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A Complete Guide to Running in Central Park

A Complete Guide to Running in Central Park

If you are a runner and heading to New York City there is no better place for a running experience than Central Park.

In Central Park you will find various running pathways that go to all corners of the park. Whether you are looking for a short 2 mile run or a longer 6+ mile run, Central Park will offer all of that and more.

This running in Central Park guide will talk through everything you need to know to prepare you for a visit. Whether you are looking for a running map, helpful tips, entrance points, or running routes, this guide will cover it all.

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1) Central Park Running Introduction

While most of New York City is filled with various neighborhood and hectic city streets, right in the center of it all is the 840-acre Central Park.

All throughout Central Park you will find greenery, fauna, flora, open fields, lakes, ponds, viewpoints, bridges and more.

A great way to experience a little bit of everything is to head into Central Park for a run. The park has several running route options to choose from, and depending on what you are looking for, there should be something out there for you.

Now, due to the sheer size of the park, things can get a bit tricky if you do not know where you are going. There are hundreds of pathways that wind their way all throughout the park. Even as a New Yorker myself, who has been in Central Park hundreds of times, it can get quite confusing.

Thankfully though, most of the standard running routes are pretty easy to follow as they are on the main paths of Central Park.

This guide will talk more so about these main routes and less so about some of the more complicated pathways. These main routes include:

 

→ 6 Mile Full Loop

→ 5 Mile Loop

→ 4 Mile Loop

→ 3 Mile Loop

→ 1.7 Mile Lower Loop

→ 4 Mile Bridle Path

→ 1.6 Mile Reservoir Loop

 

While these are some of the main Central Park jogging routes, there are surely more combinations that you can choose from to make a route longer or shorter.

As an example, if you are looking for a longer route, you can combine a full loop with a half/quarter loop to get some more miles in.

For the everyday runner though, the above routes should have you going in the right direction. I will dive more into each one of these throughout the guide. 

Central Park Three Mile Loop Bridge

2) Central Park Running Routes Map

To get a better understanding of the running routes mentioned above, it is most helpful to clearly outline them on a map.

Below is a Google Maps view of Central Park and the seven routes that I outlined:

 

 

6 Mile Full Loop

Color: Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

 

5 Mile Loop

Color: Green -> Black Traverse on 102nd Street -> Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

 

4 Mile Loop

Color: Green -> Black –> Green –> Red

Starting Point: 72nd Street and 5th Avenue

 

3 Mile Loop

Color: Green -> Yellow Traverse on 86th Street (Bridle Path) -> Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

 

1.7 Mile Lower Loop

Color: Green -> Red Traverse on 72nd Street (Terrace Drive) -> Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

 

4 Mile Bridle Path

Color: Blue

Starting Point: Pinebank Arch

 

1.6 Mile Reservoir Loop

Color: Purple

Starting Point: 90th Street & 5th Avenue (Engineer’s Gate)

 

**Starting Point Note**: While I do mention some starting points above and throughout the guide, there is no right or wrong place to start your runs. To make things simple, I have started most of these runs at the 59th Street and 7th Avenue intersection (southern end of the park), but you can really start at numerous places all throughout the park.

 

3) East, West, Center & Terrace Drives

One important thing to point out is the layout of the main loop running route in general.

The main pathway is made up of 4 “streets” called East Drive, West Drive, Center Drive, and Terrace Drive.

I have also highlighted in black the 102nd Traverse (more on that soon), which is used to avoid the Harlem Hills.

You can see the screenshot of the map below where I highlight these 4 drives in the park. I will be referring to these throughout the guide to better explain directions and what to expect out on the trail.

Central Park Running Routes

4) Central Park Running Elevation Map

While each running route will have a different distance, duration and elevation gain, I thought it may be helpful to include an elevation gain profile of the main 6 mile loop of Central Park.

If taking part of the full loop, the elevation gain will be just around +300 feet of gain during the duration of the trail.

There are a few main “hilly” areas of the full loop to watch out for ->

1) Directly after passing by the Loeb Boathouse, there is a +50 foot elevation gain called Cat Hill -> look out for the cat sculpture on the left hand side.

