Picture it: Summer in Brooklyn, hot and sticky sidewalks, neighbors hanging on stoops and out windows, park meetups, rosé upon glass of rosé in stuffy apartments and backyard bars alike. It almost sounds romantic, similar to the way people speak nostalgically about the “old New York,” despite the grime and crime. But here’s something that’s equally, if not more, lust-inducing: a summer night spent sleeping under the stars.
Yes, it’s camping season! And New Yorkers, like always, have many options available to them, even as close as Governors Island, where glamping is on offer for the first time this summer.
The timing coincides with a remarkable rise in camping and outdoor recreation that is no longer relegated to the hardcore nature lovers among us. According to the New York State Parks Department, a record-breaking 71.5 million people visited state parks, campgrounds and trails in 2017, and those numbers show a close to 25 percent increase over 2011. Now, whether this is because you can glamp in more places as opposed to just camp, or because unplugging has become a tent pole (heh) along the road to oh-so-trendy “wellness,” the fact still remains: People crave the Great Outdoors.
To help you get out of town and into the woods, we rounded up the best places to pitch your tent or rent a cabin this season, complete with expert tips and recommendations. All of these campgrounds are no farther than 3 hours from NYC, because you know that really means 4-5 hours because well, it’s 2018, the city is full of people and all the roads are under construction.
If it feels late in the season to plan a camping trip, it’s not. In general, weekdays are almost always available, many August weekends are open and the season runs till November for many of these sites—plenty of time to commune with nature.
The Appalachian Mountain Club is known for its trails and huts for hikers on top of mountains but did you know there are two AMC campgrounds near NYC? In general, these are better maintained than state parks and offer a range of cabin and site options (and nary an RV hookup). To check for availability at either location below, this tool is a good start.
AMC Harriman Outdoor Center
200 Breakneck Rd, Haverstraw, NY (Catskills)
Distance from NYC: 2 hours
The AMC at Harriman State Park is much more than a campground. There’s a lodge with a dining hall and programming for people of all ages (such as this upcoming yoga retreat), and a 64-acre pond with free canoes and kayaks. There’s even a swimming “pool” built into a large wooden dock that sits on the pond with Adirondack chairs to relax in. This is a great place for families and sleeping options include cabins as well as tent platforms, three-sided shelters and “backcountry” camping spots that are from a half mile to a mile hike from the center. Campsites start at $30 a night for non-members, and cabins range from $141 per night for up to 4 people to $579 for the entire lodge, which sleeps 12. Note: No pets allowed.
AMC Mohican Outdoor Center
50 Camp Mohican Rd, Blairstown, NJ (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area)
Distance from NYC: 2 hours
This AMC center is located on a glacial lake that’s great for swimming or canoeing. The Appalachian Trail is close by for hikers. Another great spot for families and groups, Mohican has a lodge with a fireplace and meal service as well as a variety of cabins as well as both group camping sites (up to three tents) and more remote, primitive sites. Depending on what you need: access to bathroom facilities, warm showers, etc., there is something for you. Pro tip: Call to go over options and availability (603-466-2727). Note: No pets allowed.
State and Regional Parks
For the most part, these campgrounds managed by states and counties do not have the pristine, quiet feel of an AMC site. But there are exceptions, and many are near attractions like great hikes or beaches that you couldn’t get close to otherwise at such a low price. Nearly all use ReserveAmerica for reservations.
790 Hulse Landing Road
Wading River, NY (Long Island)
Distance from Brooklyn: 2.5 hours
This campground near the North Fork has long been popular thanks to its location on the Long Island Sound and its proximity to wineries, farms and a two-mile stretch of beach. New this year are brand-new furnished cabins with kitchenettes and bathrooms, which run roughly $200-$250 a night and sleep up to 4 to 6 people. This is a great option for outdoor enthusiasts who aren’t really up for sleeping on the ground or roughing it. The campground itself features showers, a basketball court and a playground, which will delight the kids. The beach is a short walk, but bring water shoes—North Fork beaches are beautiful but rocky. Note: no pets allowed.
Mountain Lakes Park
201 Hawley Road, North Salem (Westchester County)
Distance from Brooklyn, 90 minutes
This park features five lakes for fishing and lots of hiking trails. One Brooklyn Based reader said it was a good option for large groups and noted that campsites are drive-up and feature lean-to’s. Each site has a grill, fire pit and picnic table. There are also heated yurts available that sleep up to 10 people. Note: Alcohol prohibited, dogs allowed but must be on leash at all times, no swimming.
