These days it can often feel as if there is no middle ground between backpacking and glamping. In the first case, you hike carrying your camping gear. In the second, you simply check in at a glamorous (hence the name) safari tent, yurt or even treehouse — it’s the outdoors with the comforts of home.
But there is a third option: car camping, where you drive up to a spot in a campground and set up your own tent (or park your RV). Fortunately, New York offers plenty of options for the two- and four-wheeled sets. The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (800-456-2267, newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com) operates the state-run grounds while private properties need to be contacted individually. Prices range from about $25 per spot per night for public campsites and can go up to double that for private ones. Below is a selection of grounds both public and private in New York State. You may also look at franchises of Kampgrounds of America (koa.com), some of which are prized by families because they come with a range of amenities that can be as elaborate as water parks, zip lines and indoor pools.
The 607-acre Cedar Point County Park campground, 5 Cedar Point Rd., East Hampton; 631-852-7620, ) is on the less fancy, quieter Gardiners Bay side. The property offers access to everything you’d expect from a beach vacation, including water sports and fishing. A local landmark is the Cedar Point lighthouse. Built in 1860 and closed in 1934, it used to guide whaling ships in and out of Sag Harbor. Reservations are taken online only, and Suffolk residents with the county’s Green Key card get a discount.
Pictured: Members of Zoeller family, of North Babylon, set up a campsite in Cedar Point County Park.
Opened in 2015 by a coalition of organizations including the Mohonk Preserve, the state’s largest nonprofit nature preserve, and the American Alpine Club, the Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground (953 State Rte. 299, Gardiner; 845-255-0032, ) is a great base from which to hike, boulder-scramble or mountain-climb in the Shawangunks. This quiet campsite is especially good for couples and, in general, people with a small tent — the spots are on the tighter side. The nearby college town of New Paltz is a good place to stock up on supplies or get a meal that was not cooked on a camp stove.
As the upstate capital of outdoor activities, Lake Placid and its immediate surroundings offer plenty of lodging options. North Pole Resorts (5644 State Rte. 86, Wilmington; 518-946-7733, ) covers all the bases by offering a 20-room inn and cabins, as well as RV and tent spots. The family-run location is especially fine for for families with young kids, who can enjoy a playground and a game room. The grown-up set will appreciate the free Wi-Fi and the camp’s general store, which stocks last-minute essentials like craft beers and sells fishing licenses — the grounds are on the west branch of the Ausable River, which is famous for fly-fishing.
At the south end of Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, Watkins Glen State Park Campground (1009 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen; 607-535-4511, ) offers unparalleled access to a trove of natural wonders — in particular, the park is a waterfall paradise, with 19 of them on the Gorge trail. The hiking options can be a little demanding, and sometimes include steep stairs, so this park may not be best suited for people with mobility issues or families with strollers. Some of the perks are man-made, too: The park has an Olympic-size pool.
Why settle for one lake when you can have two? The biggest and most popular state campground in the Catskill Forest Preserve is North-South Lake Campground (County Route 18, Haines Falls; 518-589-5058, ). This location is especially good if you want to expose kids to nature: There are plenty of things to do to pull them away from their screens, from fishing to canoeing, from hiking to bird-watching. Indeed, a common complaint is that the area has bad cell reception — which may actually count as a plus for many campers.
Less than 10 minutes from Saugerties, boho capital of the Catskills, the family-owned Rip van Winkle Campgrounds (149 Blue Mountain Rd., Saugerties; 888-720-1232, ripvanwinklecampgrounds.com) is a good spot if you are new to camping, or simply want fresh air without roughing it too much — there are digital-cable TV hookups and Wi-Fi. Activities include pedal-boat rentals, outdoor movies and a dedicated dog park for four-legged family members. Make sure to inquire about preferred areas when booking: Some of the spots are by Plattekill Creek and its trout-fishing, for instance, while the Lover’s Lane area is reserved for couples, with no kids.
The state-run Eighth Lake Campground (1353 State Rte 28, Inlet; 315-354-4120, dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24465.html) is between Seventh and Eighth Lakes, which are part of the Fulton Chain of Lakes in the Adirondacks. This site is best for nature fiends who love day hikes or exploring the waters by canoe or kayak — though power boats are allowed and there is a launch, as well as a sand beach. This particular campsite is fairly easy to get to, but keep in mind that some of the other local campgrounds are only accessible by dirt roads so you might need all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles. If need be, supplies and fresh espresso are a mere 12 -minute drive away in Inlet, New York.
Straddling New York and Pennsylvania, the Delaware River offers plenty of opportunities for water-based fun. North of the popular Delaware Water Gap is the Upper Delaware Scenic River section, where Lander’s River Trips (800-252-3925, ) offers rafting, canoeing, kayaking and tubing from eight different launches. The company also runs two riverside campgrounds — one in Narrowsburg, the other in Barryville. You can book spots separately from the watersport activities, but if you do a trip with them, Lander’s waives the extra fee of $17 a night per parking site that’s tagged on to the regular camping fee. Those seeking a tranquil experience should keep in mind that Lander’s river fun often draws families and groups, so it may not be the quietest of campgrounds.
By Elisabeth Vincentelli Special to Newsday