Gateway To Rockaway/BC’s National Parks

 Gateway To Rockaway/BC’s National Parks

By Dan Guarino

It’s not Yosemite; it’s Rockaway!

Rockaway and Broad Channel are not only blessed with an abundance of NYC and even New York State parks, but we even have one of the most well-visited National Parks right in our own backyard.

The National Park Service (NPS) reports Gateway National Recreation Area “is a large, diverse urban park with 27,000 acres spanning Sandy Hook in New Jersey and Jamaica Bay and Staten Island in New York. It offers green spaces, beaches, wildlife, and outdoor recreation, all alongside historic structures and cultural landscapes.” It is “the fourth most visited unit in the National Park Service system with more than nine million visitors annually,” with components large and small spread throughout the area.

The three largest parks in our area, all part of Gateway’s Jamaica Bay Unit, are Riis Park, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Fort Tilden. Each offers its own variety of summer diversions and all year enjoyment.

Jacob Riis Park: Looking for a day at the beach, an afternoon or evening of good food and entertainment? Test the waters, soak up the sun and enjoy good times at Riis Park.

Popular with beachgoers for over a century, and sporting what was once the world’s largest parking lot, it originally opened as a New York City Park in 1912.

Its Art Deco bathhouse, built in 1932, is currently undergoing a $50 million makeover to provide a rooftop restaurant, ground floor eating places, a beach bar, courtyard pool, retail spaces, a 28-room boutique hotel and event space. Completion dates are still TBD.

Over the past several years, Riis has become a go-to place for thousands of visitors. Riis Beach Cooperative, its current concessionaire, describes it as a lively “collection of food and retail vendors, bars, live music, events, and good times.  Spread across the nearly 1-mile-long boardwalk…our seaside oasis offers something for everybody.” Be on the lookout for special events and celebrations going on at this “non-stop summer beach party.”

There are playgrounds, a concrete boardwalk that is perfect for strolling and pop-up NPS special programs.

Riis Park opens every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lifeguards are on duty daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Beach parking is $20 per day or $100 per season. Oversized vehicles, 20 ft or more, are $50 daily/$200 per season. Collection hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Note: Beach parking is strictly prohibited elsewhere, such as nearby Fort Tilden. Vehicles will be ticketed and towed.

Fort Tilden: Just down the road from Riis Park is historic Fort Tilden. An active military base and vital part of New York’s harbor defenses from 1917-1974, from beach to brick main gate, remnants of its historical past lay far and wide, often in its undergrowth, ready to be found and carefully explored. The massive Battery Harris East, one of its former anticraft/guided missile bunkers, sports steps to a 360-degree viewing platform, one of the highest spots in Rockaway, with stunning views of Rockaway, Manhattan, New York Harbor, Brooklyn, Jamaica Bay, and the great Atlantic Ocean.

With dunes, a maritime forest, freshwater ponds, backroads and trails to discover, Tilden is great for hiking, biking, nature watching, photography and even enjoying the quiet. It’s also a great place to catch the lively action of packed Little League games, youth and adult soccer games, even the occasional rugby or cricket matches. Or you could lean into the arts and, for instance, take in a Broadway-level show at the Rockaway Theatre Company.

Make sure you get a parking permit from any activity you go to. As noted, cars are frequently ticketed and towed without notice. Swimming is prohibited and there are no lifeguards at Fort Tilden.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge: Located in Broad Channel, it’s the only such refuge in the National Park’s system. It includes over 12,600 acres of water, saltmarshes, brackish and freshwater ponds, fields, woods, and open bay and islands. One of largest bird habitats in the northeast, it attracts birders from around the world. There is great hiking and walking to its East and beautiful ponds and Jamaica Bay to its West from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. With ample parking available, its Visitor Center, which has exhibits and special programs, opens Friday-Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A great spot to park, breathe, even picnic is its northern tip, by the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge.

Gateway also hosts a variety of festivals and activities large and small, like kayaking, campfires and more. For more go to and @GatewayNPS on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Photo by Dan Guarino

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