New Yorkers craving a taste of the wilderness—but also the ability to get back home to air conditioning and Seamless without too much of a hassle—have the option of roughing it for a night or two right here in the NYC metro area. Strange though it may seem, there are green spaces in which to pitch a tent and gather round a crackling campfire within the five boroughs, and just beyond in the city's suburbs. The bracing experience of roughing it (or perhaps showing your kids that there's life beyond their smartphones) is only a subway or train ride away; read on for five options in and around NYC.
Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island
It may come as a surprise that within the five boroughs, you can pass the evening on the site of a centuries-old military installation—and, perhaps, amid the ghosts of soldiers. Right beneath the Verrazano Bridge on Staten Island sits Fort Wadsworth, which according to the National Park Service was built by British troops in 1779 and served as a crucial defensive position during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. It was later divided into smaller forts, and served as headquarters for the Navy until 1994. Now, as park land, Fort Wadsworth encompasses 226 acres, and is home to hundreds of bird species, diverse plant life, and views of New York Harbor.
You can also camp here, provided you bring your own tents and sleeping bags, make a reservation here, and pay a fee of $30 per day. Expect a low-frills site: There are picnic tables and grills, plus restrooms and showers, but little beyond that. (Though to be fair, a slice of Denino's pizza isn't very far away.) To get there, take the S51 bus from the St. George Ferry Terminal to the main entrance at 220 New York Avenue.
Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn
Another harbor park—this one to the south of Bergen Beach in Brooklyn—Floyd Bennett Field offers enough outdoor activities to please its adventurous namesake. Floyd Bennett was an aviator and Brooklynite who was the first person, per the NPS, to fly to the North Pole. Today, the park offers visitors the opportunity to canoe, kayak, fish, hike, and bird watch. There are also several sites for camping and RVs. As with Fort Wadsworth, you'll need to make a reservation here and pay a $30 daily fee, and bring your own tents and sleeping bags. Picnic tables, grills, bathrooms, and showers are nearby, and you can purchase provisions and firewood at a store in the park.
To get there, take the 2 or 5 train to Flatbush Avenue, and transfer to the Q35 bus bound for Rockaway Park.
NYC family camping
If you want to give your city kids a taste of the great outdoors without schlepping to get there, consider the Parks Department's family camping program. In June and July, urban park rangers will lead New Yorkers on excursions through parks in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and the overnights include evening hikes, storytelling, barbecues, s'mores, and camping. These events are free, but also quite popular, so you'll need to enter a lottery to participate. If selected, you'll need to bring your own tents and sleeping bags.
Fire Island offers New Yorkers the opportunity to splurge on a fancy oceanfront rental, but you can also camp here on the cheap, and roll your wilderness experience and beach vacation into one. Beyond party towns like The Pines, at the eastern end of the barrier beach is the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wildnerness, the state's only federally designated wildnerness area. You have a couple of camping options: The Watch Hill Family Campground offers 26 camp sites, but note that the Watch Hill marina—along with the camp sites—is currently closed to ferry and private boat service as it undergoes repairs, and is scheduled to reopen in September.
As an alternative, wilderness backcountry camping is still available in the eastern and western zones of the area, but is for true outdoors enthusiasts, as it's about as no-frills as it gets--and with Watch Hill facilities closed, that means no restrooms. You must make a reservation online and pay a $20 permit fee; bring all your own supplies, and be careful not to disturb any flora or fauna when you set up camp. To get there, take the LIRR to Patchogue (about an hour and half; $27.50 off-peak round trip), transfer to the ferry to Davis Park (30 minutes, $17 round trip), and be prepared to hike at least a mile to the site.
Fahnestock State Park
This 14,000-acre state park is accessible to car-free New Yorkers: Just take the Metro-North to Cold Spring (a 77-minute ride; the off-peak round trip fare is $29), and then grab a cab to the the huge green space (about a 15-minute ride), which sprawls across Putnam and Dutchess Counties. According to the park's official site, visitors can hike, kayak, canoe, fish, and swim in Canopus Lake. Campers have their choice of 80 sites, each of which offer picnic tables, fire rings for barbecuing, and access to nearby restrooms and showers. You can make a reservation and pay the $9 fee here.
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