Central Park, New York City’s celebrated, 843-acre green space in the heart of Manhattan, is a draw for many people, both locals and tourists alike. However, with more than 25 million annual visitors, some of its meadows and tree-lined walkways can become extremely overcrowded. That’s pretty ironic for a place intended to be an oasis away from the urban masses.
Most of this congestion is concentrated in the park’s southern half—from Columbus Circle to the Metropolitan Museum of Art—which fortunately leaves another 400 acres in the north that are far less hectic. Not only is Central Park north of 85th Street less crowded, it has several alternate attractions, including its largest natural preserve for a true escape from the manic metropolis.
The Conservatory Garden
Flowers may adorn Strawberry Fields’ “IMAGINE” mosaic, memorializing John Lennon near West 72nd Street, but beyond the Vanderbilt Gate on the east side of the park between 104th and 106th Streets is the only formal collection of flowers: the Conservatory Garden. Away from Beatles pilgrims and speeding cyclists, this quiet zone of manicured blooms is divided into three lesser gardens: the English, the Italian, and lastly, the French, home of Walter Schott’s often photographed bronze sculpture, Three Dancing Maidens, atop the Untermyer Fountain.
Away from the mob on and around the Lake near Bethesda Fountain and the Loeb Boathouse is Harlem Meer (meer, Dutch for lake), stretching from the Lasker Rink and Pool to the northeastern corner of the park. An artificial body of water crafted by park designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted (all of the park’s water bodies are man-made), it’s a watering hole for local wildlife and the flora landscaped along its banks. On the north shore is the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, where you can borrow poles for catch-and-release fishing.
The North Woods
There may be birdwatching and nature walks in the frequented Ramble (mid-park between 74th and 79th Streets), but in the northwestern section of the park is a bigger, and much less crowded area for birding: the 40-acre North Woods, the largest of Central Park’s three woodland preserves. Inspired by the Adirondacks, it has been designated “Forever Wild,” so these woods thrive and decay naturally, as they would in forests upstate. Hiking along the natural trails that follow the Ravine feels devoid of buildings or honking cars, as if you’ve been completely transported away from city life.
The Glen Span Cascade and Arch
Within the North Woods is another man-made body of water, the Loch, which is more like a winding forest creek. Along its path are three artificial waterfalls, the most striking being the 14-foot-tall Glen Span Cascade, sourced by the Pool at West 102nd St. Along with the rustic 19th-century Glen Span Arch nearby, the setting, hidden away from Central Park’s main walkways, is arguably the best spot in the park for a marriage proposal—or maybe just a bucolic selfie.