Where to Skate: New Jersey and Rockland County
Fort Lee to Hoboken
Technically it's not even New York State, but if you're in the mood for a workout, you can try out what is sometimes called "The Hoboken Run", a skate up Manhattan's Riverside Dr., across the George Washington Bridge to Fort Lee, and then south along the New Jersey side of the Hudson River to Hoboken, where you can catch the ferry or PATH back to Manhattan.
The first step is getting onto the bridge. Head uptown to the corner of Fort Washington Ave. and West 177th St., then skate two blocks west, descending two (steep) blocks to Cabrini Blvd. and hang a quick right. One block north, at the corner of 178th St., hop up onto the sidewalk and skate about 50 yards alongside the highway exit until you get to the entrance of the pedestrian ramp leading up to the bridge walkway. Be careful, the ramp is steep and narrow, and there always seems to be a cyclist coming the opposite direction.
Once onto the bridge proper, the walkway is fairly wide and in good shape, and you can just skate over to Fort Lee, New Jersey, stopping at the halfway point for a breather and to enjoy a nice view of the Hudson River and the Manhattan and Jersey shores. (There is another walkway on the north side of the bridge, but it involves negotiating about six sets of stairs and is usually closed.)
After you've crossed over to Fort Lee, you have two basic choices for your trip south to Hoboken.
But before we discuss routes, it's time to pay heed to the fact that once you're in Jersey, different customs rule the road. Although New Jersey has skate-friendly law on the books, it can be overridden by any local authority which wishes to do so. And given that you can switch towns and police departments by travelling incredibly short distances in this section of New Jersey, it can be difficult to know whether the particular block you're skating in is legal or not.
Assuming you've decided to risk it, then you must strive to be cautious and polite, as NJ cops and civilians are generally less amused and/or tolerant of skaters than their New York City brethren. Be sure to skate in single file all the way to to the right side on any city streets you take. If you don't, you will get abuse from Jersey drivers, some of whom can be quick to grab for their cell phones to call the cops and complain about those nasty skaters endangering the auto traffic.
Anyway, about the routes to Hoboken:
Once you've crossed the GW and are in Fort Lee, immediately turn left on the first street you encounter, Hudson Terrace, also marked as Bergen County Road 505. Just follow Hudson Terrace south several hundred yards and it will turn into a road descending the Palisades toward the flats alongside the river. You will pass through a couple important intersections and Hudson Terrace will merge into Main St. and then River Road. Just keep heading generally south. The main thing to worry about along here is that the road is steep (dangerous to descend, and hell to ascend), somewhat curvy, auto traffic is incredible, and there is virtually no shoulder where you can stop to rest. Thus, excellent braking skills are required, and you should be prepared for Jersey drivers who strongly believe that skaters shouldn't be allowed on public roads.
After about a mile of downhill, River Road comes to the flats alongside the Hudson River, and the skating becomes much more pleasant. Since the road passes through several communities, its condition will vary depending on when each has most recently decided to re-surface its piece. There will be extensive sections where the shoulder is non-existent, and of course there's still a lot of traffic. Six or seven miles along this road will bring you to the big parking lot at Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken. If that's enough skating for you, you can grab a ferry back to Midtown Manhattan from Lincoln Harbor or from the Port Imperial ferry terminal about a mile north.
Palisade Ave. and Blvd. East:
A route that the Tuesday Night Skate used to take to Hoboken once or twice a summer travels along the top of the Palisades, offering the chance to stop at one of the parks along the way to enjoy the view of Manhattan.
As with the River Road route, you turn left onto Hudson Terrace immediately after you cross the GW. But this time you only stay on Hudson Terrace briefly, turning right at the first stoplight (at Bruce Reynolds Blvd) and then going uphill another couple hundred yards to the next stoplight, at Martha Washington Way. Turn left and skate a few blocks, and you will find yourself on Palisade Ave.
You'll skate about 3.5 miles south on Palisade Ave., at which you point you'll reach Braddock North Hudson County Park in North Bergen. Here you need to turn left onto Woodcliff Ave. After a fast and steep downhill, Woodcliff merges into John F. Kennedy Blvd. East (aka route 693), which you follow another 2.5 miles south into Weehawken. There are wonderful views of Manhattan from scattered points along JFK Blvd., especially from various narrow parks along the top of the cliffs in West New York. Be careful along here, as there are some sharp turns along this busy road. There may be long stretches of it that are nastily grooved, as if they tried to scrape it with a snowplow set too low.
Just past Hamilton Park (and the famous dueling grounds) in Weehawken, JFK Blvd. hangs a big right. A few blocks west and uphill, JFK Blvd intersects Highwood Ave. and Parkview Ave., where you need to turn left in order to stay on JFK Blvd. (Not too sure a left as that puts you on Parkview.) Be super cautious because Kennedy Blvd. here is steep and very busy as it passes under the highway which leads to the Lincoln Tunnel. There will be no shoulder to the road once you cross under the highway, so it may be best if you use the sidewalk. But keep your speed under control. A bit past the highway you will want to make the left turn by the Port Authority offices onto Baldwin Ave., which will take you down into the Lincoln Harbor area.
