Trail Notes: Brooklyn’s East River Waterfront

Map of the East River waterfront at the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Building 92

19th-Century map of the East River waterfront at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Building 92

It’s still winter in NYC, but I’m training for the Bataan Memorial Death March. Which means not sniveling about how hard it is to get out of the city to hike, or otherwise avoiding getting outside in this winter weather.

A pretty spectacular urban hike is right outside my apartment building, and it’s well worth doing in any season. Last week I decided to put on a 20-pound pack and get out on this 8-mile scenic route along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. The route is all sidewalk or park path, so it’s easy (unless the sidewalk is uncleared and icy–then watch your step). The route is packed with great photo opportunities, a bunch of important American and Brooklyn historical sites, and is otherwise completely enjoyable on even a cold day like last week where icy wind is blasting in your (my) face. It’s really that good.

Here’s the 8-mile route I recommend:

Start in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Greenpoint is Brooklyn’s northern-most neighborhood along the East River, and it’s accessible from either the East River Ferry stop at India Street or the G train’s Greenpoint Avenue stop. Transmitter Park (near where I live) is a great starting point or walk-through point, and is also by far my favorite view of the Empire State Building and Manhattan skyline. Plus there are plenty of coffee shops and bodegas along Franklin where you can pick up some fuel for your urban hike. I recommend Littleneck Outpost or Cookie Road. Plus if you’re so inclined, pick up something to read later at our local treasure, Word Bookstore.

View of Wallabout Channel from the East River Ferry's South Williamsburg stop

View of Wallabout Channel from the East River Ferry’s South Williamsburg stop

Walk along Franklin Street and bear right onto Kent Avenue to continue through Williamsburg (2.5 miles). You’ll pass by Bushwick Inlet Park, the old Domino sugar refinery, go under the Williamsburg Bridge, and past Wallabout Channel.  You can stop for great photo ops along these fantastic waterfront views, and there are plenty of bars, restaurants, groceries, and coffee shops throughout Williamsburg north of the bridge.

Historical Notes: Wallabout Channel is the waterway visible amid all of the industrial platforms and equipment located in Wallabout Bay, which has been an area of critical usage since New York’s colonial days. Most notoriously, soldiers (and some civilians) captured during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776 were held on prison ships in Wallabout Bay for months, and more than 11,000 died from thirst, starvation, hypothermia, and disease. This was nearly triple the number of American deaths (approx. 4,400) during all of the other Revolutionary War battles combined. The atrocious conditions and deaths on these prison ships were a primary reason why the early republic so vehemently opposed torture and mistreatment of enemy combatants. A memorial, including some remains of the deceased prisoners, is the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park, which could be a worthwhile extension of this walking route.

Turn right just before the Brooklyn Queens Expressway onto Williamsburg Street West, then right onto Flushing Avenue (.2 mile). Turn before the ramps onto the BQE, following along the fenceline enclosing the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Walk west on Flushing Avenue along the Brooklyn Navy Yard (.9 mile). You can see a bunch of the old buildings from when the Brooklyn Navy Yard functioned as a shipbuilding yard, primarily between the mid-1800s to World War II. Now there are a number of other enterprises on this property, most notably television and film studios. If the incredible history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard interests you, stop in at Building 92, which is located right on Flushing Ave and open to the public (and free admission) Wednesdays through Sundays, 12-6 pm.

Historical Notes: The Brooklyn Navy Yard produced a number of notable ships, to include the USS Monitor (the ironclad of Civil War fame), the USS Maine (destroyed in Havana Harbor in 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War), the USS Arizona (destroyed by Japanese warplanes at Pearl Harbor in 1941), and the USS Missouri. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was also key to supporting the U.S. fleet during World War II, from the 250+ ships it readied for wartime service, to the 5,000+ it repaired, and the 22,000 tons of military supplies it moved daily throughout the war years. It was the largest industrial complex in New York State history, and was the largest industrial activity in the U.S. Navy with its 24/7 operations during WWII.

Turn right onto Navy Street, then left onto Plymouth Street (.5 mile). This brings you along the far side of the Navy Yard, past Sands Street (formerly home to all the bars, shops, and red light district that catered to sailors and shipyard workers in decades past), and into the warehouse district now known as “Dumbo” (the real-estate term for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass”).

Walk along Plymouth Street, under the Manhattan Bridge, then through the Empire Fulton Ferry Park, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and through Brooklyn Bridge Park, all the way to Atlantic Avenue. (about 1.7 miles). Plenty of bars, shops, and restaurants in Dumbo. Stop in at Bridge Fresh near the corner of Jay and Water Streets if you need any snacks or grocery items, or Superfine if you want a drink and/or a meal. Also, stop in for a haircut at Barber on Pearl and ask for Robert–you won’t be disappointed. You’ll hear the Q train clattering over the Manhattan Bridge as you cross underneath it, and the cobblestone streets, bridges, and skyline make for some fantastic photo ops.

Historical Notes: Make sure you see Jane’s Carousel (restored to its original 1922 condition), and the Fulton Ferry Landing (inscribed with words from Walt Whitman’s iconic “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, and also the site from which Gen. George Washington evacuated the entire Continental Army following the Battle of Brooklyn, allowing them to continue the Revolution). You can also look behind you from the Fulton Ferry Landing to see the Eagle Warehouse building, which once housed the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper that Walt Whitman wrote for.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park has a number of paths through it, and I recommend taking the long loop by the water nearest Pier 1. Plenty of fantastic photo ops here, and all the way down to Pier 6.

Go left on Atlantic Avenue to turn right on Columbia Street (before the Brooklyn Queens Expressway ramp). There is a bicycle/pedestrian path partway down Columbia. I recommend staying on Columbia a few more blocks since the path (which turns onto DeGraw) remains undeveloped, and Columbia Street is interesting and vibrant.

Follow along Columbia Street, right onto President Street, then left on Van Brunt Street to the water along the entire the length of Red Hook (about 1.8 miles). There are shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops all along Van Brunt, and this to me is the heart of Red Hook. Have a drink and/or a meal at Hope & Anchor or Fort Defiance. If you have time, veer off to find treasures like Steve’s Key Lime Pies and the Waterfront Barge Museum. Walk all the way to the end of Van Brunt at the Fairway and take a look at the view of the Statue of Liberty from the pathway behind the grocery store. This is the absolute best view to be had of Lady Liberty from the mainland.

To end the hike, walk back up to Beard Street and make a right to end at the Ikea terminal (.4 mile). You’ll pass by Erie Basin Park, which marks the site of another past industrial shipbuilding site that was active since the Civil War. There are free shuttles in the driveway in front of Ikea that will take you to subway stations. One shuttle goes to Borough Hall, and a separate shuttle goes to both Smith & 9th Street and 4th & 9th Street stations. There is also water taxi service to Manhattan from here, but check the schedule.

Want to support what I’m training for? Click HERE.

Happy urban hiking!

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