The 6-mile rolling road circling the park, Central Park Drive, has a lane set aside for bikers, joggers, and in-line skaters. The best time to use it is when the park is closed to traffic: Monday to Friday 10am to 3pm (except Thanksgiving to New Year’s). It’s also closed from 7pm Friday to 7am Monday, but when the weather is nice, the crowds can be hellish.
Off-road mountain biking isn’t permitted; stay on Central Park Drive or your bike may be confiscated by park police. You can rent cruisers and 21-speed bikes as well as tandems in Central Park at the Loeb Boathouse, midpark near 72nd Street and Park Drive North, just in from Fifth Avenue (tel. 212/517-2233), for $9 to $15 an hour, with a complete selection of kids’ bikes, trailers, and the like ($200 cash or credit card deposit required); at Metro Bicycles, 1311 Lexington Ave., at 88th Street (tel. 212/427-4450; www.metrobicycles.com), for about $9 an hour, or $45 a day; and at Toga Bike Shop, 110 West End Ave., at 64th Street (tel. 212/799-9625; www.togabikes.com), for $35 a day. No matter where you rent, be prepared to leave a credit card deposit.
Central Park is one of the great bird-watching sites in the U.S., believe it or not. Every spring, millions of birds migrate from their winter homes north to New England and Canada and many stop over for a few days in the park. About 230 species of birds can be found in Central Park each year, including owls and hawks, the most famous of which is Pale Male, whose illustrious life (including a brush with a Fifth Avenue co-op board that wanted to evict him from his nest on one of their ledges) has inspired not one, but three books. In the middle of May, you can see scores of bird-watchers with their binoculars in hand peering up at tree tops, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite warbler, nuthatch, or some rarely sighted species. They are friendly types, and it’s usually very easy to fall in with one of the little groups that makes its way through the park. I am one of this breed of birders, and I tell you that on a sweet, warm spring day, all the trees in bloom, it’s heaven to be in Central Park birding. I once saw 15 species of warblers in one afternoon! Visit www.centralparknyc.org/visit/things-to-do/sports/birding.html for more information. There is also a good coffee-table book, Birds of Central Park. For those who can’t make it in the spring, the whole process is repeated in reverse in the fall.
From March through November, gondola rides and rowboat rentals are available at the Loeb Boathouse, midpark near 72nd Street and Park Drive North, just in from Fifth Avenue (tel. 212/517-2233; www.thecentralparkboathouse.com). Rowboats cost $12 for the first hour, $2.50 for every quarter-hour thereafter, and a $20 (cash) deposit is required; reservations for gondola rides ($30 per half hour) are accepted.
Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides
At the entrance to the park at 59th Street and Central Park South, you’ll see a line of horse-drawn carriages waiting to take passengers on a ride through the park or along certain of the city’s streets. Horses belong on city streets as much as chamber pots belong in our homes. You won’t need me to tell you how forlorn most of these horses look; if you insist, a ride is about $50 for 20 minutes (plus tip), but I suggest skipping it.
Central Park’s Wollman Rink, on the east side of the park between 62nd and 63rd streets (tel. 212/439-6900; www.wollmanskatingrink.com), is the city’s best outdoor skating spot, more spacious than the tiny rink at Rockefeller Center. It’s open for skating from mid-October to mid-April, depending on the weather. Rates are $11 for adults ($15 Fri–Sun), $4.75 for seniors ($8.25 Fri–Sun), and $5.50 for children 11 and under ($5.75 Sat–Sun), and skate rental is $6.25; lockers are available (locks are $4.50, $6 deposit). Lasker Rink (tel. 917/492-3857 or 212/534-7639), on the east side around 106th Street, is a less expensive alternative to the more crowded Wollman Rink. It's open November through March. Rates are $6.50 for adults, $3.50 for children, $2.25 for seniors, and skate rental is $5.50; lockers are also available (locks are $3.25, $4 deposit).
Central Park is the city’s most popular place for blading. See the beginning of this section for details on Central Park Drive, the main drag for skaters. On weekends, head to West Drive at 67th Street, behind Tavern on the Green, where you’ll find trick skaters weaving through a New York Roller Skating Association (NYRSA) slalom course, or to the mall in front of the band shell (above Bethesda Fountain) for twirling to tunes. In summer Wollman Rink converts to a hotshot roller rink, with half-pipes and lessons available. You can rent skates for $20 a day (including pads and a helmet) from Blades, 156 W. 72nd St., between Broadway and Columbus Avenue (tel. 212/787-3911; www.blades.com). Wollman Rink also rents in-line skates for park use at similar rates.
Twenty-one playgrounds are scattered throughout the park, perfect for jumping, sliding, tottering, swinging, and digging. At Central Park West and 81st Street is the Diana Ross Playground, voted the city’s best by New York magazine. Also on the west side is the Spector Playground, at 85th Street and Central Park West, and, a little farther north, the Wild West Playground, at 93rd Street. On the east side is the Billy Johnson Playground, at 67th Street and Fifth Avenue, a delightfully landscaped space rife with islands, bridges, and big slides; and the Pat Hoffman Friedman Playground, right behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art at East 79th Street, is geared toward older toddlers.
Marathoners and wannabes regularly run in Central Park along the 6-mile Central Park Drive, which circles the park (please run toward traffic to avoid being mowed down by wayward cyclists and in-line skaters). The New York Road Runners (tel. 212/860-4455; www.nyrr.org), organizers of the New York City Marathon, schedules group runs (open to non-members) Monday through Friday at 6:30am and 6:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 10am, leaving from the entrance to the park at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue.
The only pool in Central Park, Lasker Pool (on the east side at around 106th St.; tel. 212/534-7639), is open July through September 7. It’s free. Bring a towel and other supplies, including a lock.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.