Secret National Parks of NYC

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New YorkNew York City is better known for its sweeping avenues, towering skyscrapers and massive crowds than its green pastures. But there’s more to the Concrete Jungle than meets the eye. Outdoor areas and recreation are plentiful here—if you know where to look. We uncover three noteworthy spots that take you away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. Between the fishing and wildlife watching, you may even forget you’re in one of the world’s largest cities. 

African Burial Ground National Monument

The African Burial Ground National Monument is widely claimed to be one of the greatest archeological discoveries in the 20th Century. While excavating a new federal office building in 1991, construction workers dug up more than just dirt. Around 400 skeletal remains of men, women and children were found in a mysterious underground cemetery. This uncovered burial ground revealed a new side to Lower Manhattan never seen before. Approximately 15,000 free and slaved Africans were buried here between the late 1600s to the mid-1790s in a space of 6.6 acres. Lost for years due to landfill and development in a constantly changing metropolis, these African slaves played a crucial role in the development and history of New York City, even building some of the infrastructure themselves.

Today this designated monument and memorial honors the past and culture of colonial Africans in New York. A Circle of Diaspora, containing symbols of African Diaspora as a tribute to African origins and the international significance of the Burial Ground, marks the area. Visitors can learn more about the local history on walking tours or interpretive talks from park rangers. There’s also a visitor center with exhibits, a theater and bookstore.

For more information, please call (217) 637-2019 or visit or

Gateway National Recreation Area

Escape the city streets of Manhattan and venture to Gateway National Recreation Area. Covering 26,000 acres across three boroughs and two states, this wilderness escape is only a subway ride away from the bright lights of the city. This area is comprised of four units in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey. Several national historic forts dot the coastlines, where there are plenty of recreation opportunities both in sea and on land.

Test your archery skills at the Jamaica Bay Unit. Other year-round activities include birding, boating, fishing, golf, and horseback riding. Cruise the bike trails that are braided throughout the historic military base Fort Tilden, or dive into the ocean at Jacob Riis Park in Rockaway, Queens. For a truly unique experience, try “urban camping” at Floyd Bennett Field in Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn. Visitors can pitch a tent and sleep under the stars, forgetting about the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Floyd Bennett Field was once a famous airport used by the likes of Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes. Today the site celebrates aviation history. Nearby Breezy Point Unit contains a famous beach community and pristine water recreation.

The Staten Island Unit is best known for Great Kills Park. Visitors can take a stroll on the beach, swim in the Atlantic Ocean or go boating at Great Kills Harbor. This unit contains the island’s only osprey nesting site as well as Fort Wadsworth, one of the oldest military sites in the United States.

Let’s not neglect New Jersey. The Sandy Hook Unit is right across the water from New York. There’s excellent fishing, beachgoing, birdwatching, and a bike pathway that circles Fort Hancock, a national historic landmark that played a significant role during the Cold War.

For more information please call (718) 354-4606 or visit

Governors Island

Take a brief ferry ride (for free!) from the tip of Lower Manhattan to Governors Island for a fun day getaway during the summer. Rent a bike and pedal around the island, which offers spectacular views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Festivals and special events are often held on the island every weekend. Governors Island is most well known for its historical importance. Tour Fort Jay and Castle Williams to learn about how these outposts played a crucial role in protecting New York City during the colonial era. The island later became command headquarters for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coast Guard’s most complex system.

For more information please call (212) 825-3045 or visit or

Photo: East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge; NPS.

By Erica Sanderson