New York State Camping Guide for Beginners – Times Union | Gmx Pharm

Whether you’re a seasoned backcountry camper or someone looking to conquer your first night under the stars, countless outdoor adventures await in New York’s extensive network of state parks and reserves.

So how do you get into camping and backpacking? Rich Gottlieb, a keen outdoor enthusiast and (now retired) longtime owner of Rock & Snow outfitters in New Paltz, encouraged people to day hike and try out car camping before embarking on an epic solo adventure.

“Before you head out on a multi-day backpacking trip, I would say you need to do some hiking first,” Gottlieb said. “Break in your walking shoes, get used to using maps and navigating. Learn what to pack for a long day in the woods. Learn what is unnecessary. Hiking is an important part of backpacking and both involve stamina and experience, so you should build those basics first.”

Evan Thompson, manager of Hudson Highlands, Breakneck Ridge and Fahnestock State Park near Cold Spring, agrees. “Unless you grew up camping and backpacking, it’s not necessarily something people know how to do. Car camping is a good place to start.”

After you’ve narrowed down an area to explore—the Catskills, the Adirondacks, or areas closer to New York City like the Hudson Highlands—plan some day hikes so you get a feel for the trail system and figure out what you need in it Pack.

Beginner gear to try

Hiking day trips are a good way to test out gear like shoes and backpacks before embarking on an overnight camping trip.

Rich Gottlieb

Avoid cotton and focus on moisture-wicking fabrics to stay comfortable. Then there is the choice in shoes. “There are now so many great, light hiking boots,” says Gottlieb. “But you want to break them in and not save them for the big hike because that can result in blisters.”

Water is key and some sort of portable water filtration system (like LifeStraw), as is food, a map, a compass or GPS device, a headlamp (in case you get lost and the day is coming your way faster than your legs can go ) and an extra layer. “At different altitudes it gets colder or it might rain, so having that extra, dry layer is important,” Gottlieb said, as are “shoes that match the terrain and the weather.”

Now that you’ve hiked and figured out your pack and the special power bars and trail blends that fuel your body, it might be time to start thinking about camping.

car camping

“Most trail systems have campgrounds somewhere nearby,” Gottlieb said when discussing New York State’s parks and preserves.

Different locations require different levels of preparation. At backcountry campgrounds, you need to pack everything you need to sleep and eat in the wilderness overnight or for a weekend or longer in your backpack. Setting up a tent and figuring out how to protect yourself from rain, bugs, and critters is a lot of hassle when you first start camping.

It’s a lot easier, Gottlieb said, echoing Thompson’s comments, to start auto-camping, which is simply finding a campground where you can drive your vehicle up and pitch your tent, with the built-in safety net of having a car, that you can duck into when the weather gets extreme to store groceries and extra clothing, or head to the nearest town for more supplies.

North Lake and South Lake in the Catskills are popular auto camping destinations.

Camping where tents or other essentials are already in place

Tentrr now offers 45 locations in four New York State Parks in the Hudson Valley.  The rule is the same as for revenue sharing with private hosts: parks keep 80% of the booking fee.

Tentrr now offers 45 locations in four New York State Parks in the Hudson Valley. The rule is the same as for revenue sharing with private hosts: parks keep 80% of the booking fee.


If you don’t want to invest in a ton of gear before knowing if camping is right for you, consider a full-service camping experience at select Tentrr locations in Harriman, Mills Norrie, Taconic, and Lake Taghkanic State Parks. Tentrr provides the tents, beds and mattresses, as well as a range of equipment – and pitches are set up upon arrival. More details and reservations can be found online.

Another option is campsites with some basic necessities already set up. For example, Fahnestock Park near Cold Spring offers 70 tented camping sites, including a fire pit, grill and picnic table, as well as convenience stations (hot water showers and restrooms) and some basic outdoor camping essentials such as bundles of firewood and kindling are sold on site. These places are also accessible by public transport.

“We’re about an hour, transferring from New York City,” Thompson said. “You can literally ride the Metro North train up and bike from Cold Spring station all the way here, which a lot of people do. We are only 8 miles from the train station.”

Because of the comfort stations and grilling stations, these campgrounds are a relatively safe bet for beginners. And offer endless kilometers of hiking trails nearby. “All you need is a tent, a sleeping bag, a pad and something to eat,” he said.

How to plan backcountry camping?

If you’re ready to take the plunge and camp in the backcountry, Gottlieb has shared tips to get you started:

  1. Plan long hiking trails. “If there’s a loop or out-and-back that you really want to do but can’t do it all in one day, this is a great way to start planning your first backpacking trip,” he said. “You have a feel for the terrain, know a little about the trail and just look for a flat spot to camp. The Catskills can be tricky because it’s difficult to find level ground and that’s key, especially when it’s raining.”
  2. Beware of bears and critters. While many backpackers and campers may be concerned that bears come for their food, Gottlieb said that “what really gets you in trouble is rodents. If you leave a candy bar or even toothpaste or deodorant in your backpack, chew it through your tent, chew it through your backpack, take a few bites and leave. Keep everything out of your tent and pack and tie it together,” he warned.
  3. Prepare for seasonality. “You need a basic tent that will keep rain and bugs out,” he said. And ask a clerk in a store about different sleeping bag weights and sleeping pads. “There are different pads for different seasons and that’s something to look out for. A summer pad will not keep your body warm in winter, even if you have a top quality sleeping bag.”
  4. Additional Camping Basics Checklist. In addition to the points above: “You need food. You need a basic cooking stove and fuel, or at least something to boil water. There’s plenty of food for backpackers who only need water, which is a great way to pack light,” Gottleib said. Some sort of solar charger for flashlights and electronics is also a worthwhile investment alongside headlamps. Trekking poles can be used to steady yourself over rough terrain, to help climb hills and to save your knees on descents, and they can also act as a stake to prop up a tent or tarp. Throw in a pair of gloves to save your hands when the weather takes a turn. Don’t forget a trowel and toilet paper when nature calls.

Even seasoned nature lovers still learn from every experience. The important thing is to start. Get a map, pick a campground, find some fun trails, make sure you have the essentials, and get going.

General camping tips

Harriman State Park is the second largest state park in New York with more than 200 hiking trails and several campgrounds for campers of all experience levels.

Harriman State Park is the second largest state park in New York with more than 200 hiking trails and several campgrounds for campers of all experience levels.

Rich Gottlieb

You can hike parts of the Appalachian Trail, scale a few peaks in the Catskills, cope with a rougher week in the Adirondacks, or camp with the car and comfort station just a stone’s throw away.

In any case, make a reservation as soon as possible, especially for busy campsites. All reservations for campsites at the state park are made through Reserve America’s website, and Thompson warned that they “fill up quickly, especially on the weekends.” And there are 56 campgrounds managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation — several in the Catskills Forests and Adirondack Preserve region — plus a bevy of smaller, lesser-known campgrounds.

Explore the options in the DEC Campsite Guide and on the ReserveAmerica website.

“Backpacking is becoming a way of life of its own, a world of its own,” says Gottlieb. “Everything goes quiet and it’s about finding a good place to camp and… looking at the stars and listening to the sounds around you.”

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