Randall’s Island: The Amazing Park You’ve Never Visited

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There are numerous reasons to visit Randall’s Island Park, three formerly separate islets that now form one emerald jewel at the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers. It is home to stunning wildflower gardens, many ball fields, miniature golf, and batting cages — as well as expansive lawns that offer breathtaking views of Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. Plus: now there’s a new way to get there!

randalls bridge

photo: via Randall’s Island Park Alliance Facebook page

The Latest and Greatest: A Bridge to and From the Bronx
Recently, the northern edge of Randall’s Island got an additional perquisite: a scenic new bike and pedestrian path that connects it to the South Bronx. The new path has been open for months but remained something of an insider’s secret until the New York Times ran an article covering its unofficial grand opening earlier this spring. Now that the word’s out, dozens of cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and parents pushing jogging strollers can be found checking out the new quarter-mile link.


photo: Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert

The new path is located at the northern end of the Hell Gate Pathway. It has bike and pedestrian lanes that take you over a railroad crossing (which has tall gates that would close when a train approaches), past a massive New York Post facility with fleets of bright yellow delivery trucks in the lot, and over the very narrow Bronx Kill. The path has high fences on both sides and outside that, new greenery taking hold. The South Bronx access point connects to 132nd Street which features a row of numerous large warehouses and has little in the immediate vicinity to explore.

randalls park picnic

photo: via Randall’s Island Park Alliance Facebook page

Getting There
From Manhattan, the easiest way onto Randall’s Island is from the 103rd Street Walkway. You can access this First Avenue, which first takes you over the always-buzzing FDR Drive and then the East River. You can also get there from the East River Waterfront Esplanade which has crossings at 120th Street, 78th Street, and numerous others further south. (You can also reach Wards and Randall’s via the RFK Bridge at 125th Street in Manhattan, or from the Bronx, but the narrow pedestrian paths run along the busy RFK Bridge and have treacherous stairs.)

Turn left when you get to Randall’s Island (this part of the island was formerly called Wards Island) and cycle or stroll through a series of wildflower gardens and run along the idyllic East River. This path connects to Randall’s Island where ball fields, Icahn Stadium, and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy dot the landscape.

connector randalls

photo: Randall’s Island Park Alliance Facebook page

Follow signs to the Hell Gate Pathway which is a beautifully landscaped paved corridor that runs under the towering arched pilings of the Hell Gate Bridge and Railway Viaduct. Entering the Hell Gate Path puts you in mind of an ancient Roman aqueduct structure. We have traversed it numerous times and this feat of human ingenuity never ceases to amaze. Where Hell Gate Pathway ends, the link to the South Bronx begins.

Things to do on Randall’s Island
In addition to eight miles of pedestrian and biking trails, Randalls offers numerous free, drop-in events for families, including outdoor movie nights, as well as guided tours of wetlands, the water’s edge, wildflower meadows, outdoor art exhibits, and historical sites. In the 1800s, an almshouse, various hospitals, and detention centers resided here. You can also learn about the island’s original farmers, how the islands were joined, and the architectural wonder of the surrounding bridges.


photo: Sha Huang via Yelp

Rice paddies?! Yes, rice paddies
Randall’s Island is also home to an urban farm where, on Saturdays from June to September, you can take a self-guided tour and talk with farmers to learn more about the vegetables, chickens, and rice paddies that they curate.

There are a number of simple eateries located around the island — including a beer garden — but the greenspaces and great views really call out for a long, relaxing picnic.

What are your newly-discovered or old favorite places on Randall’s Island? Share in the comment below! 

— Cheryl deJong-Lambert