You’re closer to the outdoors than you think: 6 places you can go camping near NYC without a car

floyd bennett field

This is Floyd Bennett Field, right here in Brooklyn! Photo by Matt Septimus

So warm weather is here (there’s photographic evidence and everything), and you’re looking for a little life-saving peace and quiet in nature somewhere outside of (or perhaps inside of) this sprawling metropolis, but you think you need a car and a bunch of cash, or the luck to win the camping in Prospect Park lottery, to really take advantage. Think again, blog-readers of Broketown! You don’t need to be a car owner to get yourself deep into the woods, and supplies don’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Read on and we’ll show you how to camp (and not just in coffee shops!).

CAMPING SITES

When it comes to camping without a car, you might think your options are limited. That’s far from the case though. You can go camping near NYC without ever leaving the city limits, but you can also ride the Metro-North of the LIRR to a quiet time out in the woods without much trouble. Just check out a bunch of these options available to you:

floyd bennett field

Oh hell yeah, Floyd Bennett has archery! via Flickr user gigi_nyc

Floyd Bennett Field
Bushwick may not be the boswijk (read: “wooded area” or “heavy woods”) it once was, but Floyd Bennett Field in Marine Park has some trees beneath which you can setup camp. Just take the Q35 down from the last stop on the 2/5 at Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues to the Gateway National Recreation Area, enter via Aviation Road (the last intersection before the bridge), head across the old airfield, check in at the ranger station, and then head on over to your site! Note: you’ll be walking across, like, a mile of tarmac to get there. Bonus points if you bike! Sites are $30/night and can be booked online. Tip: If you’re bored, you’re not far from Jacob Riis Beach, and you get access to Floyd Bennett Field’s archery range if you wanna test your skillz with a good, old-fashioned longbow.

The Appalachian Trail
Yes, there is a Metro-North stop on that famous 2,000+ trail from Maine to Georgia (fun fact: it is the ONLY train stop along the entire length of the trail). From here, the world’s your oyster: you can hike in either direction FOREVER…or just three miles west (i.e. away from the road by the train station) on the trail over a few hills to find a shelter (a “lean-to” cabin made of wood and stuff) and primitive campground. Heck, if you don’t mind sharing the shelter with some smelly thru-hikers (read: those dirty, hairy hippies that are trekking through THE WHOLE GODDAM TRAIL), you don’t even need to bring a tent–and you might leave with a few stories!

Round-trip transportation on Metro-North’s Harlem line (Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays only, folks!) will run you $32. Camping in the woods ‘round there is free, but they don’t have fancy things like “restrooms,” so bring toilet paper and be prepared to dig yourself a hole in the ground to poop in. Also, this station is in the middle of nowhere, so be sure to stock up on supplies ahead of time.

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croton point park

You can sit by a lake cat Croton Point Park, which seems nice. via Flickr user Kamil Kedzierski

Croton Point Park
This peninsula in the Hudson is right off the Croton-Harmon Metro-North station (on the beautiful Hudson line, this time–seriously guys, some sweet panoramas of the river out your train window on the way up!). It’s a 45-minute express train ride from Grand Central (round-trip fare $27 peak/$20.50 off-peak) with trains leaving every half hour and it’s only a half-mile walk from the station to the campground.

There’s also a Shop-Rite nearby as well as a bunch of other dining options (including a cafeteria on the park premises). That said, you’ll pay a bit for convenience, as this is Westchester we’re talking about: each tent campsite costs $50/night for hoi polloi non-Westchester County Park Pass holders, and cabins go up from there. That being said, you don’t even really need camping supplies if you opt for a cabin over a tent, because of the easy hike to the site, so this might be a good option for those wanting to make an escape from New York [City] without having to try too hard. Bonus: There are rumored to be historic wineries in the area.

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fire island wilderness

Look at all that empty beach. via the National Park Service

Fire Island
What’s more amazeballs than camping on a beach? A beach, I say, far from the clutches of civilization (and other campers/cheatersRVs), where you can do whatever you want (just don’t be an asshole). Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness allows for backcountry camping (with a $20 permit; available at the Watch Hill visitor center) on its myriad sand dunes in the only designated national wilderness in New York State! Just take the LIRR to Patchogue (round-trip fare $35 peak/$25.50 off-peak); the Watch Hill Ferry Terminal is only a block away and takes you right to the visitor center ($17 round-trip). Warning: might wanna take a summer Friday if you’re working a nine-to-five, as the last ferry leaves Patchogue at 7pm (and the train ride there is a little over an hour…and on Saturday, the last ferry leaves from Patchogue at 5:30pm–ferries generally leave once every couple hours–so, y’know, plan accordingly).

Once you get there, you’re gonna have to schlep your stuff a mile or two to find a patch of sand to call your own–and you’d better stock up on supplies in Patchogue (or sooner), as this wilderness is a carry-in, carry-out kinda place: you’ll need to bring everything you need, including food and water, and take all your garbage with you on the way out. Also, beware the legendary mosquitoes: use the FORCE bugspray, Luke! Still, as far as getting away from it all, this is as good as it gets and totally worth it, as again, you get to sleep under the stars on a goddam beach!

Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park
Take the Metro-North to Cold Spring (Hudson Line, round trip fare $35.50 peak/$26.50 off-peak) and then bike uphill nine miles or take a taxi (call ahead! 845-265-TAXI, $40 round-trip). They have things like nature trails and lake beaches (with rowboats!), and their campsites are official and legit, with all the amenities (read: bathrooms and places to buy firewood and ask questions) for $19/campsite/night.

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harriman state park

Now here is some freakin’ nature. via Flickr user Surfergirl30

Harriman State Park/Bear Mountain
The advanced option, for all you ambitious and adventurous souls with hearts of gold and legs of steel. Take the Metro-North to Peekskill (Hudson Line, round trip fare $31 peak/$23.50 off-peak) and then bike to either here (easier bike, longer [3 mile] hike) or here (more biking, less hiking). From there, you’ll hike to the West Mountain Shelter, pitch a tent, maybe start a fire (and make some s’mores!), and enjoy the stars without light pollution (and the view of that great light pollution source, New York City, off in the distance…).

Protip: on the way back, stop at Peekskill Brewery. Their Eastern Standard IPA is phenomenal, hard to find downstate, and tastes like a meadow in bloom smells (read: good). They’ve also got pretty good pub fare, are right by the train stateion, and let’s be honest by the time you’ve made the journey out to the shelter on the other side of the Hudson, and back, you’ve earned it.

All that's missing is the tent. Photo by Isaac Anderson

All that’s missing is the tent. Photo by Isaac Anderson

SUPPLIES

Just as in the rest of your everyday existence, you’ll need things to keep you warm and protect you from the elements. We’ll start with the basics:

Sleeping bag
You’ll want one. There are a bunch of ‘em on the market rated down to a range of overnight temperatures and stuffed with everything from fluffy goose down (light and compact, toasty; not so water-resistant, expensive) to synthetic polyester (bulkier/heavier, warm enough; more water-resistant, less expensive). This blogger’s perfectly happy with this basic and compact one for $40 off of Amazon; it’s served him well from bikepacking the Left Coast to car camping (read: super casually driving up to a campsite) with the rest of ‘em.

Sleeping mat
This is your bed away from your bed. Do you want to sleep on weird, lumpy ground with nothing but a thin plastic sheet between you and the rocks below? Do you want the earth to suck the life force out of you in your sleep (sleeping bags get crushed under your weight and are bad at insulating below you)? Would you just say fuck it and sleep on the goddam floor at any other point in your existence? If not, enough said: sleeping mats keep you warm, high, dry, and comfy. Therm-a-Rest®  is the Kleenex® of the sleeping mat world; get one ($45 for a medium-sized one)–or complain when you catch cold and get jabbed in the back.

Tent
Rain is a thing. So are mosquitos. As romantic of an idea as it might be to sleep directly under the stars, humans have been building artificial habitats for millennia; indeed, it’s the only reason we as a species populate these latitudes. Tents also serve as a windbreak and afford a little privacy should you care to hide your more, ahem, intimate activities from the odd passer-by. Here is a tent. It is cheap ($38 for the two-person version). I have slept in it; it does the job.

Hooray, you’ve got the basic supplies covered! Now you can get a good night’s rest in the woods somewhere. Note: Most of these links are, for your convenience, to faceless megacorporation Amazon, but supporting your local businesses is always a good thing. Try Park Slope’s very own Gear to Go, for example–they’re nice guys, you can see (and try?) before you buy, and you can even rent equipment from them instead if you’re unsure about this whole camping thing (or are just a commitment-phobe).

Protection from the elements.

Bug spray
When the weather’s nice, everyone likes to join the party! Some guests are a bunch of tiny goddam vampires that make for a less-than-enjoyable experience. Get something ($4) with 20% DEET or more–don’t worry, it won’t kill you–to keep those suckers (literally!) at bay.

Sunscreen
You’re a human. Do you really wanna turn into a lobster? Interspecial transfiguration can really ruin one’s day. Use something ($6) with an SPF of 15 or 30–and remember to reapply!

Other essentials

Water
You’re gonna have to drink! Hiking and camping will take the water right out of you, and if you don’t stay hydrated, you’re not gonna be a happy camper. Bring some along in your favorite, hopefully not leaky water bottle that’s big enough to hold a quart of water; you should go through at least that much in a day (and more than twice that amount if you’re engaged in strenuous activity).

Food
Don’t get hangry! Trail mix is kind of ideal for keeping hunger at bay, and it’s light, energy-dense, and doesn’t need refrigeration or cooking; that said, even though it comes in myriad flavors, you might get sick of it. Feel free to mix it up with some semi-perishable, calorie-dense treats like bread and chocolate; make little cheese and/or salami sandwiches and wrap them in brown paper if you wanna be super cute and pretend you’re hiking the fjords of Norway like a native (just remember that without refrigeration, things spoil a lot faster). Also, if you’re taking a train out to your hike and campsite, most train stations will be next to grocery stores–or at least delis–where you can stock up before heading out.

And there you have it: a few basics for gear and camping options! Get these down and really, the sky’s your limit–you can practically go all the way to the goddam Catskills! Okay, the Catskills might be a bit much…point is, getting outta dodge to see the stars, eat some s’mores, and reconnect with Mother Nature is totally within the realm of possibility, and you don’t have to break the bank to do it (you can leave that last one to the financial industry).

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