Travel

The Best Places to Camp Around NYC Without a Car

Green forests, uncrowded beaches, and private campfires await you.

After months of quarantining in your NYC apartment, a weekend surrounded by nature probably sounds like a dream. In a world where we’re all facing months, and possibly longer, without long-haul travel plans due to COVID-19, a socially distanced camping trip may be just the change in scenery you need. After all, living in NYC can already be wildly draining on a normal day -- during a pandemic, it gets even trickier.

The New York State Parks website has shared a great resource highlighting the guidelines around camping in the state during COVID-19. A few general rules to follow no matter where you’re camping: wear a mask whenever you leave your campsite or interact with people outside of your party, don’t allow guests on your campsite or anyone not registered to your site with the campground staff, be open to receiving a different campsite location to adhere to social distancing rules, and expect that access to on-site facilities (showers, bathrooms) may be closed throughout the day for cleaning.

As a general rule, any walk-in camping request will not be accommodated within any New York State Park for the time being. Visiting these campgrounds also includes utilizing public transportation, be it train, bus, or taxi. When riding on public transportation, make sure to take the proper precautions -- the CDC recommends washing your hands before you leave and when you arrive at your destination, wearing a mask until you get to your final destination, practicing social distancing at all times, and sanitizing the space around you with wipes.

With all of this in mind, the good news is that you don’t have to travel far to feel like you’re a world away from the city: green forests, uncrowded beaches, private campfires, and the actual sound of crickets at night can be found within just a couple hours (and, in some cases, without leaving the five boroughs at all). We’ve pulled together 11 spots you can reach from the city without having to talk your significant other’s cousin into borrowing their car. There are also options for all levels of campers -- from amateur to pro -- whether you’re looking to get away for one night or an entire week.

Cheesequake State Park
Cheesequake State Park | quiggyt4/Shutterstock

Cheesequake State Park, New Jersey

How far it is: 2 hours by bus
How to get there: Take the 133 NJ Transit Bus from Port Authority Station to the GSP Exit 120 Park & Ride. From there, hike 1.5 miles to the campground.
What to expect: New Jersey parks are taking similar measures to New York parks in that they’re requiring all visitors to wear a mask in shared spaces and to social distance from other campers. At Cheesequake, the draw is the variety of terrains you’ll encounter: fields, a hardwood forest, saltwater and freshwater marshes, Pine Barrens, and a swamp filled with white cedars. Reservations are required and can be made on the NJ Outdoors website. Currently, only tent and RV family campsites are open to be reserved -- cabins, shelters, group campsites, and lean-tos are closed for the time being. In non-pandemic times, there are 53 campsites and RV sites with fire rings and picnic tables ready to accommodate campers. There are also showers and bathrooms within walking distance of the campsites. Due to social distancing measures, limited availability should be expected.

Blue Mountain Campground, Saugerties

How far it is: 3 hours
How to get there: Head to Port Authority Bus Terminal and catch the Adirondack Trailways bus.
What to expect: Despite limited availability, Blue Mountain Campground is welcoming campers with expected restrictions. Nightly rates for a campsite start at $35 -- you can rent both RV hook-ups and wooded tent campsites (there are 60 sites total) -- and will grant you access to plenty of hiking trails, including views of the nearby Haines Falls. There’s an on-site laundry room for guests, as well as full-service restrooms and a campground shop for any forgotten toiletries. If you’re looking to get relatively far from the city for a basic camping experience with some hiking thrown in, this will check all of the boxes.

croton point park
Croton Point Park | Flickr/Jimbo in Jersey

Croton Point Park

How far it is: 1 hour and 30 mins by train
How to get there: Take Metro North to the Croton-Harmon stop.
What to expect: This 500-acre park in Westchester County offers cabins and tent sites for rent on a nightly basis. Due to COVID-19, there is limited availability for RV and tent campers in adherence with social distancing protocols, so it’s best to call ahead and confirm space before you make the journey. (You can check the park’s website for updates on availability or closures.) In an ideal situation, campers visiting Croton Point Park will find a nearby beach, hiking trails, fishing and boat launches, playing fields, and picnic areas. Due to the social distancing measures, visitors will not have access to the nature center, grills, pavilions, playgrounds, ballfields, or cabin rentals.

Malouf's Mountain Sunset Campground

How far it is: One hour and 35 minutes by train and shuttle bus
How to get there: Take Metro North to Beacon, where you’ll catch a shuttle to the Malouf Mountain trailhead. Heads up -- you do have to hike in and out of this campsite, so be careful to pack only as much as you can carry. Make sure and check the Metro North schedules before you head out; there are fewer trains due to COVID-19. 
What to expect: Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Campground can accommodate any level of camper. This is a great spot for amateurs who aren’t quite sure what kind of gear it takes for a fun weekend of camping -- they’ll set you up with what you’ll need, from the tent to the cooking supplies (but bring your own sleeping bag). And if you’re looking for something a bit more remote, they’ve also got you covered. Malouf’s has shared the measures they’re taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among campers and employees, including an enhanced cleaning protocol, mandatory mask wearing in public areas, a new bathhouse capacity, and no group reservations at the time. If you plan on playing outdoor games, make sure to bring your own -- the campground will not be offering any from their collection, or any cookware or dining ware for that matter, at this time. You can read the full list of measures currently being taken on the campground’s website. While you’re there, check out the package deals they offer, some of which include discounted Metro North tickets.

