ratpag Goes Into the New York City Backcountry


The Manhattan skyline from Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

ratpag was irritable the other day.  New York City, as great as it is, well…makes ratpag feel like this at times:

In search of some peace and quiet, as well as something inexpensive and accessible by public transit (because ratpag is cheap), we ventured off into the wilds of New York City and ended up at Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Depending on your starting point, it can be a bit of a trek to get out to the Refuge via the A train to the Broad Channel station, but well worth it and could even just be a stop on the way to the beach on the Rockaways.  You then walk about three-quarters of a mile along the Cross Bay Boulevard before arrival at the Visitor Center.  Entry is free and, if you’ve never before been to the Refuge, you’ll get a free lifetime pass to walk the trails whenever you’d like.

Now, this hiking adventure certainly isn’t comparable to the great trails of the West or even the mountains accessible via Metro-North but, of course, this is within New York City and, so, it’s somewhat amazing that there is any stretch of land so undeveloped.

ratpag ventured along the West Pond trail (trail map here), which once was a flat, 1.5-mile stroll but is now split in two thanks to Hurricane Sandy carving a new channel between pond and the outside a couple years back (the channel is between points 7 and 8 on the map, though quite close to 7).

So what did ratpag see?  Well, we saw a marsh, the Rockaways, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline off in the distance.  And a lot of birds.  But ratpag doesn’t know much about birds.

What ratpag didn’t see was very many people, which was a Godsend to ratpag.  We saw about 20 people in the two and a half hours we spent at the refuge – best of luck finding such solitude in any other worthwhile outdoor location in New York.


In one of the gardens off of the main trail.

Being New York City, complete quiet was not entirely possible.  Some parts of the trail venture within earshot of the Cross Bay Boulevard, busy with beach traffic on a summer afternoon, and airliners arriving and departing neighboring JFK airport stir up a bit of noise, though nothing offensive and often not noticeable.

The Boulevard bisects the park and, so, one must cross to get over to East Pond (luckily there’s a traffic light with pedestrian crossings just outside the Visitor Center).  Here the cleared trail is shorter, perhaps a mile or so, and you’re often closer to the Boulevard than at any time on the west side, but the views are still peaceful.


East Pond

There is also a trail along the east side of the pond as well as another shorter trail along its northwest corner.  These trails were described as less developed and encouraged use of galoshes or other such swampy condition gear that ratpag simply wasn’t prepared for.  We’ll save it for some other time.

Big John's Pond

Big John’s Pond

Of course, to tie this all back to transit, you can see the A and Rockaway Shuttle trains just beyond East Pond (and, just beyond that, is JFK airport with planes taking off and landing):

Also, you can camp in nearby Floyd Bennett Field, which is across the Bay southwest of the Visitor Center.  It’s not really convenient via transit from the pond hikes we just wrote about but it is transit accessible if that is your only destination (no need to go through the Visitor Center near Broad Channel as Floyd Bennett Field has its own operation going on).

ratpag hasn’t yet been and the small sample-size of reviews are a bit mixed (though a few of the low ones are complaints of their anti-dog and anti-booze policies – both from a couple years ago – and hopefully policies that are no longer on the books).  So if you ever camp there, let ratpag know.  ratpag will be sure to provide an extremely long-winded review if we make it there ourselves


A stretched-out view of East Pond.  Look close and you can see a plane taking off!


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