Easy Summer Escape: The Hills at Governors Island

The Hills at Governors Island
The Hills at Governors Island make this bike-friendly public park more enticing than ever for a quick summer escape.

The Hills are alive at Governors Island.  And if it’s been a while since you’ve visited this 172-acre park in Upper New York Bay, last week’s opening of a dramatic new attraction is the perfect excuse to hop the ferry. The Hills at Governors Island, which comprises four manmade peaks ranging in height from 25 to 70 feet, yield spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor, adding a remarkable new dimension to one of most bike-friendly locales around.

Top photo: The view from The Hills at Governors Island toward Lower Manhattan.

My friend Julianne Idlet, founder of CYCLE Kids, and I wheeled our rides onto the ferry at the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan on opening day for the deliciously breezy trip, which, despite its brevity (about 7 minutes) feels like the start of a real getaway from the summer heat and hubbub of the city.

But you don’t have to bring your own bike. One of the things I love about Governors Island is that rental options make it easy for visitors of all ages and abilities to enjoy pedaling along flat, car-free promenades and interior streets. The bike rental concession on Colonel’s Row offers everything from two-wheelers equipped with baby seats to four-wheel surreys, for use in exploring the sites of this former U.S. Army base turned public park. Bonus: visitors can borrow a bike free for one hour Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. Also, Citi Bike stations are located at the ferry landings from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

After disembarking, we pedaled toward west along the promenade where The Hills came into view at the southwest end of the island. The four rolling hills covered with blocks of stone, 860 new trees and 43,000 shrubs and grasses, are built of debris from around the island. The $71 million public-private partnership was designed by the architectural firm West 8.

The Hills Governors Island Pano

The meaning of 10 new acres of open space to New Yorkers was evident as children and adults scrambled gleefully up the stone “steps” on the face of Overlook Hill or walked up the serpentine, paved path to the peak. A few steps down revealed a promontory where visitors snapped selfies and group photos as they took in the view of Lady Liberty, the harbor, New Jersey and Lower Manhattan. Over on Slide Hill, kids were eager to try their turn on the longest slide in New York City. On yet another hill, there’s a sculpture nestled into the side: Cabin, which resembles a stone tool shed, by British artist Rachel Whiteread. On a sunny summer weekend, ice cream trucks were in good supply, as well.

After viewing The Hills, we retrieved our bikes and continued around the promenade, facing Brooklyn now and then cut in to reach the Liggett Terrace Food Court at the Center of the Island, where we paused for a leisurely lunch on paper plates in a shaded garden beside one of the food trucks.  Another food court at King Avenue is open on weekends.

The Hills is the newest addition to attractions, art and events for New Yorkers to enjoy on Governors Island. Check out all the options here: governorsisland.com

View more NYC summer ride ideas.

The Hills Ribbon Cutting

Construction of The Hills began under the Bloomberg administration. Former Mayor Michael Bloombert (in dark suit, center) was among the ribbon cutters on opening day.

Governors Island The Hills View

As if on cue, this masted sailing ship entered the scene as Julie and I snapped photos from Overlook Hill, the highest peak.

The Hills Slide

Slide Hill boasts the longest slide in New York City — 57 feet — flanked by three shorter slides. Getting wet by running through a lawn sprinkler reportedly increases the speed of the descent. Just saying.

Governors Island Bike Riders

The sea breeze made it a challenge for one bicycle-rider to hold onto her hat as she pedaled the promenade overlooking the harbor.

Flower Fields The Hills Governors Island

Summer flowers interspersed with bird houses decorated the landscape around the play lawn.

Governors Island Bike Rental

The Blazing Saddles bicycle rental concession is amply stocked with all types of bicycles for exploring the island.

Governors Island Brooklyn View

The view from the shaded east promenade is to Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The Hills Governors Island Little Evas

We stopped for cooling summer salads at Little Eva’s in the Liggett Terrace Food Court. Meal and snack choices abound, or you can bring your own and spread a blanket on a shaded lawn or take a seat among clusters of Adirondack-style chairs that dot the island.


The ferry from Manhattan approaches the dock at Governor’s Island. Another ferry departs from Brooklyn.

Photos: velojoy, Julianne Idlet, (The Hillslide) @viktoriavamosi

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