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Warm up to winter camping at these popular LI parks

Ruth Olson gets ready for a morning walk

Ruth Olson gets ready for a morning walk at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Winter camping is a breath of fresh air for year-round outdoor enthusiasts like Ruth and Jim Olson of Rocky Point.

Ruth, a Three Village School District teacher assistant, and Jim, a retired diesel mechanic, who are both in their 60s, most recently camped out in mid-November at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead. They hooked their heated 31-foot camper trailer up to one of 37 sites, took nature hikes and toasted s’mores by the fire before turning in each night around 7.

“There’s nothing nicer than going out after your second cup of coffee and sitting at a fire,” says Olson. “It’s like a mini-vacation.”

Winter camping is popular among Long Islanders who enjoy spending a night or two in a wilderness not far from home. If you enjoy communing with nature, sleeping in a camper trailer, and warming up around a campfire, you’ll have company at Indian Island and at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island, which are both open for offseason camping through April 1.

Emily R. Lauri, community relations director for Suffolk County Parks, says that last year, 387 campsite reservations were made during the offseason. You probably won’t need a reservation this time of year because “most campers are walk-ins,” Lauri says.

A BRISK ADVENTURE

Cold-weather camping also appeals to George Petritsch, 45, of Stony Brook, a construction equipment mechanic. Petritsch and his sons, Timothy, 14, and Zachary, 13, camp out every month, including winters when the temperature has fallen to 8 degrees. They stay overnight in heavy-duty Outfitter tents with Setauket’s Boy Scouts Troop 70 at Cathedral Pines and Indian Island. (Only Boy Scouts are permitted to camp in tents during the county parks’ offseason, Lauri says.)

Petritsch and his sons brave the cold wearing winter underwear, jackets and gloves, and camping three or four to a tent in sleeping bags rated for 20 degrees below zero.

“We keep ourselves busy with activities like collecting wood, building fires and Scouting skills,” he says. “We have plenty of hot chocolate and hot soup at the end of the day,” he adds.

And if it snows? Says Petritsch: “Waking up with the fresh snow falling on top of your tent, surrounded by a blanket of snow with no footprints, is beautiful.”

Winter camping is a bit trickier at Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness but well worth the challenge if you’re seeking solitude.

“This is not the same as a traditional campground but is instead a more primitive camping experience,” says Elizabeth Rogers, public affairs specialist at the Fire Island National Seashore.

Jordan Raphael, 34, of East Patchogue, a park biologist at the Fire Island National Seashore, camps in Fire Island’s wilderness year-round and says you need to carry in everything you need, including a tent and supplies.

“I love winter camping,” he says. “You don’t have to deal with mosquitoes, and you see the stars better at night. If it’s a clear day, you can sit on top of the dune at night and see ships from afar.”

WHERE TO GO

Suffolk County Parks

Campsites are available offseason only for self-contained campers or trailers. No water service or bathrooms are available Nov. 1-April 1. To reserve a site, purchase a Green Key Pass at one of the county parks. A three-year pass costs $26 for Suffolk County residents. Nassau County residents pay $44 for a yearly pass. Reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance. If you don’t have a Green Key Pass, you can show up on the same day you want to camp and try to get a site on a first-come, first-served basis. Campsites come with an electrical hookup ($13 for Suffolk residents, otherwise $25) or without ($11 a night for Suffolk residents, $22 nonresidents). Stay for up to 14 days.

Indian Island County Park

Cross River Drive (Route 105), Riverhead

INFO 631-852-3232, suffolkcountyny.gov

This 275-acre park at the mouth of the Peconic River offers views of Flanders Bay.

Cathedral Pines County Park

116 Yaphank-Middle Island Rd. (south of Route 25), Middle Island

INFO 631-852-5502

About 100 campsites, 10 with electric

Fire Island National Seashore Wilderness

Through Dec. 18, backcountry campers can take the ferry to the Fire Island Pines and hike 5 miles to the Wilderness backcountry camping area. After Dec. 18, you’ll need to hike 9 miles from Ocean Beach.

INFO recreation.gov

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