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The Complete Guide to Gateway National Recreation Area Camping

On the hunt for a camping getaway that doesn’t take you too far from the thriving heart of urban life? You’re looking in the right place when you decide to try camping in Gateway National Recreation Area! And with our Gateway National Recreation Area camping guide, you’ll have exactly what you need to prepare for a fantastic retreat into a small slice of wilderness right in the middle of city bustle! Let’s dive in and learn more about this hidden gem of the northeast!

Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, Gateway National Recreation Area.
Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, Gateway National Recreation Area.

What to Expect At Gateway National Recreation Area

Rife with grasslands, woodlands, dunes, beaches, ponds, salt marshes, and forests, Gateway National Recreation Area is a treasure of conserved wilderness tucked away within the industrial sprawl of the Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Sandy Hook areas of New York and New Jersey. At a glance, you’d never know you were so near the city! Composed of three separate park units that span across New York and into New Jersey and comprise 27,000 acres altogether, this park provides fantastic views of the ocean and great opportunities to indulge in relaxation and recreation…a perfect retreat from the hustle of everyday life.

Camping in Gateway National Recreation Area

Open year-round, there are a few different options for Gateway National Recreation Area camping offered at different times of the year! The Jamaica Bay and Staten Island units of the park are open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Canarsie Pier and Jacob Riis Park being the exception, as they are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.). The Sandy Hook Unit is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Best Camping Spots

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook
Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook

There are three campground units available for camping in Gateway National Recreation Area—Sandy Hook, Fort Wadsworth, and Floyd Bennett Field Campgrounds. Sandy Hook and Fort Wadsworth are open seasonally due to inclement weather. (Note: Floyd Bennett Field Campgrounds has been open intermittently, so it’s best to check its status before reserving a spot there.)

Each campsite can house up to four people, and all are large enough for one large tent or two small tents; larger families or camping groups must reserve multiple campsites, and capacity may need to be reduced on occasion for safety considerations.

Campers must camp overnight—no day use permitted—and may stay a maximum of 14 consecutive nights.

For RV campers, there’s space at Floyd Bennett Field, with 12 RV-only campsites (no tents allowed in RV sites). Water, sewer, and electrical hookups are not provided. (Note: Sandy Hook and Fort Wadsworth do not have space for RVs.)

Booking

You can book a spot at any one of the three units in Gateway by visiting online here.

Things To Do At Gateway National Recreation Area

There’s so much to do at Gateway National Recreation Area, no matter the seasons!

For those preferring outdoor activities, the park offers unique and exciting experiences such as archery, birdwatching, bicycling, team sports, swimming, running/walking, swimming, fishing, and boating—and in the winter, you can indulge in sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing! There are also guided tours offered in and around many of the timeless and historic areas here…a plethora of options for all ages and whole families to enjoy!

Prefer your recreational activities to be done indoors? Gateway’s still got you covered! Visit Fort Wadsworth’s Mont Sec House or visitor center, explore the visitor center, hangar, and library at Floyd Bennett Field, pop into the famous Sandy Hook lighthouse, or visit the visitor center at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge! There’s something for everyone to enjoy in and around Gateway National Recreation Area.

For the foodies among us, there are places to eat both around Gateway and inside it! You can check out one of the restaurants in the surrounding area, or visit the Riis Park Beach Bazaar (located at Jacob Riis Park and open during the summer season) or McFly’s on the Hook (a convenience store located in the Sandy Hook Unit) for your in-park food needs! You’ll also find a number of food trucks operating on the Sandy Hook beaches between Memorial Day and the end of September.

(Note: Certain activities available while camping in Gateway National Recreation Area, including picnicking, fishing, etc., may require a permit. Be sure to check with the park to ensure you have all necessary permits and passes before your arrival.)

Wildlife

A Diamondback Terrapin turtle
Diamondback Terrapin Turtle

Each of Gateway National Recreation Area’s three units boasts a unique and breathtaking bevy of wildlife! While camping in Gateway National Recreation Area or exploring the interior of the park units, you may encounter animals such as red bats, red foxes, muskrats, ospreys, gray tree frogs, and more.

