Spending the night outdoors in New York City doesn’t necessarily mean glamping on the “wraparound terrace of a penthouse suite” with scented candles. Or huddling under a bridge. You can actually pitch a tent and lay out your bedroll in the Gateway National Recreation Area, an expansive (26,000-acre) urban outback that’s spread across parts of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
The National Park Service opened Gateway’s first campsites last year, at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field. It now has 40 sites available at that location. Another seven sites were opened at Gateway’s Fort Wadsworth location in Staten Island. And more sites are slated to open soon at the Sandy Hook (NJ) Unit. (Reservations will go on sale August 1.)
Unlike virtually any other accommodations in the city, Gateway’s campsites are cheap: $20 a day, maximum 14 days, a maximum of six people per site. Visit the NPS (www.recreation.gov) to view, reserve and pay for your site. (Reservations are highly recommended; weekends are often booked well in advance, though there seem to be some openings midweek).
Obviously, this isn’t like being three days in on Wyoming’s Highline Trail. (A recent GNRA camping account in the N.Y. Post puts it like this: “Planes from JFK roar regularly overhead, and the sound of cars on far-off Flatbush Avenue is surprisingly loud.”) But it’s accessible by public transportation. And there are no entrance fees. All that makes it very doable for apartment dwellers who need a little taste of nature. And there’s plenty of outdoors here: the GNRA offers biking, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and swimming. And more than 325 bird species.
Country folk will worry about safety. With reason. Theft isn’t a persistent risk but it does happen, so valuables are best carried with you. The greatest threat, as always, is man-on-nature violence: earlier this month, rangers at the park found that two nests of the endangered piping plover had been vandalized.
Photo: East Pond at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, via NPS.