Happy Trails

As a local fitness instructor and content creator, I always tell my clients to mix it up: Cross-train your workouts with yoga, walking, strength training, biking and running. But after months of the pandemic, including travel restrictions and gym closings, one part of my local outdoor fitness routine started to feel too, well, routine.

I needed new locations.

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve lived in Greenwich with my family for four years and we’ve never tackled a local hike until now. Every new restaurant and nonprofit fundraiser? Yup. But never free, easy-access hikes! Don’t get me wrong. I love nature and fitness, but growing up in landlocked Pennsylvania meant lots of walks in the woods and not many beach days by the water. Since moving here, my go-to has always been Tod’s Point for running and walking. Recently, however, clients and friends started turning to me for advice on alternatives, as both a mental escape and a way to sweat out the stress.

So, in search of the best trails for hiking and running, I laced up my sneakers and began exploring local parks.

Here are some of my favorites.


FOR THE FITNESS ENTHUSIAST

Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, next to Rye Playland, and Waveny Park, in New Canaan, are both about twenty minutes from Greenwich and are flat enough for running, biking or walking. The Sanctuary is similar to Tod’s Point with beach, lake and wooded views; and with neighboring Rye Playland shut down, the loudest noise you hear is a symphony of birds. Highlights include a pollinator garden, chimney artifacts and tall bamboo lined maze-like trails.

Waveny Park has a wide gravel trail with pond views and lots of trees. You feel like you’re deep in the forest, even though it’s just off the Merritt. These trails are flat enough to push yourself with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sprints or by performing muscle sculpting moves like lunges, push-ups and tricep dips off the many benches and fallen tree limbs you pass. Work in three sets of twenty reps, and your mind gets a vacation while you also get a full-body workout.


FOR THOSE JUST LOOKING FOR A BREAK

The Audubon in backcountry and Mianus River Park Maze Trail in Stamford are hilly enough to be called a hike (just watch out for narrow paths and exposed roots along the way, though avoiding them can be part of the fun). These rougher trails are perfect for what’s called forest bathing, a walking meditation in nature. Focus on your breath and being present with what you hear, see and feel as you move, and soon your biggest care is counting the number of frogs you see and getting a good peek at a fawn on the path. I recommend the Lake Trail at the Audubon if you want a water view. For a babbling brook soundtrack, the Mianus Maze Trail follows the riverbank the entire way.


FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GO FARTHER AFIELD

Bear Mountain State Park along the Palisades is about a fifty-minute drive from Greenwich across the Hudson and deserves its own category. I hiked its trails while living in New York City. The park has it all: water views, easy to very strenuous trails up and down narrow staircases along deep sloping hills, a pond to fish in (call ahead), and great picnic and sports lawns for the family. As the fall foliage starts to pop, these trails at Bear Mountain make it a true fitness sanctuary close to home.


HOW TO PREPARE FOR A DAY IN THE WOODS

Download an app like All Trails or Map My Run so that you can map your route as you go. All Trails also allows you to search by zip code to find trails anywhere. (I also take pictures along the way that serve as breadcrumbs so I can find my way back in case I get lost.)

Tell someone where you are going and drop them a GPS pin from your phone.

Apply sunblock and bug spray as needed.

Wear bright clothes in case you need someone to spot you, and consider a hat.

Pack a backpack with a portable cell phone battery charger, water, snacks, band aids for blisters (and for clumsy kids, if you take the family), face mask, hand sanitizer, and napkins and a plastic bag (just in case you have to relieve yourself).

Take notice of trail markers and stay on the planned path.

Check for ticks when you’ve finished.

 

Nothing will replace Tod’s Point in my heart, but like any workout, cross-training is key—and that goes for your senses as well. Work these trails into your schedule, and fall will feel anything but routine.

Note: I had at least one bar of cell service at all of these locations. Got a hike to share? Connect with @nikkifitness on all social media, and work out with me at Equinox or with my fourteen videos on the NikkiFitness app, including a walking workout video you can do anywhere.

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