Camping enthusiasts don’t have to decamp from these shores to enjoy the simple pleasures found in playing, cooking and sleeping overnight (after a S’mores toast-a-thon) in the great outdoors. Here are four different kinds of Long Island camping experiences, by the sea or in the woods, at campgrounds ranging from refreshingly rustic to (comparatively) luxurious.
(For safe, responsible COVID-19-era camping guidelines visit parks.ny.gov/covid19 )
If you want to keep the kids entertained
For kid-friendly camping close to home, it’s hard to beat activity-packed Nickerson Beach Park and its RV-only campground. The epic attractions include a multi-ramp skate park, a pirate-themed playground and an all-day surf camp on the white sand Atlantic Ocean beach (skudinsurf.com). If that doesn’t make them disregard their cellphones, there are also swimming pools, ballfields and athletic courts. To make memories at yawn time, bring your own pop-up fire pit.
If you yearn for ‘off the grid’ adventure
Strong legs and a sense of adventure are required for camping at the Otis Pike High Dune Wilderness, the only federally designated wilderness in New York State. Back country camping is available on the ocean beach and in the back dunes, so you can snooze in utter solitude under a starry night, with the waves for a lullaby. But here’s the challenge: the closest campsite from the ferry lies a mile hike away on the sand, and you need to carry in everything you need for your overnight stay: equipment, vittles, potable water and insect repellent (the mosquitoes can be thick, especially in July and August). The rewards are many, though, as you surfcast for dinner in waters known for lunker-size striped bass and bluefish, with a passing dolphin your only company. (You might also spy a red fox or a resident coyote.) Lastly, this narrow, half-mile width strip of the Fire Island National Seashore is one of the few places on Long Island where you can easily check off two camping musts by watching both sunrise (from the Atlantic beach) and sunset (on the Great South Bay side) on the same long summer’s day.
If you’d rather be ‘glamping’
Want to "rough it" upscale? Glamping is the overnight sensation introduced two years ago at Watch Hill Campground on Fire Island. The big safari-style tents are located on platforms a cherrystone’s throw from the dunes, and furnished with queen-size beds, a covered porch for an Adirondack chair view and an outdoor charcoal grill and picnic table setup. You can send a fax or buy granola bars and sunscreen at the adjacent general store, take a ranger-led canoe tour of the bay or just soak up sun and sounds at the occasional Saturday afternoon concert.
If you want to camp in a popular state park
Hither Hills State Park in Montauk is known for its beachfront campsites, resort-worthy amenities, and tendency to be booked solid as a Hamptons summer restaurant. A worthy alternative is lesser known but also popular Wildwood State Park, where generations have bonded at tent sites amid a 600-acre hardwood forest marked with hiking trails. Wildwood’s big attraction shimmers a short walk beyond the high bluffs: a pebbly, boulder strewed beach where campers of all ages can swim in gentle Long Island Sound waters, fish for a seafood dinner or picnic with a view of the Connecticut shoreline. Regroup for family-style feasts at your campsite picnic table. (Bring your own cooker; wood, snacks and other supplies are available at the park).