New York City is a surprisingly good place to foster a newfound love of the great outdoors. Cyrena Lee heads to her favorite nearby campgrounds for lazy summer fun.
NEW YORK CITY – I wasn't raised in a family that liked to go on nature-based adventures. (It took nearly a decade for me to discover the beauty of the beaches in Taiwan.) The summer camp of my youth was gymnastics camp, which meant that the serenity of the Pocono Mountains — a campy wonderland (double meaning intended) for many in the NYC metropolitan area — was for me a static backdrop to back flips.
But today, I find myself surrounded by friends who are all REI members and gung-ho campers. Which means that if I want to vacation with my friends, a-camping I will learn to go.
Surprise #1: It's not so bad. Surprise #2: There are many camping options near New York City.
That said, it doesn't take long to learn that all camping is not created equal. In reverse order of intensity, there's glamping with all the amenities (hello, Moose Meadow Lodge, you stunning B&B in the Vermont woods), there's semi-roughing-it (camping at popular destinations near vacation-mecca towns), and there's off-the-grid (low-key campgrounds where you can really chill out).
SEMI-ROUGHING IT: LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK
The setting: Lake George, the "Queen of American Lakes," about five hours from New York City and site of my first big camping trip. There are tons of activities on and off the lake, from water- and jetskiing and tubing to hiking and horseback riding. The lake is immense, and every cubic foot is worth exploring. The most efficient and thrilling way to do so is on a rented boat, which is especially affordable with a group.
Drive up to Dockside Landing Marina, driver's license in hand, and you're ready to speed away in a pontoon or deck boat. The staff is super friendly and will give up local secrets, like the 25-foot cliff-jumping spot located just below Adirondack Camp. Bring your fishing gear if you have it, since catching fish here is, er, like shooting fish in a barrel.
Local attractions: Lake George town is worth exploring. The World's Tallest Uncle Sam guards the entrance to Magic Forest, a vintage children's theme park that still operates in spite of its decrepit state. It has terrific displays from the 1939 New York World Fair. By night, it's even eerier, but I wouldn't recommend sneaking in.
At night, when you're tired of s'mores and hot dogs, head to Bistro LeRoux, which has everything nature doesn't: class, sophistication, a gluten-free selection, and a spot-on French onion soup. Dinner here takes the edge off of roughing it, and their espresso panna cotta will leave you wired to go back to the campground and spark the best campfire ever.
OFF THE GRID: DINGMAN'S CAMPGROUND, PENNSYLVANIA
The setting: Dingman's Campground on the Delaware Water Gap in the Poconos. It's so low-key that when my phone died two hours after arrival, I didn't care. The campsites are quiet, clean, and pet-friendly.
The supplies: Ironically, you can bring your best furry friend, but you can't bring alcohol, making this a great place to detox. Bring lots of food to ensure maximum meander-in-nature time and minimal drive-to-the-deli-for-sandwiches time. That said, the general store has decent supplies (bacon, eggs, hot sauce, blankets, ice, firewood), and is a pleasant walk away.
Bring shoes that are easy to take on and off for quick access in and out of tents and to forge tiny streams while hiking. Better yet: Forgo footwear entirely and go "earthing," which sounds really crunchy but only entails walking around on natural terrain barefoot. Research shows it helps to improve sleep, reduce inflammation, and increase antioxidants. Whatever: It's supremely relaxing and surprisingly freeing. There are also excellent trees for climbing all around.
Camp attractions: Most campers opt to float down a ten-mile stretch on the river on kayaks or canoes, a very satisfying activity. When you're paddling yourself around a body of water, swathed in sunlight with nothing but blue skies above and forest greenery around you, it's nearly impossible to worry about anything. Except maybe sunburn.