Circumnavigate Jamaica Bay 
or The Nine Bridge Tour
(Total Distance -- 25 Miles)
Jamaica Bay is a marvel: 9,000 acres of almost surreal calm and beauty, the largest wildlife refuge in the country that's entirely within a city's boundaries.  More than 325 species of birds and animals call it home, among them egret, night heron, oyster catchers, loons, bittern, glossy ibis and plover. 

Jamaica bay is part of the larger Gateway National Recreational Area, which takes its name from the two arms of land that stretch across the water toward each other forming a natural gateway through which millions of immigrants entered the new world. One land arm being Sandy Hook, the other being the Rockaway Peninsula's  Breezy Point district,

with the rest of the park made up of  sections in Staten Island and all of Jamaica Bay; together the four units contain over 26,000 acres of land and water.

Bird Life in Jamaica Bay


The best way to experience Jamaica bay is by kayak.  And over the almost  20 years that I've been paddling I have admittedly lost count of all the great trips, rolling clinics, and surf adventures we've had in Jamaica Bay and it's nearby, across-the-Rockaway-Barrier-Island cousin, the Atlantic Ocean.  Paddling the area, it wasn't uncommon to feel so enraptured by the everglade-like mystique that you  threw continual glances at the  barely perceivable Trade Centers peaking over the horizon, just to remind yourself that you were still in New York. Sadly, those visual compass points of the Manhattan skyline have been removed in infamy.

That said, the second best way to experience the bay is via bicycle. My usual approach is to drive and park at Canarsie Piers and follow the bike path east, clock wise around the bay.  This approach gives you ample time to explore the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge; drink in the simultaneous vista of both bay and ocean as you cross the Cross Bay Blvd. bridge; and enjoy the beach and the boardwalk at mid day in the warmth of the afternoon sun.  On the day I revisited this trip to map it out for recteck.com, I opted to approach it via subway -- in an effort to  keep all of our biking excursions free of the toxic influences of Henry Ford.

Take the D train to Sheepshead Bay (of course, for the duration of the Manhattan Bridge repairs, that reads take the Q train to Sheepshead Bay).  Exit rear of train, opposite Voorhies Avenue. When you leave the station, you will be at the intersection of 15th Street and
Sheepshead Bay Road, also called Bill Brown Square.  With the train station at your back, facing Avenue Z, head off to the right and follow Sheepshead Bay Road south to Emmons Avenue. At Emmons Avenue hang the left -- you'll know you are there as Sheepshead Bay will prevent you from going any further south.

Now if it's Sunday and/or the charter fishing boats have just arrived, you might want to consider walking your bike for the next couple of blocks.  Kayakers familiar with clapoitis, get ready for land clapotis. This phenomenon can only be explained in terms of alpha-males, newly returned from the sea,  warping the perception of whoever got stuck driving, with tales of the mammoth trophy fish they almost caught.  Suffice to say, you are better off walking and taking in the kaleidoscope of personalities then risk being caught in the midst of the gigantic stories that choke the local roadways. 

After you emerge -- undoubtedly transformed -- from this sea of humanity, you will find yourself still heading east on Emmons Avenue.  At Brigham Street, right after the Wind Jammer Motor Inn, immediately to your right, is the start of the bike path -- get on it and say good-bye to metropolis.

The macadam bike path is a cool breeze blowing through hot sands, doted with all types of colorful and fragrant shrubs.  It's straight and effortless and smooth riding where it exists.  Unfortunately, the route is far from complete.  The city has plans that will one day completely encircle the whole bay with a beautiful smooth bike path; however, for now the path is incomplete.  But fear not, for this little guide will get you easily through all the broken places.


After the first half mile (with all numbering being an approximation from the beginning of the bike path), Plum Beach appears on your right.  Plumb Beach is one of those hidden gems, typical of New York.  Every sign warns of no swimming, no boating,
and no anything.  Of course, everywhere you look, there are people swimming, wind surfing, and etc'ing. In the past, I have used this site many times, both for day paddling in and around Jamaica Bay and for night paddles to nearby Coney Island; and of course for swimming.
Shortly after Plumb Beach, we cross a short bridge which spans Gerritsen Creek, with Dead Horse Bay visible on your far right. At mile 1.7 (again, from the start of the bike path) there is a break in the bike path, where it is cut in half by Flatbush Avenue running south to the Gil Hodges bridge -- our return route, see Map above.  This is an easy fix.  Simply stay on the bike path, following the curve to the right, paralleling Flatbush for 3/4 of a block.  At the light, cross Flatbush and pick up the bike path on the other side, following it to the left. If you miss this street crossing and you inadvertently continue on, you will end up crossing the Gil Hodges bridge, basically doing the trip I am describing in reverse.  This trip is very enjoyable in both directions, but I find the clockwise direction to be more pleasant and seems to work better timing wise, especially in terms of break spots.

Shortly after Flatbush, we cross the Bascule Bridge, which spans the entrance to the Mill Basin.  The Jamaica Bay Riding Academy in on the right, immediately after the bridge. Three quarters  of a mile later is the bridge that spans Paerdegat Basin, home waters of the Sebago Canoe Club. At mile 4.6 is the Canarsie Piers Park, which is always packed on the weekend with hoards of picnickers and fisherman.  Slow down through this section, as there are many small children darting about the pathway. In previous years, both during the summer and all the off seasons, we have used Canarsie Piers as an unofficial kayak launch site, putting in on the beach just east of the piers.  As of this writing, I do not know the legal status of kayak launching at either Plumb or Carnasie. 

