Queens lays claim to not one, but two abandoned forts. The first one that I reviewed, Fort Totten, is in the northeast corner of Queens. The one in this post is in the southeast corner of Queens, in the Rockaways. Somewhat less impressive than the other one in terms of creepiness factor, it is still worthy of a visit because of the beautiful beach close by. Fort Tilden is actually part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jacob Riis Park/Beach to the east. The fort was built in 1917 and housed an impressive array of large weaponry, including cannons and air defense missiles, to defend the city from attack. Fortunately, these weapons were never used. In 1974, the fort was decommissioned and became part of the National Park Service.
Fort Tilden is open year-round and despite having a nice sandy beach and plenty of folks visiting in the summer, it has no lifeguards on duty. If you are in a mood for a swim, this is not the beach for you. Also, if you like to avoid crowds when possible, like I do, I suggest going here during the off-season, from mid-September to mid-April. During this time, you will be able to park at the fisherman’s parking lot off of Beach 193rd St, on Shore Road, rather than at the lot for Jacob Riis Park on the eastern side of the island.
I do recommend parking at the fisherman’s lot so that you can easily walk to the two historical structures that the fort is famous for – Battery Harris East and Battery Harris West. The trail that leads to the Battery Harris West is across from the lot. This is what the beginning of the trail looks like. You can bring your dog for a walk here and it is also a good jogging trail.
Shortly into the trail, you will encounter a large shed-like structure. I’m not sure what this was originally, perhaps a garage for armored vehicles? I don’t recommend going too far inside because of the broken glass.
Further on, you will see a monstrous structure looming ahead that looks like spacecraft hiding inside a hill. This is Battery Harris West.
As you can see, this place is padlocked so you can’t wander around, but if you are set on it, you could probably jump the low fencing where there is a gap in the vertical bars. I don’t recommend it though.
Battery Harris East, just a few steps away, looks pretty similar to its sibling. The security on this one is a little tighter.
Some of the graffiti here made me smile.
There is a large pool of stagnant water in this one and I can only imagine how bad it can be in the summer when it is infested with mosquitoes.
Before you head out to the beach, definitely check out the panoramic view of distant Coney Island, Manhattan, and the Marine Parkway Bridge leading into the island. The stairs next to the battery will take you up to the viewing platform.
Apparently there is bad blood between the islanders and day-tripping hipsters. Ha ha.
At this point, you will probably want to head to the beach. The trail is just in front of the battery.
The thing that struck me right away about this beach is the large number of weathered wood posts clustered everywhere. They go vertically and horizontally across the beach and I guess they may have been part of one or more piers at some point? Notice how clean the sand is. It is very dense.
The easiest way to get to Fort Tilden is to drive. The toll before you reach the bridge to the island is $3.25 each way. Like I said, you should be able to park at the fisherman lot during the off-season. In-season, you will need a permit or you will be asked to park at Jacob Riis Park.
My understanding is that it is somewhat difficult to get here by public transportation, requiring several buses or a transfer from train to bus, then a half hour walk from the bridge. In the summer, the New York Beach Ferry provides service from Friday to Sunday from Pier 11 at Wall St. It takes you to Riis Landing between Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park. The park is open every day from dawn to dusk.