Whether you are living in NYC or just visiting the city for a vacation, a walk, run or bike around Central Park is a must do activity. While there are so many various paths and routes to choose from, the longest of them all in the 6 mile Central Park full loop that takes you around the entirety of the park.
This guide will go through all you need to know when taking part of the Central park full loop and what to expect along the way. So, whether you are jogging, biking, or just walking, you can use this guide to get a better idea of what this 6 mile loop is all about.
1) Central Park Full Loop Details
Before jumping into the guide, I thought it may be helpful to give a quick overview of what the Central Park full loop entails.
Route Name: Central Park Full Loop
Starting Point*: Grand Army Plaza (59th Street & 5th Avenue)
Ending Point*: Central Park South
Central Park Loop Distance: 6 miles / 9.7 km
Central Park Loop Elevation Gain: 290 feet / 88 meters
Time: 2.5 hours walk (running/biking based on pace)
Please note that while you can walk & run in either direction, about 90% of people go counter clockwise around the park. Taking that into consideration, I highly recommend you do the same (bicyclists are ONLY permitted to go counter clockwise).
*Starting/Ending Points: I will talk about the starting and ending points in the next section, but I just wanted to note that there is not one specific starting/ending point here. There are so many entrances to the park so you can technically start/end in endless locations.
2) The Full Loop Starting Point
As mentioned there is not just one starting and ending point for the Central Park loop. Since there are so many various entrances to the park, you can technically start the loop wherever you would like.
For simplicity sake though I would like to give you a few main options here to consider when making the decision on where to start your run, bike, or walk.
59th Street and 5th Avenue – Grand Army Plaza
One of the main entrances to Central Park is on the southeast corner, where Central Park South (59th Street) meets 5th Avenue.
Not only do you have easy subway access from this point, but you will also be able to take in some iconic New York locations – the famous Plaza Hotel sits right on the corner here and the shops and restaurants of Fifth Avenue line the streets.
Just across the way from the Plaza Hotel is Grand Army Plaza, and one of the many entrances to Central Park. Here is where East Drive of Central Park begins (the route you will be taking all along the east side of the park).
90th Street and 5th Avenue – Engineer’s Gate
Another option is a bit further uptown at the intersection of 90th Street and 5th Avenue. Here lays the Engineer’s Gate entrance that will have you starting the 6 mile loop right nearby the Central Park reservoir.
59th Street and 8th Avenue – Columbus Circle
If coming from the west side, a popular entrance spot would be right by Columbus Circle . There are also plenty of subway stations nearby the area and you can also spend time before or after checking out places like Lincoln Center.
For the purpos of this article, I will be going about the loop from the Grand Army Plaza at the corner of 59th and 5th. Even if you are not entering from here, you can still use this guide for everything else about the loop.
3) Where to Stay in Manhattan
There are so many different neighborhoods to choose from when visiting Manhattan. Below are some of my top choices for a few of my recommended locations in the city:
Chelsea: If you are looking to be well situated between uptown, midtown, and downtown, then Chelsea can be a great option for you. You have highlights such as the Highline, Chelsea Market, the Vessel, and the Hudson River right nearby.
And if you are looking to head to Central Park uptown or the World Trade Center area further downtown, then you are just a quick subway ride away. Recommended Chelsea hotels:
Midtown: Right in the middle of the action is the midtown area, where you have the one and only Times Square, and all Broadway shows right at your doorstep.
You are also within walking distance to the southern end of Central Park. Almost all subway lines connect at Times Square so getting around should not be an issue. Recommended Midtown hotels:
Tribeca: If you are trying to stay in downtown Manhattan, then I would recommend looking into the Tribeca area. Staying here and you will be just a stone’s throw away from the World Trade Center area, 9/11 Memorial Pools & Museum, and the hop on point for the Statue of Liberty.
While Central Park is a bit further away, you should still be able to reach it in about 30 minutes by subway. Recommended Tribeca Hotels:
4) Central Park 6 Mile Loop Map
Below is the Central Park Loop map that shows the route around the entirety of the park. I started on the southeast corner at Grand Army Plaza and from there began my counter clockwise route all around Central Park.
The full loop that is shown below utilizes the two main roads of Central Park -> East Drive and West Drive.
As you can see I did not end up connecting the starting and ending points since I would have needed to loop back around to get back the exact starting point. If I did continue around to connect the loop, then I would have utilized the short Center Drive that connects East Drive and West Drive on the southern end of the park.
5) Central Park Running Map
I thought it may also be helpful to show you the rest of the Central Park running map that includes some other routes and landmarks that you can add on or visit along the way.
The map below includes the Full Loop (red), the Bridle Path (purple), the Reservoir Loop (green), and the Lower Loop (blue).
6) Central Park Jogging, Walking, Biking Tips
Below are just a few more tips and things to know when going about your time around Central Park:
» It Can Get Crowded
Not only will there be runners and bikers on the paths, but you will also have people walking, horse carriages, pedicabs, motorized scooters, and various other modes of transportation on the route.
Please be cautious as you are making your way along the paths in general.
» Pedestrian and Bike Lanes
You will see on the pavement icons letting you know what lanes are meant for whom. Please be sure to follow the markers and not end up in the wrong lane.
There are restrooms in the park but not many that are directly on the main loop. I do mention a few in the guide to look out for if you did need to use the restroom at some point.
Throughout Central Park you will find small food vendors set up that will be selling hot dogs, pretzels, drinks, and snacks.
» Water Fountains
There are also plenty of water fountains alongside the loop. Note that these water fountains do not work year round. They start working sometime in the Spring and then stop sometime in the late Fall.
» Dirt Path
While the main path is all made up of pavement, from time to time you will find a dirt path etched into the grass (different from the Bridle Path mentioned later on). This is helpful if you would like to get off the pavement from time to time.
» When To Go
The park can get very crowded, especially when the whether is nicer and on the weekends. If visiting for a few days and you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the crowds, try to head there on a weekday.
Also to note, the earlier or later in the day you go, the fewer crowds there will be.
7) Running in Central Park: 6 Mile Full Loop
Now that you have some background information, let’s dive into what to expect and what to look out for when heading out on the full 6-mile loop of Central Park.
Note that the rest of this guide will go about the loop starting from Grand Army Plaza:
Grand Army Plaza to The Mall
After getting off the subway or making the walk, you will soon arrive at the corner of 59th Street and 5th Avenue at Grand Army Plaza. Take in the view of the iconic Plaza Hotel from down below, before heading off to East Drive.
You will simply follow the main road here as you may pass by some horse carriages and pedicabs and onto the first portion of the route.
Walk along the tree lined street as you will take in your first sight of this greenery filled park directly in the middle of this hectic city.
To your left you will see some of the newer high rises that line the southern part of the park and that tower above the rest of the city.
After just about 5-10 minutes of walking you will reach your first intersection seen in the image below. To your right is East Drive and to your left is Center Drive. Simply follow the road to the right to continue on the Central Park Loop.
Technically, right here is where you can also finish your route at the end of the day as you complete the full loop (connecting East and West drives) before making your way out of the park.
As you continue along you will see The Mall to your left. This connects Center Drive with the Bethesda Fountain area.
On either side of the The Mall are American Elm trees and various statues of historical figures. I highly recommend checking this out at some point as well.
You will continue to run, bike or walk alongside the Mall on East Drive before coming to a couple quick intersections (don’t worry there aren’t many more of these). Below is a screenshot of the intersection to give you an idea of what to expect.
Essentially, here is where Terrace Drive meets up with East Drive. Terrace Drive is utilized for those that just want to take part of the lower loop. However, since this is all about the longer full loop, you won’t need to worry about heading on this section.
Instead you will just want to continue straight ahead (following the red line on the map below) that continues along East Drive.
The Mall to The Reservoir
After getting by this intersection you will soon see the Loeb Boathouse on the left hand side of the road. Here is where you can rent boats to take out on the lake and enjoy time out on the water. You will also find a restroom if you need to take a quick bathroom break.
The route continues northbound as you get to enjoy some of the variety of trees, plants and flowers that line East Drive. Soon enough, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be on your right hand side, and the famous Obelisk will be on your left.
