One of my long-term life goals is to climb to the highest point in each state (only 48 left to go – looking forward to Florida’s 345 ft Britton Hill, not looking forward to Alaska’s 20,236 ft Mount McKinley). This past weekend, as I was considering where the next destination should be, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea where New York City’s highest points were.
And so putting off Massachusetts’ 3,489 ft. Mount Greylock for another day, I gathered my hiking gear and set out to conquer the highest peak in each of New York City’s five boroughs.
After acclimatizing for several hours in lower Manhattan, I trekked north to Washington Heights, to Bennett Park at West 183rd Street & Fort Washington Ave.
The highest point of land in Manhattan, the site was home to Fort Washington during the Revolutionary War, the base of operations for Washington. On November 16, 1776, British and Hessian troops seized the fort, forcing Washington’s army to retreat across the river into New Jersey. Today, cobblestones outline the original borders of the fort.
As for the actual highest point in Manhattan, I soon found a large chunk of exposed Manhattan schist at the western edge of the park. Tightening my steel crampons to my boots, I hiked past several several children and ascended the summit!
There’s an official plaque set into the rock, marking it as 265.05 feet above sea level (yes, that’s .05 feet, as in 3/4ths of an inch).
After taking in the gorgeous panoramic view of apartment buildings, I had to be off to my next destination…
Barely surviving my passage across the treacherous Spuyten Duyvil Creek, I traveled further north to the very upscale neighborhood of Fieldston in Riverdale:
Once known as Delafield Woods after the original landowner, Fieldston today is a privately owned neighborhood of about 250 residences. To reach the highest elevation point, I switched to bottled oxygen and hiked up Grosvenor Avenue…
…arriving at a development in the midst of construction.
There are some pretty amazing views from the top. Sadly, there’s no plaque for highest elevation…
…but according to my topographical research, it’s about here on this person’s property, clocking in at a whopping 280+ feet:
Feeling a nosebleed coming on from the altitude, I quickly descended and headed southwest to the next stop…
The highest point in Queens is actually a terminal moraine from the last Ice Age, marking the glacier’s furthest point of advancement. Today, it’s home to the North Shore Towers, a trio of 34-story apartment buildings built in 1971, complete with an 18-hole golf course and power plant.
Sadly, the trip to Queens’ highest elevation point turned out to be somewhat underwhelming. After hiking with my team of Sherpas along the Grand Central Parkway side road…
…we finally crested the summit!
Er, yes, this is it. Slightly disappointing, but a 258-foot hill is certainly nothing to scoff at from a mountaineering perspective.
While I was tempted to spend more time taking in the gorgeous alpine vista, it was late in the day, and we had to hurry on to the next stop…
Thankfully, the main entrance to Green-wood Cemetery was a little more scenic.
Built in 1861 in the Gothic Revival style, it was here that we spotted the most exotic animal species we were to come across on our expedition…
Brooklyn’s monk parrots, who nest very noisily in the spires (you can see a little puff of green below). According to legend, the birds escaped from a shipment at JFK in the 1960s and have been thriving ever since.
The highest point in Brooklyn can be found at Battle Hill, named for the fight that took place here during the Revolution, part of the greater Battle of Brooklyn.
There are several landmarks near the summit worth noting, including the 1869 Civil War Soldiers’ Monument….
…and the nearby Minerva statue, a memorial to the Battle of Brooklyn (incidentally, waving directly at the Statue of Liberty):
But my goal was the summit. Though a little wary of climbing without fixed ropes, I finally made it to the highest point in Brooklyn, located between these two trees at about 220 feet:
Quite the view!
Not wanting to be caught out in the elements after dark, I hurried on to my final destination…
Todt Hill (“tote”) is not only the highest natural point in all of New York City, it’s also the highest natural point on the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine. After looking at the map, Foster Avenue appeared to put me closest to the entrance…
Todt comes from the Dutch word for “dead,” most likely in reference to how bare the hill once was due to its serpentine rock base, the high magnesium content of which hinders plant growth (thanks Redditor Captain Compost!). At first, it seemed as though it’d be a simple walk through the woods…
Unfortunately, the path quickly became treacherous.
While attempting to forge through the overgrowth, I very quickly became entangled in the horrible tangles of pricker bushes infesting the area, suffering several debilitating wounds that I feared might end the journey prematurely.
Finally, I broke through to an actual path, and made my way up the hill…
…passing something of a rarity for modern-day New York: an abandoned car!
In fact, there were several strewn about, dumped here God knows when:
It’s a little hard to determine the exact high point, but this hill seemed to be the tallest around…
And at about 400 feet, I finally arrived at the highest natural point in New York City!
Five boroughs, five summits. While I can’t exactly say I recommend recreating this trip, it certainly was excellent preparation for my upcoming Mount McKinley climb.
Though I might start with that hill in Florida first.
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