Tag Archives: New York

Fire Island National Seashore

Overview

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across 26 miles of the 32-mile long barrier island off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island.  It encompasses 17 communities that were present when it was created, but otherwise it is mostly roadless and wild.  Backcountry camping is allowed in the Otis Pike Wilderness (1,363 acres), the only federally designated Wilderness area in the state of New York.

Highlights

Fire Island Lighthouse, William Floyd Estate, Sunken Forest Trail, Otis Pike Wilderness

Must-Do Activity

About 2.2-million visitors come to Fire Island annually, but not necessarily to the National Seashore, which is primarily accessed by ferry boats from Long Island.  A short walk down the coast can usually escape the crowds, but be aware that the area around Fire Island Lighthouse is an unofficial nude beach.  Visitors can also tour the home and grounds at William Floyd Estate, a 613-acre historical site on Long Island once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Best Trail

There are nature trails at Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, and Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centers, plus the beach is wide and good for walking.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 167-foot tall Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858.  It is run by a nonprofit organization that offers a free museum inside, but charges a fee to climb to the top.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for ferries and to climb to the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Road Conditions

There are no roads in the National Seashore, but you can drive to the western and eastern edges in Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, respectively.

Camping

Only reachable by boat, Watch Hill has a campground with restrooms and provides access to backcountry camping in Otis Pike Wilderness (permit required).

Related Sites

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Explore More – How old are the American holly trees that grow along the 1.5-mile Sunken Forest boardwalk trail at Sailors Haven?

African Burial Ground National Monument

Overview

When excavating a federal office building in New York City in 1991, construction workers came upon a massive cemetery forgotten since it closed in 1794.  Archaeologists eventually found the remains of 419 bodies from a time when Africans were not allowed to be buried inside the walls of the Dutch city of New Amsterdam.  There are believed to be about 15,000 people buried in the original six-acre cemetery.

Highlights

Museum, film, Circle of the Diaspora, Ancestral Libation Chamber

Must-Do Activity

After passing through security, check out the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center that opened in 2010.  It has interactive exhibits about the thousands of captive and freed Africans that lived in the city in the eighteenth century.  Outside, a memorial made of Verde Fontaine green granite from Africa was completed in 2007 with the 24-foot high Ancestral Libation Chamber symbolizing the depth at which the bodies were discovered.  Nearby the 419 bodies were ceremonially reinterred in 2003.  Call ahead to schedule your place on an NPS ranger-led tour of the site.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The symbolic “Door of Return” is part of the outdoor memorial, which was entirely covered by scaffolding to protect it from a construction project during our visit in 2019.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/afbg/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Take public transportation!

Camping

Check out our blog post on Gateway National Recreation Area for information on camping in the New York City area.

Related Sites

Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site (New York)

Stonewall National Monument (New York)

Boston African American National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Explore More – What does the Sankofa (a West African heart-shaped symbol) mean?

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Overview

The longest tenured First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt lived in the White House from 1933 to 1945.  In the 1920s, she had set up a furniture-making business on her property in Hyde Park, New York that the family called Val-Kill.  When that venture ended in 1936, the family converted the factory building into a cottage, where Eleanor resided after Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) died until her own death in 1962.  During this time she lectured, wrote some of her 27 published books, hosted a television talk show, and served as chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.

Highlights

Val-Kill Cottage, film, Stone Cottage

Must-Do Activity

Tours inside Val-Kill Cottage are offered every half hour and tickets are available at the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.  The tour starts with the short film “Close To Home” then enters the house through the same back door used by many world leaders in the mid-1900s.  The cozy home is filled with original furnishings, including the metal folding chairs in the dining room.  The tour ends on the back porch, but take time afterwards to enter Stone Cottage and walk the grounds.

Best Trail

The Hyde Park Trail connects all three of the local National Historic Sites, including Top Cottage where FDR met with world leaders just up the hill from Val-Kill.

Instagram-worthy Photo

No swimming is allowed in the pool behind Stone Cottage, but it does look inviting on a warm day.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/elro/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None at this time

Road Conditions

There is ample free parking at the site, which is only a short drive from the bustling Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site and Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.

Camping

Mills-Norrie State Park offers shady campsites and showers only a few miles north on Highway 9.

Related Sites

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York)

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (New York)

Women’s Rights National Historical Park (New York)

Explore More – While interviewing him for the New York Post, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted which Soviet Premier at Val-Kill in 1962?

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

Overview

Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States and the first to be born after it became a country in 1776.  The “little magician” started as a tavern-keeper’s son in Kinderhook, New York, then worked his way up to state senator, state attorney general, U.S. senator, governor, secretary of state, vice president, and president from 1837 to 1841.  During his presidency, he purchased the estate of “Lindenwald” (named for its linden or basswood trees) in his hometown and ran his unsuccessful presidential campaigns of 1844 and 1848 from there. 

Highlights

Lindenwald mansion, film, Kinderhook Dutch Reformed Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

National Park Service (NPS) rangers provide free guided tours inside the 36-room Gothic Revival mansion where Martin Van Buren lived from 1841 until his death in 1862.  One highlight is the elaborate French wallpaper in the dining room depicting a hunting scene.  We were assured by our tour guide that it is an apocryphal story that the saying “O.K.” came from Van Buren’s nickname “Old Kinderhook.”  We are still not convinced.

Best Trail

A 0.75-mile interpretive trail winds through some of the park’s 300 acres.  You can also visit Martin Van Buren’s grave by driving to Kinderhook Dutch Reformed Cemetery.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The lighting can be difficult for photography inside the mansion, but be sure to snap a picture of the many levels of stairs inside.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mava/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Lake Taghkanic State Park offers a campground 15 miles southeast of Kinderhook, New York.

Related Sites

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York)

Fort Stanwix National Monument (New York)

Saratoga National Historical Park (New York)

Explore More – Martin Van Buren helped establish the Democratic party, but he ran for president in 1848 as the nominee for what other political party?

General Grant National Memorial

Overview

Often referred to as Grant’s Tomb, this 150-foot tall marble and granite rotunda is the largest mausoleum in North America.  Following his death in 1885, the rotunda was constructed in less than two years with donations from 90,000 individuals worldwide, the largest ever public fundraising effort at the time.  It is located on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan, where Grant spent the final five years of his life after serving two terms as President (1868-1876).

Highlights

Museum, film, tomb

Must-Do Activity

The Overlook Pavilion is separate from the rotunda and offers a few exhibits and a film about Ulysses S. Grant (plus you can put your head in an oversized $50 bill which typically bears Grant’s face).  The rotunda contains the tombs of Ulysses and his wife (Julia) who passed in 1902, as well as murals and bronze busts of fellow Civil War generals. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Outside the rotunda is long curving bench with mosaic images (a la Gaudi) depicting different aspects of the National Park Service (NPS) system.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gegr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but it is better to take the subway to get to this area.

Camping

There is camping available within Gateway National Recreation Area, which is managed by the NPS.

Related Sites

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

Hamilton Grange National Memorial (New York)

Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York)

Explore More –Julia Grant requested that which feature never be added to the rotunda?