Central Park gets all the glory, but Brooklynites (and Manhattanites, if they’re being honest with themselves) know that Prospect Park is the city’s true crown emerald. The 585-acre green space was designed in the 1860s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same team responsible for creating Central Park a few years earlier. Boasting everything from rolling meadows to native woodlands, Prospect Park was meant to be more harmonious with nature than its Manhattan cousin. It’s well worth a visit while you’re in town, and here’s how to see all the hidden secrets it has to offer.
Start at the northern tip of the park in Grand Army Plaza, dominated by the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, an impressive monument to the Civil War that marks the park’s main entrance. Once you’ve entered, amble south through the Long Meadow, a mile-long stretch of rolling grass surrounded by trees and dotted with picnickers, Frisbee players, dogs, and people simply taking a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Prospect Park waterfall | via Facebook
Two thirds of the way along the Long Meadow, just before you get to the ball fields, hang a left at the dog beach and head into the trees. The Ravine is the last original-growth forest in Brooklyn, and home to several such water features as a babbling creek and waterfalls.
The Prospect Park Music Pagoda | Forgotten-NY.com
You’ll come out of the woods at Center Drive — cross it and continue east along the north edge of the Nethermead, another of Prospect Park’s fields. You’ll pass the Music Pagoda, built in 1887 and once Prospect Park’s primary music and theatrical venue (before the arrival of the Bandshell in 1939). In 1968, the Pagoda burned down to the foundation, only to be rebuilt two years later.
Boathouse Audubon Center | Christopher E. via Foursquare
From the Nethermead, cross the bridge toward the Boathouse, an elegant turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts building at the edge of a pond. This is also the site of the Audubon Center, which features wildlife exhibits.
Oriental Pavilion, Concert Grove | Eden Pictures via Flickr
Staying to the right of the Boathouse and taking the tunnel underneath the East Drive, you’ll come to Prospect Park’s Concert Grove and Oriental Pavilion. The stunning pavilion was designed by Calvert Vaux, built in 1874, and restored in 1987 (after, you guessed it, another fire).
LeFrak Center at Lakeside | LakesideBrooklyn.com
Continue south to the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, a recently refurbished area that features an rinks for ice skating and roller skating (depending on the season), a water play area for kids, and plenty of lounging areas around the eastern edge of Prospect Park Lake. Bonus: There’s a café here, so you can deal with the appetite you’ve doubtlessly worked up from all this walking.
Drummer’s Grove | ProspectPark.org
When you’re ready to head back, cross to the other side of the East Drive and start heading north. If it’s a Sunday afternoon, you may be treated to the sounds of the drum circle at Drummer’s Grove, a traditional meeting spot since the Congo Square Drummers started gathering here in 1968.
Prospect Park Carousel | Eden Pictures via Flickr
Continuing north along the East Drive, you’ll come to a cluster of attractions referred to as the Children’s Corner of the park, including the Lefferts Historic House, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the Carousel, built in 1912.
Vale of Cashmere | Monica Berger via Curbed
Tucked in to the woods in the Northeastern corner of the park, just before you exit the park, you’ll find one of Prospect Park’s hidden gems: the Vale of Cashmere. Formed when a chunk of glacier began to melt some 17,000 years ago, the Vale is like a miniature valley with a pool whose walls were designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. It was named by the wife of Brooklyn Mayor Alfred Chapin, after a Thomas Moore poem.
After climbing out of the Vale, you’re only steps from Grand Army Plaza and your train home. But be sure to come back when you have a chance. Prospect Park was made for exploring!