Know where to go when the Big Apple is covered in snow.
New York City’s first snowfall of the season is always magical, and there are few better ways to carve and enjoy fresh powder in this town than by going sledding. Just make sure you stick to the snow-covered green spaces and avoid any major thoroughfares or historic building staircases — sliding down Bedford Avenue or the steps of The Met will only end in tears.
Whether you’re riding a hand-carved toboggan or a plastic lunchroom tray, here are the best sledding spots found in parks across the five boroughs.
Were Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux — celebrated landscape architects and designers — major sled-heads? Because Central Park, the duo’s most renowned and revered work, is heaven for the activity (even if you prefer to call it sleighing or sledging). And across the 843-acre natural expanse, Pilgrim Hill rises above the rest as the A1 sled spot.
The incline, located south of Conservatory Water on the Upper East Side, is favored due to its steep slopes and smooth, rock-free rides. As such, New Yorkers flock to Pilgrim Hill and can make it slightly crowded. If you crave more space in the snow, venture a handful of blocks north to Cedar Hill. This Scottie Pippen to Pilgrim Hill’s Michael Jordan is relatively more private and supplies a mellower descent. On the Upper West Side? Consider the Great Hill, the park’s third-highest natural point, between 103rd and 107th streets.
Inwood Hill Park
Manhattan is wild, and we’re not talking about the downtown nightlife, Times Square neon-hued bustle, or Midtown traffic. Inwood Hill Park essentially entirely encompasses the western half of the way-uptown neighborhood of Inwood, sprawling with unspoiled terrain and Manhattan’s last natural forest and salt marsh. It represents the easiest way to escape the city for the country without first needing to pay a bridge toll.
Inwood can be a journey to reach, for sure, but that’s kind of a good thing. The neighborhood’s relative remoteness makes its premier park a hidden gem, less burdened by crowds than just about any other Manhattan sled locale. Fantastic views of the surrounding landscape make a downward trip through the Inwood Hill Park powder more than worth it. Plus, the titular hill is quite steep, allowing sledders to go for the snow speed record.
Though this sledding action is in an entirely different borough, we could open with the same question as Central Park. Prospect Park is another Olmsted and Vaux masterwork. It’s also beyond integral to Brooklyn’s identity. Once the first flakes land on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza, the park elevates to winter wonderland status, with more sledding choices than you can shake a stick from the Ravine at. Fitting that you’d find so many park slopes near Park Slope.
The most prolific area for sliding down snowy inclines is the aptly-named Long Meadow. Numerous sled hills dot this near-mile-long field — the longest unbroken stretch of urban park meadow in the U.S. — including a prolonged descent from the Tennis House near 9th Street and Prospect Park West. Other options present themselves at Drummer’s Grove by Ocean and Parkside avenues in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, the park’s highest point on Lookout Hill, and the secluded Nethermead.
Fort Greene Park
NYC’s favorite landscape architects strike yet again. Though residents of Fort Greene owe their park to an Olmsted and Vaux redesign, sizeable credit is due to Walt Whitman, who drummed up popular support for the Revolutionary War-era fort’s transformation into public space in the 1840s.
This green(e) heart of one of Brooklyn’s most coveted zip codes is so hilly you may find yourself wondering if Fort Greene Park is some sort of sled resort. Sadly, there are no chair lifts, après-sled lodges, or cushy amenities packages to speak of — though the Brooklyn Academy of Music is only a few blocks away. However, Fort Greene Park does sport a veritable sliding scale of sled riding, perfect for all experience and comfort levels. Delight in four separate hills, from a bunny slope up to whatever the sledding equivalent of a black diamond is.
The namesake for nearby Forest Hills, Forest Park comprises over 500 acres of central Queens. Its terrain is of the “knob and kettle” variety, meaning its composition consists of a series of small hills. Obviously, this makes Forest Park an ideal sledding setting — with an extra layer of coolness that a glacier created those hills 20,000 years ago.
For the most exciting experience, take to the slopes of Forest Park Golf Course. Technically speaking, you probably shouldn’t sled down there — least of all because some call the incline Suicide Hill — as sledding on a golf course is not allowed by NYC Parks. However, people still do sled there and seem to have a blast, so go for it (with caution) if you’re willing. To achieve the same level of fun without running afoul of city officials, head to the Mary Whelan Playground at Park Lane South and 79th Street.
Van Cortlandt Park
Perhaps belying the Bronx’s reputation as a forest of brick buildings along rivers of asphalt, the borough is covered in green space. Yankee Stadium may not count, but visitors flock to the New York Botanic Garden and the Bronx Zoo, and Pelham Bay Park is by far the largest park in NYC — over three times larger than Central Park. Smaller verdant expanses like Claremont, Crotona, and Ewen parks are beloved by Bronxites, but it’s east of Riverdale in Van Cortlandt Park where sledding in the borough is at its finest.
Like Pelham Bay, Van Cortlandt Park is unexpectedly massive, charting as NYC’s third-biggest public greenery. That means lots of room to sled on down. Ample hills in Van Cortlandt Park put the ice cream brand to shame, but the wintertime joy is all around. Should sledding run its course for the day, abundant flat open space sets the stage for epic snowball fights.
Clove Lakes Park
Due to the 12,000-plus acres of protected green space composing 1/3 of its total area, Staten Island is sometimes called the “borough of parks.” By that logic, we could also call it the “borough of sledding,” right? If Clove Lakes Park in northern Staten Island is the benchmark, the answer to that question is an unquestionable yes.
Clove Lakes Park may be the home of Staten Island’s purported tallest living thing — a 300-plus-year-old tulip tree rising at least 107 feet — but the sledding hill sports the most imposing verticality. It’s so steep that hay bales are stacked at hill’s bottom to stop you in case the laws of friction fail to first. Still, a Clove Lakes Park sledding excursion is exhilarating. The park is also Staten Island’s designated snow day location, meaning NYC Parks-approved snowman building contests, complimentary hot chocolate, and more.