Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook, NJ

Rating: 3 out of 5.

BEST FOR: The Jello-Shot Crowd, The Life until Death Nudist, The Nude Volleyball Diehards

While there are beaches scattered all over the country where nude sunbathers are common, there are surprisingly few officially authorized clothing-optional beaches in the United States. Gunnison Beach on Sandy Hook is one of those few! Located on a long peninsula that juts out into the New York harbor, you can actually see the Manhattan Skyline on a really clear day. We’ve visited perhaps a half-dozen times over the years, reaching the conclusion that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to find there. What is certain is that it will be a colorful and eclectic crowd where the distraction of people-watching makes it difficult to get through more than even a few pages of the most gripping novel. Having visited numerous nude beaches in Europe, as well as several in California, I can say with confidence this is nothing like any of those. Be it the loud guy with his blaring radio, the reveling Boomers partying in the surf, or the ever-changing parade of people with elaborate body art or genital piercings, I don’t think we’ve ever come home from Gunnison without a good story to tell. Since it’s the only legal nude beach in the greater NYC metropolitan area, (Is there anything left of Fire Island?) it has to be all things to all people. And that it is!

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GET THERE? You really need a car to get to Gunnison. Despite the view of the Manhattan skyline, there’s no direct route from the city to the shore that doesn’t involve a tunnel under the Hudson River, the New Jersey Turnpike, The Garden State Parkway, then a series of local roads that will take you to the entrance of Gateway National Recreation Area. There are many beaches on Sandy Hook, but Gunnison is the only one authorized for nude use. Once you get there, the clothing-optional area stretches for nearly a mile. On a nice summer day, the closest parking lot will often be full by 9:00 or 10:00 am, extending what is already a long walk from the restrooms to the waterfront. A good friend found out the hard way that if there’s any kind of security patrol in the parking lots, it missed the mark in keeping his car from being broken into. Don’t leave valuables in your car!

WHAT’S THE FAMILY VIBE? This is a tough call, keeping in mind that this is a public beach, not a private resort. I’ve read that Gunnison Beach regulars have worked to “keep an eye on things” to make sure people don’t behave in a manner that will threaten the future nude status, but even still, we never took our own kids. We’ve only see a few children there over the years, which might actually say more about Americans’ perception of nude recreation as an adult activity than the actual decorum at the beach itself. If you belong to Friends of Gunnison Beach, or you can offer more information on that point, please do so in the comment section below.

HOW ARE THE ACCOMMODATIONS? What accommodations? Even once you enter the National Park, you still have several miles to drive until you reach Gunnison. We’ve known people to stay in a hotel a bit farther down the shore, though we hear that tends to be pricey for accommodations that are just… okay. There are nice restrooms and showers near the entrance to the beach, though again, it’s a long, hot walk from there until you reach the sign indicating that nudity is permitted. (It’s most definitely not permitted in the parking lot or in the restroom area.) As you might find at most beaches on the Jersey shore, it’s not unusual to see a few entrepreneurs selling ice-cream and snacks from rolling carts, though you’ll pay a premium for the seaside service. Most people carry-in, carry out.

ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW? While I’m personally not a huge fan of Gunnison Beach, or for that matter, most any beach on the Jersey Shore, it is the beach we have, and I’m actually amazed that it even exists right in the middle of a sprawling national park. I think that, by itself, does quite a lot to legitimize the very concept of social nudity. At this writing, I have yet to visit Haulover Beach in Florida or Wreck Beach in Vancouver, so I can only compare it to Black’s Beach near San Diego or some of the smaller beaches in the San Francisco Bay Area, most of which are not official, but simply allow nude users to mix in among the textiles. Gunnison Beach feels noisy and crowded by comparison, once again noting that when it’s practically the only option for the entire Northeast, it’s going to draw a wide array of humans with all sorts of different ideas about what a nude beach should be. But even if you decide it’s not the beach you’re looking for, every naturist should visit at least once, if only to check it off the bucket list. Life is short – go run naked in the surf!

