Looking For A Nature Escape in NYC? Try Exploring Randall’s Island
On warm days in New York City, it often seems like everyone has decided to spend the same afternoon in Central Park. At peak hours, there’s hardly room to lay down a picnic blanket, much less to toss a ball around. Just like the rest of Manhattan, real estate is scarce.
Located between the Bronx Kill and the Harlem River, Randall’s Island is an excellent alternative to Central Park. With its unobstructed cityscape views, wide-open spaces, and beautiful gardens, Randall’s Island is ideal for spending a day outdoors without leaving the city, especially as the summer months arrive and kids are no longer in school. The sheer size of the island means you can comfortably spread out and don’t have to worry about arriving early to stake out a good spot.
In addition to the wide open spaces and waterfront trails that lattice across Randall’s 516 acres, there are five gardens located across the island: the Rock Garden, the Water’s Edge Garden, the White Garden, the Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow, and the Freshwater Wetlands Wildflower Meadow. (A woodland trail is also in development.) All of the gardens have been carefully curated such that something is always in bloom no matter when people visit (except, of course, in the dead of winter). The horticulture team relies heavily on seed bombs to populate the island, as there is a lot of ground to cover, and the gardens attract a great deal of wildlife (there is birdwatching group, for those interested).
In the spring, daffodils line much of the southern waterfront and are re-planted each year, funded by the Green Acre Foundation (the horticulture team at Randall’s Island estimates they’ve planted 20,000 bulbs in the last ten years). Randall’s Island also participated in MillionTreesNYC (which, as the name suggests, successfully planted a million trees in New York City), planting 5,000 trees across the island with the help of volunteers from across the city.
The result of these efforts is a beautiful space that feels sufficiently distant from Manhattan without being too difficult to get to. On the island, the noise of sirens and cars are left behind, replaced by the soft sound of the tide moving in and out. There is a restorative quality to spending time there, and for kids it is the perfect place to play made up games or to imagine impossible worlds.
According to the island’s Director of Horticulture, Phyllis Odessey, and Horticulture Manager EunYoung Sebazco (who showed us around when we visited), one of the best spots on the island (and there are many!) is the Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow, which sits on the eastern side of the island between the Hell Gate Railroad Bridge and the RFK Bridge. Though flanked by two busy bridges, the spot is surprisingly serene, out of Manhattan’s busy gaze. The nearby water lends a cool, refreshing breeze on a hot day.
But no matter where you end up on the island, you’re sure to have a beautiful view and room to spare.
To find out more about Randall’s Island or to plan a visit, check out their website.