A guide to family camping in New York State includes the basic equipment needed for car-camping, fishing, and outdoor cookery. Tips on surviving New York’s changeable weather include a rain tarp to protect one’s tent and board games to play until rain abates. Contact numbers for camping reservations are also provided.
Given the pressures of today’s fast-paced society, people are always searching for new ways to relax and spend their all-too precious vacation time. Often we end up choosing vacations that, while entertaining and enjoyable, keep us running so that we come back exhausted from the festivities.
If you want to take some time off to slow down and enjoy life, try camping at one of the DEC public campgrounds. It’s a great way to simply relax, enjoy the great-out-of-doors, and get reacquainted with the family.
Family camping at a state campground is easy. And with today’s campground facilities, you have much of the creature comforts of being at home. DEC operates 50 campgrounds located in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves, most with full bathrooms, and even shower facilities available. Other amenities at DEC campgrounds include a picnic table and fireplace with large grate at each site, water spigots nearby for cooking or drinking water. In addition to the conveniences DEC campgrounds provide, most are located in some of the most scenic portions of the state, enabling people to fully enjoy the beautiful landscapes New York has to offer. My family especially loves the mornings — waking up in the woods, smelling the often cool, crisp air and gazing over the water. It’s a peaceful feeling everyone should experience.
For those individuals who need to be “doing,” DEC campgrounds offer plenty of outdoor recreational activities as well. Most have beaches associated with them; a few have horse trails. Nearby are hiking trails that range from novice to expert. Some offer canoe and boat rentals and several grounds are located near nature centers.
Of course, if you’d like to do something a little more adventurous and rustic, a number of DEC campgrounds offer more primitive camping in wilderness settings. My family likes to alternate between car-camping and canoe-camping. One time we will head to our favorite Adirondack campground for some relaxation swimming at the beach, paddling and fishing along the lakes and ponds and then toasting marshmallows over the fire. The next outing we will head to a more remote Adirondack campsite, paddling in for several hours, fishing along the way and then swimming in the lake off the campsite. Even our favorite remote site is outfitted with a picnic table and fireplace, making life more comfortable. Using a latrine, and foregoing the shower are really the only “roughing it” we encounter, but the peace and solitude is well worth it.
For family camping, the best way to start out is car-camping using a tent. That is, you load all your gear into the car and go to a campsite where you set up the tent. Your car is right at the site, providing a convenient place with easy access to store all your extra gear and food. This frees up most of your tent space for just sleeping and hanging out — a place where children love to spend their time.
Camping equipment is easy to get and can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. All you really need are a few basic items, such as: tents with rain fly (a must in New York State) or all weather tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, flashlights and/or lantern, cook stove, mess kit (pot, skillet, cooking utensils), individual place settings (paper plates work well), matches and a first aid kit. Modern tents that sleep six weigh less than 10 pounds and set up can be in five to 10 minutes — a far cry from the heavy canvas tents of earlier times. Likewise, sleeping bags are much lighter and battery-operated lanterns allow you and the kids to safely read or play games in your tent at night. Sleeping pads makecamping comfortable for everyone and come in a variety of forms. Inexpensive air mattresses can be purchased at most local stores.
If you’re not sure you want to make the investment until you know if you’re going to like it, most local outdoor store places have all the items available, you can choose between various from tents on sale and sleeping bags, to lanterns, cooking stoves and utensils.
Over the years, my family has learned that several other items come in handy for making camping more comfortable: a couple of lawn chairs; a tarp with plenty of rope for hanging between trees (great for rainy weather); beach paraphernalia for a day of swimming; a day pack for carrying some items when taking a hike; and a smaller grate to put on the fireplace to stop food from falling through. You can use one of your oven racks as a grate, or for a couple of dollars purchase a back-packing grate.
The nice thing about car-camping is you can bring as much equipment as you desire because you can store it in your car. When we first started family camping with an infant, we threw the port-a-crib and the portable highchair in the car. The port-a-crib was a savior both in the tent at night, and in the campsite during the day.
Whenever my family goes camping, we always take along our fishing poles. Fishing is a fun activity the entire family can enjoy, and if you’re successful, your catch can provide a meal.
Fishing doesn’t require any special skills, and only a minimal amount of equipment. Inexpensive rod and reel set-ups can be purchased just about anywhere, but all you really need is a pole, some line, some hooks, bobbers and worms. If you have a water site, fish right from shore. Panfish such as blue gills and sunfish are plentiful in most of the waters.
If you want to try some fishing farther afield and don’t own a watercraft, a number of the campgrounds rent canoes or rowboats. There are also numerous local private outfitters where you can rent a boat, many of them also rent fishing equipment. Most campgrounds provide boat launching facilities, making it easy to access the water.
Exploring the local waterways and fishing along the shoreline is a very relaxing way to spend your time. Kids (as well as adults) love the sense of accomplishment when they hook and reel in a fish. Since New York’s waters have some of the best fishing in the nation, you won’t be disappointed.
Fishing licenses are required for everyone 16 and older, but children fish for free and the price of a license is comparable to going to the movies (and the license is good for the entire season). If you do decide to keep and cook the fish, be sure you have checked out the regulations regarding sizes for various fish species as well as health advisories about eating fish. These are found in the Regulations Guide issued with each license and on the DEC Website at www.dec.state.ny.us.
Mealtime is not something to be dreaded when camping. Meals can be simple or elaborate, depending on your taste. Just keep in mind that unless you want to go to the store every day, you’ll need to keep food refrigerated in a cooler, so the simpler the better. The nice thing about cooking while you’re camping is that food somehow always tastes better when it’s cooked outdoors.
Some easy meals my family enjoys while camping are: for breakfast — donuts, pop tarts, English muffins, bagels or cereal (variety packs are great); for lunch — salami, cheese and crackers, apple or orange slices; gorp (a great snack made up of mixing nuts, raisins or other dried fruits, pretzels or Chex cereal and M&M’s candy), granola bars, and the old standby — PB&J sandwiches; for dinner — hot dogs, burgers (pre-make patties at home), chicken (pre-cooked at home), soup with rice or pasta in it; pasta with sauce, macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes cooked in the fire, rice or cous-cous, carrot and celery sticks.
Cooking can be done right on the grill provided, or on a portable camp stove. Most of my cooking is done on a camp stove — it is easy to use, ready right away and you don’t have to worry if the wood is dry.
What About Bad Weather?
One of the realities of camping in the Northeast is that it could rain. But rain doesn’t have to mean the end of a camping trip. In fact, some of my family’s most relaxing and closest times have been in the tent waiting out a rainstorm. The rain simply forces you to totally relax and spend time with each other. Bring along some board games to play or books to read. If we’re feeling adventurous, we’ll don rain gear and go for a walk. The rain brings out lots of cool creatures that the kids love to see.
But if staying in a tent during bad weather sounds dreadful, there are a lot of other things you can do. (Note: If your tent is not large, then staying in a narrow space for hours is a tragedy. The tip is choose a big ten, or two room tent with zipped divider.) Another convenience of our state campgrounds is that most of them are located near (or only a short distance from) a number of conveniences and attractions. There are museums, shops, movie theaters and restaurants nearby for entertainment. So, if the weather turns bad, or you’re just one of those people who can’t sit still or need a change of scenery, hop in the car and visit some local spots.
This year, try some family camping at a state campground. It’s a great vacation that your children will remember forever.
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