Mongaup Pond Campground
231 Mongaup Pond Road, Livingston Manor, NY (Catskills)
Distance from Brooklyn 2:45 hours
This campground, in increasingly popular Livingston Manor, is also loved by families due to its location on a beautiful pond that is staffed with lifeguards. There is a 1.5 mile trail that loops around the pond and boating and fishing are both permitted. When we asked Matt Young of Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. in Brooklyn about campgrounds he’d recommend, he said Mongaup. “This campsite had a bunch of tent sites along the waterfront, as well as a bunch of spots to set up some camp chairs, or sit on a log and watch as the sun set behind the tree line,” he said. “It provides the solitude that many people are looking for, but it also has great amenities not too far down the road!” Note: Dogs permitted at campsites only and must always be on leash.
Housatonic Meadows State Park
90 U.S. 7, Sharon CT
Distance from Brooklyn: 2.5 hours
In Northwest Connecticut, this small campground features tent sites as well as a few new, rustic cabins (no kitchen or bathroom). The campground is directly on the Housatonic River, which is great for rafting and fly fishing. (Housatonic River Outfitters can get you started if you want to start casting, and Clarke Outfitters rents canoes, kayaks and runs rafting trips down the river.) It’s a good spot for families and couples alike. Directly across the street is a nice hiking trail that connects with the Appalachian Trail. Note: Alcohol prohibited, no pets allowed.
874 N Lake Rd, Haines Falls, NY
Distance from Brooklyn: 2:45 hours
This is the biggest state campground in the Catskill Forest Preserve, and it feels it. It features a lake for swimming, a lake just for boating, and close proximity to the Escarpment, a famous, 24-mile trail beloved by hikersas well as fantastic views and sites such as Alligator Rock and Kaaterskill Falls. According to Kevin Rosenberg, of formerly Brooklyn-based Gear to Go Outfitters (they are now upstate but ship nationally), North-South has great facilities and the hiking can’t be beat. Rosenberg also noted that famous painters including Thomas Cole have painted the nearby landscapes and Catskills views. Note: Certain loops within the campground permit dogs, but are generally far from the water. Which is not a terrible thing, as it’s quieter.
164 Old Montauk Highway, Long Island
Distance from Brooklyn: 3+ hours
One of the most unique campgrounds in the area, Hither Hills is nearly right on the beach. As such, the campground books up instantly (you can reserve a spot nine months to the day in advance). But Rosenberg offers this pro tip: “They require a 5-day minimum and a lot of times there are abandoned sites.” You can get these empty sites on a first-come, walk-up basis, but you should arrive at 7:30am when the campground office opens to secure one—a tall order. That said, if you secure a spot, this is a great campground for beach lovers (who don’t mind being in the blazing heat with no shade) and also those who want to get in on some of the nightlife and restaurant action in Montauk. There are also trails, a playground and horseshoe courts. Note: No fires, dogs allowed on leash.
Woodland Valley Campground
1319 Woodland Valley Rd, Phoenicia (Catskills)
Distance from Brooklyn: 3 hours
This campground on a country road has decent facilities, is on a nice stream for fishing and is close to “amazing hiking” to three of the highest peaks in the Catskills like Wittenberg and Giant Ledge mountains, according to Rosenberg. But it’s not for the casual camper: “If all you want to do is hang out and cook, this is not the one for you,” he said.
New York City Camping and Glamping
It’s possible to sleep under the stars without leaving New York, although you may not be able to see said stars as easily as if you left the city. Sites at Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island can go for as little as $30 a night. For significantly more, you could glamp on Governors Island with Collective Retreats, and surprisingly, despite this recent New York Times article, there are still weekdays and some weekend nights in summer still available, ranging from $164 a night to over a thousand dollars. The company will be operating on the island for the next few years, so if you didn’t score a prime weekend this year, there’s always next summer.
Private Campgrounds and Camping Apps
This is 2018 and so of course we can now find camping spots via apps. Think of these as Airbnb-for-camping style services, with sites primarily on private land, often with platforms, beds and outhouse-style toilets or mobile homes. Some of the most popular are Tentrr, Hipcamp and Gamping, while Getaway offers a bare-bones cabin in the Catskills for booking. Check the sites for local options.
Finally, if you don’t have a car and want to just hop on the train to a campground, Malouf’s Mountain Campground in Beacon is a great option, with good hiking nearby at Fishkill Ridge and Mount Beacon and the option to purchase meals. The proprietor can pick you up at the train station and help load gear into the sites, both with and without platforms, for you, too.