Where to Skate: Manhattan Hudson River Shorline
If you're looking for a good long point-to-point skate, there is a near-continuously skateable route along Manhattan's Hudson River shoreline that runs a distance of 13.5 miles. About 12 miles of this is virtually flat and close to river level, and most of this is either right alongside the river or within close view of it.
The biggest exception to being along the river occurs in the north between the George Washington Bridge and Dyckman St., you have to follow along the path about 100 feet up the hillside along the Henry Hudson Parkway, with one extremely steep spot that almost certainly requires side-stepping.
Depending on whose trail maps you're looking at, you may see the route long the Hudson called the Hudson River Greenway or, as we've known it since the 1990s, the West Side Bikepath (WSBP).
The route can be divided, from south to north, by the names of the parks that you pass through along the way. They are:
- Battery Park City
- Hudson River Park
- Riverside Park (South)
- Riverside Park (North) and Riverbank State Park
- Fort Washington Park
- Inwood Hill Park
Battery Park City
At the south end, the West Side Bikepath begins at the intersection of Battery Place and West St., across the street from Battery Park and from Pier A. Right away you are confronted with a choice, do you head straight up the marked bikepath that parallels West St., or do you take the scenic route along Battery Park City's river-side esplanade? The esplanade rejoins the bikepath after about ten blocks at the corner of Chambers St., alongside Stuyvesant High School.
Unless it's a group skate, I usually take the bikepath along West St. Either way there will be predestrians to content with, but the route along West St. was built for use by cyclists (and skaters), while the esplanade wasn't. This section of the bikepath is generally in very good shape, with the only tricky spots being the seven intersections that you have to cross, and the warning bumps in the curb cutouts at each intersection. Further, if you are travelling south through here, you have to be extra careful at the intersections because drivers of southbound cars on West St. turning right onto one of the streets may not be paying attention to parallel traffic on the bikepath, and you get "hooked".
Aside from cars and intersections along this stretch of bikepath, you will also need to watch for pedestrians as you pass by Brookfield Place immediately across West St. from the World Trade Center.
The alternative is the esplanade, a riverside promenade that was once a popular venue for recreational skaters. Roughly speaking, the area inside BPC may be divided into three parts, Wagner Park, the central esplanade, and Rockefeller Park, with the dividing points being the South Cove and North Cove. But in all three areas, there are signs indicating paths which are off-limits to skaters and cyclists, and rangers do enforce the regulations.
On the south end of Battery Park City, immediately adjacent to Pier A and Battery Park, is Wagner Park, which includes the Holocaust Memorial. Although the entire BPC waterfront is scenic, this may be the most scenic of all, offering a terrific view of the Statue of Liberty. However, the area is not terribly large and the signs indicating which areas are no-skating can be confusing. So pop in, take a look around, but don't expect to spend much time here.
North of Wagner Park, the many buildings in Battery Park City come almost to the river's edge, leaving only a pleasant walkway along which to skate. The path is divided into two levels by trees and bushes, and skating, cycling, etc. are barred from the upper, inland path. There also tend to be many sight-seers and romantic couples walking along here.
At the north end of the central esplanade is the plaza between the North Cove and the Winter Garden (a huge atrium in one of the buildings of the World Financial Center), where things are bit more wide-open. Although you'd think this might be a nice rink-like area, the pabing stones are a bit worn, and it can be crowded with pedestrians on nice days. BPC security will probably be on the watch.
Right next to the mercantile exchange building — a very congested spot due to the ferry landing — the esplanade continues into Nelson Rockefeller Park, probably the best section of Battery Park City for skating as it is larger, is more wide open and probably has somewhat fewer pedestrians. The only problem is that there do tend to be a lot of kids running around, so keep an eye out for knee-high, random missiles.
Hudson River Park
A great place to skate is the bike/skate/ped path running alongside West St. and the Hudson River north from Battery Park, passing Battery Park City and the World Trade Center site, entering Hudson River Park at Chambers St., passing the Chelsea Piers complex in the 20s and then the Intrepid Air/Space Museum, and then finally linking with the promenade in Riverside Park north of 59th St.
The bulk of the West Side Bikepath is now part of Hudson River Park, the strip of shoreline and many of the piers between Chambers St., on the north side of Battery Park City, and 59th St.
Immediately east of the bikepath is West St. and the West Side Highway, aka Route 9A. In many places, there are planted dividers between the path and the highway and between the path and the waterfront promenade. Except for a few places, lighting is generally pretty good for skating at night. However, glare from headlights can be troublesome if you are skating north after dark.
As you can imagine, the path usually sees a lot of activity on weekend afternoons from skaters, cyclists and joggers, and traffic is both ways, so please keep your head screwed on when skating at that time. Stay to your right except when passing, and pay attention for people who want to pass you from behind. (A lot of skaters strap on their headphones and skate along sedately, totally oblivious to any traffic jam of cyclists and skaters that might be building up behind them.) Be prepared to shout a warning at oblivious cell-phone users meandering the wrong direction and paying no heed to anyonee.
