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Sandy Hook Bike Path: Gateway National Recreation Area

Shore Region

Bikes And Beaches, Family Friendly Biking, Bikes And Lighthouses, Historic Bikes Rides, Wildlife Watch Trails
Directions To Trailhead
Trail Description
Sandy Hook Bike Path Trail Map
Fort Hancock Bike Path Map

Location: Highlands, NJ

Length/Configuration: Sandy Hook Park Entrance to Fort Hancock is 5 miles

Terrain/Surface: Hard-surface, asphalt path

Technical Difficulty: Easy

Elevation: Flat

Trail Use: bicycling, hiking, inline skating

Caution: Ticks and biting insects are present, so bring insect repellent.

Use caution at road crossings and beach access areas.

Swim only at lifeguarded beaches. Be aware of sudden dropoffs and strong rip currents that can pull you away from the shore.

Bike Wheel Image

Note: The trail maps on this website have been simplified to provide an overview with approximate locations of trails and special features. Read Full Disclaimer.

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General Description

Sandy Hook, a 9-mile barrier Peninsula projecting off the northernmost point of the New Jersey Coast into  New York Harbor, is a unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Although we usually feature off-road mountain bike trails, the paved, Sandy Hook Bike Path (Sandy Hook Pathway - MUA), travels through a National Park, features three National Historic Landmarks, unique natural areas and is one of New Jersey’s most popular Bike To The Beach Trails. The Sandy Hook Bike Path runs from the Park Entrance (fee plaza) for about 5 miles along the length of the Sandy Hook Peninsula, offering stunning ocean, bay and salt marsh vistas before looping around historic Fort Hancock in the north. There are plenty of opportunities to hop off the bikeway and explore side trails, visit the beaches and other park features.

Don't have a bike? No problem. Rent a bicycle when you visit Sandy Hook at the Sandy Hook Bike Rental Center.

The Sandy Hook Peninsula lies between the sea to the east and salt marshes to the west. Along the ocean side are six beach areas  (B, C, D, E, North Beach and Gunnison Beach) with parking, outdoor showers, restrooms, food and beach supply concessions. Hop off the bike path and take one of the side spurs to the beach of your choice. The North Beach Observation Deck offers great views of NY harbor and picnic tables. Grilling is allowed at Guardian Park (Fort Hancock). Gunnison Beach offers dramatic views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the option to wear your bathing suit or not. The Sea Gull's Nest Restaurant at Beach Area D is a popular summer hot spot.

Don't miss the opportunity to observe the wild side of Sandy Hook. The peninsula harbors an incredible variety of plants and wildlife including the largest concentration of American Holly trees on the East Coast. Maritime Holly Forests occur at only a few other locations and are globally rare. The trees grow about one inch every 10 - 15 years and some of the mature hollies are close to 200 years old. A 64 acre restricted area preserves the core of the forest.  Lock your bike at the Park Visitors Center, get a map and take a hike along the 11 mile Old Dune Trail through the Holly Forest.

 

Sandy Hook Bike Path Highlights include: Three National Historic Landmarks (Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Fort Hancock and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground), 7 beautiful Sandy Hook beaches, ocean and bay vistas, a unique Holly and Maritime Forest, The Sandy Hook Bird Observatory and Wildlife Observation Decks. Sandy Hook is also home to an operational Coast Guard Station, historic Military Installations and Nike Missile Sites.

The Sandy Hook Bike Path Multi Use Pathway (MUA)

One beautiful day in mid-September, after riding some of our favorite mountain bike trails at Hartshorne Woods Park and Huber Woods Park in the Atlantic Highlands, we decided a bike ride at nearby Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area would be the perfect way to cap off a day of riding.  We had never been there before and it was on our bucket list of places to go biking near New York City. Check out our Sandy Hook Photo Gallery.

