The Rockaway Gateway Greenway trail system is located within the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It's a 28-mile network of bicycle and pedestrian paths that also incorporates protected city bike lanes. This unique muli-use trail system connects key national recreational areas around Jamaica Bay: Dead Horse Bay, Plumb Beach, Fort Tilden, Jacob Riis Park, Rockaway Beach, Sunset Cove, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Canarsie Pier.
This bike ride is for bicyclists of all ability levels looking for a pleasant exursion that travels past tidal wetlands, estuarine waters, marshes, meadowlands, beaches, dunes and marine forest. There are lots of scenic views and the opportunity to visit historic forts and airports, beaches and wildlife preserves.
We suggest doing this bike ride in a group of two or more. Park at the Ryan Visitor Center lot at Floyd Bennett Field. It's a good central base of operations. Rockaway Greenway Bike Path facilities are also available at other areas, however, where you park, will depend on your bike ride itinerary.
Check in at the visitors center. The Rockaway Gateway Greenway is an ongoing project so ask about the status of the bike route before you go. Pick up bike maps and a Gateway National Recreation Area Program Guide. You can also find restroom facilities and water.
Take the time to learn about Floyd Bennett Field's fascinating aviation history and touch your bike tires down on the historic runways before taking off on the Rockaway Gateway Greenway,
Bike Flight check: fully charged cell phone, spare change, bike tire pump and flat repair kit, water, snacks, bike lock, insect repellent, binoculars and bike shoes that will allow you to do some walking.
The "official" Rockaway Greenway Bike Path trailhead leaves from the Floyd Bennett Field visitors center. It travels along north along Flatbush Avenue to the Belt Parkway; along the Belt Parkway from Plumb Beach east to 78th Street, Howard Beach; along Cross Bay Boulevard from the southern terminus of the Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge south to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor in Broad Channel. From there it's a hodgepodge of on and off street routes to Jacob Riis park on the Rockaway peninsula.
There are big plans in the works to improve trails, on and off street connections to enable seamless, scenic and safe connections around the entire Jamaica Bay Gateway National Recreation area. Draft plans have been proposed and several have been finalized.
To see what's in the works, check out the New York City DOT Jamaica Bay Greenway Implementation Plans (2014). The PDF files for the different Greenway linkages are exciting.
Shore Parkway Greenway Bike Path
This paved multi-use path is split into 2 segments; together totalling about 12 miles. It runs along New York Harbor from 84th street in Queens to it's endpoint on 68th street in southern Broolkyn. All along the path are views of some of New York' city's most iconic attractions. Sunsets over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Statue of Liberty, the new World Trade Center buildings, Staten Island's Fort Wadsworth, Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton Army Base and Coney Island.
One can travel as far as he or she wishes on this one-of-a-kind New York City bike path. Here Here a few suggested bike ride options that leave from the trailhead at the Floyd Bennett Field visitors center.
Option 1: Floyd Bennett Field to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Head north along Jamaica Bay over the Mill Basin, Paerdegat Basin and it's new Ecology Park. Stop at Canarsie Pier, a fishing hot spot for over 300 years. Ride past the Spring Creek Natural Area that has a history that will chill you to the bones. Travel though Broad Channel, an island located in the center of Jamaica Bay. Make the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge your last stop before retracing your route.
Option 2: Jamaica Bay Bike Loop
Complete a circuit of Jamaica Bay by continuing past the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge through Broad Channel and over the Cross Bay Brdge into the Rockaway peninsula to Jacob Riis Park for ocean views, sand and surf. Travel over the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge back to the Ryan Visitors Center.
Option 3: Floyd Bennett Field to Fort Tilden
This route takes you over the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge to historic Fort Tilden. Bike the Fort Tilden Bike Trails within a marine forest that has hidden war era secrets to discover. Bring your bike right onto one of the most beautiful, quiet beaches in New York City. Watch the waves crash against rock jetties jutting out into the ocean. Just a short bike ride away is Jacob Riis Park and the newly rennovated Boardwalk with a designated bike lane that travels along the ocean, past the famous Riis Park Art Deco Bathhouse, food concessions and landscaped alcoves.
