2016 has been a big year around here. The National Park centennial, trips to Isle Royale, Olympic, Glacier, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks are some of the many highlights we’ll have to write home about on the Christmas cards this year. The more parks we visit, the more contagious park chasing becomes. So much so that we just had to squeeze one more mini-vacation in this year to visit some of New York City’s National Parks.
Most people don’t exactly think of Manhattan as a hot-spot for the National Park Service. There are no snow-capped mountains. There are no grand canyons or open prairies. Yet these places are so special, New York City’s National Parks have their own agency within the NPS.
The National Parks of New York Harbor coordinates activities among the 23 sites the New York metropolitan area. It was created in 2003 to represent the some of the most famous tourist attractions in the United States including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It also works to protect historical locations like Federal Hall National Memorial and Hamilton Grange. Together, more than 12 million people visit the sites in New York each year.
This past weekend, we represented two of them. Today we’re sharing our trip itinerary from some of New York City’s National Parks units we had a chance to visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to all of them. Which just means we will be planning another trip back to the Big Apple soon!
New York City’s National Parks Tour – Day 1
Arrive midday and take Uber to your hotel. We stayed in the Theater District to be close to the late night items on our itinerary. It also has the benefit of being centralized among the national park units which are spread out around Manhattan. Settle in and then take an afternoon walk to New York Central Library and Bryant Park. Then walk down the famous 5th Avenue to E 20th to the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Newly re-opened in 2016, the site gives guided tours of hundreds of original artifacts owned by Theodore Roosevelt’s family, including into the bedroom where the 26th President was born.
Grab dinner and then take in a Broadway performance. We recommend checking out the TKTS booths around the city for same-day discounted tickets.
New York City’s National Parks Tour – Day 2
Today the #parkchasing really begins. Start out with an early morning walk through Rockefeller Plaza and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then travel up to Central Park for one of the most famous urban hikes in the world. Ask for directions to the Park’s “Ravine” area, where the skyline completely disappears as you enter the dense woods. Pack your binoculars since Central Park is also one of the best bird watching areas on the East Coast.
When you’re ready to head back out of nature and into the city, walk to the western side of the park to any stop on the 2 or 3 Subway line. Next stop, Hamilton Grange National Memorial on West 141st Street. This is the only home that founding father Alexander Hamilton ever owned in New York.
After your ranger-led tour, it’s back on the move. This time head back towards downtown to General Grant’s Tomb at General Grant National Memorial. The largest mausoleum in North America, General Grant’s burial-place can be seen for miles up and down the Hudson River. The memorial was built in 1897 with donations from more than 90,000 individuals around the world.
If your feet are still up for strolling, make one more stop at the world-famous Columbia University campus just a few blocks from the Memorial. Then it’s back to the hotel for dinner and some Times Square shopping.
New York City’s National Parks Tour – Day 3
You’re scheduled for an early morning today, with departure on the first ferry-boat to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. Most visitors don’t realize that by visiting the ticketing windows and ferry docks for the Statue of Liberty, they are also visiting another National Park Service unit. Castle Clinton National Monument located at the southern-most tip of Manhattan Island is where visitors depart to the Statue and it is also the home of the first settlers of New York City.
While on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, take a few photos of Governor’s Island, another National Park Service site located in New York Harbor. When you arrive on Liberty Island, let the rest of the tourists run up to the statue while you stop in at the ranger station for your passport stamp. If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to the crown, depart for the top of Lady Liberty. Warning though, the tickets must be booked 3-4 months in advance. if you’re not up for steps, the ranger-led walking tour is still top-notch.
The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is your next destination. Wander through the exhibits, imagining what it must have been like to enter the United States through these hallways. If you have an interest in genealogy, look up your ancestors in the American Family Immigration History Center records.
Be sure to depart Ellis Island by early afternoon. You’ll want to be back in Manhattan to walk the few blocks to Federal Hall National Memorial. This is the first headquarters of the United States and where George Washington took the oath of office to become our first President. The Bible which he was sworn in on is located in the museum here. Federal Hall is also the headquarters for all of New York City’s National Parks. You can pick up park information and talk to a ranger about the rest of the units in the metro area.
Located just a 15 minute walk north of Federal Hall National Memorial is your last National Park Service site of the day, African Burial Ground National Monument. In 1991 during the construction of a federal building, this burial site was uncovered. It contains the remains of more than 400 free and enslaved Africans buried in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The last stop of the day is to the top of the city and One World Observatory. Arrive in the early evening for an unforgettable sunset and city views.
New York City’s National Parks Tour – Day 4
A #parkchasing trip to New York City wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the American Museum of Natural History. It’s also the last stop on the tour. Founded by the Roosevelt family, the museum and its world-famous expeditions helped shape the conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt would later become. Many of the exhibits contain specimens from National Park sites. The formation of Wind Cave National Park has close ties to the museum as do many of the other natural wonders that Roosevelt visited. Stop at the lowest level of the museum for a picture with the man himself for your last photos in New York City.