For many visitors to New York, Pelham Bay Park is just the name of the uptown terminus of the 6 subway line. Sure, the name suggests that there’s some sort of green space up there, but the stop is so far into the Bronx that very few visitors (or New Yorkers who don’t live in the Bronx) have ever made the trek to see if the mysterious land of Pelham Bay actually holds a park. I am here to confirm that yes, there is a park way up at the tippy top of the northernmost borough, and that it is a destination that shouldn’t be missed if you have the time and patience for an hour long subway ride.
It may not be as popular as the other outdoorsy areas in the Big Apple, but Pelham Bay Park is actually the largest public park in New York City. It’s so big, in fact, that a section of it spills into neighboring Westchester County, and the part that sits within the city’s Bronx County is more than triple the size of Central Park. As someone who has been hopelessly lost in the forest of central Manhattan, the thought of exploring an area three times larger is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating — but it wouldn’t be an outdoor adventure if you didn’t have to whip out your Boy Scout survival skills, right?
If you’re looking for the full “one with nature” experience in Pelham Bay Park, grab a pair of binoculars, slather a pine cone with peanut butter, and become an amateur birdwatcher for the day. With a wide variety of habitats (782 acres of forest, 195 acres of salt marsh, 83 acres of meadow, and a segment of saltwater coastline, to name a few) Pelham Bay Park provides an excellent opportunity to observe a selection of feathered friends that aren’t strictly pigeons or seagulls — according to the Audubon Society, the area is an important breeding ground for wetland species as well as a stopover site for migrant birds. I don’t know what any of those words mean, but it seeing these animals in the wild seems like it could be aesthetically pleasing and mildly to moderately educational.
If you have an irrational fear of avian creatures from watching Hitchcock’s Birds as a child, there are several other activities for you to enjoy in the park besides birding. There are two golf courses on the colossal grounds (three if you include miniature golf as a legitimate sport), miles of hiking trails, and the man made Orchard Beach that was once referred to as the “Riviera of New York”. It is there where a visitor to the park could partake in an entire day of my favorite outdoor activity: sitting.
I understand that the trek on the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park seems quite laborious just to end up playing a round of golf or watching an owl hock up the remains of a rat. But summer is rapidly approaching, and New York can be devastatingly hot (and smelly) between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Around August 1st you’ll be dying to flee from the burning concrete underfoot and into a grassy field or shaded forest. When that time comes, you might as well make it all the way up to NYC’s biggest park, no?