Maybe you’re looking to visit New York on the cheap. Or perhaps the incongruous notion of camping in a seething, belching metropolis is right in your wheelhouse. Whatever’s driving your urban cowboy fantasies, you’ll be glad to know that it is, in fact, possible to sleep under the stars in the Big Apple (and you don’t even have to occupy Wall Street to do it).
The New York City Parks Department hosts the occasional overnight in iconic local green spaces like Central Park and Prospect Park. The good news: these campouts are free, and include dinner and a ranger-led night hike. The not-so-good news: they’re limited to 30 tent sites, which are awarded through a lottery. But try your luck and sign up for the next event—an overnight at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx with a focus on wilderness survival (April 19).
For a sure thing, reserve one of the 59 primitive tent sites in the Gateway National Recreation Area—a 26,000-acre smattering of parks and waterways spread among Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and Monmouth County, New Jersey. “Camping at Gateway is a great experience,” says Daphne Yun, a public affairs specialist with GNRA. “Each of our locations offers its own assets.” Those who value privacy should stay at Sandy Hook, says Yun. Though technically in New Jersey, the barrier spit’s 20 secluded sites are within walking distance of the area’s beloved beaches, including clothing-optional Gunnison (if you’re into that sort of thing).
For views of Coney Island and Brooklyn, Yun suggests one of the three campsites at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, adding that the old military complex is the only GNRA site with showers (they’re pretty cold, she warns). The Fort’s other great feature, says Yun, is its proximity to the overlook under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, where, Yun promises, you’ll get “a great view of New York Harbor and Manhattan.”
Yun also likes the sites at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. The former municipal airport, the city’s first, is now a park that’s within driving distance of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a haven for birders. Only Floyd Bennett Field is open for camping year-round, says Yun. The others are generally available from May 1 through September. All GNRA sites are $20 per day for a maximum of 14 days—plenty of time to enjoy a truly wild side of New York City.