Setting Up Camp
With summer in full swing, it’s time to indulge in one of America’s vacation favorites: camping. Whether you’re interested in a peaceful backcountry getaway or an action-packed adventure, the Valley has options to please any traveler.
Setting Up Camp
Warm temperatures and magnificent scenery make the Valley the perfect destination for enjoying the peaceful serenity of the great outdoors
Camping is one of the great American vacation pastimes. Where else can you ditch the cell phones, turn off the TV, and spend quality time connecting with nature — and your family — all the while looking up at billions of stars? Of course, roughing it is not for everyone. That’s why we’ve featured five very different types of camping experiences, all accessible right here in the Valley. Maybe you want to backpack and leave all creature comforts behind. Or would you prefer to set up your tent at an established campground, with your car handily parked nearby, cooler at the ready, and a hot shower just a short walk away? Whatever you choose — from the most primitive to the most pampered — get ready for the inexpensive adventure of a lifetime.
By Mary Forsell
Melanie Simmerman’s tent, made from parachute fabric, weighs 24 ounces. Her “camp stove” is a converted cat food can powered by denatured alcohol. The heaviest thing in her backpack, which weighs about one pound, is water, “because, unfortunately, that’s the one thing you can’t dehydrate.”
Her quest for ultralight gear all boils down to this: Backcountry camping involves hiking with your gear into a remote region, most often setting up your own primitive camp. So carrying 17 pounds on her back instead of the usual 40 enables her to hike wherever she pleases for days at a time, camping overnight in backcountry most of us will never see. “For me, being out in the woods is a deep need. The woods are my cathedral,” says Simmerman, backpack chair for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s New York-North Jersey chapter.
Since she has already hiked the entire 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail (AT), Simmerman is now focusing on the Catskill Forest Preserve. “You get a lot of bang for your buck in the Catskills — spectacular scenery and some very interesting terrain.” Favorite routes include the Devil’s Path, which traverses numerous peaks and offers great views, as well as the less difficult Escarpment Trail. More often than not, she simply bushwhacks off trail. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” she admits.
Like Simmerman, Aaron Bennett of the Catskill Mountain Club isn’t much on trails. “I’ve pretty much done them all,” he says. Still, there is one backpacking trail route he’d recommend: the hike that runs from Little Pond State Campground in Sullivan County to Margaretville in Delaware County. There are several lean-to camp-out options along the way, so you could turn it into a two- or three-night backpacking trip. “The western Catskills have a more subtle kind of beauty,” says Bennett. “It’s more like hills than mountains, and there’s more water.”
Whether you camp out or find a shelter, bring along these essentials: a knife, matches/lighter, a first-aid kit, several changes of socks, plenty of water and a means to filter it, a headlamp, dehydrated foods, maps, a compass, but not necessarily a cell phone.
“It gives people a false sense of security,” says Bennett.
Ground rules for camping are on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Web site, but in a nutshell: You have to camp 150 feet from roads, water, or trails, unless you are at a lean-to or designated campsite; from late March through late December, you can’t camp above 3,500 feet in elevation (that’s to protect fragile alpine vegetation on the summits).
To backpack on tamer footing, try the 200-mile Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park on the west bank of the Hudson in Orange and Rockland counties. There, you don’t have to venture for days in the wilderness. Daniel Chazin, publications chair of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, often parks in an area off Route 106 at the crossing of the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail and heads to the Big Hills Shelter, about two miles from the highway. Fires are allowed in the lean-tos, but a backpacking stove is recommended. Chazin takes a tent in case his lean-to of choice is taken and he has to set up nearby.
“There is no guarantee the shelter is available, even in winter,” says Chazin. There are several other lean-to sites either on the AT or the many trails that intersect it (the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference puts out excellent maps). Crossing near the AT, the Timp-Torne Trail has the West Mountain Shelter, with several stunning views of the Hudson Valley and New York City.