Aside from possible congestion, the chief problem you will experience along the park bikepath are the park access points crossing the path, where you have to cope with pedestrians and in some places motor vehicles. Possibly the busiest are the block in front of the Winter Garden (across the street from the WTC site) and the area around Pier 40 (i.e., between Houston and Christopher Sts.); the former is of course a popular tourist area and the latter seems to be an incredibly popular spot for people to hang out in the evening, and into the night on weekends. Additionally, there can be vehicular problems at a number of locations, including the Pier 40 parking garage, the Chelsea Piers complex, the ferry dock near 35th St., and the USS Intrepid museum.
A few of the piers sticking out into the Hudson River are open to pedestrian access. The paving on some is wonderful, and on others quite messed up and unskateable. The concrete pier leading out to the Holland Tunnel ventilation tower should be okay for a slow scenic roll when it's open.
Hudson River Park also includes skateparks at Pier 25 (N. Moore St.) and Pier 62 (22nd St.).
Riverside Park lies along the Hudson between 72nd St. and 158th St., with a gap in the 120s. The south section, below 125th St., might be best described as being in three tiers. The upper tier is the sidewalk promenade immediately adjacent to Riverside Dr., a walkway mostly paved with hexagonal bricks. In general, these bricks are pretty worn and the skating is bad.
Along the west side of the upper tier the land drops off sharply and in many places, it's essentially a cliff. Below this drop-off is the middle tier of Riverside Park, perhaps the widest of the three tiers and probably the most used. There are various walkways and paths winding north-south, and in general, the skating here is okay.
The middle tier inthe 100s and 110s tends to be quieter. However, the main walkway hasn't been re-surfaced in years, so the asphalt is a bit rough and chewy at spots. Some side paths have been re-surfaced within living memory and are fairly smooth, but they also tend to get covered in sand and/or tree clutter. South of 96th St., the promenade between 83rd St. and 92nd St. is recently re-paved and sweet skating, but thus are can be busy with pedestrians, baby carriages and loose dogs. (Note: When crossing 96th St. between the sections, it is easier and safer to take the Riverside Dr. overpass rather than follow park paths and try to cross 96th itself, which is also an on/off-ramp from the Henry Hudson Parkway.)
The lowest tier of Riverside Park is a strip level with the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Hudson River. To the south, it is mostly between the river and the highway, but there is an area in the high 90s and through the 100s where this tier also extends east of the highway and includes ball fields and such. The Riverside Skate Park lies in this area at about 108th St.
Immediately alongside the river, Riverside Park has a promenade/path which runs down to connect with the north end of Hudson River Park at 59th St. (from whence you can skate all the way down to Battery Park City) and up to St. Clair Place (close to 125th St. and the Fairway grocery), where you can connect to the bikepath leading to the northern section of Riverside and from there all the way up to the George Washington Bridge at 178th St. As of May 2010, the promenade along the river runs uninterrupted the entire length of the park; the missing about 83rd St. to 92nd now has a cantilevered promenade sticking out over the river.
The main part of the path is the stretch south of 100th St. Here the walkway is fairly wide and reasonably allows for multiple users, but it does see quite a bit of pedestrian traffic, especially near the pier at 70th St., the boat basin at 79th St., and the tennis courts near 96th St. Barricades are sometimes put out near these places to slow down speeding cyclists. Note that the new extension of the path from 70th St. Pier down to 59th, linking up with the Hudson River Park path, is poorly lit — actually not lit at all the last couple times we skated through. So while it's smooth as of this writing, it can be potentially dangerous for night skating.
The section south of the 70th St. pier mostly runs below the highway viaduct. It is relatively smooth and usually the only problem is that there are some crossings which have been lined with brick. However, this section is also poorly lit and could be dangerous if you are skating after dark and encounter an oncoming cyclist without a headlamp.
The section north of 100th St. is narrower, a bit lonelier, and at night very poorly lit. It might almost be called a paved trail. Because there is no access to the path between 100th St. and St. Clair Place, you'll see fewer pedestrians in this section, but you will have to be cautious about sand and gravel blown across the path, the occasional broken bottle, and also some bumps which can be pretty threatening. It's also pretty noisy from the adjacent highway. Once you've reached St Clair Place, you can keep on skating on the path through the new Harlem Piers park, and then along the bikepath below Riverbank State Park to reach the northernmost piece of Riverside Park starting at 145th St.
You could probably surprise many Upper West Siders by telling them that there is a section of Riverside Park that extends all the way up to about 158th St. Nevertheless, there it is. Basically, the strip of green by the Hudson River alongside north of Riverbank State Park is considered part of Riverside. It has a mostly good path and decent views. The only problem is that on nice days, part of this park area in the high 140s can be jammed with folks barbecuing, making the path a bit of dodgy affair. THis busy area is also where the pavement is roughest.
