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From the June 2011 Conservationist

A family campsite by a lake

Photo: Susan Shafer

Family Camping

By Ellen Bidell

Five young boys sitting on a beach with a lifeguard stand in the background
Photo: Susan Shafer

I remember camping trips as a child. Everyone loaded into the station wagon, slept on the ground in thin sleeping bags, ate hot dogs around the campfire, and swatted bugs. I've changed since then and camping has "grown up" too. Now you can enjoy the outdoors in style and comfort. Today's camping families bring boats, fishing tackle, sporting equipment, and comfortable sleeping gear (the invention of the air bed has revolutionized tent camping). More people use "campers" and small RVs, while others still prefer to "rough it" in tents. There are a variety of campgrounds to choose from, many attracting visitors with similar interests, such as serious hikers, anglers or kayakers. Camping food has evolved from cooking hot dogs over the fire to preparing gourmet meals in a Dutch oven. Food draws people together, and neighboring campers sometimes share impromptu meals.

If you haven't been camping in a while, why not consider a trip for your family's summer vacation? If you are new to camping, take a look through the New York Camping Guide (see www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/camping.html) to find a destination that piques your interest. Best of all, camping is economical (most sites cost $20-$22 per night) and a great way to reconnect with your family and nature. DEC runs 52 campgrounds and seven day-use areas that are visited by more than 1.6 million visitors each year. These campgrounds are located in rural and sometimes remote areas in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves, but that doesn't mean that civilization is far away. Both areas offer a multitude of activities and events within an hour or two of DEC's campgrounds.

Activities at DEC Campgrounds

DEC's campgrounds offer on-site activities to make sure you and your family have a great experience. Boat rentals are available at a number of campgrounds if you want to explore the pristine lakes. About half have swimming beaches to cool off on hot summer days. Most have hiking and nature trails to explore without getting too far into the wild. Some of the larger campgrounds have recreational programs for children, including daily hikes, canoe trips, orienteering and team sports. Larger sites also have the Junior Naturalist program, where students participate in individual and family activities, and earn a patch upon completion.
Out and About

While vacationing in your own state may not sound glamorous, there is no limit to the exciting activities and events that the Adirondacks and Catskills have to offer.

A pair of hikers enjoys the view from a rocky ledge in the Adirondacks
Photo: James Clayton

The Adirondack Park covers more than six million acres (larger than the state of Vermont). The High Peaks are some of the most beautiful in the country, but there are also many mountains that are easy enough for novice hikers to tackle. You can hike to the summit for a panoramic view or just take a walk through peaceful forests. There are more than 3,000 lakes and ponds to kayak or canoe, and many have trophy fishing opportunities. Two thousand miles of hiking trails take you through hardwood forests, alpine meadows, by picturesque waterfalls and hidden caves. Nature trails are a great way to view wildlife in its natural habitat.

The Catskill region may be smaller, but the adventures can be just as big. While Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks is the state's highest peak at 5,305 feet, Slide Mountain in the Catskills is still a pretty good climb at 4,180 feet. There are four major river systems in the Catskills-the Delaware, Hudson, Mohawk and Susquehanna-and numerous tributaries. These excellent fishing opportunities helped the southern Catskills earn the moniker "birthplace of American fly-fishing."

For those who prefer a different kind of adventure, the Catskills and Adirondacks have world-class museums, performing arts centers, colonial forts, amusement parks, art galleries, antique shops, farmers' markets and plenty of shopping. There are hundreds of events scheduled throughout the summer to keep campers busy. Festivals, fairs, concerts, war re-enactments, theatre performances and athletic competitions draw people from around the Northeast.

For more information about events and activities in the Adirondacks and Catskills, click on the "Events" link under the "What to Do" tab at Visit the Adirondacks, and the calendar link at the top of Visit the Catskills (both links leave the DEC website).


A man and three boys preparing to cook at a campsite grill
Photo: Jonathan Drezner

The New York Camping Guide provides detailed information about all the state's campgrounds, including activities, amenities and photos. For more information about camping rules, regulations and rates, or to get a copy of the guide, please visit DEC's camping webpage.

If you are interested in making a campground reservation, please visit the ReserveAmerica website (leaves the DEC website), or phone 1-800-456-CAMP. Campers who like to make their plans early can reserve a specific site up to nine months in advance. Those who are more spontaneous can take their chances with unreserved sites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Ellen Bidell is a citizen participation specialist in DEC's Division of Public Affairs.