For those looking to escape the Big Apple and head Upstate, New York is loaded with epic camping spots. As a northeastern state, its cold winters invites RV and tent campers mainly late spring through fall.
Where To Go Camping in New York
While New York City overwhelmingly comes to mind when thinking of New York State, going camping in Central Park isn’t nearly as pleasant as camping in the Adirondacks. New York State has a long outdoor tradition, mainly (but not exclusively) centered around the Adirondack Mountains that any avid outdoor lover should partake in at least once.
Best Times to Go Camping in New York
It should come as no surprise that fall is the time to camp in New York. The leaves turn a beautiful hue and the air gets crisp, making it perfect hiking and camping weather. Make sure to visit during the earlier portions of autumn, as cold weather rolls in quickly.
It can be quite unforgiving when winter sets in. While you can winter camp in New York, that’s best left to the most knowledgeable and competent campers.
You can absolutely visit New York in the summer but expect the level of warmth and humidity that the Northeast is known for. The mountains are going to be more pleasant, but the state overall isn’t the most comfortable summer destination. If you can only travel during summer, stick to the mountains and lakes for maximum comfort and try to plan for late summer when temperatures are more pleasant.
Spring offers a good deal of the benefits that fall does, minus the fall colors, of course. Still, travelers can enjoy watching the growth come back after winter while hiking in cooler temperatures. You’re better off avoiding the shoulder season of winter to spring and visiting during mid-season. April is likely the earliest that most campers will want to venture out.
National Park Service Sites in New York
New York has 32 total National Park Service (NPS) sites here, though only five feature camping in some capacity. Much of the NPS sites in New York are centered around the state’s history, with the majority being national monuments, memorials, and historical sites. Still, the state provides campers a few options, though two of the sites are backcountry only.
Travelers heading to Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River should finalize campsite plans ahead of time. The river is a mix of publicly and privately-owned land, so not all pull-off sites are fair game to camp in. In fact, the majority of the land there is privately owned. Some landowners are fine with you camping on their property but always know where you’re planning to stay and confirm ahead of time that it’s okay to camp there.
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail (backcountry camping only)
- Fire Island National Seashore
- Gateway National Recreation Area
- North Country National Scenic Trail (backcountry camping only)
- Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River
National Forests in New York
New York is actually one of the more forested states in the country, with roughly 63% of the state covered by forest lands. That doesn’t translate into national forest coverage, however, as the state actually only has one national forest: Finger Lakes National Forest.
Interestingly enough, at just over 16,000 acres, Finger Lakes National Forest is one of the smallest national forests in the country. For reference, the smallest national forest in the United States, Tuskegee National Forest in Alabama, is roughly 11,000 acres.
Campers wanting more options for free camping in national forests can head to Green Mountain National Forest, which is jointly managed with Finger Lakes National Forest. While it’s in Vermont, the forest goes right up to the state line between New York and Vermont, making it easily accessible. It’s also about 25 times larger than Finger Lakes National Forest, so you’ll have more room to spread out than you know what to do with.
- Finger Lakes National Forest
Best Free Camping in New York
Fewer than one percent of New York State is federal land, meaning that options for free camping here are in short supply. Of that land, the United States Department of Defense manages almost two-thirds. Though, there are still some available since the state has a national forest.
Some of the free camping in New York include East Otto State Forest, the Cherry Ridge Camping Area in West Edmeston, and the Sugar Hill Fire Tower. Also worth noting, most New York state forests offer complimentary primitive camping. Be sure to confirm the rules of free camping at the state forest you’re headed to beforehand, though.
New York State and Public Parks
New York has 180 state parks, which is more than almost every other state in the country. Of those 180, 72 feature camping. There are so many beautiful state parks spread throughout New York that are worth your time, but these 10 are some of the most popular and impressive.
- Letchworth State Park
- Watkins Glen State Park
- Stony Brook State Park
- Bear Mountain State Park
- Allegany State Park
- Hither Hills State Park
- Robert H. Treman State Park
- Buttermilk Falls State Park
- Taughannock Falls State Park
- Green Lakes State Park
RV Resorts and Unique Stays
New York State offers plenty of ways to get stay outside through camping and backpacking. For those who want a more substantial bed at night, these six spots offer you outstanding outdoor access with a higher level of amenities and creature comforts.
- Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park of Western New York
- Seneca Lake Resorts
- Lake George Escape Campground
- Bellfire in the Catskills
- Swan Bay Resort & Marina
While you might be tempted to skip New York and head straight to Maine on your Northeast journey, there are lots of outdoor gems hiding in plain sight. Whether you’re downstate, upstate, or anywhere in between, most of the state is a night and day difference from the Big Apple.