Most people think of New York City as nothing but a concrete jungle, but the city is home to more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities including wetlands and woodlands. Although just about everyone on the planet has heard of Central Park and other popular spots like Brooklyn Bridge Park, there are plenty of havens for nature lovers peppered throughout the boroughs.
Want to see them for yourself? Here are five parks in New York City to see that you’ve probably never heard of.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Part of New York’s Gateway National Recreation Area, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens is a birding paradise for nature lovers who want to leave the city behind. The park encompasses 9,000 acres of open bay, saltmarsh, mudflats, upland field and woods with two man-made brackish ponds. More than 332 bird species have been spotted over the last 25 years, which accounts for nearly half of all the species in the Northeast. A hike along the loop reveals scant views of Manhattan in the distance, but, otherwise, you’ll hardly remember your in the city that never sleeps.
Mt. Loretto Unique Area
Staten Island is home to scores of parks and beaches that even locals don’t know much about. Like its name implies, Mt. Loretto Unique Area is perhaps one of the most unique with more than 200 acres of forest, grasslands, wetlands and coastal shoreline. Three hiking trails along Wetlands Trail, Grassland Trail and Beach Loop treat visitors to bird sightings, wetlands and ecological diversity. The beach also offers a lovely view of the southernmost point of Staten Island.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Although New York City is home to rich ecological diversity and wetlands, it also knows how to blend its quirky, unique artistry with nature. Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens was founded in 1986 by sculptor Mark di Suvero as a community engaged, accessible arts space to support artists. Situated on an urban waterfront, the park sits on top of five acres of landfill and boasts truly unique exhibits and sculptures, including past works of arts like a life-sized bigfoot. Keep an eye out for special events and seasonal free kayaking.
Fort Washington Park
If you look closely while racing in a taxi along the West Side Highway, you might see a tiny red lighthouse peering out from beneath the George Washington Bridge. Home to the beloved Little Red Lighthouse, Fort Washington Park in upper Manhattan offers dazzling views of the New Jersey Palisades. Take a family picnic to the Little Red Lighthouse and read its namesake storybook, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. The lighthouse is no longer in operation, but still delights children with its whimsical, pint-sized structure. After a visit to the lighthouse, play along the lawns, baseball fields, playground, tennis courts or basketball courts.
New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden
Ever wanted to see a real Chinese Scholar garden and step back in time? Staten Island’s New York Chinese Scholar Garden is a replica of a typical garden from the 18th– and 19th-century Ming dynasty. Part of the Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, the scholar garden was created by 40 artisans from China complete with Asian koi ponds and meticulously landscaped pavilions. Guests are treated to waterfalls and the only authentic classical Scholar Garden in the United States.
There are still plenty more parks, wildlife refuges and wetlands scattered throughout the city’s boroughs. Start with the area you’re staying in and branch out to suit your taste for adventure, wildlife, beaches or culture.
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