Continuing east for the next mile and a half, after crossing bridges four and five, we come to a small section where the macadam bike path ends.  This gravel/dirt section is usually rideable, but depending on the construction going on, it may not be.  Please don't be discouraged at this short section, as this will be the next piece of the bike path to be completed.  At mile 6.6,  the macadam path reappears and continues over the bridge at Old Mill Creek.  Maybe a half  mile after the bridge, the sawgrass on your right will slowly start to give way to manicured lawns and screaming kids on tricycles.  Yep -- we are back in civilization.  About three quarters of a mile later, the bike path will abruptly end.  Immediately to your right of the bike path, through an opening in the fence, is Shore Pkwy.  Follow it for one block and take the right on Cross Bay Blvd, which is approximately mile eight.

This short section through Howard Beach is a mixed bag.  There's plenty of good eats to be gotten at almost every corner, but on the down side, there is heavy traffic and not a whole lot of  room for bikes on the busy streets.  On the other hand, the sidewalks are huge and relatively empty and very bicycle friendly, so I recommend slowly riding through on the sidewalk. 

Cross Bay Blvd. takes you across the bay via two bridges. As you approach the first bridge, you will note a fairly wide bike path moving with traffic on both sides of the bridge.  There is also a fairly wide walkway, separated from the traffic on both sides of the bridge.  I have used both the bike path and the walkway.  Depending when you are traveling, you may be better off on the roadway, as the walkway if so full with people fishing from the bridge, it is very difficult to get by.  Once across the first bridge (actually bridge seven in the overall trip), you'll discover a luxuriously wide bike path on both sides of the roadway. At mile 11.5, on your right, is the turn off for the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. If you have the time, this is a place worth exploring.  There are nature trails, exhibitions, and lectures all through the day. 

After the Wildlife Refuge, continue south, passing through the town of Broad Channel.  Just at the entrance to the Cross Bay Blvd. Bridge, the bike path ends.  Cross the street and follow the roadway as it loops around to the walkway on the left side (heading towards the ocean) of the bridge.   After exiting the bridge, take 92nd Street (yes, one-way going the wrong way) the few remaining blocks to the boardwalk and hang a right. You are now on the Rockaway Peninsula.  According to linguistic experts the name Rockaway comes from either reckonwacky, meaning place of our people, or reckanawahaha, place of laughing waters.  I am inclined towards the laughing waters interpretation because of the joyous time spent paddling, surfing and swimming the area. Please be aware, however, that there are many strong rip tides along this coast and many people have been drowned off this beach -- so approach these waters with all the respect they deserve.

There is no real,  completed bike path in this short section, so be prepared for a slight improvisation.  After you've make the right onto the boardwalk, enjoy the ride and the view until the boardwalk ends at 126th Street.   Make the right and follow it to Newport Avenue where you make the left and take that down to 140th Street, where you make the right and head back towards the bay.  When you reach the highway, take a left, staying  on the land side sidewalk for the next three and a half blocks.  Right before the cement barrier begins and splits the highway, cross over to the bay side sidewalk.  You will be able to see the narrow sidewalk on the bay side, where it opens up and  rejoins the bike path.

 

We are now at the last tricky spot of the trip -- see map below.  If you continue west on the bike path you will come to an area that turns into a dotted line on the map.  This portion of the bike path previously went under the 'highway to the bridge' and reconnected to the bike path that took you up the west side of the Gil Hodges bridge.  However, that part of the bike path no longer functions and the tunnel under the highway is closed off.  So you must stop before the end of the bike path to negotiate the highway crossing via the foot bridge. However, the footbridge is not that apparent as you are riding through, so take a quick glance at the  photo below  the map.


 

 

 
With the bridge visible forward and to your right, and when the foot bridge becomes discernible on your left, you will see an engineered break in the guard rail.  Go through it and carefully cross the two lane highway.  The field to the foot bridge is rutted, so walk your bike across to the foot bridge.  You can ride across the foot bridge and down the bike path, following it west, in the direction of the bridge.  After about 1/4 of a mile, you must cross another two lane highway, bringing you out on 169 Street, which takes you back across the four lane highway.  After you cross the highway, hang a sharp right to rejoin the bike path, which slopes up and around to the left, taking you across the Gil Hodgins bridge

 

Click Here For a View  from the Bridge
At the first light, immediately after the bridge,  the bike path ends and continues on the opposite side of the street.  You can go either way.  If you stay on  the side you are on, you will have a pleasant ride back to the bike trail on  unobstructed sidewalk, with more bikes then pedestrians.  If you cross the street and re-join  the bike path, you will

have a better ride, since it is newlypaved and more scenic. I recommend the latter as it takes you past Floyd Bennett Field, which was New York's first municipal airport. And while it did not succeed commercially, Floyd Bennett contributed to the development of aviation as the takeoff point for many record-breaking flights by such pilots as Wiley Post, Howard Hughes Laura Ingalls, Col. Roscoe Turner, Wrongway Corrigan, and John Glenn. 

Continuing on, we come to our last turn off, the section where the trail is split by Flatbush Avenue and it doubles back to the beginning (see again the Flatbush map). At the light at mile 20, approximately a mile and a third after the bridge,  you must make the left and re-cross Flatbush avenue to re-join the trail.  If you miss the turn,  you will reach the Belt Parkway and it will be  on your left hand side and you will be starting the trip all over again.  So, If you miss the turn, simply go back to the light, cross Flatbush, and re-join the bike path.  The Belt Parkway should now be on your right hand side and you are homeward bound. So settle back and enjoy the last three miles back to Sheepshead Bay, hopefully while fantasizing of the monster sea food dinner you will consume before heading back on the train.
 

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