To reach the park from the south, you can walk down the covered stairway located in the northeast corner of Riverbank State Park, or you can skate up the bike path from 125th St. Between 125th and 135th Sts., the bike path is streetside, but from 135th to 145th, the path is smooth and isolated from motor vehicles. From the north end, the park is accessible from the parking lot on Henry Hudson Parkway at 151st St. or, even better, the paved trail that leads to Fort Washington Park.
Riverbank State Park
Between Riverside Dr. and the Hudson River, this is not a bad place to skate, and the view of the river is pleasant. The park is built over a waste treatment facility, but I've never noticed any kind of unusual aromas here. Entrances to the park are on Riverside Dr. at 138th and 145th Sts.
Many of Riverbank State Park's walkways are paved with brick with beveled edges. Thus, even though the park was new in the 1990s, skating these walkways can be irksome. There are some extremely smooth handball and basketball courts at the south end of the park which newbies might like to skate on when they're not otherwise in use (good luck, though, as it appears that sports leagues keep them busy throughout the day).
There is a skating rink in Riverbank State Park, just northeast of the football/soccer field.
Fort Washington Park
Lying alongside the Hudson River between 158th St. and Dyckman St., Fort Washington Park is in a sense two different parks, with the George Washington Bridge marking the dividing point between the two.
South of the GW is a strip well-favored by fishermen, tennis players, and some cyclists. Its limited accessibility would seem to preclude its use by inline skaters. However, this strip of green is a pretty place to skate, offering a 1.5-mile, decently paved path from about 158th St. up to the bridge and an absolutely gorgeous view of the river, the bridge overhead, etc. If you visit on a fall day when the leaves are turning, wow!
North of the GW, the park is essentially two long paths, a lower path at river level and another halfway up the bluff and right alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway. The lower path is a very nice skate, but doesn't go much of anywhere. The upper path does link to the path south of the GW, but the connection is tricky.
So how does one access the various paths in Fort Washington Park? There are basically three good access points. At the very south end, you can either skate along the trail that connects to the northern section of Riverside Park in the 140s. There are are two pedestrian accesses over the Henry Hudson Parkway into the neighborhood at 155th St. and at 158th St.
About 100 yards north of the George Washington Bridge, there is a pedestrian overpass that connects the park to West 181st St. near Cabrina Blvd. If you skate south, you will find that the path takes a steep, dangerous turn. Due to the tree crud on the path and potential for meeting people coming the other way, I very much recommend that you not try to skate down the path here. Instead, grab hold of the iron rail fence and sidestep down. Once you've reached the tunnel under one of the parkway lanes, you can skate along, but be prepared for a fast descent that will drop you down to river level below the bridge and near the Little Red Lighthouse.
If you skate north from the 181st St. ped bridge, you will be on the upper path of the park's north half and traveling immediately alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway. Part of this route is asphalt and part is sidewalk panels. Most of it is in good shape, but there are some spots where tree roots are causing asphalt to crack. Also, there is one spot downhill from the Cloisters museum where the path is very narrow, and because of a bit of a di[, it tends to collect dead leaves and other crud. Eventually this route leads to the northern access to Fort Washington Park, ending at a zigzag ramp that leads down to Dyckman St. below the parkway. This ramp was completed in 2015 and has made the path access many times easier than it used to be.
Also at the north end of the park at Dyckman St. is the only entrance to a lower bikepath alongsie the Hudson River. It looks like some sort of access road adjacent to La Marina, but it is actually a recently (as of 2016) smooth recreational route that leads south almost a mile. Unfortunately, at the south end, there is a just a little loop, and no connection to nothing else. The other northern access, closer to the river and alongside La Marina, is to a riverside path. It does not link up to the riverside path south of the GW.
Inwood Hill Park
Dyckman Fields, a part of Inwood Hill Park that lies between the Hudson River and the eponymous hill, has some nice paths. They are fairly smooth and mostly flat, but can be a bit twiggy or sandy. From Dyckman St. north to where the paths end near Spuyten Duyvil and the entrance to the Harlem River, it's about a mile.
There is also a rollerhockey rink in Dyckman Fields, but it has not been in good condition for years and seems to see little use except from people using it as a volleyball courted. A Parks Dept. master plan dated late 2008 suggests that it may eventually be replaced by a softball diamond.
To get to the park, just take Dyckman Street all the way west to the Hudson, then turn right and you're there. The rollerhockey rink is perhaps two-thirds of the way up the park, past about five soccer and softball fields.
There is also a pedestrian bridge to the park leading from the rollerhockey rink over the railroad tracks and into Inwood Hill Park proper, but the paths on the park side can be steep and in some places in bad condition. It is possible to navigate via reasonably smooth park paths from this ped bridge uphill and north to the pedestrian walkway to the Bronx on the Henry Hudson bridge. However, the route is steep.