Its 36 acres were designed to look like the forests of upstate New York and include winding paths and trails, rustic bridges, a meandering stream, dramatic rock outcroppings, and dense plantings. The Ramble is a popular destination for exploring and enjoying nature and is also one of the best places in the Park for birdwatching. Located in what is known as the heart of the Park, the Ramble is near some of Central Park’s most important scenic landscapes and features, including the Lake, Bethesda Terrace, and Belvedere Castle.
As part of their vision of the Park as a refuge from the pace and pressures of city life, the Park’s designers created a variety of landscapes, included densely planted and wooded areas. In the 19th century, these were often called picturesque landscapes and now are commonly referred to as woodlands. Inspired by places like the Catskills and the Adirondacks, their design was intended to evoke the wilderness and provide opportunities for a more intimate and immersive experience of nature. Spending time in nature, the designers believed, would help city dwellers relax, benefiting their mental as well as physical health, something that scientists have now proven to be true.
The design of the Ramble was intentionally intricate, with twisting paths that encourage wandering and create a sense of mystery and surprise, but also make it challenging to navigate. The Ramble is located along the Lake and some of its most beautiful scenery is found along its shoreline. Other notable features include Azalea Pond, named for the shrubs that bloom along its shore in the spring; the Cave, a geological feature that Park visitors could enter from a boat on the Lake (the opening is now closed); and the Ramble Stone Arch, a bridge designed with rough-hewn stones to look like it naturally formed.
Creating a patch of seemingly wild nature in the center of the City and making it accessible to all urban dwellers posed various challenges. Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted described the Ramble as a “wild garden” to evoke a place that appeared wild but was in fact heavily designed and managed. The substantial upkeep needed to maintain this type of landscape was a challenge and for much of the 20th century, the Ramble and the Park’s other woodland landscapes suffered from neglect, essentially treated as self-sustaining natural environments. This resulted in many problems, including deteriorated infrastructure and the rise of invasive plants. Since the 1980s, the Conservancy has developed a woodlands management plan that addresses the needs of these landscapes, aiming to balance design, ecology, and use. In 2018, the Conservancy substantially completed a multi-year effort to renew and sustain the landscapes of the Ramble.
The Park is an important stop along the Atlantic Flyway, the migratory path for birds traveling to and from their nesting grounds, and many of these birds are drawn to the wooded landscapes of the Ramble. The landscape also draws local birdwatchers as well as visitors from all over the world, particularly during migration season. Birders record their sightings in a logbook located in the entryway to the Loeb Boathouse.