National parks may not come to mind when tourists or everyday New Yorkers think of NYC, but in reality there’s a ton of national park adventures to have in the Big Apple. Believe it or not, eleven national park sites make up the National Parks of New York Harbor - with a total of 23 locations throughout the five boroughs. There’s a lot to do here. Learn about our country’s history. Reflect on struggles that have shaped who we are as Americans. Maybe just get outside and get active.
History buffs should check out Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, Federal Hall National Memorial or Hamilton Grange National Memorial. TR’s Birthplace has an incredible selection of artifacts and a great Roosevelt museum at the brownstone - plan ahead though to make sure you can get a tour of the digs! And if you’re one of those lucky few to score Hamilton tickets, definitely consider supplementing your experience by hitting Hamilton Grange - an entire site devoted to founding father Alexander Hamilton. Federal Hall, the site of George Washington’s inauguration, is a must-visit for anyone looking to learn more about New York’s place in the early days of our country. Take a trip up to Upper West Side and find out who’s buried in Grant’s tomb at General Grant National Memorial. If you can get a ride out of the city and up to Mount Vernon head to Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site for a dose of American Revolution history.
Governors Island National Monument is an all-day adventure of a day trip in the summer. Your adventure starts with a boat ride over on the ferry. Pro-tip: Take the ferry for FREE if you can make one of the first few boats on Saturday and Sunday mornings). Once you’re there, the island is yours to explore. I highly recommend taking a ranger tour of Fort Jay and/or Castle Williams to get an up-close look at the island’s history as a military post. Download the NPS app and take your own self-guided tour if that’s more your style. There’s no cars allowed on the island, so this is a great city spot to explore by bike. Bring your own (encouraged if you can get it to the ferry) or borrow or rent one when you get there. Head over to the Trust for Governors Island to get more info on events and activities.
Gateway National Recreation Area offers numerous spots throughout the city to get outdoors: Birding at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, camp at Fort Wadsworth, archery and cross-country skiing at Floyd Bennett Field, boating, fishing hiking, horseback riding, you name it. The 27,000-acre recreation area is comprised of three geographical areas (Staten Island and Jamaica Bay in New York, as well as Sandy Hook in New Jersey).
African Burial Ground National Monument is one of the most moving national park sites I’ve visited. This lesser-known site is a must-visit for everyday New Yorkers. The site provides insight on the history of slavery in New York City. Stonewall National Monument, one of the newest additions to the National Park Service, commemorates the site of the Stonewall riots - a major moment in the struggle for LGBT rights.
The Statue of Liberty is an icon. A symbol of our country ...OK, full disclosure. I’ve lived in New York all my life and only visited the statue for the first time this past year. Sure I had seen her from far away or in photos countless times, and yes, you will be surrounded by tourists, but visiting the statue in person is breathtaking. It’s a chance to reflect on the ideals that make this country special.
The statue is one of the more costly NPS visits in the Big Apple, as you’ll need to pay for your ferry ride and then decide how high up in the statue you want access to. Don’t forget the spot where you’ll catch the ferry is itself its own national park site - Castle Clinton (so add some time to look around and stamp your parks passport before you leave). Helpful hint: if you can’t get a reservation coming from Manhattan, consider booking a trip through Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
And an amazing bonus of visiting the statue is that it includes entry to Ellis Island National Monument. Ellis Island is a fascinating spot to visit and a top-quality museum experience. Step inside and take a moment to reflect on the impact immigration has had on this country. Get a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made and hardships encountered by immigrants looking for a better life in America. Research your own family history. Remind yourself that immigrants have long been the backbone of this country.
What spots have you explored? Let us know about your adventures and any tips you might have! Get out and explore New York City's national parks!
About the Author: Written by Brian Heyman (Twitter: @brian_heyman, Instagram: brian_heyman)