Gunnison Beach

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Coordinates: 40°27′36″N 73°59′44″W / 40.460042°N 73.995484°W / 40.460042; -73.995484

Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook

Gunnison Beach is a beach within the Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, on the Atlantic coast of New Jersey. It is located in Middletown Township, Monmouth County, but is on federal land managed by the National Park Service.[1][2] It is New Jersey's only legal clothing-optional beach. It takes its name from adjacent Battery Gunnison, which visitors must pass next to in order to get to and from the beach.


Gunnison Beach was named for Battery Gunnison, a fortification built by the U.S. Government in the 1800s to protect New York Harbor.[3] Remnants of the battery, including gun emplacements, overlook the beach. It was once part of Fort Hancock, a test site and proving ground for the U.S. Army for many years and later the site of a Nike missile defense installation.[4] The Fort closed in 1974, and was ceded to the National Park Service as a unit of Gateway National Recreation Area. Contrary to popular belief and urban legend, there was no nude bathing en masse on the part of the United States Army garrison that led to the formation of the nude beach. It was the discovery of Gunnison Beach's natural seclusion by park visitors in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to its inception as a nude beach.[5]

In 1999, New Jersey passed a law that allows municipalities and counties to prohibit all types of nudism on state or local beaches in their jurisdiction.[6] Gunnison Beach, however, is on land owned and managed by the federal government and therefore is not subject to state or local regulations. As a result, Gunnison became the only legal nude beach in the state. Gunnison is the largest clothing-optional recreation area on the East Coast.[1][7][8][9] The clothing optional beach, which offers dramatic views of Brooklyn and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, attracts nearly 5,000 naturists per weekend in the summer months. Part of the beach is shared on a seasonal basis with a reserved breeding ground for the endangered piping plover, a native shore bird.


  1. ^ a b Nanos, Janelle (July 31, 2007). "In 39 Years, There's Little a Lifeguard Doesn't See". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. But it was with the creation of Gunnison Beach, the only clothing-optional section of New Jersey's shoreline, that it became safe to say that Tom McLaughlin had seen everything. ... On a recent Saturday, he stopped at Gunnison Beach to survey the scene. At this Eden with umbrellas, some of the naturists were engaged in an intense round of volleyball, while others happily lounged without the fear of tan lines. A new visitor approached and asked Mr. McLaughlin why everyone seemed to be on the right side of the beach.
  2. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (2008-06-30). "Ferrying From Manhattan to Bare It All on the Beach". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-30. Long one of the New York area’s best-kept secrets, Gunnison Beach, on the upper end of this barbed peninsula jutting into the harbor at the northern tip of the Jersey Shore, has been a favorite of naturists, locals say, since Army troops at Sandy Hook’s historic Fort Hancock ... It opened to the public as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1975 ...
  3. ^ Most likely named after John Williams Gunnison
  4. ^ "On the Hook for sun, fun -- History - and nudity - at the Shore". Bergen Record. August 31, 2005. Nearly three centuries ago, the merchants of lower Manhattan kept losing ships to the sandbars that lined the narrow channel leading to New York City. Upset over the growing losses, the merchants banded together and built a lighthouse on the edge of Sandy Hook in order to guide ships safely to the young city. The lighthouse was so effective that the British ...
  5. ^ Discussions with Tom Hoffman, the Fort Hancock Historian for the National Park Service. According to Mr. Hoffman, when the Fort opened as a park in 1975, the northern end of Fort Hancock / Sandy Hook was closed off to normal visitation. The boundary line began at the former MP Station, then used as the USNPS Ranger Station, located in the middle of Hartshorne Drive between present-day parking areas D and E. Visitors could proceed beyond this point after receiving a day pass and instruction from the Rangers. Per Mr. Hoffman, it was the public's gradual discovery of Gunnison Beach's secluded geography, that fostered its use a clothing optional beach, which grew over time. Pressed by the urban legend of an "army nude beach," Mr. Hoffman, who has spent over 40 years of service at Fort Hancock, and has met and interviewed dozens, if not hundreds of veterans of Fort Hancock from the Spanish American War-era through to the Cold War. Upon asking them about the nude beach, not a single veteran, across nearly a century of service, has said that there was sanctioned nude bathing by the Army at Fort Hancock. If further verification is needed in person, Mr. Hoffman still works at Fort Hancock as of February 2019, and can be reached by calling the Fort Hancock & Sandy Hook Proving Ground National Historic Landmark (Sandy Hook) Visitor Center at (732) 872-5970 between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, EST.
  6. ^ "Laws of 1999". New Jersey State Library. Retrieved 2012-02-18.
  7. ^ Trebay, Guy (September 2, 2001). "All Undressed and So Many Places to Go". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Crowds are also increasing these final summer days at Blacks Beach near San Diego, at Mazo Beach on the lower Wisconsin River and at Gunnison Beach in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, a dress optional sand strip run by the National Park Service that was recently deemed by the Clean Beaches Council, an environmental group, one of the top 10 beaches in the United States.
  8. ^ Flam, Faye (July 17, 2006). "Clothing optional may not be way of historical human". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Sandy Hook boasts the biggest nude beach along the Atlantic. The clothing-optional part is called Gunnison Beach ...
  9. ^ Gabrielan, Randall (1999). Sandy Hook. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-1240-X. Gunnison Beach is now widely recognized as the park's 'nude beach,' or in sanctioned parlance, a 'clothing-optional beach.'...

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