Becky Lebowitz Hanger/The New York Times
These are glorious days to run in New York City.
The weather has been in that elusive sweet spot, with temperatures we were pining for a couple of months ago and will again a couple from now.
Everyone has a favorite route: a jog around Central Park or along the rivers, through Madison Square Park and down brownstone blocks, the senses serenaded by blooming trees and planted tulips. It’s hard to go wrong this time of year. But my nomination for the most scenic and tranquil run in the city goes to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
The subway and Metro-North have stops near the garden.
In addition to being one of the nation’s premier gardens and research centers, this one offers early morning access to exercisers hours before it opens. So not only can you jog there between 6 and 10 a.m., you can have a private audience with the daffodils.
First I bought a community grounds pass for $25, good for a year. It offers access to the grounds but not to exhibits. Basic members can add this access for a small fee, and it’s free at higher membership levels. You’ll want to take care of this before going there to run — call (718) 817-8703 — because the ticket people won’t be there yet.
The Metro-North train to the Botanical Garden stop takes about 20 minutes from Grand Central Terminal, but since I try to squeeze the juice out of my unlimited MetroCard, I rode the No. 2 train to Allerton Avenue. That took me about an hour from 14th Street in Manhattan, but much of the ride in the Bronx is elevated and outdoors, with stops that feature stained-glass murals and bucolic-sounding names like West Farms Square.
From Allerton Avenue, the treetops are visible in Bronx Park, home to both the garden and the Bronx Zoo. I ran in that direction, staying on Allerton as it changed names but wrapped directly around to the garden’s Mosholu Gate entrance. It was an easy one-mile warmup, but the B, D and No. 4 trains offer even shorter routes to the garden.
I showed my pass at the security gate and was on my way. With the garden’s stately headquarters to the left and conservatory to the right, I ran down a tree-covered path called Garden Way. It was here that I saw the first of several large sculptures by the Spanish artist Manolo Valdés. These large works in aluminum and steel feature a female head at the base with various headdresses that blend splendidly with the garden surroundings.
I continued jogging, passing a lawn sprinkled with white and yellow flowers set among the bursting cherry blossoms, and said to myself, “This is going to be good.”
My notional plan, to run the perimeter of the garden first, fell apart quickly as I was tempted by a winding, hilly path that cut back to the right. But here it doesn’t matter which path you choose. Getting lost among these 250 acres is part of the joy, and you are in secure boundaries, never too far from an exit.
Passing the entrance to the rock garden (no grounds pass access) I next encountered the garden’s newest addition: the Native Plant Garden, which opened on May 4.
A bit farther along, with the Azalea Garden to the right and the Thain Family Forest to the left, I chose the azaleas first. I spent several minutes running the curvy, hilly woodland paths — there is almost a mile’s worth in this area alone. My jaw dropped at the exploding pinks and purples of the rhododendrons and azaleas.
Next I entered the forest. This is the real deal, what the garden’s Web site calls “the largest remaining tract of original forest that once covered most of New York City.” The Bronx River, the city’s only freshwater river, cuts through it. Paths line the river’s banks, and the Hester Bridge links the two sides, offering a view of the Bronx River Waterfall’s mellow cascade.
The surfaces in the forest are a runner’s dream, pillowy soft with wood chips but stable enough to allow you to look up and soak in the sea of green.
The sounds in the forest erase the stress of the city. I could hear singing birds and the gentle rush of the river. In certain spots the whoosh of traffic on the Bronx River Parkway was audible, but even that was more like white noise than the incessant honking of Midtown.
After crossing the river I passed the Stone Mill, a landmark 1840 structure that was once a tobacco processing house and is now an event space.
Exiting the forest, I returned to the garden paths, looping around the rose garden and then jogging through the conifers and the wetland path and the herb garden and … well, you get the picture.
Road races are social and energizing, but this run offers something different: a thought-provoking solitude that is not easy to obtain in the city.
After running about four miles of paths, I found my way back to where I entered. This is an ideal starting point for other Bronx runs. The Mosholu Parkway has a greenway that leads all the way to Van Cortlandt Park, the heart of cross-country running in New York City. On the way back to Allerton Avenue, there are chances to hop onto the Bronx River Greenway, where the eventual goal is to have a contiguous path from the East River all the way up to the Kensico Dam in Westchester County. So much exploring to do and so little time.
Near the garden’s exit I made a brief stop, and a friendly security officer named Mary Gill pulled up to see if I needed any help. She was a retired New York Police Department sergeant who spoke fondly about working at the garden.
“You really learn to take it down,” she said, signaling with her hand a lowering of intensity from her previous career.
Take it down. That’s exactly what you do at this magical place.
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