General Trip Planning Information
Visitors to the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness (Fire Island Wilderness) will enjoy a preserved natural area, clean water and habitat for a variety of plants and animals including rare and endangered species. In the winter, seals can be found basking on the beach and, though elusive, snowy owls are occasionally spotted adding to the extraordinary opportunities for solitude. On a clear winter day the wilderness can offer some of the most breathtaking scenery such as snow covered beaches and wetlands and spectacular sunsets over the ocean. Check for the latest updates and current programs at: http://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/index.htm
A permit is required for wilderness/backcountry camping. Reservations for a required backcountry permit may be obtained at Recreation.gov for overnight stays. Check-in is required at the Watch Hill Visitor Center during regular hours of operation (staffed on weekends mid-May to mid-October and Wednesday-Sunday during the summer; phone 631-597-6455) at the Watch Hill Ranger Station after hours during the times noted above or at the Wilderness Visitor Center at 631-281-3010 (weekends) or the Division of Interpretation at 631-687-4780 (weekdays).
Watch Hill is accessible during the times mentioned above, only by private boat or by ferry from Patchogue, with overnight parking available at the Patchogue-Watch Hill Ferry Terminal. Patchogue is easily accessible by public transportation!
For more information, contact the Wilderness Visitor Center at 631-281-3010 (weekends) or the Division of Interpretation at 631-687-4780 (weekdays).
The Fire Island Wilderness provides many recreational opportunities. Visitors can enjoy rewarding recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, canoeing, backcountry camping, bird watching, surf casting, waterfowl hunting (in season), sunbathing, and stargazing Wilderness camping is available year-round. Late fall through early spring is the best time to camp to avoid the harsh summer conditions as well as mosquitoes and ticks. A permit is required and must be reserved through Recreation.gov. (There is a $20 cost recovery fee for each permit, but no charge per night or per person.) . Check-in is required at the Watch Hill Visitor Center during regular hours of operation (staffed on weekends mid-May to mid-October and Wednesday-Sunday during the summer; phone 631-597-6455) or at the Watch Hill Ranger Station after hours. Waterfowl hunting is allowed during the fall/winter months of the waterfowl hunting season. A valid New York State Waterfowl Hunting license is required along with a Fire Island National Seashore Waterfowl Hunting Permit. A Fire Island National Seashore Waterfowl Hunting permit can be obtained from the Wilderness Visitor Center 631-281-3010, or at the West District Ranger Station 631-661-2556. There is no fee for the seasonal waterfowl hunting permit. Sportsmen off-road vehicles are generally allowed via a special recreational driving permit on the ocean beach side adjacent to the Wilderness area, between September 15 and December 31, for the purpose of fishing or waterfowl hunting only. Due to a breach created by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012, recreational driving is currently limited to an approximately 1.5 mile stretch of ocean beach. A Fire Island National Seashore Recreational Driving permit can be obtained from the Wilderness Visitor Center 631-281-3010. The wilderness area and the adjacent ocean beaches are designated as carry in and carry out areas. Do not litter and carry out all your trash with you.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The Fire Island Wilderness has the same range of climate as Long Island, New York except it could be 10 degrees cooler in the winter and 10 degrees warmer in the summer. Early spring and late fall are the best time to visit the wilderness area. Temperatures can range from 60-75 degrees. The cooler temperatures allow for less tick and mosquito activity. It is also the best time for viewing migratory birds. The summer can be very hot and humid with temperatures ranging between 80-90 degrees. Temperatures in the wilderness area in the summer can reach over 100 degrees. The heat, high humidity, mosquitoes, ticks and poison ivy can make the wilderness in the summer very uninviting. If you are visiting in the summer you may choose to spend most of your time on the adjacent ocean beaches. Clear stretches of sandy beach, warm ocean water and a cool sea breeze is the reason a majority of visitors choose to visit in the summer months. If you choose to visit during the summer make sure you have sunscreen, mosquito and tick repellant and enough water for your stay. Dress appropriately for hot weather, wearing a hat, sunglasses, and light colored clothing. The winter months offer some of the best opportunities in the wilderness area. The absence of mosquitoes and ticks during the winter can make your visit comfortable and memorable. The late fall, winter and early spring months are some of the best months to hike and explore the wilderness. Be careful of the temperatures which can drop into the teens. The prevalent offshore winds during the winter can dramatically affect the wind chill making it cooler than mainland Long Island. If you plan on visiting during the winter, dress in warm layers. Anytime you plan on camping in the wilderness, make sure you have a tent, sleeping bag, plenty of food, water, a first aid kit, a portable cooking stove, sunscreen, mosquito and tick repellent, and a cell phone or portable radio. Always check the local weather forecasts and advisories before camping or visiting the wilderness.
Safety and Current Conditions
While in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, please be aware of the following safety concerns: Ticks and salt marsh mosquitoes are abundant during the summer months, so wear light colored clothes, use insect repellent if necessary, and always check yourself for ticks. Also be aware of poison ivy, changing weather conditions, sun stroke, heat exposure, cold exposure, ocean conditions, rip currents, and small craft warning. Swimming is at your own risk. Never swim by yourself; beware of signs of hypothermia and exertion, and always be wary of the weather and hazardous swimming conditions.