Visit 9 National Parks Service Sites in Metro NYC Via Subway

New York City might seem an unlikely venue for national sites, but in Manhattan alone, seven NPS sites interpret significant moments in American history; there is also a vibrant beach scene along the Brooklyn and Queens shorelines, and an enclave of art, culture and history on Governor's Island. Our tour will bring you to the following sites:

Statue of Liberty National Monument

We begin at the Statue of Liberty National Monument. You must make your reservation ahead of time! You will need to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your departure time to go through boarding and security. If you book an afternoon reservation, begin this itinerary at Federal Hall. With the ferry ride to and from the island, and a reasonable visit, allow at least 2.5 hours for this site.

Arrive via subway, the 4/5 to Bowling Green and 1 to South Ferry provide the closest access. You can also take a cab that will let you off within a short walk of the departure point.

Statue of Liberty, photo by Steve Larson / CC BY.

There are three levels of access, the grounds, the pedestal, and the crown. If you want to go to the top of the statue, the crown, it’s all about reservations, reservations, reservations. Statue Cruises manages all travel to the monument, and the tickets to access the different levels, which again, must be booked in advance.

Travel Note: Beware of ticket scammers, only buy tickets from Statue Cruises inside Castle Clinton Monument, or purchase them ahead of time on Statue Cruises website.

Tickets for the grounds are almost always available even on the day you wish to visit; the pedestal will sell out on occasion, especially starting at two weeks prior to your visiting day; the crown, a walk of 162 tight steps, can sell out 3-4 months in advance during the summer season. If you have mobility issues, note that there are 377 steps from the main lobby to the crown platform. Children must be at least four (4) feet tall to visit the crown, no exceptions.

You can only have up to four reservations per credit card, and the card holder must be present to claim the tickets. The names of those in your party must be provided at the time of purchase, and tickets are non-transferable. Prior to entering the Statue of Liberty, each ticket holder will be required to show photo ID (except minors without ID) matching the name printed on the ticket.

The first ferry is always at 8:30am, the last ferry back varies seasonally, from 5:00pm to 6:45pm. If you are also planning on visiting Ellis Island make sure to take the ferry from the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island by 1pm in order to have enough time to see both.   

What you may bring into the actual monument is strictly limited. Locker rentals are available at the crown and pedestal check-in tent. An attendant is available to make change for large bills. Only bills are accepted (no credit card). You will undergo a secondary security screening if you have pedestal or crown tickets.

Certain items are not permitted inside the pedestal, including:

  • Backpacks of any type
  • Food (even unopened) and drinks, including water
  • Laptop computers
  • Strollers
  • Long umbrellas
  • Tripods
  • All weapons are prohibited, including: Firearms, explosives or flammables, knives or sharp objects (including tools), pepper spray and mace.

Only the following items are permitted inside the Statue of Liberty:

  • One camera per person (no camera bags or cases)
  • Any necessary medication

Locker rentals for $2 for 2 hours are available. The sizes vary and larger lockers are first come, first served.

Castle Clinton National Monument

Castle Clinton, photo by Afshin Darian.

Either before or after touring The Statue of Liberty, be sure to find 30 minutes or so to explore Castle Clinton National Monument, where you pick up the ferry for the Statue of Liberty, and also where you can purchase tickets in person for the ferry. The structure was one of four forts built for the defense of New York City during the War of 1812; the only other remaining fort is Castle Williams, which is a part of Governors Island National Monument. (In the summer, there are ranger-led tours of Castle Williams and live music performances) A free 20-minute guided tour of the Castle leaves each day at 10:00 AM, 12:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 4:00 PM

Over its active life, Castle Clinton has also functioned as an entertainment center, immigration depot, aquarium, beer garden, exhibition hall, theater, and finally, a national monument.

Federal Hall National Memorial

Federal Hall Rotunda

From Castle Clinton National Monument, Federal Hall National Memorial is roughly a 10-minute walk. Consult a map to confirm your route, as lower Manhattan’s older streets differ from the grid system further uptown.

Here, on Wall Street, George Washington took the Presidential oath of office; the Bible upon which he swore his oath is on display. This site was also home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices.  

The Memorial is open weekdays from 9-5 and closed on weekends. The Visitors Center is located on the north side of the hall, opposite the famous steps and statue of Washington. There are self-guided and ranger led tours; we suggest allowing at least 30 minutes to visit this site.

African Burial Ground National Monument

A 15-minute walk uptown from Federal Hall will take you to the African Burial Ground National Monument, where many freed and enslaved Africans were buried in the 17th and 18th centuries. The site was rediscovered in 1991. Trinity Church, which you may have passed while heading uptown, forbade the burial of Africans in then city cemeteries.   

There is an indoor visitors center and an outdoor memorial, typically open 10am-5pm Tuesday through Saturday, though reconfirm via the website. The visitors center closing one hour prior. The fountain is turned off in the winter. From here, almost all Manhattan subway lines will be within a very short walk.

Day 2  

  • Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
  • Hamilton Grange National Memorial
  • General Grant National Memorial

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, photo by Derek Wright.

This site imparts much about Roosevelt’s early life. We glimpsed the outdoor gym and porch that cantilevers from the 3rd floor of the house, where Roosevelt, who suffered from asthma as a child, was able to enjoy some outdoor play and physical exertion. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace NHS has now reopened after a year long renovation. The site is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9-5pm. Take the 4/5/6, or the N/Q/R/W or L subway lines to Union Square and walk north on Broadway to 20th Street, turning right.  