The multi-use Sandy Hook Bike Path is shared by hikers and in-line skaters. The well maintained, marked asphalt surfaced path extends for about 5 miles from the Ferry landing at Fort Hancock to the Park Entrance Fee Plaza. More miles of biking are possible along the paved roads in the Fort Hancock Historic District and along Atlantic Drive. Bike racks and drinking fountains are strategically placed along the route. If you plan to check out any of the highlights on or along the bike path, be sure to bring a bike lock along.

We recommend parking at either the Guardian Park lot or lot G at Fort Hancock. This allows you to ride south as far as you like and return to explore the Fort Hancock and North Beach area by bicycle or on foot. Guardian Park features gorgeous views of Sandy Hook Bay, restrooms, picnic tables and grills.  Sandy Hook Bay also happens to be one of the hottest spots for windsurfing on the East Coast. After your ride, BBQ dinner and enjoy the spectacular red sunset over the bay.

We began our bike ride at the Nike Missile in Guardian Park and pedaled south. For it's 5 mile length along the ocean side of Sandy Hook, the path alternates between dune and forest habitats.  A profusion of bright yellow Black-Eyed Susans along with beach grass cap the dunes with wild hairdos and line dune fences. The level path at times gently S-curves between the trees of the Holly Forest.  You will soon pass a startling reminder of Sandy Hook's role during the Cold War, the Nike Missile Radar Site. The missile site is fenced and off limits to the public.  The salt marshes of Horseshoe Cove are on your right. Continuing your ride, you'll soon reach a Nike Ajax Missile launch site and ranger station on your right.

From this point south you will be able to access four different ocean beaches, (E, D, C and B) via paved side spurs. Use caution and be alert for sun worshippers and vehicle traffic at road crossings and beach access roads. Just past the missile site, a foot trail crosses the path. This trail leads west to an observation deck overlooking the Spermaceti Cove Natural Area.

You'll soon arrive at the Sandy Hook Visitor Center,  just past Beach Area E. Stop here to get info, maps, refill your water bottle or see the exhibit about the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Lock up your bicycle here, and take one of the foot trails that lead from the Center into the nearby Maritime and Holly Forests.

From the Visitors Center, the Sandy Hook Bike Path continues south past Beach Areas D, C and B. There is an observation deck at Area B, opposite Plum Island. The path ends at the entrance Fee Plaza.

Turn around and head back to your starting point to explore Fort Hancock and the North Beach Area.

 

Biking Fort Hancock

Back at the Guardian Park entrance, ride west on the bike path past the Nike Missile. The path veers north and runs along Sandy Hook Bay on the western edge of the penninusla. The views across the Bay are expansive. The windswept trees on the right soon give way to Officers Row, a line of neat, pale yellow officers houses.  Bike past the Fort Hancock Ferry Landing and just before the Rodman Gun (cannon), head east onto S, Bragg Dr. A  network of paths crisscross the entire Fort Hancock area.  Take the second right onto Hudson Dr. which passes between the Mortar Battery and Sandy Hook Lighthouse before curving west past the NPS Park Headquarters back to the bike path. Dismount and walk with your bike at any point to explore these fascinating sites.

While we were here, we stopped to photograph the Sandy Hook Lighthouse (see Sandy Hook Bike Ride Photos).  At the time, the opening show of the New Jersey Lighthouse Society’s Annual Photography Contest Exhibit was in full swing.  Someone at the door to the Gatekeepers Quarters beckoned us in. We had the opportunity to view artistic photographs that captured the essence and energy of Sandy Hook, meet the photographers and learn about a variety of photographic techniques, enjoy a cold beverage and devour a few party snacks -- we had worked up quite an appetite by that time.

After exploring the Mortar Battery, we cycled back to our starting point at Guardian Park just in time to enjoy the spectacular sunset over Sandy Hook Bay.

 

 

Park Resources:

Sandy Hook Bike Rental Center - 732-754-5731
Adult and children’s bicycles available for rent from Ray’s Bike Rentals located at Building 60 adjacent to the Sandy Hook Light House. Hours vary seasonally.

The Sandy Hook Bird Observatory - 732-872-2500
A great four-season birding location,  established in 2001 by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The center features a butterfly garden, and a variety of activities including bird walks, natural history workshops, lectures and education classes for schools and more.

