Visit New York City's National Parks, Really!

When you think of National Parks you probably think of places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and other parklands out west. But did you know . there are actually 10 National Parks in New York City and Northern NJ, and over 30 historic sites, parks, monuments, trails, memorials, and heritage areas right here in New York State?

This week (to April 25) is National Park Week, and all 392 National Parks offer free admission in celebration of "America's Best Idea" so it's a perfect opportunity to check out some of these awesome destinations with your kids. (Tours and other fees may still apply).

Read on for everything you need to know for a family-friendly, historic, and beautiful visit to these local gems.


National Parks Fun for Kids

Kids can become Junior Rangers with the National Parks and earn badges from participating in activiites in the parks. Several National Parks sites in NYC offer Junior Ranger programs. This Saturday, April 24 is National Junior Ranger Day and many parks will have special kids activities on site where kids will be able to earn badges.

Another really cool thing that the National Parks has for kids, is the Kids Passport. The Kids' Passport To Your National Parks Companion is a 100-page book that contains checklists of many of the National Parks in the country, a place to list the Junior Ranger programs your child completes, a field journal, and more. Kids can also collect stamps from the various National Parks they have visited.

New York City National Parks, Monuments and Historic Sites

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Where: 108 Orchard Street, LES
What: A museum (that is a National Historic Site) that shows the history and lives of the 7,000+ working-class immigrants from 20 nations that lived there from 1863- 1935, as well as the history of the LES.The Tenement Museum offers family-friendly tours to bring this important piece of New york, and American, history alive.
When is it open?: Year round
Cost: $20/adults, $15/students

African Burial Ground National Monument
Where: 290 Broadway, 1st Floor
What: In 1991, workers excavating for a new office bulding, discovered skeletal remains of more than 400 free and enslaved Africans, who were buried during the 17th and 18th centuries (the cemetary was covered over by development and landfill.) The site now has a memorial and museum.
When is it open?: Year round, closes at 4pm during the Winter
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: There is airport-style security

Castle Clinton National Monument
Where: Downtown, Battery Park City
What: Originally built to keep the British out during the invasion of 1812, the Castle now welcomes millions of folks to NYC.
When is it open?: Year round
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: They give free, guided tours Mon-Sun, no reservation needed

St. Paul's Church National Historic Site
Where: 897 Columbus Avenue
What: St. Paul's Church helps to tell the story of the development of colonial society and the road to the American Revolution. It consists of an 18th century stone church that was used as a Revolutionary War hospital, a cemetery with burial stones dating to 1704 and the remnant of a Village Green that was the scene of the famous Election of 1733 which raised issues of Freedom of Religion and the Press.
When is it open?: 9-5 Monday through Friday, and the 2nd Saturday of each month from 2-4pm.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site

Where: 28 E. 20th St
What: Get a glimpse of this president's childhood by visiting the classic Victorian home that contains a ton of memorabilia and political cartoons.
When is it open: Year round
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: Guided tours are given on the hour, and are also free

Federal Hall National Memorial
Where: 26 Wall Street
What: Here on Wall Street, George Washington took the oath of office as our first President, and this site was home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. The current structure, a Customs House, later served as part of the US Sub-Treasury. Now, the building serves as a museum and memorial to our first President and the beginnings of the United States of America.
When is it open: Year round
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: There are self-guided tours, and free guided tours given on the hour (subject to staff availability)

General Grant National Memorial
Where: West 122nd St
What: Overlooking the Hudson River from the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, General Grant National Memorial is the largest tomb in North America. Grant's Tomb (as it is commonly called) is not only the final resting place of the General but a memorial to his life and accomplishments.
When is it open: Year round
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: There are self-guided tours, and free guided tours given on the hour (subject to staff availability)

Ellis Island National Monument
Where: the harbor
What: The place where a lot of us can place our families back to, where millions of immigrants passed through in hopes of a better life in America.
How to get there: StatueCruises ferry out of Battery Park in lower Manhattan stops at Liberty Island first. From there, the boat comes to Ellis Island, then returns to New York City.
When is it open: Year round
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: That ferry ride isn't always pleasant and can be mega-crowded. You also have to go through airport-style security to get on the ferry. Though the museum is free, the ferry is $13/age 13+, $5/under 13