2) As you enter the Harlem Hills area above 102nd street, there will be a large decline followed by a +100 foot elevation gain towards the West side of the park (hence why some people avoid the Harlem Hills by taking the 102nd Street traverse to the west side of the park.

3) Once past the Harlem Hills on the west side of the park, and you pass the 102nd Street traverse on West Drive, there will be one more +75 foot elevation gain that will take you to the Reservoir area.

Beyond those three hilly areas, you can expect several other shorter uphills and downhills spread across the entirety of the park.

Central Park Loop Elevation Profile

5) Central Park Running 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.

Please also 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).

Pedestrian and Bicycle Lanes Central Park

» Restrooms

There are restrooms in the park but not many that are directly on the main loop. Around the lower loop area you can find restrooms at the Loeb Boathouse, near Bethesda Fountain, the north side of Sheep Meadow, as well as a couple others.

» Food

Throughout Central Park you will find small food vendors set up that will be selling hot dogs, pretzels, drinks, and snacks.

Food Carts Central Park

» 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.

Dirt Path Central Park

» When To Go

The park can get very crowded, especially when the weather 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.

» Central Park Running Etiquette -> I would say the main thing to be considerate about while running in Central Park is to simply stay in the appropriate pedestrian lanes throughout your run. Wandering off into the bike lanes can be quite dangerous and accidents have occurred in the past.

» Central Park Hours -> the park is open from 6AM – 1AM, 365 days per year. You can get fined for being in the park after hours!

 

6) 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 High Line, 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:

Cambria Hotel | Hyatt House | Moxy NYC

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:

LUMA Hotel | citizenM Hotel | Aliz Hotel

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. You will also be able to be walking distance from the start of the Brooklyn Bridge walkway.

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:

The Roxy Hotel | Sheraton Tribeca | Four Seasons Hotel

 

Moxy Hotel NYC

7) Central Park Running Routes & Loops

Now that you have some background regarding Central Park and its various jogging options, let’s dive into each one of these seven main routes.

Note that all routes will be done in the counter clockwise direction with most starting at the southern entrance of the park at 59th Street and 7th Avenue.

 

6 Mile Full Loop

Color: Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

Let’s start off with the main full loop of Central Park. As you can already tell from the map above, basically every other route (besides the Bridle Path and Reservoir Loop) are made up of sections of this full park loop.

By taking part of the full loop, you will get to experience a little bit of everything throughout the park including the Harlem Hills, views of the Lake, the NYC skyline, and much more.

If you are comfortable already doing 6 mile runs then I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to take part of this one (unless you have only experienced flat ground in the past).

» Learn more in Central Park Full Loop guide up on the site

3 Mile Loop Running Central Park

5 Mile Loop

Color: Green -> Black Traverse on 102nd Street -> Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

The 5 mile loop is very similar to the full 6 mile loop. The only difference here is that instead of heading into the Harlem Hills, you will skip that portion of trail. All that would change here, would be to make a left hand turn onto the 102nd Street traverse (black line on the map and pictured below).

This traverse will take you from East Drive right across to West drive as you avoid one of the tougher portions of trail in Central Park.

102nd Street Crossing

4 Mile Loop

Color: Green -> Black –> Green –> Red

Starting Point: 72nd Street & 5th Avenue

The “official” four mile loop of Central Park that is marked on park running maps, starts near the 72nd Street and 5th Avenue entrance.

Once in the park, you will head up north on the main full loop route. From there you will head on up and take a left hand turn at the 102nd Street traverse.

Once across the traverse, head south on West Drive (back on the main loop path), and then you will finally make a left hand turn on the Terrace Drive 72nd Street traverse (West Drive to East Drive) back to your starting point.

Central Park Full Loop Path

3 Mile Loop

Color: Green -> Yellow Traverse on 86th Street (Bridle Path) -> Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue 

The 3 mile loop of Central Park is more so my own creation and less so an official route that you may find out there. Since 3 miles is a pretty standard run for many people, I thought it may be helpful to give you an idea of how to go about a route.