Rockaway Greenway Bike Path: Floyd Bennett Field to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
If you are facing the Ryan Visitor Center at Floyd Bennett Field, go right towards the Ranger Station building. Turn left and head north on the Rockaway Greenway Bike Path which parallels Flatbush Avenue. You will pass historic Hangar Row on the right and a trailhead for the North Forty Natural Area (hiking only) before reaching Shore Parkway at about .93 miles. (If you cross Flatbush Avenue you can connect to the Shore Parkway Greenway heading west toward Coney Island).
Take a right turn east along the Belt Parkway for .5 miles which leads to the first bridge crossing on this trip. It crosses the entrance to Mill Basin. Mill Basin is so named for early mill works created by 17th century Dutch settlers. It is a Double Leaf Trunnion Bascule Bridge, built in the 1940s and the only drawbridge on the Belt Parkway. Walk your bike across. This will give you time to stop and admire the pretty views over the bay. Just past the bridge, on your right, is the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy.
Paerdegat Basin Trail Connection
It's about .84 miles to the next bridge which spans the entrance to Paerdegat Basin, a saltwater wetland area. A recent improvement project on Paerdegat Avenue North calmed traffic and created safe, new connections between the neighborhood of Canarsie, Canarsie Park, Canarsie Pier, and the Jamaica Bay Greenway.
A two-way parking protected shared-use path for pedestrians and cyclists was installed on Paerdegat Avenue North from Flatlands Avenue to the Canarsie Park Gate. The project also added four new crosswalks and created safer, shorter pedestrian crossings along the corridor.
The basin itself has also been transformed. A $455 million, 10 year project to manage storm water and keep it from entering the sewer system has been completed. The basin was populated with a variety of native plants and a five-acre Ecology Park was designed to educate the community on what the area resembled before human settlement. In addition to restoring the habitat, there's now a viewshed that provides scenic views of the water from the bike path.
While we were admiring the views from the bridge one summer, we observed frantic splashing activity out on the bay. It turned out to be a school of jumping fish; probably bluefish and circling, diving gulls.
Paerdegat Basin is also home to the Sebago Canoe Club.
Carnarsie Pier Trail Connection
After around .75 of a mile (about 4.6 mile into your bike ride), you'll arrive at the Canarsie Piers Park. You can't miss the triple arched entrance way. The pier extends 600 feet into Island Channel. It's a scenic spot surrounded by water, greenery and salt marshes. The sides of the pier along the water’s edge feature benches and tree-lined paths of brick, stone, and granite.
Carnarsie Pier has been a fishing mecca for over 300 years. In the 1920's, water pollution destroyed the thriving clamming and fishing industries. In 1926 the city tried to spark commercial development with the construction of the pier as part of a larger project to expand Jamaica Bay. The Great Depression halted that effort. In 1973 the area was turned over to the National Park Service. The bay was subsequently cleaned up and natural areas were retored, The fish are back, making Carnarsie Pier a prime bluefish and fluke fishing spot.
It's fun to look out over the wrought iron pier railngs and watch the small, colorful local fishing boats bobbing in the bay. It's all very picturesque.
On weekends during peak season, the area is bustling with local fisherman and families out to enjoy a picnic, kayakers arriving and departing from the Carnarsie Pier kayak launch.
Spring Creek Trail Connection
Rejoin the Jamaica Bay Greenway and continue east. You'll pass by the site of the "Spring Creek Natural Area". From your perspective on the bike path, it's seems like just an ordinary hill that slopes upward, dotted with clumps of grass, scruffy trees and bushes.