Govenors Island National Monument
Where: the harbor
What: Colonial Outpost to protector of the harbor to home of a Water Taxi Beach and tons of summer activities (and free bike rentals on Fridays)
How to get there: The Governor's Island ferry terminal is just to the left of the Staten Island ferry terminal in Manhattan.
When is it open: June 5, 2010- Mid October
Cost: Free (so is the ferry)
Tid-bit: You can easily take your bikes on the ferry

Statue of Liberty National Monument
Where: the harbor
What: What of the most recognizable sites in the world, right in our harbor; gift from the French; universal symbol of freedom and democracy
How to get there: StatueCruises ferry out of Battery Park in lower Manhattan stops at Liberty Island first. From there, the boat comes to Ellis Island, then returns to New York City.
When is it open: year round
Cost: Free
Tid-bit: It is advised that you get your tickets ahead of time (online), The ferry ride isn't always pleasant and can be mega-crowded. You also have to go through airport-style security to get on the ferry. Though the museum is free, the ferry is $13/age 13+, $5/under 13. Also, the crown is open again to the public, and the earlier you get your tickets, the better. See website for more information.

More on the National Parks of the NY Harbor



Gateway National Recreation Area(s)
Queens, Staten Island, NJ are all home to these natural landscapes. Gateway provides abundant recreational and learning opportunities, from swimming, boating and fishing to team sports, bicycling and nature study. The living world can be explored in a wildlife refuge, holly forest, ocean dunes and coastal uplands. The nation’s oldest operating lighthouse, forts that defended America, and sites that trace aviation’s early days tell significant stories. For a list of locations, and location-specific activities visit the NPS website.

New York State (and beyond)
Fire Island National Seashore

Where: 120 Laurel Street, Patchogue, NY (LI)
What: Rhythmic waves, high dunes, ancient maritime forests, historic landmarks and glimpses of wildlife—Fire Island has been a special place for diverse plants, animals and people for centuries. Far from the sounds and pressures of nearby big-city life, Fire Island National Seashore’s dynamic barrier island beaches are gorgeous
How to get there: Car; LIRR, ferry by Patchogue LIRR station (more info on transportation)
When is it open: some sites are open year round (like the lighthouse), others vary; mostly bustling in the spring/summer
Cost: Transportation and site costs vary
Tid-bit: Getting here by public transportation is super easy

Niagra Falls National Heritage Area
Where: 112 E Park Street , Rome, NY
What: The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area stretches from the western boundary of Wheatfield, New York to the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario, including the communities of Niagara Falls, Youngstown and Lewiston. The region is home to natural wonders, rich cultural traditions and nationally significant historical sites.
How to get there: Need a car for this one-via the NYS Thruway from the South or East, or West via Canada's Route 405
The heritage area is home to the famous falls, museums, Eerie Canal, and a wine trail. Sites cost and openings/closings vary. Visit for more information.

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

Where: 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY
What: Visit the Home of FDR and Presidential Library & Museum to learn about the only President elected to four terms.
How to get there: Route 9 in Hyde Park (about 90 miles north of New York City).  Public transport: The Metro-North Commuter Railroad and Amtrak both stop in Poughkeepsie, about 5 miles south of the park. Call Amtrak 1-800-872-7245 or Metro-North at 800 638-7646 for information. Taxi service is available from the Poughkeepsie train station. 
When is it open: year round
Cost: $14, youth 15 and under are free (includes admission to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum)

Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area
Where: various places along the Hudson
What: Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area stretches from New York City to Albany. The area resources exhibit the roles of freedom and dignity in the valley's history, and the historical and contemporary role of commerce. Revolutionary War stories, famous residences, scenic parks and gardens, and landscape interpretations all contribute to the Hudson Valley's beauty and wealth of resources.
Tid-bit: Visit for site-specific information (cost, directions, etc). Sites of interest include the Rockefeller Estate, Washington Irving's Sunnyside, West Point Museum, NYS Capitol, Saratoga National Historic Park, and more.

Upstate and NJ have a ton more parks, trails, and sites. Visit the NPS website for more information, or check out info on these sites of interest: North Country National Scenic Trail, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, and of course, Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Resources for Kids and Families
The National Parks websites are a great resource for planning your trip, learning the history of the site you are visiting, and getting some activities for the kids (like themed crosswords, coloring pages, etc).

You can also follow the National Parks on Twitter for news, up-to-date information, and more resources:
National Parks Service  
Virtual Gateway to the Parks
Governor's Island NPS
NYS Hyde Park NPS
National Park Service Education
Statue of Liberty NPS
National Parks News  

Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides