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Governors Island Bike Tour : New York City Harbor Trails

Greater New York Region

Urban Legend, Bike Ferry, Scenic Viewpoints, Historic: Bikes & Forts, Family Friendly

Directions
Trail Description

Governors Island Bike Tour Map (PDF)

Location: New York City County - Manhattan, NY

Trail Length & Configuration: 5+ miles of paved car-free bike paths. The promenade that encircles the island is 2.2 miles.

Terrain / Trail Surface: Mostly level and paved.

Technical Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Change: Flat

Trail Use: Mountain biking, bicycling, hiking

Caution: Watch out for the Governors Island Tram and park service vehicles on the roads.

Bike Wheel Image

This trail map is a geographical representation designed for general reference purposes only.

Governors Island Bike Tour Overview

Governors Island serves as an Urban Legend in our book. For over 200 years, Governors Island has always been a place of mystery. It's strategic location in New York City's New York Harbor, just one-half mile from the southern tip of lower Manhattan, has made the island an important and integral part of the coastal defense system of the United States. It is separated from the borough of Brooklyn to the east by the 400-yard-wide Buttermilk Channel.

In 2001, President Bill Clinton designated 22 acres of the 172-acre island, including Fort Jay and Castle Williams, Dock 102 and the area that surrounds them, as the Governors Island National Monument which is managed by the National Park Service. The City of New York, through the Trust for Governors Island manages the rest. The Island's historical significance, open space, cultural and recreational resources offer New Yorker's and visitors a true New York City and harborside experience not found anywhere else in the world.

We first visited Governors Island around 2006 when it was opened on a very limited basis and enjoyed a guided walking tour of some of the historic buildings. In the summer of the following year, the word about ths urban oasis was out and free ferry service on a limited basis brought more than 56,000 visitors a year to enjoy the historic district, concerts on the historic parade grounds, picnics and bicycling around the circumference of the island on a 1-mile car free bike path.

In 2009, a completed 2.2 mile promenade (car-free bike path), 8-acre Picnic Point, the Water Taxi Beach attracted 275,000 visitors including us with our bicycles that year. Although more and more visitors discover this New York island gem each year, it still has a small town feel. Beginning in 2021, although not all areas of the park are open at all times, New Yorkers and visitors are able to enjoy Governors Island’s year-round via daily ferry service from the Battery Maritime Ferry Terminal (weather and rennovation work permitting).

Cycling continues to be one of the best ways to explore the island. Today, a 2.5-mile car-free bike path travels around the circumference of the island. The ride offers a full day of adventure that includes stunning views of the Lower Manhattan skyline, New York City's most famous iconic landmarks including the Verrazano and Brooklyn Bridges, Upper New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty. Connecting bike paths travel past restored historic landscapes, tree-lined, stately Victorian era Officers Quarters and lead to historic Colonial era forts. Pit stops along the way include picnic areas with grilling stations, and harborside beaches, water stations and restrooms.

Getting to the island is all part of the fun. Governors Island is just a 10-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Bring your bike along on the ferry or rent one when you arrive.

Bike Rentals

Didn’t bring a bike? No problem.

Blazing Saddles

Bikes and Surreys (4 person bicycle carts) rentals. Open every day at 10 AM on Governors Island.

Hay Road between Castle Williams and Colonels Row.

Citi Bike ((Bike share system)

Sturdy and durable bikes that are locked into the three docking stations on Governors Island.

  • Yankee Ferry Terminal (where the Brooklyn ferry docks)
  • Soissons Landing (where the Manhattan ferry docks)
  • Picnic Point

Website: https://ride.citibikenyc.com/rides/governors-island

Governors Island Bike Tour Description

Except for designated areas, bicycling is permitted just about everywhere on Governors Island. In the busy Soisson's Dock, Nolan Park and inside Fort Jay and Castle Williams – dismount and walk with your bikes. Bike racks, benches, restrooms and food courts are strategically located throughout the island allowing you to stop and explore, snack, and enjoy the views.