However, if you were to stand on the top of the hill, you'd be 130 feet above sea level and overlooking what seems to be a sea of tall grasses. In the distance, the Empire State Building to the northwest, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and New York Harbor to the west and Jamaica Bay to the south can be seen. The area is currently closed to the public.
The 400 acre Spring Creek Natural Area that you are cycling past is the result of a $200 million dollar landfill restoration project managed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. The landfills were capped with a layer of plastic, then covered with clean soil. 33,000 trees and shrubs were planted, restoring native habitats that disappeared from New York City long ago. It's the birth of a forest. In a decade, the trees might be 20 to 25 feet tall.
This is a happy ending to a story that can cause terrifying nightmares. This area, located at the farthest reaches of Brooklyn was once called "the place where the city ends". City incinerators, sewage-treatment plants, underground fires, industrial waste, noise from planes whizzing overhead, noxious odors amongst other unsavory features made the place a hard-sell for residential development 90 years ago.
These attributes also made it the perfect spot for it's two most notable early uses: a body-dumping site for Jewish organized-crime syndicate, Murder, Inc., in the 1930s, and for the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue Landfills, which opened in the 1940s. The Mafia also used the Fountain Avenue dump for murderous means. The landfills were finally closed in 1985.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Trail Connection
(We are working on a separate Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Feature)
Keep pedaling. The path takes you along the Jamaica Bay North Channel across 2 more bridges. Just after the third bridge crossing, the developed bike path ends. From here, the recommended route is a series of shared roadway lanes. Head south on 78th street, right on 161st street, left on 83rd street and finally make a right on 165th street to Cross Bay Blvd. and Broad Channel, the largest island in Jamaica Bay. Cross Bay Blvd is a busy commercial route, but it's just 1.25 miles to the bridge.
Head south on Cross Bay Blvd, Broad Channel's only through road. It traverses two vehicular bridges, both of which also carry bicycle and pedestrian traffic. At one end of the island, the Addabbo Memorial Bridge connects to Howard Beach. At the southern end of Broad Channel, the Cross Bay Bridge connects to the Rockaway peninsula.
From the Addabbo Bridge there are great views of the bay to the west and JFK Airport to the east. There is a bike lane across the bridge and the Rockaway Greenway Bike Path / Jamaica Bay Greenway continues on the other side. Use the bike lane and not the sidewalk if there are fishermen on the bridge.
The existing section of the Jamaica Bay Greenway in Broad Channel is a two-way path connecting the Addabbo Bridge to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge entrance, ending roughly 1,000 feet south of the Visitor’s Center.
The remaining route through Broad Channel is a mixture of bicycle markings and striped bicycle lanes. Heavy traffic, including buses and trucks, and high vehicle speeds make the on-street portion of the route on Cross Bay Blvd uncomfortable for novice riders or children.
Once over the bridge, you are on Broad Channel Island at the center of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. At this point you begin to leave civilization behind. Bicycle another 1.5 miles south to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Look for the entrance on the right. Bikes are not allowed on the refuge trails, so your bike lock will come in handy. Bike parking is available at the entrance to the Visitors Center.
A permit is required to enter the refuge trail system, so check in at the Visitor Center desk. The permit is free. There is a parking lot, bookstore, restrooms, fascinating hands-on exhibits and photographic displays. If you've brought lunch or a snack along, picnic tables are available.
Refuge habitats include salt marsh, fresh and brackish water ponds, and upland fields and woods. Trails circle 100 acre East Pond and 45 acre West Pond; both are man-made. There are benches and blinds along the trails that allow for leisurely bird watching. The trail around East Pond is more secluded and sometimes wet and muddy. The West Pond Trail is more open, easier, high and drier.
Usually in wetland habitats, mosquitoes and biting insects could be a nuisance. We were wearing bike shorts and a dose of insect repellent did the trick. We've been back many times since with our binoculars and cameras. This is the most amazing place, especially during the spring and fall migration periods.
