Summer has officially arrived, and with it the peak of the family camping season.
In our part of the world, you can find woodland hiking trails, boating, swimming, fishing, cycling and other activities no more than an hour or two from home. Various parks offer cabins, tent sites, lean-tos and RV parking, all at low cost. Some have nature centers and weekend activities for kids and adults. Outdoor overnights are a great way of spending family time – an outdoor experience that might make your children hikers and campers for life.
If you want to test your interest in camping while being able to run home for something you forgot, consider an overnight at Croton Point Park in Westchester. This 508-acre park is rich in history and nature. Once you claim your campsite, you can take a hike, cycle around the park, stop in at the nature center or take a dip in the Hudson. There are often festivals at the park, so check the calendar to time it with something that suits your fancy.
If you’re ready to head a little deeper into the woods but still want to stay local, take a look at two lovely parks in the northern part of the county — Blue Mountain, with two (low) mountains to climb, and the beautiful, varied Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.
Want to go even farther away? Try Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in New York’s Putnam and Duchess counties. There are drive-up sites, or tenting sites that require a hike. This 14,086-acre park provides your family with miles of trails from easy to professional grade, and great hilltop vistas of Hudson Valley scenery. When you get tired of hiking you can rent a boat and paddle in the lake or swim from a sandy beach. Bring your fishing rods, as the park’s lakes and four ponds are great for bass, pickerel, perch and trout.
In northwestern Connecticut, spend some quality time at Housatonic Meadows State Park. Nestled along the Housatonic River, the park offers campers a range of activities, from quiet nights by the campfire to canoeing to fly-fishing at its best. There’s a two-night minimum for reservations. (No alcohol allowed.)
Speaking of paddling, there’s island camping, too. Greenwich town residents can enjoy an overnight on Great Captain’s Island or Island Beach, just a mile offshore. You’ll hear the sounds of the largest great egret colony on the Connecticut side of the sound, or the hoot of the resident great horned owl. You can get permission to land from your own boat or take the town ferry. (No pets allowed.)
If you don’t hail from Greenwich, there are other options. The city of Norwalk opens camping to residents and non-residents alike on Shea Island. Non-residents pay a little extra, but it is a great experience. Paddle out in kayaks and spend a weekend or more exploring this chain of 25 islands filled with great birds and lots of fishing opportunities.
The town of Westport owns Cockenoe Island, a great spot with only four campsites. Many people use power boats to get out to the islands, but I recommend kayaks if possible. The distance is less than a mile, almost always over flat water. Paddling will seem so adventuresome to the kids!
This is just a tiny sampling of the places to plunk your tent. Now all you need is a little camping gear, some bug spray and a camping reservation. Check each park’s websites for its rules, activities, amenities and camping maps. Sites near beaches tend to be noisier and more communal. Sites away from others cater to those who want to watch the stars while a small fire crackles by their feet. Find your match and enjoy.