Imagine peering into a tide pool shimmering with brown rockweed, barnacles, and darting minnows. White sailboats bob on the blue ocean in the distance. It sounds like you are on vacation in Maine, doesn’t it? Actually you took the subway to get here. You are on the rocky coast of Twin Islands in Pelham Bay Park.
The Rocky Coast of the Biggest Park in NYC
At a whopping 2,764 acres, Pelham Bay Park is New York City’s largest park. It’s more than three times as big as Central Park though admittedly not nearly as well-known. Unless you live in the Bronx (is Boogiedown in the house?), you will have to take a long ride on the 6 train to get there. But it’s definitely worth the trip as Pelham Bay Park has a surprising variety of landscapes. You’ll find beaches, forests, and even a salt marsh. For an incomparable view of Long Island Sound, take a walk along the rocky shores of Twin Islands. You’ll see a unique view you won’t find anywhere else in New York City.
Start with a walk up Orchard Beach (known as “The Riviera of New York”), where you may pass a salsa dance party or horseshoe crabs mating.
Continue north to the start of the Twin Islands Preserve Trail which will lead you to one of the last remaining salt marshes in the city. You may see herons, red-winged blackbirds, swans, ducks, egrets, osprey, and even raccoons who fish along the marsh.
The rocky coast of Twin Islands is an intertidal ecosystem. At low tide, tide pools are brimming with small fish, oysters, and clams.
Tidal pools contain mysterious worlds within their depths, where all the beauty of the sea is subtly suggested and portrayed in miniature. – Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea
On the northeastern edge of Twin Islands is a large boulder known as Sphinx Rock. Once a Siwanoy Indian ceremonial site, the boulder is a glacial erratic, a rock carried by a glacial ice thousands of years ago. A smaller rock once balanced on top of Sphinx, but broke away in the 1990s.
Once you’ve explored the rocky coast of Twin Islands, head on to the adjacent Hunter Island for forest trails and rocky coasts. For a longer hike, follow the Kazimiroff Trail through the deep inland forest and on to the lagoon. Look for the large boulder known as the Grey Mare, another glacial erratic on the eastern coast of the island.
To see more tidal pools, head north along the wooded shore trail. The shoreline is made of gneiss, rock formed 400 million years ago. The rock melted and cooled into swirls of gray, white, and black. It’s a wonderful place to go beachcombing.
To learn more about islands of Pelham Bay Park and how to get there, see the NYC Parks site.