Day Tripping: Explore Northern Central Park

Just in time for the weather to warm up a little this weekend, we're taking a recess from posting about schools just long enough to send you out on an exciting field trip to Central Park.

You and the kids have trammeled every inch of Manhattan's Central Park, or so you think. Bored of the zoo, outgrown the carousel. If you've never ventured to the northern extremes of Central Park, you are in for a surprise. Four trains (the B,D and 2/3) stop right on the border of the park making access easy, just exit the train and walk right in to the park. Inside you'll find rustic woods, rock formations, streams and ponds, formal gardens, historic military ruins, seasonal swimming, fishing or ice skating, plus ball fields and playgrounds - more than enough activities to keep you busy for a full day. It's like a cross between the Catskills and Chelsea Piers.

The entire northwest corner of the park is the 90-acre North Woods, great for exploring and climbing. Paths wind through the area, but leave the paths and let your imagination run wild. You may find an old military fortification, Block House #1, a real relic from the War of 1812, originally build as a bunker with a revolving turret for a cannon on top.

The Great Hill, an open hilltop meadow, is the highest point in Central Park and a nice place to stop for a picnic.

Transport yourself to the Adirondacks in New York when you stumble upon The Ravine. The only stream valley in the Park, it's bounded to the north and south by two rustic arches - Huddlestone (constructed of huge Manhattan schist boulders held together by gravity alone-no metal reinforcement or concrete supports) and Glen Span. Explore it's banks and try to find the five hidden waterfalls.

At the southern end of The Ravine, find The Pool, one of the most idyllic landscapes in Central Park with grassy banks, willows bent over the water, and rushing sounds of a nearby waterfall in the northeast corner by the bridge.

If you're the athletic type, call ahead to the North Meadow Recreation Center and reserve a field day kit. The kit includes games and sports equipment - pretty much everything you'll need to have a fun-packed day in the park with your group or family. A photo ID is required. Free. 212-348-4867

For more refined enjoyment explore the Conservatory Gardens. The six-acre Conservatory Garden is Central Park's only formal garden. It is, in fact, three gardens representing different landscape styles: Italian, French, and English. There are three lovely fountains and the Vanderbilt Gate (preserved from the old Vanderbilt Mansion) sits at the 5th Avenue entrance.

Another wonderful surprise is the Harlem Meer, a picturesque pond with landscaped banks. Little ones like to feed the ducks and even cranes have been spotted here. The Dana Discovery Center on the north shore offers a host of family programs including a great pumpkin float in the Fall, but they lend out fishing poles for Catch-and-Release fishing any Tuesday through Sunday, April to October. Corn bait is provided, but to avoid frustration bring some crickets from the pet store or a little frozen chicken. 212 860-1370

Follow the Meer along the south side and you'll find a huge boulder formation that's great for climbing. But be careful, in addition to being steep, there's a lot of broken glass in some places.

Continue on and you'll come to Lasker Rink and Pool. Ice skating is November through March. Swimming is July 1 through Labor Day. Skating is a reasonable $4 for adults, $2 for children plus skate rental. Swimming is free. Bring your own lock. Strollers are not allowed in the summer. 212 534-7639

If you want to fall back on the traditional playground, you will discover several around the perimeter of the park.