When someone mentions camping and living in the great outdoors, your mind obviously jumps straight to New York City. OK, so probably not. But it is a possibility. Yes, you really can go camping near NYC. Whether you’re a city-dweller looking for a change of scenery or a visitor who wants a truly different experience, camping near NYC might be just the thing you didn’t know you wanted to do.
My husband used to joke that camping for him was a nap on his balcony at a 5-star resort. But then, COVID-19. Suddenly, camping, with its natural social distancing and great outdoors, looks super appealing. And then friends who are coming to visit in New York City mentioned they were camping here.
Most of the country has been on some sort of COVID-19 lockdown for months. Many of us are itching to go somewhere. Anywhere. Though I ’feng shui’d my bedroom last year, with soothing blue walls, a comfy king sized bed and lots of pillows, I long to sleep someplace else. Even on the lumpy ground.
Thus, camping near NYC.
Now, not all camping involves the cold hard ground beneath your aching body. Even more surprising might be that you can actually go camping right IN NEW YORK CITY.
Manhattan Camping: Yes, It Exists! Sort of
In fact, you can technically go camping in Manhattan. Now, this is a luxury experience, called glamping, on Governors Island, not a camping trip where you drive off road. Governors Island is part of the borough of Manhattan, although you have to take a ferry to get there.
Collective Retreats operates the Governors Island glamping, which starts with an eight minute private water taxi ride from midtown. You can also take the public ferry from downtown, although, alas, you can’t go kayaking or canoeing to the island.
The large tents are air conditioned. Dining options include a tasting menu or seasonal options cooked in the wood fire grill. No toting along a Coleman stove or wood for the fire pit.
You will want to spend time outside, watching the sun set over the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River. You can participate in that time honored camping trip ritual, cooking dessert. Every camper (glamper?) gets a s’mores kit.
The next morning, coffee and freshly-baked pastries are delivered to your tent. There’s also a a free yoga class.
It’s almost like having a private island. The island is closed to the public at night, so the only people there are your fellow campers and staff. You and your family can grab a hammock and relax.
Kids are welcome, though you might want to go glamping as a romantic getaway. This is a luxury experience, with a luxe price tag. If you are a frequenter of five-star hotels, the price isn’t outrageous. I booked a queen bed for $279.
Note: Collective Retreats also has an outpost in the Hudson Valley, not far from NYC.
Camping Near NYC: Camping in Brooklyn, a Bargain
Brooklyn real estate became popular as a lower priced alternative to Manhattan rentals. While amenity-filled apartments in Williamsburg and Park Slope rival prices in Soho, Brooklyn camping remains a steal. In Floyd Bennett Field, you can spend the night for just $30. This camp site, open from mid-May through late October, has 32 tent sites and 12 RV parking sites. This is rustic camping. You bring your own tents, sleeping bags and a pad to soften the ground.
Floyd Bennett Field doesn’t allow alcohol, pets, glass containers or charcoal grills. The RV sites are very basic. There are no water, sewer or electrical hookups.
At Floyd Bennett, bring your own kayak and fishing equipment. If you want to bike the the beach just a short ride away, you can rent on site or bring your own. Biking through Fort Tilden feels like the Outer Banks, though you are in Queens.
More No Frills Camping Near NYC
Fort Wadsworth, on Staten Island, and Sandy Hook, in New Jersey, have tent-only camp sites. These basic camp sites are all run by the National Park Service. It will be easy to socially distance during a stay at Sandy Hook. Note there are no showers here and Fort Wadsworth has only cold water showers. If you head over the bridge to the beach from Floyd Bennett Field, you’ll find hot and cold water showers but they’re only open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Camping on Long Island
If you forgot to rent your Hamptons getaway for the season (which can run you $150,000 and up), you can stay on the beach in Montauk. Hither Hills State Park has tent camping for a tiny fraction of that cost. In my younger days, we took biking trips to Hither Hills, but using a car seemed more realistic at my age.
We drove a Mazda CX-30, which easy held the essentials of a rustic camping site: a tent, sleeping bags and a cooler with a super chilled bottle of rosé. We had to reward ourselves for properly setting up our tent and once we parked the car, we didn’t need to move it. All necessities – a beach and picnic tables with fire pits – were provided. There are also showers and bathrooms.
Hither Hills State Park also permits RV camping.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
A striking reduction in traffic has been an unexpected benefit this summer. We drove to the Delaware Water Gap in just over an hour. We were there to hike part of the Appalachian Trail, but the area offers a bonanza for campers. Hikers on the Appalachian Trail can go backcountry camping. River camping is allowed for those canoeing or kayaking the Delaware River. There are also tent and RV sites.
The Right Car for Camping
The Mazda CX-30, a compact SUV, gets 32 miles per gallon. The model I drove had a power rear liftgate, ideal for packing and unpacking your camping gear. The AWD makes it easy to maneuver on sandy or rocky camping sites. The sporty vehicle is also at home in urban settings, with a Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose speakers and leather trim.
I appreciated safety features like rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning. And the moonroof (part of the premium package that included the power liftgate, and leather seats) let us enjoy the outdoors even when we were in the car.
Note: Mazda loaned me the CX-30 to explore camping around New York City. Opinions and wood smoked hair are all my own.