Down by the coastal portions of the recreation area in Sandy Hook, you might find seals basking on the shores, while in the Jamaica Bay location you’re likely to spot horseshoe crabs in their usual spawning areas, or even the diamondback terrapin, a turtle that will boldly dig its nest in the sand right before your eyes!

For optimal birding opportunities, you can visit the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Floyd Bennett Field’s North Forty, Great Kills Park, or Sandy Hook. When relaxing on the beach, you’re most likely to see the various marine life coming and going with the tide, and deeper inland in the marshes and woodlands is where you’ll catch a glimpse of mammals, insects, and amphibians native to the area.

All told, camping in Gateway National Recreation Area is an all-around fantastic opportunity for birdwatching and encountering the wildlife specific to this slice of New York and New Jersey!

Vegetation / Geography

Salt Spray Rose
Salt Spray Rose

Wild plants abound in the beauty of Gateway National Recreation Area! Here you won’t find any carefully-cultivated botanical areas, but instead the flourishing, natural wilderness offerings native to this area! Among the foliage, you’ll spot the lurid Salt Spray Rose, rich beach plums, delicate Queen Anne’s Lace, hardy saltmarsh cordgrass, and so much more!

The terrain and geography of Gateway is uniquely diverse given its urbanized surroundings. Within the units, you’ll encounter the Tides—where incoming and outgoing tides reveal a host of wonderous wildlife and natural beauty—the Mixed Woodlands of Floyd Bennett Field, and the hardy phragmites grasslands. Interspersed throughout are marshes and forests that conservationists are working hard to keep in good health!

You’ll also find constantly-shifting sand splits and barrier beaches down by the coast, ensuring every Gateway National Recreation Area camping trip brings something fresh and exciting to explore and discover!

Make Sure To Bring

Poison Ivy is present in Gateway National Recreation Area!

When preparing for your Gateway National Recreation Area camping excursion, please come prepared for all that nature has to offer! If you are tent-camping, please bring your own tents and sleeping bags, and double-check beforehand that all camping gear is in good repair, with no rips, tears, or other compromises. Gateway also encourages all tent sleepers to pack a pad to place beneath their sleeping bag, if possible, for maximum comfort and a better night’s sleep no matter what the elements may bring.

You will also want to have plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant on hand, as much of the area’s attractions are near water and out from beneath shade. Also, be aware that there is poison ivy in the park, and ensure your first aid kit is well-stocked with necessary items to treat this and any other issues you may encounter during your adventures.

If you’re planning to hike, run, bicycle, swim, or boat, please pack accordingly with proper footwear, swimming attire, and safety gear. If fishing, you’ll want to double-check you have a current fishing license and that your tackle is in good repair.

(Note: Gateway does not permit alcohol, pets, or charcoal grills in tent camping sites. Glass containers are also not permitted anywhere in the park for the safety of visitors, animals, and the environment.)

Park Fees

While there is no cost to enter Gateway National Recreation Area, there are fees for beach parking from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day at Jacob Riis Park in Queens, N.Y. and at Sandy Hook, N.J.

Beach parking fees applying to both Jacob Riis and Sandy Hook are as follows:

  • $20 per day
  • $100 per season

Camping fees in Gateway National Recreation Area’s three units are as follows:

  • $30 a night (or $15 a night with the Senior or Access Pass)
  • $210 a week (or $105 a week with the Senior or Access Pass)

Reviews

Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey
Gateway National Recreation Area

Boasting an average 4.5 out of 5-star rating, Gateway National Recreation Area is highly regarded for its slice of laid-back, outdoorsy fun so near the bustle of everyday city life! Campers in particular have praised its cleanliness and easy accessibility in rustic but not uncomfortable conditions; the only complaint seems to be occasional unpredictability with booking due to campgrounds being closed. Overall, visitors have found it to be a fantastic location for camping and other outdoor fun, with easy access from the heart of New York City to the quiet retreat the Recreation Area has to offer!

Wrapping Up Gateway National Recreation Area Camping

We hope our Gateway National Recreation Area camping guide has you feeling excited and well-prepared for a getaway near the big city rush! Which of the three units are you excited to camp at and explore? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out more New York and New Jersey camping spots below:

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