The Top Ten Parks for Wind Sports

Parks where wind and water collide
Gorp.com
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Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park  (Photographers Choice/Getty)

The breeze blows strong and steady in several national parks that lend themselves perfectly to wind sports like sailing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing. Seaside locations might be expected, but this top ten also features inland waters where wind sports fans will find great recreational opportunities amid stunning scenery.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Crissy Field, Rodeo, Muir, and Ocean Beaches
Home port of the current America's Cup yachting champs, San Francisco Bay provides one of the world's most dazzling places to sail. The twin arms of Golden Gate National Recreation Area separate the (sometimes) calmer bay waters from the often turbulent open Pacific. Crissy Field Beach on the south shore is the most popular place for kiteboarding, a spectacular new sport that combines surfboard and parachute. The same beach is also a great place to launch Windsurfers for a cruise beneath the Golden Gate Bridge or a quick whip around Alcatraz. Rodeo Beach and Muir Beach in the Marin Headlands and Ocean Beach in San Francisco are other awesome windsurfing and kiteboarding spots. While most sailors set out from marinas outside the park, Golden Gate does have its own facility—Travis Marina (aka Presidio Yacht Club) on Horseshoe Cove in the Fort Baker section in Marin County. A holdover from when Fort Baker was occupied by the military, the Air Force–operated marina offers sailing lessons and rentals to both military families and the general public (www.travisfss.com/marina.html).

Padre Island National Seashore
Bird Island Basin
With miles of fl at water and a shallow, sandy bottom, Laguna Madre on the western flank of Texas' Padre Island is considered a prime place to learn and practice windsurfing. Bird Island Basin—not far from the entrance gate and the Malaquite Visitor Center—is the park's windsurfing hub and the only developed launch area. With an average annual wind speed of 18 miles an hour and some sort of breeze nearly every day, Windsurfing Magazine ranks "BIB" as the best fl at-water sailing in the lower 48. The season runs early spring to late fall, although midsummer can be scorching hot and humid. A private outfitter called Worldwinds (www.worldwinds.net) operates a windsurfing school and rental center right on the beach at Bird Island. Their instruction runs from group beginners classes and kids camps to private lessons in deepwater starts, jibe footwork, and other advanced skills.

Gateway National Recreation Area
Jamaica Bay and Sandy Hook
What do Brooklyn and the Jersey Shore have in common besides beach boardwalks and minor league baseball? Great sailing. A multiunit park flanking the entrance to New York Harbor, Gateway National Recreation Area includes wild and untamed Jamaica Bay on the back end of Brooklyn and the Sandy Hook Peninsula in northern New Jersey. During the summer at Jamaica Bay, the Park Service offers basic sailing instruction, youth group sailing classes, and ranger-led interpretive sails out of Gateway Marina on Flatbush Avenue. Private outfitters like Brooklyn's Sebago Canoe Club (www.sebagocanoeclub.org) also have sailing clinics and flotilla cruises on Jamaica Bay. On the Jersey Shore, the calm waters of Sandy Hook Bay are ideal for Hobie Cats and other small, nonmotorized sailboats, which can be launched at Horseshoe Cove. The best conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding are found on the bay side of the peninsula near Beach Area C.

Virgin Islands National Park
Caribbean Waters and Cinnamon Bay
A favorite with both first-time sailors and experienced yachtsmen, the Virgin Islands have everything that makes Caribbean sailing compelling: blue skies, warm weather, and a steady but gentle breeze, as well as great tunes, delicious seafood, and coves that never seem to get too crowded. Virgin Islands National Park sits at the heart of the action, easternmost of the American isles and just across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from the British portion. Many people bring their own boats down from the U.S. eastern seaboard or arrange bareboat charters from adjacent islands like Tortola and St. Thomas. The park provides plenty of safe anchorages and pristine waters in which to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive off the back end of a boat. The town of Cruz Bay is home to both the park visitor center and provision stores where sailors can stock their galleys. Several local outfitters offer crewed charters and catamaran cruises in national park waters, including Radio Flyer (www.radioflyercatamarancharters.com) and Cruz Bay Watersports (www.divestjohn.com). Small sailboats and Windsurfers can also be rented on the beach at Cinnamon Bay inside the park. The height of the local yachting season is December to March, but fall and spring are also pleasant. Avoid the June–November hurricane season.

Biscayne National Park
South Florida Waters
"Sailing again in Margaritaville" could easily be the theme of this laid-back tropical park at the southern end of Florida. Stretching between South Miami and Key Largo, Biscayne embraces more than 200 square miles of sultry sea and sandy islands. Needless to say, boating is the only way to explore much of the park. Most people cruise down from the Miami metro area, but boats can also be put in the water via ramps at three county parks (Homestead Bayfront, Black Point, and Matheson Hammock) adjacent to the federal reserve. Broad, shallow Biscayne Bay separates the mainland park from insular portions like Boca Chita and elongated Elliott Key with their picnic areas and primitive campgrounds. A maritime heritage trail along the eastern edge of the park connects a string of six shipwrecks spanning a hundred years of local maritime history. Windsurfing is also popular, especially along the park's mainland coast, where the calm waters are ideal for novices. Owing to numerous reefs and shoals, National Ocean Service (NOS) navigation charts are highly recommended.

Published: 23 May 2011 | Last Updated: 26 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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