it is the largest public garden with unrestricted access in New York City. Green spaces like this are a mental balm for city dwellers—science says so. From here, you have options. Visit The Met Cloisters. Take a seat on one of the shaded benches on the David Rockefeller Linden Terrace. If you're lucky and the time is right, enjoy a sunset ending to your day.
Read more about Fort Tryon Park.