Our bike tour of Governors Island begins at the Soisson’s Dock Ferry Landing. For more detailed information and a map with designated National Monument historic highlights, start your visit at the National Park Service Visitor Center & Bookstore located in Buiilding 140, just to the left of the ferry landing.

Start your bike tour by biking the 2.5 mile promenade around the perimeter of the island. While you can ride in either direction, leaving Soissons dock, head in a clockwise direction. While this is a car-free island, you will see occasional Park Service vehicles and four-seater Surreys making their rounds of island.

The northern part of Governors Island is both a designated National Register Historic District, National Historic Landmark and National Monument. This area was once used as the Coast Guard’s base of operations for the Atlantic Area Command and Maintenance and Logistics Command as well as the Captain of the Port of New York.

In a short while, you'll see Pershing Hall on the right. Constructed in 1934, it served as the Army Post Headquarters as well as the Coast Guard Headquarters. The first pier on the left after the ferry dock is marked by a noticeable blue sign. This is the Pier 101 Kayak Dock which provides water access and welcomes visitors arriving by kayak during public access days. Volunteers also offer free kayaking and lessons in a small enclosed area. The Brooklyn Ferry leaves from here too.

Pedal past the kayak dock and on your right is the beginning of Nolan Park and rows of Victorian era officers houses including the white columned Commanding Officers House. You can see Nolan Park through the trees. On the left, three-story brick structures line the path all the way to the South Battery. Built in 1812, as a defense against enemy ships entering Buttermilk Channel, the South Battery originally had a tier of mounted guns and barracks.

Continue pedaling. Stately Pin Oaks and Maples now steeple the route providing a tunnel of shade. To your left is Buttermilk Channel, the mile long tidal strait between Governors Island and Brooklyn with currents strong enough to churn milk into butter. That's what the farmers in this area 150 to 200 years ago said when they crossed the channel by boat to sell their milk in Manhattan markets. In the 1700's, Brooklyn used to be the Dutch "Grain Belt". Today, instead of farmland and fields of wheat and barley, you'll see views of Red Hook and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal across the channel.

Now we leave the developed area and pedal towards the southern tip of the island. You'll immediately see Yankee Pier on the left. Built by the Coast Guard in the 1960's, Yankee Pier on Buttermilk Channel was built to handle large Coast Guard boats. Most island visitors miss this, but you can walk out on the Y-shaped pier to get awesome views of the South Battery from the water side for a different perspective of Governors Island.

Continue cycling and you'll soon come to a fence and a blue sign welcoming you to Picnic Point. Except for the Promenade and Picnic Point, the south end of Governors Island is closed to the public. The area to the right is fenced off. To the left is an expanse of water. Look for pilings out in the water where gulls perch and commorants sit and stretch out their wings to dry.

Arrive at Picnic Point, the halfway point of the bike tour. This 8-acre picnic area, with tables, hammocks for lounging swing sets for the kids, and striped cabanas made from shipping crates, is the perfect place to take in the views and stop for lunch. The views of the Upper Harbor, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are spectacular. Watch sailboats ply the waters, pretty white sails passing under the Statue of Liberty's upraised arm.

Pedal around the point and head back north to the historic district, with views of the lower Manhattan skyline. Take the time to visit Castle Williams before completing the circuit at the Soissons Ferry Landing. At this point feel free to explore the inner paths that criss-cross the island and lead into the interior of the Historic District. Take the time to appreciate the historic architecture on Colonels Row and around the Nolan Park area.

There are food carts serving everything from ice cream, burgers and hot dogs to West Indian cuisine. Bring your own lunch, if you are not a fan of fast food. Picnic tables, benches, idyllic grassy fields provide many places to enjoy a picnic (no alcholic beverages permitted).

Disclaimer: Plan ahead and know the rules, bike with a trail buddy or two, wear and bring proper gear, know your ability level and watch out for other trail users.