Price: Day passes vary
Contact: NY-NJ Trail Conference (201-512 9348, www.nynjtc.org); Palisades Interstate Park Commission (845-786-2701, www.njpalisades.org/pipc.htm); DEC (518-473-9518, www.dec.ny.gov, follow the links on “Outdoor Recreation” to “Camping”); Catskill Mountain Club (www.catskillmountainclub.org); Appalachian Mountain Club (212-986-1430, www.amc-ny.org)
Testing the Waters
What if you love to hike but don’t own a car and don’t want to rent one? What if the idea of camping appeals to you but you certainly don’t own a tent — let alone know how to set one up? Well, grab your sleeping bag and hop on Metro-North Railroad to the Beacon train station, call for a ride, and you’ll soon be on a fully loaded camping adventure, made possible by Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Camp, now in its fourth season of operation on Fishkill Ridge.
When you’re met at the station you’ll be magically relieved of your belongings, which will be whisked ahead to your campsite. Now you can enjoy an unencumbered hike from any of three drop-off points — two on Fishkill Ridge and one at Mount Beacon Park on Route 9D. Now hike to your campsite, where you’ll find everything ready to go upon your arrival: tent set up, cooler on-site, firewood waiting, your order of food delivered for you to cook on the fire, water, lantern, radio, a completely stocked “chow box,” playing cards, and a fly swatter. There is also a two-burner stove for making breakfast.
The 60 wooded acres host 15 well-spaced sites (33 in total are planned). “Each is laid out differently because we built them into the contours of the land,” says owner Dick Malouf.
“We camp out in every site and make sure everything’s working.” For instance, at one spot Malouf and his family discovered that the mountain’s natural draft was blowing smoke into the site, so they changed the location of the fire ring. They even added tarps overhead so you don’t have to huddle in your tent when it rains. A newly built bathhouse includes flush toilets, deluxe showers (Malouf is also a plumber), a sink to do your dishes, even dryers to warm up your trail-soaked jeans.
Most of Malouf’s guests come from New York City and abroad. “Wonderful. Relaxing luxury wilderness experience. I feel like I can camp again,” gushed one Manhattan visitor in the guestbook. “A great way to have the quiet and exploration of camping with a few
creature comforts,” wrote a traveler from
“Many of them are first-timers,” says Malouf. “Some don’t even know how to keep a fire going.” No worries: If all else fails, a local pizzeria will come up the mountain and deliver to a picnic table.
Price: $68 for platform site with tent, $43 for primitive site (you must supply gear); $5 per person shuttle fee from Beacon train station; two-day minimum stay on holidays
Contact: 845-831-6767, www.maloufsmountain.com
Season: Apr. 15-Oct. 31
Drive on Up
Most of us are middle-of-the-roaders. We like to feel like we’re out in the wild and fending for ourselves, but we don’t want to hike for miles in the wilderness, especially with kids. That’s where tent camping comes in.
Fortunately, the Hudson Valley region is rife with campgrounds, both public and private. Far and away, the most popular public campground in the Catskill Forest Preserve is North-South Lake, where you can hit the beach, swim, fish, and boat. There are nature recreation programs for young campers and short, easy hikes to such spectacular destinations as Kaaterskill Falls and the former site of the Catskill Mountain House.
Check out the view on a clear day — they say you can see five states.
Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Putnam County (the park stretches into Dutchess) also
has a lake where you can fish, swim, and boat. The campground here has an organic look, with natural rock outcrops that make you feel like you ventured off the beaten path, even though all you did was exit the Taconic Parkway. Nearby is the boulder-strewn
Shoot up the parkway to Lake Taghkanic State Park in Columbia County, not far from Hudson. The area offers a lake and two beaches that are popular with day-trippers. No need to tow your boat — you can rent a kayak or paddleboat.
Though it doesn’t have a lake,
Minnewaska State Park, located in Ulster County along the majestic Shawangunk Mountain Ridge, is right off Route 55. The terrain is a bit rugged, but makes for excellent hiking trails. Visitors also reap the benefits of its two lakes and streams for swimming, boating, and fishing, and can indulge in horseback riding, another popular activity.
Of course, you don’t have to go with the state-run places. “Private campgrounds have more amenities,” says Dan Ellsworth, manager of the Rip Van Winkle Campground in Saugerties, which offers perks like Wi-Fi and rounds of golf at a nearby course. “We try to keep couples in their own section and place families near the playgrounds. When you’re 65 you don’t want to hear kids yelling. We try to be somewhat considerate.”