Spermaceti Cove Station No. 2 & Sandy Hook Visitors Center - 732-872-5970
The current building was built in 1894 and houses the Sandy Hook Visitor Center. Sandbars, shallows and winter storms were a constant danger to shipping out of NY Harbor. During the 1870s the US Life-Saving Service (USLSS) was officially established to patrol the coast and rescue shipwrecked passengers. See exhibits about the USLSS in the Visitor Center.

 

Historic Notes:

Fort Hancock, the Sandy Hook Proving Grounds, several Batteries and Nike Missile sites were all integral parts of the Harbor Defense System for the New York area.

Highlights of the Fort Hancock Historic District include:

Sandy Hook Lighthouse
Sandy Hook is the oldest standing and operating lighthouse in the US and only survivor of the 11 lighthouses built during the colonial period 1716-1771.  The circa 1883 Keeper’s Quarters is now a museum.

Fort Hancock Museum
History House on Officer’s Row – Experience the life of an army officer and his family during WWII.

Mortar Battery, 9-Gun Battery, Batteries Potter, Granger & Gunnison
Beginning with the Endicott Era (1890) through WWII (1945) these batteries were installed as part of  the southern New York Harbor defenses.

 

Other historic sites at Sandy Hook include:

Sandy Hook Proving Ground

From 1874-1919 the Army’s Ordnance Department tested, or “proved” new weapons. Several structures and the Proof Battery remain.

Nike Missile and Radar Sites
The Sandy Hook missile sites were part of the air defenses installed around New York City from the 1950s – 1970s. They were de-commissioned with the establishment of the National Recreation Area.

Spermaceti Cove Station No.2
The current building was built in 1894 and houses the Sandy Hook Visitor Center. Sandbars, shallows and winter storms were a constant danger to shipping out of NY Harbor. During the 1870s the US Life-Saving Service (USLSS) was officially established to patrol the coast and rescue shipwrecked passengers. See exhibits about the USLSS in the Visitor Center.

 

 

Trailhead Directions:

From North Jersey and New York: Take the New Jersey Turnpike South to Exit 11, onto the Garden State Parkway (South). Take exit 117 (Keyport/Hazlet). After the toll, bear left and follow Route 36 East for 12 miles to the park entrance (after crossing the Highlands Bridge). Stay right to enter the park.

From South Jersey: Take the Garden State Parkway North to Exit 105 (Eatontown), bear left for Rt. 36 East. Continue on Rt. 36 East, pass Monmouth Mall and across Rt. 35 through Eatontown and Long Branch (Rt. 36 is called Joline Avenue here). Continue on Rt. 36, which turns left and follows north along the ocean. (Rt. 36 is called Ocean Blvd. here). Travel north for six miles through the towns of Long Branch, Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright to the park entrance.

 

Public Transportation:
During the summer months during peak times (10 AM and 2 PM) and weekends,  traffic jams are likely and parking lots fill up early causing the park to refuse entry. To start your day at Sandy Hook right, you may want to consider leaving your car behind and arriving by public transportation or the ferry .  If this is not possible – arrive early!

Ferry: Both the Seastreak Ferry and the American Princess Ferry provide Ferry Service to Sandy Hook and allow bikes onboard.

Bus:
New Jersey Transit: Bus 834 stops near the park entrance. Phone 1-800-772-2222.

Academy Lines: Direct from New York City to Highlands. Phone 732-291-1300 or 1-800-242-1339.

Train:
New Jersey Transit: Take the North Jersey Coast Line to Red Bank, then NJT Bus 834 to Highlands. Buses drop you off at or near the entrance to Sandy Hook but do not provide transportation into the park. Phone 1-800-772-2222.

 

For More Information

Gateway National Recreation Area
Headquarters
210 York Avenue
Staten Island, New York

Phone: Sandy Hook Visitors Center (732) 872-5970
TTY Users: 711 (National Relay Service)
Website:National Park Service - Gateway

 

 

 

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