Trail Highlights & Nearby Points Of Interest

Historic: Bikes & Forts

Bike to the forts. Do not miss impressive Fort Jay and Castle Williams. Both forts and the surrounding area are part of the Governors Island National Monument.

Fort Jay

Fort Jay, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, is the oldest structure on Governors Island. It was first built on the highest point of the island by Continental Troops as a series of earthen fortifications in 1775 -76. The island was occupied by the British during the American Revolution until 1783 when it was surrendered along with several other buildings to the Governor of New York. Since then, it has gone through a series of development and restorations.

Today, the historic character defining Trophèe ďArmes sculpture that "bristles" atop the sally port, the clas­sic star-shaped fort design, the dry moat, sub­ter­ranean mag­a­zine, rav­elin and bas­tions (with 5 Rod­man guns and a great view of the city), bar­racks porch­es and var­i­ous exhibits make Fort Jay one of the top historic highlights of the bike tour.

Castle Williams

Castle Williams, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, is a circular defensive work of red sandstone located on the west point of Governors Island. It was designed by the Chief Engineer of the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1807 and 1811 and was considered the "new wave" of fortification design. It was used as part of the inner New York City harbor defense system, as a recruit barracks and as a prison for Confederate soldiers in 1862.

After an extensive rehabilitation project in 2011, the National Park Service opened Castle Williams to the general public for the first time in the fort's 200-year history.

Historical Notes

The British chose to blockade New York Harbor, and it's navy did not attempt to sail into the harbor. It may be that the enormous bristling fortifications throughout the harbor convinced the British not to try. The forts on Governors Island—large, substantial, architecturally significant structures that they were—would never see combat. But in the “Thirty Years’ Peace” that followed the War of 1812, the U.S. Army would change dramatically. Structures and landscapes around and within the forts on Governors Island would track that change.

In January 2001, President Bill Clinton designated 22 acres of the Island, including Fort Jay and Castle Williams and the area that surrounds them, as the Governors Island National Monument, to be owned and managed by the National Park Service.

Directions

On-street parking is extremely difficult to find in Lower Manhattan.  One-hour parking meters are nearby. Parking regulations are vigorously enforced and parking tickets are very costly. Commercial parking lots and parking garages are available along South Street north to the South Street Seaport. The best way to get to Ferry departure points is by Public Transportation.

Bike Ferry

Manhattan: Ferries operated by the Trust for Governors Island run daily from the Battery Maritime Building, located at 10 South Street in Lower Manhattan. It's the large green building adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Its a ten minute ferry ride to this Manhattan island. Look for the large blue Governors Island flags.

There is no surcharge for bicycles at any time. Space for bikes and strollers is limited, and they will be allowed on each ferry on a first-come, first-served basis.

Brooklyn: Seasonal ferry service runs from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park (corner of Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street) on Saturdays and Sundays. There is no ferry to Governors Island from Fulton Ferry Landing. It's a much smaller ferry and can carry only 20 bikes. The downside to this is long bike lines for this quick 3-minute ferry ride to the island.

By Bus

Bus Service to Lower Manhattan in the area of the Battery Maritime Building include the M1 (weekdays only), M6 and M15.

By Train

Three Subway lines serve the area, the 4/5 to Bowling Green, the W (weekdays only) and R (weekdays & weekends) to Whitehall/South Ferry and the #1 train to South Ferry.

Website: www.mta.info

By Water Taxi

The New York Water Taxi offers a Hop-On/Hop-Off stop on Governors Island.

Website: http://www.nywatertaxi.com/

Brooklyn:

By Bus: B63 at the terminus of Atlantic Avenue, at Columbia Street.

By Train: 2/3 or 4/5 to Borough Hall.

More Information

Governors Island National Monument
Mailing Address
10 South Street
New York, NY 10004

Phone: (212) 825-3054
Website: https://www.nps.gov/gois/index.htm

 

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