Fort Tilden Hike with HikeNYC

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This hike is written and photographed by NYC Native, Galen Oettel, founder of HikeNYC. HikeNYC finds nature trails near you in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

Fort Tilden

There aren't many places like Fort Tilden -- where you can enjoy the beach right in NYC, explore abandoned military structures covered in graffiti, and hike a beautiful nature preserve.


Quick Info:

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting there:

Getting to Fort Tilden is almost as fun as being there. The Rockaway Ferry Service (see schedule here) can take you from Pier 11 (only a few blocks east from the Wall Street stop on the 2/3 and 4/5 trains) all the way to Rockaway. On the ride out you'll be treated to some awesome views.

View from the ferry

From the Rockaway Terminal, walk over to Rockaway Beach Boulevard on Beach 108th St. Here you can catch a Beach 169th Street bound Q22 bus over to Fort Tilden. There's also another ferry from Wall Street that goes straight to Fort Tilden, but costs $15 dollars (see details here).

-- OR --

If you're not much of a boat person, there's an alternative way to get to Fort Tilden. Take the 2 or 5 train to their last stop, Flatbush Avenue. Catch the Q35 bus, which stops in front of Target on Avenue H. Get off the bus at the stop immediately after you've crossed the bridge. The entrance to Fort Tilden is just across the street from the bus stop.

The hike:

1. From the entrance, walk across the field toward a chapel and bathrooms. Pick up the path here and follow it past a community garden, theater, and headquarters for the Rockaway Artists Alliance. You'll also see unwelcoming "no trespassing" and "do not enter" signs, giving the area a post-apocalyptic feeling.

Abandoned building with graffiti and weeds

Abandoned building with graffiti and weeds

2. Ahead is a red gate marking a transition into nature. You'll now come to a split in the path, where you can stop to explore a vine-covered building perfect for a photo shoot.

3. Once you've posted an artsy photo of the ruins on Instagram, you can continue by going left at the split. You'll soon pass another building almost hidden in vegetation on the right.

The Beach 1.jpg

4. Next you'll come to Fort Tilden's main attraction: an intimidating fortress called Battery Harris East. If this sight doesn't make you feel like you're in a zombie movie, I'm not sure what will! Sometimes the gate at the base of the fort is open, and you can really test your guts by venturing into the dark tunnels...

5. Wooden stairs lead to the top of the fortress, where you'll have a panoramic view of the New York City skyline, the forests and sand dunes of Rockaway, and the dramatic Atlantic Ocean. In the fall, this is a great place to watch hawks as they migrate.

Battery Harris East 1.jpg

6. Once you've sufficiently taken in the scenery, head back down and pick up the sandy trail on the other side of the path. When this trail through the dunes starts to become overgrown, look for a narrow path on the left leading up to nice views of the ocean. Look out for the abundant shorebirds.

View from the dunes (6)

7. Heading back down from this sandy vista point, take a left to continue on and soon you'll reach the beach. There aren't many things more refreshing than taking a dip in the ocean after a day of exploring!

8. When you're ready to leave, head to your left along the beach path. After 10-15 minutes you'll see Beach 169th street, which you can follow back to the bus stop.