After passing by The Met, the Central Park Reservoir will be soon after. The image below shows the path up to the Reservoir on the left hand side with East Drive continuing straight ahead.
While you can opt to head up to the path right along the Reservoir, I will mention that it can get tricky getting back down to East Drive if you miss the first couple exit points to get back onto the main route.
If you want to learn more about the Reservoir route specifically, take a look at the Central Park Reservoir Loop guide up on the site.
I will also mention that in addition to the path directly around the Reservoir, you will also see a secondary path right below that. This is called the Bridle Path and is a dirt trail that takes you 4.2 miles around the park on softer path.
This Bridle Path guide will walk you through what that route entails if you are interested in learning more.
As you continue along East Drive down below the Reservoir, you will see the circular shaped Solomon Guggenheim Museum to your right – a great place to visit during your time in the city.
Right past the Guggenheim will be Engineer’s Gate, another main entrance point to the park and where you can opt to start your full loop route from. Feel free to also head up the Reservoir level here if you would like to take in that view before heading back down to East Drive.
The Reservoir to the Harlem Hills
You are now slowly entering the northern end of Central Park. Once fully past the Reservoir area, you will have the East Meadow to your right and the North Meadow to your left.
You will be welcomed to colorful trees, open fields, and fewer crowds as you make your way through this part of Central Park.
Up next here are the infamous Harlem Hills, where most of the ups and downs of the full loop route lay. Before getting the hill area, you have one last chance to avoid them, by taking a left hand turn on the 102nd Street Crossing (image below).
If you are heading on the full 6 mile loop of Central Park, get ready for some twists and turns as you head up and down some hilly areas.
Everything on your left hand side will be part of the Ravine and North Woods area. This is one of the most confusing parts of the park if you decided to head in there yourself (you will see multiple entrance points as you continue along).
On the left, be on the lookout for the most famous waterfall of Central Park, which can be seen from East Drive. On your right will be the Harlem Meer, another beautiful water feature of the park.
Soon enough East Drive will officially end and now you will unknowingly be on West Drive as you begin to head southbound. The hills will continue here as you circle those North Woods and end up on the western side of the park.
Harlem Hills to The Reservoir
After passing the worst of the hilly parts of Central Park, you will soon come across the Ravine and the Pool. If you are not paying attention here, they are easy to miss. At the Pool (called the Pool but really a pond), is where the source of the Loch starts.
The Loch is the river that makes its through the northern part of the park and eventually makes its way over the waterfall from earlier.
If interested in checking out this section of the park, feel free to read up on the North Woods and Ravine trails.
Once past the Pool area, you will see the North Meadow to your left followed by the Central Park Tennis Center, and then right back to the Reservoir.
By the Reservoir, you can decide to take a quick walk by the water before heading back down to West Drive. You will also see the Bridle Path here in between the Reservoir and West Drive.
Out in front of you will be the two towers of the El Dorado building, and you may see some of those high rises further out in the distance.
The Reservoir to Central Park South
After passing by the Reservoir, the next main highlights of Central Park to look out for are The Ramble, The Lake and Bow Bridge. Here you will see plenty of folks out on the water with row boats with the famous Bow Bridge further out in the distance.
There are some nice lookout areas and benches to sit on if you would like to take a break and enjoy the view.
Sheep Meadow will soon approach on your left. Here is where on a nice weekend afternoon you may see hundreds of people socializing and laying out in the grass. There is another restroom location just on the northern side of the field.
Now, is where things will slowly come to an end on the 6 mile Central Park loop. First you will pass by Columbus Circle (a potential entrance and exit spot), followed by a couple more exits to Central Park South.
I decided to head out at the exit in the image below. But if you are up for it, you can continue along what will now be Center Drive and follow the road back to the East Drive intersection and call it a day.
As you may imagine, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to go about a Central Park run. Whether it is just doing the full loop or combining it with the various other paths and routes in the park, you are sure to have an enjoyable time.
If you did have any questions regarding these various routes, feel free to write them in the comments below.
Also be sure to take a look at the other New York itineraries and guides up on the site.
Have fun out there and safe travels!