Gunnison Beach – New Jersey Shore’s Nude Beach
Gunnison Beach NJ - When New Jersey Senate Bill 1912 effectively outlawed nudity on the state’s public beaches in 1999, nude beach fans in the tri-state area were dealt a significant blow.
One notable exception to the law, however, was Gunnison Beach. Located on the Sandy Hook peninsula just a few miles south of New York City, Gunnison Beach is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area – which is owned and operated by the National Park Service. Since it is generally legal to be nude on federal land, Gunnison was spared from S.B. 1912’s effects.
Gunnison Beach is officially divided into two areas – clothed on the northern half and clothing-optional on the southern half (it’s probably a surprise to no one that the clothing-optional side is far more popular). The clothing-optional side is further subdivided (unofficially) into a straight area and a gay area (at the southernmost end of the beach). On any given sunny summer weekend, 3,000 or more bathers can be found on Gunnison Beach.
The history of nude bathing at Gunnison goes back to the 1950s, when Sandy Hook was home to the Fort Hancock military installation (large concrete gun placements are still clearly visible at the entrance to Gunnison). Servicemen would routinely skinny dip there, and when the base was decommissioned and turned over to the National Park Service in 1972, members of the general public continued the tradition.
The atmosphere on Gunnison is lively and enjoyable. The regulars say the level of behavior is better than most clothed beaches. Part of the reason could be that Gunnison (as well as the rest of Sandy Hook) is constantly patrolled by Park Service Rangers. While harassment of nudists by textiles or even fellow nudists is a rare occurrence, the Rangers have little tolerance for it and quickly respond to any reports of problems. There is an active group on the beach as well called Ranger World, whose leaders monitor the area for unwelcome behavior. Also, even with several thousand people in attendance, there is still a tremendous amount of open beach. This allows everyone to spread out and minimize any disruption to fellow beachgoers. Those who wish to drink and/or listen to music in groups can set up camp away from the bulk of the crowd.
The under-40 age group is also well-represented, easily making up between one-third and one-half of the weekend crowd on average. There is also a noticeable presence of younger children and families. As far as ethnicity, on a strictly percentage basis, the majority of those who come to Gunnison are Caucasian. But people from other ethnic backgrounds also make a good show of force. Recently, on Gunnison’s online forum, an African-American woman asked whether or not she should consider coming to the beach. She was worried that she would be the only African-American there, but nothing could be further from the truth. African-Americans probably make up the second-largest ethnic group at Gunnison, but the Asian and Hispanic communities are clearly represented as well.
While public nude beaches can often be the Wild West of nudism, I recommend Gunnison to anyone who is thinking about going, regardless of age, race or background. If your impression of the Jersey shore comes from the television show of the same name, you’re really missing out on one of the pearls of nudism on the east coast. The water is clean, the people are great, and with the New York City skyline visible in the distance – what more could you ask for?
IF YOU GO: The beach is easily accessible from New York City either by car or the aptly-named Seastreak ferry. There is no admission fee to the Gateway National Recreation Area, but there is a $15-per-vehicle daily parking fee. An unlimited-visit season parking pass can be purchased for $75. The parking fee is collected from 7AM to 5PM. Vehicles arriving outside of those hours do not have to pay (the area is open from 5AM to 10PM). The Park Service will close the entrance to the park once the lots fill up, which they do. On weekends during the summer, it is best to arrive at the park by 11AM. On nice days, the entrance is often closed from 11AM to 3PM or later. Lifeguards are on duty from 10AM to 6PM. At 6PM, everyone is required to get out of the water before the lifeguards go off duty. But once the lifeguards leave, everyone is welcome to return to swimming (at their own risk, of course).
Alcohol is allowed, but not in glass containers. There is a snack stand on the beach that sells a limited selection of hot dogs, chips and non-alcoholic drinks. There is a similar snack stand at the entrance to Gunnison. If you want a sit-down meal, there is one restaurant on Sandy Hook – The Sea Gull’s Nest. They serve good standard beach/pub fare. They’re often full during peak hours, though, so a late afternoon/early evening visit is recommended. There are other restaurants very close to the entrance of the park if you want to dine before entering or after leaving.
It’s a bit of a walk from the Gunnison parking lot out to the beach (about 350 yards or so). If you are bringing quite a bit of stuff (coolers, bags, etc.), you should consider bringing a proper beach cart with wide wheels to haul things. The walkway out to the beach is only about 50 yards long – it’s loose sand the rest of the way. Standard carts with narrow wheels will quickly get stuck. Tents and umbrellas are allowed, and since there is no other shelter on the beach it is highly recommended that you bring something other than just sunscreen!