Mills Norrie State Park

How far it is: 2 hours by train and cab
How to get there: Take Metro North to Poughkeepsie and grab a 15 minute cab from the station.
What to expect: At Mills Norrie State Park, you’ll find 1,000 acres of campgrounds -- including 46 sites with tents and 10 cabins available to rent -- and tons of activities: hiking, cycling, skiing, and snowshoeing. If you’ve somehow managed to get your boat to the park, there’s also lake access from the campground. The park is also just five minutes from the Vanderbilt Estates and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s previous home, in case you get tired of taking in nature. The campground is currently open and accepting visitors, but you’ll have to make a reservation -- no walk-ins will be accommodated, due to the new COVID-19 protocols. To make a reservation, visit the state park website.

Harriman State Park
Harriman State Park | Flickr/Jiashiang

Harriman State Park

How far it is: One hour and 30 minutes by train and cab
How to get there: Take New Jersey Transit to the Tuxedo or Harriman stops.
What to expect: There are plenty of great spots to camp overnight inside Harriman State Park, but your best bets are the Tom Jones lean-to or Bald Rocks (the latter of which is temporarily suspended for campers due to black bear activity). Campers are currently still able to pitch a tent using their own gear within 300 feet of the park shelters. Just remember to keep your distance from other visitors! Pick a clear day to set aside for hiking Island Pond and Lake Skenonto. In a non-pandemic situation, the park has everything you’d ever need for a solid weekend outdoors: grills, cabins for rent, playing fields, picnic tables, showers, a beach, biking, fishing, hiking, and boat rentals. While some of these recreational activities and spaces may remain open as we all practice proper social distancing etiquette, don’t count on being able to access them in the coming months. Many recreational activity capacities have been adjusted to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. And keep in mind that due to COVID-19 regulations, the trail shelters are currently off-limits. In addition to the limited recreational areas, there are a number of indefinite road closures to plan for which include Tiorati Brook Road, Arden Valley Road, Perkins Memorial Drive, and Exit 19 off the Palisades Interstate Parkway. You can read about any updates to these closures on the park’s website.

Clarence Fahnestock State Park

How far it is: One hour and 40 minutes by train and cab
How to get there: Take the Hudson Line on Metro North to Cold Spring. Once you get there, grab a cab to take you the 5 miles to the park.
What to expect: You won’t be the only camper getting off at the Cold Spring stop, so plan to catch an early train to make social distancing easier. There are plenty of amazing views, but the Canopus Lake beach is what people really come to experience at Clarence Fahnestock State Park. The campground is located on natural rock ridges, making it easy to find private little alcoves to spend your night underneath the stars. There are 80 campsites available to rent in the park and you’ll find bathroom and shower facilities centrally located. Given the new COVID-19 guidelines, expect the available campsites to vary in an effort to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Check the park’s website before planning your trip for the most up-to-date information.

Hither Hills State Park

How far it is: 3 hours by train
How to get there: Hop on the LIRR to Montauk and call a cab or hike the short distance to the 189-site campground.
What to expect: Hither Hills State Park is located right on the ocean, presenting the ideal wake-up call from your tent -- the sound of waves hitting the beach. You can fish year-round if you’ve got the right permit; hike the walking dunes of Napeague Harbor; hike through pine, oak, shad, and Russian olive trees; bike the region; or cross-country ski, depending on when you visit.

Wildwood State Park

How far it is: 3 hours by train
How to get there: Hop on the LIRR to Riverhead and grab a cab at the station for the 15-minute ride to the campground.
What to expect: If you’re focused on getting a good hike in, Wildwood State Park has 600 acres of forest and two miles of beach to explore. Other park activities include stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, biking, fishing, or making the perfect campfire s’mores—note that some of these may not be available due to increased COVID-19 safety measures. Book a campsite on Recreation.gov before you make your journey there. Be warned: There are no pets allowed at this campground.

Lake George Escape

How far it is: 6 hours by bus and cab
How to get there: Take a Greyhound bus from Port Authority to Lake George, then grab a cab from the bus station to the campground 6 miles away.
What to expect: Lake George Escape is great for families looking to spend some quality time outside the craziness of the city. You can rent a site for your tent, a furnished cabin, or a spot to hook up your RV, but expect to be asked to social distance from other campers and to wear a mask in shared spaces. You’ll find all of the usual campground activities -- hiking, fishing, playing fields, bonfires, swimming at the beach -- but the best thing is the $8, one-hour tubing trips on the nearby Schroon River. There is a chance that some of these activities may be restricted due to social distancing measures, so it’s best to call ahead for availability.

Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain

How far it is: Eight hours and 30 minutes by bus and cab
How to get there: Hop on a Greyhound bus at Port Authority to Lake Placid. From there, take a cab -- or bike! -- from the bus stop to the campground at Whiteface Mountain.
What to expect: Not only are there tent spots (some with built-in lean-tos for extra shelter), but the campground also offers cabins and glamping sites, as well as RV parking. The Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain campgrounds are open all year round. You can fish, bike, play a round of mini-golf, swim in the onsite pool, or start a campfire. There are also on-site bathrooms and showers within walking distance. Like all of the other campgrounds on this list, prepare to work with social distancing guidelines and don’t forget your mask!

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Erika Owen is a Brooklyn-based travel writer, professional Iceland enthusiast, and the author of The Art of Flaneuring: How to Wander with Intention and Discover a Better Life and Lawbreaking Ladies: 50 Tales of Daring, Defiant, and Dangerous Women from History.