Price: $10 and up per night for tent sites at public campgrounds; about $35 per night at private grounds
Contact: To reserve a site at any state campground, call Reserve America (800-456-CAMP or www.reserveamerica.com); for private campgrounds, visit www.iloveny.com and click on “Where to Stay.” For additional information, call 518-457-2500 or visit www.dec-campgrounds.com or www.nysparks.state.ny.us; Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds (1-888-720-1232, www.ripvanwinklecampgrounds.com)
Season: Apr.-Oct. for public campgrounds; usually May-Oct. for private
You might have noticed the signs for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at
“We’re more of a destination. It’s nice to not have traffic flying by and to actually hear the birds singing,” says co-owner John Lawrence. With brother-in-law Glenn Bracklow, Lawrence took over the once-derelict campground in 1991, transforming it into a top-notch resort franchise complete with heated pool, video arcade, miniature golf, three playgrounds, and a large field for kite flying or bike riding. “It’s amazing how many kids learn to ride their bikes here,” says Lawrence. While about 75 percent of the sites are meant for RV hookups, there is also tent camping along the river, and cabin rentals.
It’s a jolly mix of families, retirees, rock climbers, even long-distance bicyclists with saddlebags taking a break from their travels. A good percentage of visitors live down south but still have adult children and grandkids in the area. And though the resort draws people from all over (license plates from Canada, South Dakota, and Tennessee were observed), it’s surprising how many locals patronize the place. “That guy over there is from Highland,” says Lawrence, pointing to a well-tended RV along the river, its “yard” meticulously landscaped with hostas and shrubs.
But the main focus at Jellystone Park is activities, activities, activities. By late June, a full-time recreation staff is on duty, coordinating family friendly events throughout the day, from arts and crafts to games, contests, and hay rides.
The holidays are booked up well in advance, but you can still snag a spot at less-traveled times. Bring your kids for Christmas in July or one of four trick-or-treating weekends in fall. And yes, Yogi and Boo Boo do visit.
Price: Full hookups $45 daily to $366 weekly; cabins vary by size and season from $60-$118 nightly; tents $39-$56 per night; two-night minimum on weekends
Contact: 845-255-5193, www.lazyriverny.com
Season: Apr. 1 through Columbus Day weekend
RV There Yet?
If you’ve always been intrigued by life in an RV, but are feeling a bit fearful about driving one, Interlake RV Park in Rhinebeck might just have the perfect solution: a fully stocked RV for rent — already parked in a spot.
“If we stayed here, it would be sweet,” said my seven-year-old, upon walking into the immaculate RV. “Is this our new house? Our other house is old,” reasoned my four-year-old, admiring the bunk beds and screened-in front porch complete with Adirondack chairs and a picnic table.
There’s much to entice at Interlake, especially with a family in tow. For starters: Lexie and Tinkerbell, the twin Malteses who greet you in the office in an adorable ball of white fluffiness. There’s the fishing pond, where fat, well-fed bass meander. The heated pool and kiddie pool face a rec hall with game room and arcade. Nearby is a forest-themed playground. But it’s not just kids who like it.
“We have a lot of people who can’t for some reason have an RV, and they’ll come and stay with us a few weeks,” says Sue Dumais, who runs the place with husband Steve. There are 159 sites, five of them RV rentals featuring microwaves, stoves, DVD players, refrigerators — the works. “Some people will come up to visit the Dutchess County fairgrounds or Omega Institute — we’re close to both. Just last week, there was a group of women friends doing a girls’ weekend.” Sure, there is also a large contingent of RV owners who put down stakes for the summer — but there’s something oh-so-enticing about just dabbling in the RV life.
Price: $140 nightly for rentals, two-night minimum; discounts for extended stays
Contact: 845-266-5387, www.interlakervpark.com
Season: Apr. 15-Oct. 15
Captions: A group of travelers gathers for a picture at an
A camper photographs the majestic views surrounding the Catskill Mountain House site. Below: At Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Camp, a platform tent site is outfitted with the works
Visitors to Interlake RV Camp enjoy a sunny afternoon on the fish pond