Lincoln Harbor and Hoboken:
Once in the Lincoln Harbor area of Weekhawken, you can follow Harbor Blvd. south along the shore. After a few blocks it meets up with Park Ave., which you take south for a couple blocks to 14th St. Hang a left, and three blocks later you'll reach Washington St, where you can turn south. Alternatively, go one more block toward the Hudson River and turn south onto Hudson St., and then switch over to Sinatra Dr. for a nice view of the city. Just be careful of the traffic on Sinatra Dr.
Once down Washington St. or Sinatra Dr. about a mile and half, you'll find yourself at the southern end of Hoboken. Take Newark St./Hudson Pl. toward the river for a block or so and you'll find the ferry and PATH stations. You'll have to take your skates off in order to board the ferryi. The PATH used to be pretty cool about letting you wear your skates onto the train, but likely are no longer so nice about it.
There are some spectacular views of lower Manhattan from several places on the Jersey City riverfront which are accessible by skate. For example:
If you've arrived in Jersey City via the PATH train to the Exchange Place Station, turn around and skate toward the Hudson. Once you've tired of the view of lower Manhattan, directly across the river, skate inland a couple blocks to Washington Blvd., and turn north. Periodically, you will be able to turn off Washington Blvd. toward the river to get to other viewpoints, including public waterfront walkways just beyond the Avalon Cove apartment complex and near the Newport Fitness Center on the Pavonia Ave.-River Court-River Dr. South loop.
Past River Dr. South, Washington Blvd. curves inland. When it intersects with Luis Muñoz Marin Blvd. turn north for a block and you'll meet the Observer Hwy. in Hoboken. The Hoboken ferry PATH station are just a few blocks to the east.
The route from the Exchange Place to Hoboken stations is pretty short, so once at the latter, you may want to skate north along the river, turning onto Sinatra Dr. at 4th St. and then go an extra half mile or so to the riverfront park before turning back around.
Liberty State Park:
This is a large, very flat park right on the New York Bay waterfront. Sounds terrif for skaters, right? Actually, no.
Since the park is on the Jersey side of the bay immediately adjacent to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the views are wonderful. And while the various pathways and such all seem to have been newly constructed in the 1990s, most of them are not built for skaters. For example, there's a very long waterfront promenade — about 1.4 miles long — stretching from north of Ellis Island down to below the Statue of Liberty. It's flat as a board. Unfortunately, it was surfaced with bricks that have beveled edges, so it's difficult to get up to cruising speed. Newbie skaters will likely have trouble here since such bricks have a tendency to trip up slower-moving skaters.
Okay, there are a couple places in the park that are skateable. There is an asphalt path running parallel to the promenade a few hundred yards inland. It, however, doesn't share the view and probably isn't long enough for experienced skaters to get anything approximating a workout. Newer skaters will find it okay, and you might spot one or two skating along the path. The other spot in Liberty State Park that seems to get a few skaters is the parking lot (!) at the northern end, which is fairly large and apparently half empty on most weekends. Note, though, that this lot serves the ferry terminal, so there will be times when it is full up.
If you do head for Liberty State Park, have fun getting there. The north entrance road at least is paved with... brick.
If you're interested in skating north and below the GW Bridge, the following description of the River Road into Palisades Interstate Park was provided by Stern:
After crossing the [George Washington] bridge [from Manhattan], take a right onto [Hudson Terrace, aka Bergen Country Road 505]. The traffic isn't bad and the rolling hills make for a nice workout. About [10 minutes] down the road, the highway will come to a T intersection [with Palisade Ave., though not the same Palisade Ave. mentioned above], where you will have to turn either right or left. Go right. Almost immediately, you will face an entrance to Palisades Park, easily recognizable by the precipitous drop and the signs that say "Bicycles Not Allowed on Roadway.
This is the steepest, most dangerous route into Palisades Park. It is also, by far, my favorite. You will probably wear down a bit of brake on the descent. It will be hell on your wheels if you use a T-stop to control speed.
(Ed. note: As of autumn 2019, this descent has some real cruddy asphalt, and is especially dangerous near the top. As Stern suggests, it will destroy your wheels if you're a T-stopper.)
There are two routes on the River Road [aka Henry Hudson Dr.] from the entrance road. If you go to the very bottom, you will be facing south. The pavement there isn't great and there isn't much road before you pop out in Fort Lee. If you take the northern road before the final switchback, you get a much longer, prettier run.
The route is a couple of miles along the Hudson, rather hilly. The final ascent is particularly painful, though I've been rewarded by ovations from groups of cyclists at the top. (There will be bikes along the entire route).
[...] there's a police station with a blades-accessible water fountain at the top of the big hill at the north end of Palisades Park. The thought of that fountain can be a powerful incentive to finish the ascent.