New Yorkers rushing about their busy lives have no idea what is going on in their own backyards. During spring and fall migration periods, thousands upon thousands of land, water and shore birds use Jamaica Bay as a rest and refueling stop as they travel the Atlantic Flyway to and from nesting grounds. Visit the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge during those times and you'll never be the same. Groups of birds take off and land. They whiz by just above your head. This makes Grand Central Station during rush hour seem tame. The ponds, coves and shoreline teem with an incredible variety of waterfowl and wading birds.
What really struck me the most, was looking across the bay to the Manhattan skyline in the distance and witnessing what seemed like a never ending cloud of white birds stretched across the entire skyline for miles. Although the sweeping scale of it was nothing but extraordinary, it seemed so fragile against the imposing monoliths of civilization. It's a delicate balance of life along the Atlantic Flyway. Crucial for the health of our entire planet.
Some of the birds most commonly seen are Canada Geese, Osprey, Oystercatcher, Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Black and Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis and Barn Owls. Spring brings the songbirds like yellow warblers and red-winged blackbirds. Fall is best for raptors, such as peregrine falcons, kestrels and hawks.
Another highlight along Jamaica Bay are the Monarch Butterfiles during their fall migration in late September - early October. At times the bushes along the Rockaway Gateway Greenway and at Jacob Riis Park are completely blanketed with butterflies, turning them into living, breathing sculptures.
After your visit, enjoy a leisurely ride back the way you came, or ..... continue to Rockaway Beach and Jacob Riis Park to complete a loop back to your start.
Rockaway Greenway Bike Path: Jamica Bay Loop
This part of the ride is somewhat tricky. While we provide a basic route, we don't list every single right or left turn. Use the park map as a general guide.
After the Wildlife Refuge, continue south for about 1,000 feet to where the improved Rockaway Greeway path ends. From here you ride within an entirely different world.
Broad Channel is the largest island in Jamaica Bay and the only one that is still inhabited. It has been a popular shellfish and fin fishing area for over 300 years. Both the Carnarsie Lenape Indians and 17th century Dutch settlers frequented the area.
Houses on stilts jut out into the water; fishing piers and boats, shellfish food shacks and fishing tackle shops line both sides of the channel. Boat rental signs, fishing nets, colorful buoys, piles of shells admidst clumps of seaweed are reminiscent of New England coastal fishing villages. There are also gelatto icecream and pizza parlors, Italian restaurants and small grocery stores where you can stop for a snack.
Just at the entrance to the Cross Bay Blvd. Bridge, the bike path ends. Cross the street and use the walkway on the east side of the bridge. Dismount and walk your bike across. Cross Beach Channel Drive and connect to the Shorefront Parkway / Rockaway Beach Blvd bike lane. This will take you to the Boardwalk at Riis Park.
To return to your start at Floyd Bennet Field, at the other end of the Boardwalk, head north on 169th Street and connect to the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge which travels over the Rockaway Inlet. Use the walkway on the west side of the Brdge. Dismount and walk your bike across. After existing the bridge, continue on the sidewalk, cross Flatbush Avenue at the traffic light opposite the Floyd Bennett Field Ranger Station.
Alley Alley-Oop. You are home free.
Rockaway Greenway Bike Path: Floyd Bennett Field to Fort Tilden
Please see Fort Tilden Bike Trails for route directions.
By car: Belt Parkway (east or westbound) to Exit 11S. Travel @1 mile south on Flatbush
By public transportation: IRT #2 (or #5 during rush hour) to Flatbush Ave. or IND “A” to Rockaway Park/Beach 116th St. Take Q35 bus from either stop to park. Bikes are not allowed on city buses. You will have to ride south from the IRT station on Flatbush Ave. or north over the Marine Parkway Bridge from the IND station.
For more information refer to the Jamaica Bay Unit Program Guide, available at the Visitor Center or online.
Phone: (718) 338-3338