The West Harlem Piers, from Betsy’s run this morning

Spring is here for good, if the scant outfits we saw around campus during yesterday’s concert were any indication. But there are more benefits to the warm weather than just wearing shorts and sundresses: you can finally set out on a run in Riverside Park without your butt cheeks threatening to go numb. For those of you who are a sudden health kick after Bacchanal degeneracy, have never ventured outside the Hamilton stairs for exercise before, or just get lost really easily, senior staffer (and frequent runner) Betsy Ladyzhets has compiled a list of her favorite routes to run in Riverside. These work for walking or biking, too!

1. Riverside Drive (easy): There’s a pathway at the very top of the park that goes from 120th street to 96th street. This is a good starting route if your endurance is terrible or if you’re nervous that you’ll get lost if you venture further into the park. Be careful of the cobblestones here, though – it’s very easy to trip. Distance: 1 to 1.5 miles one way, depending on where you start.

2. Wide bike path in the upper level (easy): If you go down the pavement path at the 116th Street entrance, follow the path all the way down the hill, then turn left and follow the trail for a few minutes, you’ll find yourself at a wide, paved path stretching from about 110th Street to 96th street. This path is great for sprinting, as it’s completely flat and wide enough to allow for easy passing. The small dog park midway through is a great highlight. Distance: 1 to 1.5 miles one way.

3. Trail in the upper level (medium): If you go down through the main 116th Street entrance but don’t go all the way down the hill and instead turn left halfway through, you’ll reach the upper level trail. This trail is often more private, but because it’s narrower, it can be difficult to pass people (particularly slow-walking groups or folks with dogs). It’s also much hillier than any of the other routes included here, so you might not want to run it all the way down and back. One of my personal favorite routes is sprinting downtown on the wide bike path, then jogging back uptown on the trail as a cool-down. Distance: 1 to 1.5 miles one way.

4. Hudson path to around 86th Street (medium): If you reach 96th Street in the upper level of the park, you’ll see a paved path going steeply down. Take this path, and you’ll get to the lower level of the park, directly on the Hudson River. Running in this lower area can be challenging if the wind is against you, but it’s all flat, and views of New Jersey are nicer than you might think. Be wary of bikers, though. One good point to turn around on this path is after the bridge/separated out area ends, at about 86th street. (There’s a nice water fountain at that point.) Distance: 2 miles one way.

5. Cherry Walk to West Harlem Piers (medium): If you go down to the Hudson path, but turn right instead of left, you’ll find yourself heading uptown on Cherry Walk. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Riverside Park, with cherry trees lining the path and a distant view of the George Washington Bridge, and it takes you to the West Harlem Piers, a lovely but windy home to many an aggressive seagull. And Fairway Market is right next door, so you can grab some groceries to take back with you! If you cross the street from the southernmost part of the pier area and walk one block over, you can go up the St. Clair Stairs, and you’ll be at Riverside Drive and 125th Street. You can also get to this path by starting at the stairs and then taking Cherry Walk downtown; it’s a matter of personal preference whether you’d rather sprint down the stairs to start your run or walk up them to end it. Distance: 3 miles total.

6. Hudson path to around 59th Street (hard): This path is the same as #4, except that instead of turning around at 86th Street, you would keep going until you get to the sculpture garden around 60th. This is a great route because it passes some huge piers, an outdoor cafe, a public restroom (that is actually both clean and open!), and several water fountains. The sculpture garden has different sculptures every year; they’re pretty weird, but interpreting them provides some entertainment for your run/walk. Distance: 3 miles one way.

7. Fort Washington Park to George Washington Bridge (hard): Starting at the north part of West Harlem Piers, there’s a path that goes under the highway overpass, along a train line, and into Fort Washington Park. Fort Washington Park extends from around 158th Street to 192nd Street, where it becomes Fort Tyron Park. This park includes many playgrounds, tennis courts, and picnic areas, as well as a bike path entrance to the George Washington Bridge. My personal favorite run destination in this park is at about 178th Street, near the Little Red Lighthouse and one of the large supports of the bridge. This point has a gorgeous view of Lower Manhattan, and it’s a great place to sit and read or write. Distance: 3 miles from West Harlem Piers; total depends on where you start.

8. Make your own route: Not only is Riverside Park extensive on its own, it connects to the rest of the Manhattan Greenway, a system of bike/pedestrian paths that extend from Washington Heights all the way to the southernmost tip of the island, along both the Hudson and East Rivers. You can consult a bike map, or just start walking/running/biking and see where you end up. Happy exercising!

Photo via Betsy Ladyzhets