Emily Burt knows camping. The 37-year-old North Salem resident is a veteran camper whose experiences have taken her to California’s Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe, among other prominent camping destinations in her native state. So when Burt and her husband, Edward—a Fox Lane High School grad—moved from the West Coast to Westchester in 2005, they were determined to keep enjoying the outdoors with their three children.
“I wish there were more warm, dry months to camp here,” says Burt. “But you can definitely take advantage of it during the spring, summer, and fall.” While Burt is referencing the poor weather during the winter months, an obvious difference between the coasts, she’s pleasantly surprised at the camping spots Westchester offers. If you’ve considered exploring the outdoors further—but aren’t sure what an appropriate next step is—camping might be the answer. And the fall, with its crisp days and brightly colored foliage, is the prime season to get outdoors and enjoy our natural surroundings.
Westchester County parks offer roughly 18,000 acres across four main sites for camping. Depending on where you go, you’ll find cabins, tents, and RV sites for rent. “There are plenty of places to go and it’s very easy to book,” says Burt. “It’s definitely comparable to when we camped in Lake Tahoe.” Read on to see which of Westchester’s four main sites fits your camping needs.
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
4 Reservation Rd, Pound Ridge
When Ted Holmes wants to unplug a bit and take his sons camping, he heads to Westchester County’s largest park, the 4,300-acre Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. “We don’t bring the iPod with us because we’re out camping,” says Holmes. “You’re away from the electronics and there are no distractions.”
The 47-year-old real estate broker from Chappaqua often camps at the reservation, which can be entered in Cross River, with his 7-year-old son, and is preparing to introduce his 4-year-old son to camping as well, since it offers so much to keep his kids occupied. “Ward Pound is great for young kids because they have a playground and a little nature museum on the reservation,” says Holmes. The playground’s standard swing set and jungle-gym setup is perfect for keeping your younger ones busy for a couple hours. And the Trailside Nature Museum, one of the oldest museums of its kind in the United States, houses a large collection of mounted animals, Native American artifacts, educational exhibits, child-friendly interactive displays, and nature-oriented artwork, while also offering family-friendly nature programs nearly every weekend of the year.
Aside from the playground and nature museum, the park also hosts a variety of outdoor activities. It offers hiking, fishing, picnic areas, and equestrian trails. Though there’s something to keep everyone occupied, Holmes says, “it’s good for a day and a night. Those type of sites, you don’t set up like you’re going for a week.”
Sal J. Prezioso Mountain Lakes Park
210 Hawley Rd, North Salem
Camping Specialist Alex Zic from the REI Yonkers location characterizes Mountain Lakes Park as “good for people looking to get out for the first time” and “very user-friendly.” In other words, if you’re looking to get your feet wet with minimal risk, this is your spot.
Mountain Lakes offers everything to make novices’ lives a bit easier. Lean-tos—a three-walled structure with a pitched roof and an open face—offer shelter to those who can’t seem to figure out how to pitch that new tent. Designated fire pits allow you to build a campfire with ease. And barbecues at each campsite alleviate the need to try and cook over said campfire.
Even with all those amenities to ease yourself into camping, “you feel like you’re secluded,” says Holmes, who also camps at Mountain Lakes. “The campsites are set up so that you have privacy and you’re not on top of other people.” And the park features tons of activities, including fishing across its five lakes, a rope course with zip-lining, and a magnificent overlook. Or you can just enjoy the beauty of nature on a walk on some of the 10 miles of wooded trails, some of which loop around this site’s lakes—so no worries of getting lost in the woods.
Blue Mountain Reservation
45 Welcher Ave, Peekskill
If you’re basically looking for a place to crash after an adrenaline-filled day, Blue Mountain is your spot. It’s hallowed ground for mountain biking, with miles of trails that weave their way through the 1,500-acre park.
The trails, built by the Westchester Mountain Bike Association, offer easy rides for beginners, as well as options to keep even the most advanced riders on their toes. With steep climbs, stone-filled drops to speed down, and leaf-littered cross-country-like trails to cruise, one day won’t be enough to get it all in. Luckily, Blue Mountain has many of the same amenities as the other campsites—so it’s the perfect place to set up a tent for the night and explore some new trails the next day.
Blue Mountain also has the Sportsman Center, which offers a multiple-range pistol facility, large bore high-power rifle range with 100 and 200-yard targets, small bore rifle range, archery range, a trap and skeet area with four combination fields, and a 14-station 3D archery course.
Croton Point Park
1A Croton Point Ave, Croton-on-Hudson
Croton Point Park may offer the best mix of camping and activity options. It has 70 RV sites, 12 tent sites, and 11 cabins are available for rent.
The 500-acre park is situated on a peninsula overlooking the Hudson River, so there are plenty of water activities to enjoy. If you have a small boat or canoe, be sure to bring it along. There’s a boat launch in the park with access to the Hudson. Hudson River Recreation also offers touring and recreational kayak rentals at Croton Point Park, so anybody can get out on the river. And if you plan to do this, bring along your fishing equipment, as it is permitted.