At 2,800 acres, Staten Island’s Greenbelt is one of the largest public parks in New York City. Like Central Park in Manhattan, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, the Bronx's Van Cortlandt Park and Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, the Greenbelt is considered one of NYC's flagship green spaces. However, it's actually several parks linked together in Staten Island’s interior, including the popular Willowbrook Park, home to the Carousel for All Children, the wild High Rock Park and Bloodroot Valley named for its large population of signature flowers.
The Greenbelt makes for a great staycation destination. It's jam-packed with attractions, including 30 miles of groomed hiking trails, a nature center, a recreation center, a public golf course, a merry-go-round, barbecue grills, a lake for fishing, a living history museum and playgrounds. It's also filled with a wide variety of plants, flowers and wildlife like Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, muskrats, hawks, owls, woodpeckers, frogs and turtles.
It's possible to see most of the Greenbelt's big attractions on foot in one day—my family and I didn't manage it but we met an intrepid father-son team who were doing just that! But it's more relaxing to choose one area to explore at your leisure. If you decide to do it all in one day, there are parking lots throughout the Greenbelt and various MTA buses circle the park. Here are our top 14 things to do in the Greenbelt with kids.
There are six hiking trails that crisscross the Greenbelt. We opted to follow the Yellow Trail to Moses' Mountain in High Rock Park. Named for controversial urban planner Robert Moses, the 260-foot hill is made from rock rubble and debris from a scrapped highway plan, and offers fantastic panoramic views of the park from its apex. If you opt to climb to the top, be sure to stay on the Yellow Trail for a gentle walk up the hill. We tried a different path that went straight up and found ourselves scrambling over rocks and asphalt on a seriously steep incline. You can download a trail map on the Greenbelt Conservancy’s website or pick up a copy at the Greenbelt Nature Center located in Bloodroot Valley.
Explore the Greenbelt Nature Center
The small nature center in LaTourette Park features displays about the Greenbelt’s natural environment—including a few live animals—and a nice one-mile hiking trail around back designed specifically for children. If possible, try to schedule your visit to coincide with one of the center's many planned activities.
The LaTourette Public Golf Course can be found in the Greenbelt. The clubhouse of this 18-hole course is the 19th-century Federal-style brick mansion that once belonged to David LaTourette. Kids can golf here (and all city-owned courses) on weekdays for $7.75 with a NYC Resident Golfer's Permit. Sadly there is no miniature golf.
There are two outdoor tennis courts in the Greenbelt, one on the grounds of the recreation center in Bloodroot Valley and the other near the Eton Place entrance of Willowbrook Park. Unlike many of the city-run courts, neither of these require reservations. As long as you have a permit you can grab a court, first-come, first-served.
Enjoy a Barbecue or Picnic
The Greenbelt boasts lots of open space for picnicking and Willowbrook Park has a designated area with barbecue grills. The grills are first-come, first-served and are very popular, so arrive early if you want to snag one.
Romp in a Playground
Despite the massive size of the Greenbelt, there are only two playgrounds and both are pretty basic. One is conveniently located behind the Carousel for all Children in Willowbrook Park, the other is on Richmond Parkway, also known as the Korean Veterans Memorial Parkway.
Take to the Skies
Bring your own radio-controlled plane to fly at the Field of Dreams in LaTourette Park or visit during one of the Staten Island Radio Control Modelers learn-to-fly days for a free lesson.
Ride a Bike
Although the multipurpose trail accommodates pedestrians, it's also the only place in the park to ride your bike. The graveled 2.6-mile path runs adjacent to the LaTourette Golf Course and south of Historic Richmond Town. There aren't any bike rental spots in or near the park, so be sure to bring your own.
Willowbrook Lake in Willowbrook Park was the first man-made pond on the island and is well-stocked with sunfish so it's a lovely spot to do some catch-and-release fishing. You'll need to bring your own pole unless you visit during a scheduled fishing event.
Join an Organized Activity
The Greenbelt Conservancy and the NYC Parks Department sponsor lots of wonderful outdoor events all year round. Most of the activities are free and great for families, including fishing, swimming, canoeing, birding, hiking and cycling.
Take a Spin on the Merry-go-round
Near the Eton entrance of Willowbrook Park you'll find the Carousel for All Children, created specifically for kids of all abilities. The 51 gaily carved creatures include dogs, a dragon, a panda, gorillas, elephants and a dolphin, which particularly delighted my son. Painted panels of historic significance and famous Staten Island locales also decorate the carousel. $1.25 per ride per person, even if you're just chaperoning.
Make Like Katniss
Willowbrook Park is one of the few parks in NYC with an archery range. It doubles as the park's dog run in the morning. You need to bring your own equipment or visit during an archery program.
The Greenbelt is well known for its feathered friends. Many different species of bird pass through the park and depending on the season you can spot migrating song birds, waterbirds and raptors. Look closely to try to find the two owls that live in High Rock Park and the flock of ducks camped out by the lake in Willowbrook Park.
Step Back in Time
Spend the day at NYC’s only living history museum, Historic Richmond Town, located on the southern edge of the Greenbelt. Watch blacksmithing, carpentry and other retro activities come to life on the 100-acre grounds, which are devoted to displaying the past 400 years of American history. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 11. The museum also frequently hosts special family events.
Looking for other great NYC green spaces? Check out our Playgrounds & Parks Guide.