- The Greenbelt includes New York City’s largest remaining forest preserve and encompasses 2,800 acres and six major trails, ranging from easy to difficult and from one to 12.6 miles.
- Biking is permitted only on the multipurpose trail.
- Two of the trails, the blue and the yellow, ascend the 401-ft tall Todt Hill, the highest natural point in the five boroughs of New York City and the highest elevation on the entire Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Cape Cod.
- Pouch Boy Scout Camp, Richmond County Country Club Golf Course, and Moravian Cemetery are privately owned and within Greenbelt boundaries.
- The Greenbelt Environmental Education Department hosts programs for school and scout groups, senior citizens, families and the general public. Summer camp and mini-camp sessions are also available.
Getting to Staten Island from Manhattan is straightforward. There is an express bus, but I can never pass up the ferry ride: it’s free, and you’re close enough to the Statue of Liberty to get a few good shots. Just make sure you’re on the right side for the ride out (literally, the right side – not the left) or on the left side on the way back to Manhattan if you want to see Lady Liberty in all her glory.
My friend Sarah, never one to miss out on an adventure, agreed to join me on this outer-borough hike. We disembarked the ferry in Staten Island, planning to take the S76 bus to the corner of Spring and Richmond to catch the beginning of the yellow trail, but there was a very angry woman and her two very excited children waiting for that same bus. To preserve our sanity, we decided instead to take the Staten Island Railway to the Grasmere stop and walk a few blocks. The trains are timed so that they leave shortly after the ferry’s arrival, and since we didn’t opt for them initially, we were delayed a bit.
We had reviewed the trail map on the ferry and debated the various possible options. We decided to start with the yellow trail that would take us over Todt Hill and then change to the white trail when they intersected at High Rock Park. Then we could make our way to the ocean, which seemed like a fitting end to a hike.
The trail map is available online. It’s a little outdated but basically correct. We found a more accurate paper map a few hours into our trip. By then, we had made it through the more confusing portions of the trail without much trouble. It’s well-marked, for the most part. Many of the blazes on the blue and yellow trails looked fresh. The white trail was a bit faded in spots, but it was the most direct and easiest to follow.
We had a few difficulties navigating the yellow and blue trails (we landed on the blue a bit when the yellow intersected it then seemed to disappear). The yellow trail sometimes looped back on itself so close to where you just hiked that it was difficult to tell which marks to follow.
On a particularly steep portion of the yellow trail, we found ourselves in a loop that we could not escape. We walked in circles a bit, looking for any blazes that would lead us out…. Then we backtracked and picked up the blue trail, which also led to High Rock Park.
We alternated between the blue and yellow trails often, not really part of the plan, but it worked. The trails intersect developed land, and some follow along streets for short distances. Beware the portions of the trails that follow Todt Hill Road – no sidewalks!
I have hiked trails that intersect and parallel civilization on occasion, but this one was by far the most…diverse? We hiked near the exclusive Todt Hill neighborhood, the most expensive neighborhood in Staten Island – my first time hiking near mansions.
Bridges stretched over tiny streams and ponds, which was nice. Several red signs along the trails warned of thin ice. SEVERAL. This must be a huge issue in Staten Island. No idea.
We passed a private boy scout camp and, after a lengthy time of actually hiking through woods, found ourselves on a golf course.
We took advantage of the public bathrooms in High Rock Park, which were about what you would expect, but still appreciated.
At times I was disappointed by our proximity to civilization, but I must admit that after a few hours of hiking, breaking through the brambles to find ourselves across the street from a strip mall and an ice cream shop was not a bad thing.
At one point, the blazes led us over a guard rail (not the first or the last) and into someone’s driveway. There was a guy standing by his car on his phone. He paused his call long enough to tell us where the trail picked up again further down the road. Just another day when you choose to live along The Greenbelt, I guess.
It wasn’t all civilization and guard rails. We did spot four deer staring at us and nearly fell over ourselves trying not to startle them.
We accessed Google maps at least once when we hopped (another) guard rail and hit the streets. We were a bit off course but not far and easily rerouted. Plus, this detour led to one of the most unexpected highlights of the entire day.
I spotted what I believed to be a ranch-style brick house with a really intense driveway. So I took a picture.
Once I had more of the house in view, I realized it was a lot larger than I first thought. So I took a picture of the gate blocking their other driveway.
It was as I was turning away to catch up with Sarah that I saw it. I froze and looked back. Impossible. I turned back to Sarah: “Come back here for a sec. You seriously have to see this.”
She walked back and we both stared…at the 14-foot high King Kong topiary between the house and the tennis courts. Sarah nailed it: “Well, I did not expect that.”
Great Kills Park
The white trail ends at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Buffalo Street at the main entrance to Great Kills Park, a 580-acre park known for its four beaches: New Dorp Beach, Cedar Grove Beach, Oakwood Beach, and Fox Beach.
Bikes and pedestrians share the sidewalk and path along Buffalo Street, which leads to the beaches. It’s a peaceful walk past fields with plenty of benches if you want to rest for a bit or get a rock out of your shoe.
We were in Great Kills on one of the first truly warm days of Spring, and the beach was lightly peppered with families taking advantage of the wonderful weather. Still, stretches of the beaches remained completely empty.
Once you’re ready to return to Manhattan, simply walk back to the park’s main entrance where you can catch the S78 bus to the ferry terminal.
So, who’s up for exploring the Staten Island Greenbelt? Any questions? Any other outer-borough hikes I should explore?