The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is perfect for families in search of a day trip, for bird-watchers and ornithologists, or any lover of nature. Start your trek at the Visitor Contact Station, where you will find all the information you'll need for a day of exploring. The LEED-certified space features colorful exhibits detailing the plants and animals that inhabit Jamaica Bay and background on the area's vibrant history. After picking up a free permit for the trails, venture out with bird walks, cruises, tours and animal-information sessions. The variety of creatures here is so vast that more than 60 butterfly species have been spotted, along with a community of horseshoe crabs that's one of the biggest in the Northeast. Just like the animals themselves, opportunities for wildlife viewing aren't confined to the refuge. Marine Park in Brooklyn and the Rockaways' Fort Tilden provide alternatives for birders.
Throughout the summer, boat tours are offered of the Jamaica Bay area as well. NY Water Taxi's EcoCruise focuses on bird-watching and is organized by the Audubon Society. Travel to waterways and surrounding shore areas where egrets, herons and ibis nest. The vantage point from the boat lends a magical perspective on the City and its natural expanses. For more information and to register, visit nywatertaxi.com. Another boat tour features a trip to the adjacent Atlantic where the grandeur of whales and dolphins moving through the ocean is an incomparable sight. For more information, visit newyorkbeachferry.com.
There are also kayaking tours that take place in and around Jamaica Bay during the summer months. Leaving from Floyd Bennett Field, Idlewild Park and Gateway Marina, these three-hour tours take paddlers on a 4- to 5-mile journey around Jamaica Bay. Along the way, you'll discover the area's history along with the animals and plants that call the bay home. Reservations are required by calling 718-338-3799. For more information, check out the Parks Department's kayaking page.