Bouldering in Central Park is a great way to spend lunch.
Bouldering in Central Park is a great way to spend lunch. (Photo: Francois Lebeau)

A Month of Microadventures in New York City

Shelma Jun, founder of women's climbing organization Flash Foxy and co-founder of production company Never Not Collective, outlines a busy month of foraging, climbing, and other adventures in the city

Bouldering in Central Park is a great way to spend lunch.
Shelma Jun

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I’m not exactly sure when New York City started to feel like home since I moved here seven years ago, but before I knew it, I’d lived here the longest I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. Folks I meet in the outdoor industry are often surprised that it’s my home base. “I don’t know how you could live there,” they say. “It’s so crowded, and I need to be outdoors.” I respond with an equally surprised, “Oh, I love living in NYC!”

Because I truly do. In my opinion, there is no better place to see good art, hear good music, eat good food, be surrounded by all sorts of interesting and creative people—and still be able to go on quick, amazing adventures. Here’s how I cram outdoor time (and culture—it’s New York, for goodness’ sake!) into a busy schedule throughout the month. Even if you don’t live in New York, consider this a blueprint and scope out similar opportunities wherever you live.

Week One

Pre-Work: Foraging for Mushrooms in City Parks (and Cemeteries!)

Mushrooms are a tasty treat that can be foraged all over the world, including in cities. Many different species of edible mushrooms grow in New York, like enoki, blewit, chicken of the woods, and oyster mushrooms. Go for an early morning hunt in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, High Rock Park in Staten Island, or even one of the many large, wooded cemeteries in Brooklyn and Queens. If you’re a bit too unfamiliar with mushroom identification for your own safety, the New York Mycological Society hosts group forays and encourages beginners to join.

Post-Work: Viking Climbing League at the Cliffs at LIC

It’s like a bowling league with matching shirts, punny names, and friendly(ish) competition, except you’re hanging with some of your favorite people at one of your favorite places: the climbing gym. Oh, and there’s free food and beer afterward. You’re scored each week on your three highest redpoints individually and as a team. Top rope or lead is allowed, and the points use a handicap system based on your onsight level instead of purely grades. Oh, and folks always go out for pizza and beer afterward. The Cliffs at LIC hosts these six-week Friday night sessions each season, so grab some friends and make climbing a team sport for just one night of the week.

Weekend: Scramble Breakneck Ridge

This is one of the coolest and most accessible hikes from NYC, which is probably why it can get crowded on nice-weather days. Though this loop is only about three miles, it requires a bit of scrambling on your hands and feet—but that’s what makes it fun. It’s right near the town of Cold Spring, along the Hudson River. You can get here easily by taking the Metro-North train from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to the Breakneck Ridge station, which is only a quarter-mile from the trailhead.

Week Two

Lunch: See One of NYC’s Lesser-Known Museums

New York has no shortage of world-renowned museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney, to name a few. But there are several awesome smaller museums that have great exhibits, permanent collections, and close ties with NYC communities. Take a lunch break to check out the New Museum or the Museum of the City of New York, or head to the Queens Museum to see the crown jewel of the 1964 World’s Fair, a 9,300-square-foot at-scale model of the city of New York.

Post-Work: Take a Long, Scenic Trail Run

While it’s not the same as running in the Eastern Sierra, you can still get a beautiful long run in-city. Start in Brooklyn Bridge Park and run across the Brooklyn Bridge, down the East River Greenway around the bottom of Manhattan to Battery Park. From there, head up the Hudson River Greenway all the way to George Washington Bridge. This run is probably around 15 miles one way, so turn around and go back the same way for a longer run, or jump on the subway on Broadway if you’ve had enough for the day.

Weekend: Fire Island Backcountry Camping Trip

Fire Island is a beautiful barrier island on Long Island that is just a train and ferry trip away from the city. Known as a summertime getaway, Fire Island can be a bit crowded and expensive during peak season, but you can get more nature and fewer mosquitos in the fall. It’s also a designated national seashore that’s part of the national park system, so get out there and spend a weekend camping at one of its backcountry sites in the High Dunes, and don’t forget to pack your fishing rod. There are striped bass, bluefish, and fluke to catch from authorized areas. Hunting (wildfowl only) permits are also available in fall. There’s a limited ferry schedule after Labor Day, so plan accordingly.

Week Three

Lunch: Boulder at Central Park

Central Park in the autumn is divine—the leaves are changing, the mosquitos are finally gone, and the temperatures are nice enough for a lunchtime bouldering session. Rat Rock is the best known and easy to find, though Cat Rock and Worthless Boulders are fun as well. At Rat Rock, you get the extra treat of small children shouting at you that they’ve found an easier way to the top, reminding you of the absurdity of this sport. Bring your shoes and a chalk bag. Many problems are low enough to the ground to get away without a crashpad, though during autumn there will be enough fellow climbers with pads they’re willing to share.

Post-Work: Kayak the Hudson or East River

Take in the skyline and escape the hustle of the city for a couple hours from the seat of a kayak on the East River or Hudson River. Boathouses in both Brooklyn and Queens offer kayaks rentals, or you can go on a scheduled tour. The boathouse in Manhattan near 45th Street and the Hudson River Parkway also rents SUPs. Both rivers are active waterways, so paddlers must take a bit of care, but the pleasures of being out on the water will make up for it.

Weekend: Climbing, Hiking, Doughnut Trip to New Paltz

New Paltz is a cute college town north of New York City that happens to sit at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains, also known as “the Gunks,” which feature world-class trad climbing routes. This area also has some great bouldering and top-rope areas, though you won’t see much sport climbing in this old-school spot. Minnewasaka State Park has a ton of trails for biking and training runs. Take advantage of fall apple season and eat at least 15 apple cider doughnuts from the Jenkins-Leuken Orchards. Though a car is convenient once you’re out there, you can take the Trailways bus from Port Authority in Manhattan and hitchhike up to the climbing and hiking areas from town.

Week Four

Pre-Sunrise: Bike the New York City Marathon Course

The famous New York City Marathon happens the first weekend of every November and winds through all five boroughs of our very special city. Hours before the race, a small contingent of swift cyclists meets up in the wee hours of early morning at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to ride the course. This isn’t a stroll—you have to maintain a pretty quick clip to make it through the course before they clear it out for runners. And to be clear, this is not a part of the marathon—you’re cycling at your own risk. If you’re looking for something more curated, check out the TD Five Boro Bike Ride in spring.

Weekend: See DIA Beacon and Hike Some Casino Ruins

A converted former Nabisco factory, the DIA Beacon is one the largest exhibition spaces for contemporary art in the country. It houses long-term, large-scale exhibits, like Francois Morellet’s No End Neon, and curates cutting-edge dance performances and artist talks. The town of Beacon abuts Mount Beacon, one of tallest mountains along the Hudson River. You can hike to the summit, where you’ll see the ruins of the old casino and the gear house that used to brings folks up in a trolley on the side of the mountain. One of the best parts of going to the DIA Beacon is taking the Metro-North train from NYC along the Hudson River.

Lead Photo: Francois Lebeau