Doggin’ The Big City

New York City (Central Park). 
How many people do you reckon visit your local park where you hike with your dog every day? 100? 200? If a thousand people a day visit your park every day that would be 365,000 park users a year.

Imagine if your park got 25 million visitors every year.

That's how many people go to New York's Central Park every year. It is the most visited park in the United States. And that's only the two-legged count. So what can you expect if you take your dog to America's most popular park? Everyone knows Central Park but if you have never walked through its 843 acres chances are your image of what it looks like is wrong. Are you picturing rock outcroppings? Rolling hills? Waterfalls in dense woodlands? It's all part of Central Park.

The park covers 6% of the entire island of Manhattan. It would take the better part of a week to cover all 58 miles of footpaths that would take you past 9000 benches and across 36 individually designed bridges. The park is studded with 26,000 trees and a good part of its acreage is under the water of 14 lakes and ponds. And the genius of Central Park is that every inch of it was crafted not by nature but the hand of man. This naturalistic appearance is the design of architects Frederick Law Olmstedand Calvert Vaux exactly 150 years ago.

As improbable as it may seem, even with a typical 70,000 visitors in a day it is possible to hike in relative solitude with your dog in Central Park. The two best places to disappear with your dog are The Rambles in the center of the park where many twisting paths intersect under a tangle of trees and hillocks and in the rugged northern end around Great Hill and the Ravine. Although your dog is not allowed to swim in any of the lakes, ponds or fountains here you can find some doggie splashing on a hot day, including a waterfall in the stream.

Your dog will be trotting on surfaces that range from asphalt to wood chip to dirt and even a bit of paw-friendly grass in the Wildflower Meadow. Dogs are also allowed to share the bridle paths int he park. Best yet, dogs can hike with you off-leash between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. During the day you will find groups of dog owners congregating with dogs romping off-leash in places like the Great Lawn and elsewhere keep a leash in hand if you are asked to tether your dog.

One must-see in Central Park for your dog is the bronze sculpture of Balto, dedicated to the sled dogs that drove over 1,000 Alaskan winter miles to deliver medicines to stop a diptheria epidemic in Nome, an epic journey that inspired today's great Iditarod Sled Dog Race. One of 29 sculptures in the park, Balto can be found on a rock outcropping on the main path leading north from the Tisch Children's Zoo.

Philadelphia (Fairmount Park). 
America’s first public park began with 5 acres in 1812. Today, Fairmount Park is the largest contiguous landscaped municipal park in the world with nearly 9,000 acres. It is the bucolic home to an estimated 2,500,000 trees. There are an estimated 215 miles of trails running somewhere through the park that was the site for great 1876 Centennial Exposition, the first World’s Fair ever held in the United States.

The Andorra Natural Area, at the park’s northern boundary with Montgomery County, evolved from a 19th century private nursery. Ownership of the property dates to 1840 when Richard Wistar named it “Andorra” from a Moorish word meaning “hills covered with trees.” One of those trees - a massive sycamore - grew right through an enclosed porch in the house of the nursery’s chief plant propagator. The weakening sycamore was cut down in 1981 but the Tree House survives as the Andorra Visitor Center.

The main trail at Andorra is a 20-station Nature Hike. There are also a dozen other named trails that branch off this loop. The Forbidden Drivebegins its 7-mile journey along the Wissahickon Creek to the Schuylkill River here. So named when it was closed to automobiles in the 1920s, your outing on the Forbidden Drive can be shortened by several bridges across the Wissahickon. The swimming in the creek for your dog is excellent with many access points. A natural dirt trail rolls along the opposite bank to create hiking loops.

For those seeking a communal dog walking experience, the bustling Forbidden Drive is the place. Those in search of solitary contemplation can take to the hillside trails of the Wissahickon Gorge, although watch out for mountain bikes. These narrow ribbons of dirt crossing the hillsides are a dog’s delight time and again.

In 1855, a hotel entrepreneur built a new inn on Rex Avenue. To draw attention to his hostelry he constructed an Indian from old barn boards and propped it up on top of a rock overlooking the Gorge. In 1902, when the Indian Rock Hotel was long gone but with the silhouette still there, artist Massey Rhind was commissioned to make a representation of a “Delaware Indian, looking west to where his people have gone.” The kneeling warrior has gazed up the Wissahickon Gorge ever since. A switchback trail leads to the Indian Statue where you can get close enough to pat his knee. And take in a breathtaking view.