Sandy Hook is a hidden gem of New Jersey. Sandy Hook is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. We have visited Sandy Hook multiple times and always find something fun and new to see. It is super popular in the summer and warmer months, but I also recommend visiting in the off-season as it is not only cheaper, but also much less crowded, relaxing, and better for viewing wildlife.
About Sandy Hook
Sandy Hook is one of 3 units of the Gateway National Recreation Area and is made up of the Sandy Hook Peninsula and Historic Fort Hancock. There are over 7 miles of beaches to visit at Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is popular all year round. In the summer, it is packed with beach-goers and families. In the cooler months, it is a spot for all different outdoor activities and is a quieter beach.
Historic Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook was a really important military base protecting NYC from invasion by sea. There are remainders of the military base and many batteries and gunnisons throughout Sandy Hook. The historic barracks and family homes still stand (and can even be rented to stay in!). The giant batteries on Sandy Hook were used to test military weapons in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This part of Sandy Hook is great for the history lover and outdoor enthusiast alike.
About Gateway National Recreation Area
Gateway National Recreation Area is almost 27,000 acres of land of both New York and New Jersey that is made up of 3 main parts. The 3 main units of Gateway are the Sandy Hook Unit, Jamaica Bay Unit, and Staten Island Unit.
How to Get to Sandy Hook
Driving is one of the best ways to visit Sandy Hook, especially since there are many different areas of the park to visit. Plug into your GPS the address “128 South Hartshorne Drive, Highlands, NJ 07732” to reach the park. Use your GPS or map picked up from the park entrance stations to choose which part of the park to visit or park at.
While technically Sandy Hook Beach is free to visit, in the summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you must pay a $20 parking fee. If you visit any other time of year, it is free to visit and park (and much less crowded!).
If you’re unable to drive to Sandy Hook, there are still other ways that you can visit. Some of the other ways you can visit during different times of the year include bus, ferry, or train. Visit the Gateway National Recreation Area website for more info.
Things To Do and See
North Beach is my favorite part of Sandy Hook. North Beach is the perfect beach to enjoy the beach and all it has to offer. We love walking along the beach towards the north and eventually reaching the point. If you plan on walking to the point, you can either walk to the point and return back the way you came, or there is a trail inland that passes the “Salt Pond” that is great for bird watching.
The North Beach part of Sandy Hook is great for finding large seashells and cool pieces of sea glass. One time when walking on the beach here, we found part of a glass bottle that was over 100 years old!
Besides being a great place to look for shells and treasures, bird watching is really popular here too. On our last visit, we met a bird watching group that meets here due to the special nature of the Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is home to the “piping plover” which is an endangered species of the east coast. There are many other rare birds that can be found at Sandy Hook.
To visit North Beach, park your car in parking lot I. There is a large parking lot and a bathroom near the parking lot.
See the New York City Skyline
Walking north along North Beach, you can see the NYC skyline. When we first visited, I wasn’t expecting to see the city skyline and was amazed that you could see it from here. The skyline is best seen on a clear day. It’s so relaxing to walk along the beach, step over the giant seashells, and watch the skyline in the distance.
Visit the Historic Lighthouse and Museum
Since the old Fort Hancock is on Sandy Hook, there are many old buildings and facilities from the old military base are on the peninsula and can be visited. My favorite old structure from the Fort Hancock is the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse has been here since before the United States was even a country in the mid-1700’s. It is also the longest functioning lighthouse in the United States. The lighthouse still functions and can be seen from 19 miles away out to sea. There is a museum and a bookstore located at the lighthouse. See the National Park Website for further details on visiting hours.
Gunnison Beach is another popular beach at Sandy Hook. Gunnison Beach is one of the beaches that have lifeguards present in the summer and is commonly used for swimming. Be aware that part of Gunnison Beach is also designated as “clothing optional.” To visit Gunnison Beach, park at Parking Lot G.
See the Seals on Skeleton Island
If you visit at the right time of year, you may be able to see large groups of seals at Sandy Hook! I couldn’t believe that seals lived in New Jersey. Skeleton Island is the best place to see the seals at Sandy Hook, though they aren’t always there. We have seen the seals only about half of the times we visited Sandy Hook. You can see them from a distance by walking along the shore across from Skeleton Island where the seals like to lay. The seals are most likely to be resting on Skeleton Island in the colder months at lower tide on sunny days. There are about 50 seals in the group that comes here.
To visit the seals, park your car at parking lot C and cross the road to the small bayside beach entrance. Turn right and walk northwards along the beach until you reach a point. There should be a sand bar out in the water in front of you. The sand bar here is Skeleton Island where the seals like to lay. The tide level will determine how close you’re able to get to the island, but the seals will look like gray blobs laying in the sand. There are many birds flying around Skeleton Island also. If you use Google Maps, you can search for “Seal Beach” to get a better idea of how to get to the island.
One of the many wonderful things about Sandy Hook is all of the biking and walking trails on the peninsula. There are almost 10 miles of biking trails along the beach and through pine trees. The paths are wide and smooth. While we have not personally biked here, we have some friends that come here regularly to ride. The designated biking trails are free from cars and have a wide variety of scenery as they course through the peninsula’s beaches and forests.
Many Other Outdoor Activities
Sandy Hook is a haven for fun outdoor activities. While visiting in the fall, we saw many people wind-surfing and fishing. Sandy Hook also allows kayaks and other watercraft in the surrounding waters. In the summer, you can swim at the beaches at Sandy Hook, but not all beaches have life guards. If you’re interested in the rules regarding boating or fishing, please visit the Gateway National Recreation Area website.
Nearby Sandy Hook
The town of Highlands is the closest town to the entrance of Sandy Hook. Highlands is a super cute little town that has a farmers market on Saturdays at Huddy Park. We also love the Water Witch Coffee Shop located on Waterwitch Avenue.
We love Sandy Hook and hope that you get the chance to experience it for yourself. Do you have any questions about Sandy Hook? I would love to hear your comments!