If you’re needing to get outside into the fresh air in New York City, then one of the best places to get that experience is at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge! This is THE place for birding in New York City (something I know almost nothing about, lol).
And it is a true wildlife oasis in New York City, which is essential for city kids like ours. If you haven’t been to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, then read on to discover this underrated NYC destination! How to get to the wildlife refuge and things to bring if you’re considering birding in NYC!
What happens when spring finally comes around? We spend so much time outdoors and doing activities, that if I don’t stop and catch my breath, I forget about all the places we have been! (Who’s with me?) One awesome destination we visited a few weeks ago was so close to being forgotten….but I had to come back and share it.
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Getting to the Wildlife Refuge from Brooklyn or Queens
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge sits on the southern end of Queens right in the middle of the bay (Jamaica Bay) between the Rockaways and the rest of the borough.
You can access it most easily by car, driving on Cross Bay Boulevard. You will see signs for a parking area right off of the South-bound lanes.
Interestingly enough, it is quite close to JFK airport, so I was thinking it could be a nice little destination if you have a longer layover that’s not quite long enough to warrant a trip into Manhattan. It would only be about 15 minutes by car or taxi!
There is also a bus stop for the Q52 and Q53 buses, if you are coming by public transportation. You can get these buses on Broadway and 75th street in Queens, after taking the E train to Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights. Note, that it looks like potentially quite a long ride depending on your origin.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is run by the National Parks Service as part of Gateway National Recreation Area. It is a true New York City hidden gem.
This means that there’s a very nice visitor center, staffed with extremely knowledgable workers, and displays for learning about the natural surroundings and especially, birds!
West Pond Loop
The area we walked, and that I would recommend for families, is the loop around the West Pond. It is just under two miles, and our older kids at 5 and 7 easily walked the trail.
The gravel trail is wide and comfortable, though I’m not sure I would take a stroller (maybe a heavy duty jogging stroller could work).
The West Pond is a man made pond with fresh water, surrounded by the salt water of the bay. That makes it a draw for wildlife, especially birds in migration!
This area that you see above, was our favorite! To the right is the West Pond with fresh water, and to the left the bay. It was, though, extremely windy at this point.
Birding at Jamaica Bay
Spring time is the best time to visit for bird sightings, so our visit was just a smidge on the early side. As I hinted above, birding isn’t my forte, so I’ll leave you to read more about birding at Jamaica Bay from NYC Audubon.
Throughout the trail there are signs designating the different birds you might see, and we saw quite a few! Also, there were several birding enthusiasts out with their bird watching gear.
We always try to consider how to bring the kids closer to nature: sometimes by collecting specimens, other times by observing and drawing on their pads, or making things out of sticks and leaves. This was one of the first times we let the kids use binoculars! All of them really, really loved it!
I, obviously, did not have the correct long angle lens to take great pictures, and yet, it was such a fun adventure. I highly recommend visiting the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with kids if you are local to the area!
Did you know that New York City has a wildlife refuge? Would you come visit it? What are some hidden gems in your part of the world?
P.S. For more hiking in New York City, try the Staten Island Greenbelt. Or head to New Jersey, where you can explore the South Mountain Reservation or Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge. All of these are less than an hour from midtown!
P.P.S. Thinking about saving this for a layover at JFK airport or a short trip to NYC? Check out some of the best things to do in New York City with kids.