Images are from a Google search for Gunnison Beach and assumed to be in the Public Domain. If you find one that’s not, let me know and I will remove it.

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5 thoughts

  1. Gunnison beach is quite the character! Historically boasted as the “largest clothing optional beach on the east coast of the United States,” it is located within the Sandy Hook area of New Jersey. In 2020, new signs were installed limiting the official clothing optional area to a much smaller region than what has typically been enjoyed, though many seem to ignore the signs and take their beach walks far beyond these limits. This seems to work in most cases, as the nearest beaches (also within Gateway National Park at Sandy Hook) are quite a distance away. Despite all of the above, the beach is INCREDIBLY wide (not sure if that’s the right word?) from a shore-to-dune perspective. While from “left to right” we may be more limited in nude use, the depth of the beach is astounding. Given this fact, the walk from the parking lot area is also arduously long (and in-season they put down mats to make the walk much more enjoyable), but the overall clothing optional area enables beachgoers to setup further back from the water if all of the “good spots” are already taken.

    While parking is ample (daily rates in-season are $15 per vehicle as of writing this, rumor has it they will be increasing to $20 in 2021), on beautiful summer days traffic will back up significantly and it may be difficult to get a good spot on the beach, let alone have a convenient place to park. While the beach is open year round, most amenities are seasonal and include the mats mentioned above, restrooms, showers, and food trucks (although they are all adjacent to the parking area and still a pretty far walk from the beach itself). It is worth noting that the parking fee does not apply in the off-season, or if you arrive very early or very late in the day. In pre-COVID times, dumpsters were available within the parking lot area, but no trash bins were available otherwise — please carry out anything you bring in. The beach is patrolled regularly by park rangers on a year-round basis, and has lifeguards stationed until 5pm during the summer season.

    Speaking of 5pm… it seems Gunnison has gotten a bad reputation for what goes on after 5pm. While Rangers will still occasionally patrol, the beach is known to get a little bit rowdier after hours. Despite having a wonderful view of parts of the New York City skyline, Brooklyn, and the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, and being relatively close (as the crow flies) to these densely populated areas, the beach is still very remote and at least a few miles away from any regularly travelled roadways that aren’t part of the national park area. As of 2019, alcohol is prohibited (rangers have been known to actually check your coolers) and they no longer allow tents or windscreens to be positioned in a fashion that completely obstructs the view of what is going on within your camp. This is not to detract from the beauty (and the fact that it’s pretty much the only option in the northeast…) that Gunnison can provide during a typical summer weekend where it draws thousands of visitors, but a fair warning that you may not want to visit at odd hours, during questionable weather, or stay too late into the evening if you aren’t interested in potentially seeing some borderline questionable behavior. To this end, while online communities of Gunnison regulars do exist, we personally believe the beach could benefit greatly from an ambassador program like what they have at Haulover and Blind Creek in Florida. While we wanted to provide a fair warning in this regard, please don’t let this review alone prevent you from visiting the beach and trying it out for yourself!

  2. My schedule allowed me to make frequent trips to Gunnison the summers of 2016,17, & 18. As you enter the beach you’re basically at the left hand end as you face the water. Straight ahead and continuing to the right the crowds are very hetero-normative & family-oriented with young kids. It’s totally G-rated just like a textile family beach. Moving to the right the kids tend to be a bit older and fade out. Then there’s a bit of the jello-shot crowd, followed by younger partiers and past that more mellow adults of mixed ages. After that the crowd becomes progressively more male and gay. Funny thing is the ‘gayest’ end is rather quiet and about 80% gay male, 10% senior citizens, and 10% straight women. The straight women are there so they don’t have to worry about getting hit on. The senior citizens are there for the quiet and to look at young bodies.

    I never saw any questionable behaviour. However, those three summers most of the dunes/grass area was cordoned off due to some endangered species of bird nesting there. That might’ve been the reason I personally never saw any such behaviour.