Hidden NY: 17 Things To Do in Prospect Park

Hidden New York: Prospect Park - carousel, zoo, nature center and more

I love Prospect Park. I might even go as far as to say I love it a little bit more than Central Park.  The Brooklyn park is just more wild and wooly when compared to the refined Manhattan green space.  The 500+ acre park is small enough to really dig in and explore in just one day. And it is easy, too, the map and directions are all color coded, so you can pick where you want to visit then follow the colored arrow shaped signs to your destination –so no getting lost. The rustic style park boasts forests, lakes, wetlands, a nature center, a zoo, a carousel - an absolute paradise for a city kid!

Prospect Park is considered by some to be the highlight of the Vaux-Olmsted partnership and their greatest achievement.  My absolute favorite thing about this park is that from almost anywhere inside the park, no matter where you look, you can’t see the city. You can see small animals running in the trees, smell the vegetation and even hear babbling water all around you.  It seriously feels like a day away in upstate NY instead of the middle of Brooklyn.  

Read on to find out 17 fun things you can do in Prospect Park.

1. The best thing to do in Prospect Park, in my opinion, is to barbecue at the designated spots around the perimeter of the park.  There are grills there already just bring some charcoal (or bring your own if you want.)  They even provide charcoal receptacles for your hot ashes so you don’t have to lug it home. Can’t do that in Central Park.  

2. Grab a bite to eat at the Moveable Feast Café located underneath the Picnic House and enjoy it in the adjacent grove or in the mile expanse of Long Meadow right outside the building.

3. Give the kids a taste of hiking along one of the four nature trails in the park.  You can download the maps and guides to take with you or pick one up at one of the information desks throughout the park.  Sometimes the park offers hikes along these trails, too. They all take you through spectacular locales where you can see birding areas, waterfalls, the forest and the lullwater.

4. Take a 30 minute tour of the lullwater on the electric boat, Independence to see the underside of the beautiful cast iron bridge plus the flora and fauna in the park.  

5. Visit the Audubon Center in the beautiful Boathouse.  Kids will love the turtles, the snake, the tarantula and other live animals and insects here, plus, the friendly staff will happily answer all their questions. There are also microscopes to look at stuff up close, books, puppets and more. They offer a ton of nature programming for kids here, too.

6. Play in the charming, literature inspired Imagination Playground. The black and white play structure, dragon fountain, stage, statue of Peter and Willie (from Ezra Jack Keats fame) and the storybook phrases in the pavement all entice children to use their imagination in creative open ended play.  During the summer months, stay for story time or other special programs for families.

7. Visit with the Brooklyn Library while their kidmobile is parked in the Children’s Corner for some stories and arts and crafts.  

8. Join in on the music or just watch the festivities at the Drummers Grove in the South East corner of the park.

9. See the park from the back of a horse; horses for rent, trail rides and even lessons are all available in the park through Kensington Stables located right outside the park.

10. Prospect Park has some of the best bird watching around, selected as an Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society thanks to its location on the Eastern Flyway.  Over 200 species of birds can be seen in the park, mostly at its center.  The park also offers birding tours and other birding events during the year.

11. Kids can drop a line in The Lake for fishing. Those under the age of 16 do not need a license (no gear is provided in the park you must bring your own).

12. Located in Children’s Corner is the 200 year old, Lefferts Historic House.  Surprisingly, this place is delightful for kids and adults alike. They can take in the garden with its water pump, outdoor oven and plantings or go inside and play with period toys and learn about NYC history.  They offer all sorts of interesting hands on activities throughout the year for families, like arts and crafts, planting and harvesting and more.

13. Take a quick walk through the gorgeous castle-like mansion, Litchfield Villa, once home to the Litchfield family, now home to the parks department.  

14. Walk out onto the 60 foot peninsula jutting out into The Lake to feel entirely alone in the world.

15. Visit Wollman Rink for skating in the winter or pedal boating in the summer.

16. Climb atop one of the 51 carved animals and take a spin on the antique carousel.

17. Take in the Prospect Park Zoo, a great destination no matter what the weather as many exhibits are inside.  Make sure to find the baboons hidden away in the back of the Animals Lifestyles exhibit. Don’t miss the interactive, educational discovery center.



This post is part of our Hidden NY Series:

Hidden NY: 10 Fun Family Friendly Finds on Governors Island

Hidden NY: 12 Fun Things To Do with Kids at the South Street Seaport

Hidden NY: 19 Fun Things to Do in Central Park Beyond the Zoo

Hidden NY: 5 Fun Finds at the American Museum of Natural History

Hidden New York: Fun for Kids in Chelsea Market