I typically come back by retracing the length of the River Road, all the way back under the GW Bridge, to Fort Lee, then climbing the hill back to the entrance of the bridge. Keep in mind that this final stretch, along the road between the exit to the park and the base of the bridge, has terrible traffic.
The whole trip, from W. 100th St. [in Manhattan], to the River Road and back again, takes about four hours, is totally exhausting and lots of fun.
Piermont and Nyack, New York
Piermont and Nyack aren't in New Jersey, but the route to these towns in Rockland County, New York, that many speed and fitness skaters started using to get there in the 1990s (following a route that cyclists had been using for years) involves a jaunt through Jersey and so is discussed here. A round trip skate from Central Park in Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge, up to Nyack, and back is about 50-52 miles.
After crossing the GW bridge into Jersey, turn right Hudson Terrace, aka Bergen County Road 505. This road parallels the Palisades Parkway and the River Road. Skate north over a couple rolling hills about two miles into Englewood Cliffs, and passing the Englewood Cliffs administrative offices. (You may hear this spot called the police station or police barracks.) One block more and you reach the end of Hudson Terrace at the intersection of E. Palisade Ave. Turn left and skate west until you reach a stoplight. In doing so, you will pass an intersection which provides an entrance/exit for cars using the southbound lane of the Palisades Parkway — do not turn at this intersection.
The stoplight is at the intersection of Sylvan Ave. and E. Palisade Ave. Sylvan Ave will also be marked as Route 9W. Here you turn right, and just keep on skating. From this point to the NJ-NY state light is about nine miles. There are few stoplights along this stretch. There are also few retail business, so if you are thinking about stopping for fluids, the last spot to do so is a gas station about a mile north of E. Palisade Ave. which has a soda machine which also sells bottled water. Pavement quality along here is (as of early 2018) generally good, with the most significant problems being that at some points the shoulder is narrow or non-existent and that there is often grit and gravel along the shoulder. In other places, such as north of Tenafly, the asphalt is smooth and the shoulder is wide, so it balances out. This nine-mile stretch is slowly rolling hills, but as you approach the stateline things will get a bit steeper. You will hit the high point of the 9W skate at 540 ft elevation about a mile and a half before the line, followed by a swooping downhill and then a small climb to the line at elevation 370.
Many folk reach the stateline and then turn around; they've got their workout in and no reason to be excessive about it. Also they know about what's coming up and don't want to do it. But if you decide to press on, things now get interesting.
At the stateline, there is a bit of rough asphalt, which may get you thinking New York doesn't know how to maintain its roads. But it's very short, and suddenly you will find yourself booming downhill very fast on (as of early 2018) very smooth asphalt. But keep it under control as this is a long downhill, descending around 225 feet in a mile and a half. Fun, fun, fun — then you realize you're going to skate up that hill on the return trip.
At this point 9W is called Hillside Ave. and is passing Tallman Mountain State Park. Just past the park, you enter Sparkill. To get down to the downtown of Piermont, you will have to leave Route 9W. Watch for the roadsign indicating the 9W goes straight ahead, while Route 340 angles off to the left. Take the left onto 340, but again, take care. This is another descent, relative short but somewhat steep, and the paving not quite as nice as the descent you just did. Keep right, angling from Highland Ave onto Valentine, and then hang a right onto Ferndon Ave. You are now in Piermont, close to river level and the road will be relatively flat.
Ferndon abruptly hangs a left, crosses Sparkill Creek, and deposits you in downtown Piermont. Keep on skating north and you will be on the River Road, with the river at your side. Another mile or two, you will pass under the Tappan Zee bridge and be in Nyack. Since it now seems time for a rest break, might as well find a sandwich shop, and find a place alongside the river to eat lunch and take a breather. And mentally prepare yourself for the return trip and the climb uphill from Piermont to the state line.
A final note: It might seem like an interesting idea to skate up 9W to Nyack, then cross the Tappan Zee bridge and return to the city along Route 9 (Broadway) on the east side of the Hudson. Certainly many cyclists are in love with the idea. But you can't do that, yet. Hopefully by late 2019, you will. Although the new Cuomo Tappan Zee bridge has a "shared-use path", work on the path did not begin until late 2018. Access from the west end of the bridge will be in South Nyack near the intersection of Clinton, S. Franklin, and the Esposito Trail. (Note: the Esposito Trail is not paved.)
North Valley Trail:
A potential new route through Bergen County that would provide an alternative route to Piermont, New York, is backed by a variety of Northern Jersey service organizations. The 7.5-mile North Valley Greenway is proposed to run from Tenafly north through Cresskill, Demarest and Northvale to the state line. Just across the line in Tappan, it would connect to the James B. Clarke trail that leads to Orangeburg and ends in Blauvelt. The Clarke trail passes by Sparkill, where you could make the switch to Ferndon Ave. and head over to Piermont.
As of early 2019, the timeline on when the North Valley trail might come into being is unclear. Last word is that the organizations/municipalities behind the concept had not yet obtained the right-of-way from CSX.