Gateway National Recreation Area: A User's Guide

The beach at Sandy Hook, one of the three units making up Gateway National Recreation Area. (Photo: National Park Service).
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Gateway National Recreation Area — a green getaway in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline — demonstrates that recycling can extend beyond bottles and cans. Many of the sites that comprise the 11 parks scattered across two states were military installations.

Visitors can explore Civil War forts built to protect New York Harbor and a Nike missile sites designed to shoot down long-range Soviet Bear Bombers while they were still over the ocean. Gateway National Recreation Area offers swimming and sunbathing at several beaches, including New Jersey’s only nude beach.


Congress passed legislation creating Gateway National Recreation Area on Oct. 27, 1972.

Things to do:

Sandy Hook — one of the three units making up Gateway National Recreation Area — is a 2,044-acre peninsula in New Jersey that includes seven miles of ocean beaches. In addition to swimming in the ocean under the watchful eye of lifeguards, you can also surf fish from the sand when lifeguards are off duty. Gunnison Beach, which offers views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, is a nude beach.

Biking, skating and walking along a seven-mile long pathway are a popular way to explore Sandy Hook.

A former military airfield on Jamaica Bay is now a campground with 41 campsites, making it possible to sleep beneath the stars in Brooklyn. You can bicycle along the historic runways of Floyd Bennett Field and on trails at Fort Tilden.

Why you’ll want to come back:

You’ll want to spend more time watching volunteers restore historic aircraft at Hangar B at Gateway National Recreation Area's Floyd Bennett Field. Hangar B is open to the public 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Flora and fauna:

The grasslands, woodlands, sand dunes, beaches, ponds and salt marshes of Gateway National Recreation Area harbor a surprising amount of wildlife. You may spot muskrats in the waters throughout Jamaica Bay, or red fox in the brush at Sandy Hook. During the winter — roughly December through March — Atlantic harbor seals, harp seals and grey seals are commonly seen on Sandy Hook’s Skeleton Hill Island.

Gateway also has more than 325 species of birds, although most of them are just stopping to rest as they travel the Atlantic Flyway. Among the birds you’re most likely to spot are piping plover, green heron, great blue heron, black crowned night heron, black skimmer and osprey.

Just the facts:

  • Website: Gateway National Recreation Area
  • Park size: 26,607 acres or 41.5 square miles
  • 2011 visitation: 7,697,727
  • Funky fact: More than 3,000 horseshoe crabs come to Plumb Beach every year between late May and mid June to lay eggs.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. W e'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.

MNN tease photo of Sandy Hook : PMillera4/Flickr