You can start the 3 mile loop in the same spot as the 6 and 5 mile loop at the 59th Street and 7th Avenue entrance.

From there continue up East Drive until you pass by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Immediately after passing the Met, you will see an entrance to your left hand side to the Reservoir & Bridle paths.

Head across the park on the Bridle Path (yellow line on map), until you reach West Drive. From there it is back south to the starting point of the route.

» Learn more in Central Park 3 Mile Loop guide up on the site

Running in Central Park

1.7 Mile Lower Loop

Color: Green -> Red Traverse on 72nd Street (Terrace Drive) -> Green

Starting Point: 59th Street and 7th Avenue

The lower loop of Central Park is just a quick 1.7 mile route that circles around the very southern end of the park.

As you head north on East Drive on the main route, you will come across an intersection. For all the other routes mentioned, you would just continue north at this point.

However, for the lower loop, you will make that left hand turn on the 72nd Street traverse, called Terrace Drive (red line on map and pictured below).

Once across the traverse, you will circle back down south to the starting point.

Central Park Loop Intersection

4 Mile Bridle Path

Color: Blue

Starting Point: Pinebank Arch

While the previous 5 routes were all on the main pathway of the park, another route that can’t be ignored is the 4 mile Bridle path.

Unlike the other routes, the Bridle Path is set on a more soft dirt pathway that wraps around 4 miles of the park.

The pathway begins right underneath the Pinebank Arch near the southwest corner of the park. From there the Bridle Path, wraps around the park as you head under arches, through short tunnels, and off the beaten path.

You then will meet up near the Reservoir, where the Bridle Path heads in the counter clockwise direction around it.

On the north side of the Reservoir, you have the option to continue the Bridle Path around the North Meadow (and 102nd Street traverse), before coming back down the west side of the park.

The Bridle Path then would end right back at the southwest corner of the Reservoir, where you can continue to run back south or head off to a different part of the park.

» Learn more in Central Park Bridle Path guide up on the site

Bridle Path North Meadow

1.6 Mile Reservoir Loop

Color: Purple

Starting Point: 90th Street & 5th Avenue (Engineer’s Gate)

Last but not least in the 1.6 mile loop around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on the Stephanie and Fred Shuman running track.

While you can enter the Reservoir pathway from several locations, the “main” entrance is located at Engineer’s Gate at 90th Street and 5th Avenue.

From here you can head on up to the Reservoir pathway and circle the most famous body of water within the park.

» Learn more in Central Park Reservoir Loop guide up on the site

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir Trail

8) Frequently Asked Questions

 

1) Which Direction Should I Run in Central Park

As mentioned earlier in the tips section, I would highly recommend you run in the counter clockwise direction around Central Park.

90%+ of people end up running and walking in this direction, making it much easier to follow the pack instead of heading against it.

Note that if running the Reservoir, you only can run in the counter clockwise direction.

 

2) Is it Safe to Run in Central Park

Yes, it is certainly safe to run in Central Park as long as you are running within the opening hours.

If you want to avoid any safety concern whatsoever then keep your runs during daylight hours .

One additional thing to note though from a safety perspective is that there can be a lot of non-pedestrians on the routes as well -> bikers, scooters, horses, pedi cabs, etc. Be sure to always stay in the running lanes here as you never know when someone will be speeding right behind you.

 

3) Can I Run in Central Park Before 6AM?

The park is open from 6AM to 1AM and is closed for the 5 hours in between during the middle of the night. If you are in the park after hours you are at risk of getting a ticket (which has happened before!)

 

4) How Long is it to Run Around Central Park?

Well, that all depends on what route you decide to head off on as well as your pace in general. Given you are heading on the full loop, that can take you anywhere from 36 minutes (6 min/mile pace) to 90 minutes (15 min/mile pace).

3 Mile Loop Views

I hope this guide has given you a better sense of what running in Central Park is all about. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them in below.

Also be sure to check out the other New York itineraries and guides up on the site.

Have fun out there and safe travels!

 

Jogging in Central Park

 

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