Interestingly, it is not the original house; the original structure was torn down in 1916, and reconstructed in 1919. The completed museum and period rooms, which capture the life and style of a moderately wealthy family at the start of the 20th century in New York City, were opened to the public in 1924. Tours occur on the hour (no Noon tour) and are limited to 18 people, reservations are not taken; the only way to see the restored period rooms is via tour.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

From Roosevelt’s birthplace, you will travel to Harlem to visit Hamilton Grange National Memorial. Hamilton commissioned architect John McComb Jr. to design a country home on Hamilton's 32-acre estate in upper Manhattan. The two-story frame Federal style house was completed in 1802, just two years before Hamilton's death. Due to the popularity of the musical Hamilton, and the current interest in his life, Hamilton Grange has seen a tourism increase of 450% over the previous year—so tours can and do fill up!  
 
Via the MTA, proceed to the 145 St Station via the A/C/B/D lines; the quickest route is to take the N, Q, or R from Union Square to 34th Street, and transfer to the B or D, to 145th. From Union Square, you might also take the L train west and pick up the A or the C at 8th Avenue.

The house and visitors center are located in St. Nicholas Park, right next to City College of New York. The bookstore, exhibits, restrooms, and memorial are open Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visitors have two options for exploring the period rooms, either a ranger-guided tour and talk, or a self-guided tour that can occur between 12 and 1 p.m. or 3 and 4 p.m. Ranger talks are currently scheduled for 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m, though on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, the memorial prioritizes reserved group visits (read, school groups) between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Tour schedules are subject to change, so verify via the website or a quick call to the visitor’s center.

General Grant National Memorial

Rotunda, General Grant National Memorial, photo by briYZZ / CC BY

"Who was buried in Grant's Tomb?" -Groucho Marx

The answer is no one. Grant and his wife Julia are actually entombed above ground! Designed by architect John Duncan, the granite and marble mausoleum remains the largest in North America. Duncan’s design's objective was, "...to produce a monumental structure that should be unmistakably a tomb of military character.” He also designed the Hotel Wolcott in NYC, and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn New York, Brooklyn’s Arc de Triomphe.
 
From Hamilton Grange, General Grant National Memorial is about a half hour walk, or a short 7-minute cab ride. The Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The mausoleum is open to visitors, Wednesday through Sunday, though only at the following times:

10:00 AM-11:00 AM
12:00 PM-1:00 PM
2:00 PM-3:00 PM
4:00 PM-5:00 PM

If you took the 2:00PM tour of Hamilton Grange, there should be plenty of time to squeeze in the 4:00-5:00PM mausoleum tour. Free talks are available to the public at the Visitor Center, Wednesday through Sunday, at the following times, as staffing permits:


11:15 AM
1:15 PM
3:15 PM

Do call ahead to confirm availability, Approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 towards the construction of Grant's Tomb. This was the largest public fundraising effort ever at that time.  From here, you can take the 1 Train back downtown, about a ten-minute walk that takes you through Columbia University.

Day 3

  • Governors Island National Monument
  • Seeing sites missed on Day 1

If you missed any of the sites on Day 1, there is time to revisit the list, before or after the main stop, Governors Island National Monument.

Governors Island National Monument

Public access to the island is only during the summer season, generally Memorial Day weekend through September 30. Hours are from 10:00AM to 6:00 PM on weekdays, and 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM on weekends.

View from Governor's Island, photo by Nestor Rivera Jr.

Access to the island is by ferry only, There is a small, one-time, round-trip charge for ferry service ($2/adult, $1/seniors, free for kids age 12 or younger)
Ferry Locations:

Lower Manhattan - Service from the Battery Maritime Building at South and Whitehall Streets in Manhattan and is provided hourly weekdays and half-hourly on weekends.  Best subway stops (R to Whitehall or 1 to South Ferry)

Brooklyn - Ferry service from Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 at the end of Atlantic Avenue is offered hourly on weekends only.
Governor’s Island is easily a good half-day adventure. Until the late 20th century, Governor’s Island was an active military base, in which the service men and women lived with their families, some in homes that date back to the Civil War. New York City is now in possession of the island, which is open to the public. NPS manages Castle Williams (after huge renovations, now open to the public) and Fort Jay, a fort that has existed since before the revolutionary war, though the preserved and current form dates to the Civil War. Tours of Castle Williams (sister fort to Castle Clinton) run every hour on the half hour, 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM,

There is a lot of open green space, and bicycles for rent to explore the paved paths of the island. Head to the south side to see some amazing views of The Statue of Liberty. Also see Colonel’s Row, a district of preserved historic houses. There are many activities scheduled for the summer including art exhibitions, festivals, and live music, do investigate the calendar of events before heading out. Be sure to bring water (or be prepared to buy expensive bottled water), as there is no potable water on the island. Food trucks do abound with many great options, although prices are variable and can be at a premium.

On December 7, 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Governors Island; you can see the house where Gorbachev met the current and president pro-tem, and where the beginnings of Detente were privately discussed.

Travel Note: Later in the day, the line for the return ferry to Manhattan can become quite long. Consider starting early and heading back after lunch, or take the ferry to Brooklyn, often a shorter line. You can explore the Brooklyn Bridge area and then head back to Manhattan or further afield in Brooklyn via subway.

Gateway National Recreation Area

This is an outlier of the NPS system, as it has lots of locations but just one name, Gateway National Recreation Area . The area encompasses 27,000 acres of land, and three units, in Jamaica Bay, New York City; Staten Island, New York City; Sandy Hook, New Jersey. We will explore this area further in our forthcoming “NYC with a Car” itinerary.