Urban camping
June 26, 2008 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Camping near NYC? How about Washington DC? As part of our road trip this summer, we will be headed east from California and making for the east coast.

Ideally, what I'd like to find in both NY and DC is a set up similar to what we've used when traveling on the cheap up to San Francisco. That is, we have discovered a regional park at which we like to camp, south of Oakland. We set up there and then we drive the few miles into Castro Valley and take the train into the city. This saves us a ton of money, as you can imagine. If we can find a similar set up for this summer, we'll be able to spend more time visiting the cities, as we won't be blowing our entire budget on hotels in which we won't be spending much time anyway. We usually prefer state or national parks, but are not really picky as long as what we find will be safe and clean. Shower facilities would be nice, as we're doing this in August and it will be hot and sticky.
posted by jvilter to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Near DC: Harpers Ferry, WV.
posted by parmanparman at 8:28 AM on June 26, 2008

This plan is a bit suspect; I'm not sure how things are system-wide, but parking at train stations is all but impossible for the commuter trains into NYC, at least around me in Connecticut. At the Fairfield Metro-North station, for instance, there is a 1,200 spot parking lot and a 1,500 person waiting list. I can't imagine any of the other lines are any better.

I suppose it is possible that things are better up the Danbury or Waterbury branches, but each of those require a transfer making the whole trip probably around 3 hours door-to-door to downtown Manhattan. Maybe you could find somewhere that is metropolitan enough that you could take a cab to the station? This would certainly be the case anywhere along the New Haven line. The other option would be to drive in, but then you're likely to pay just as much for parking as you would for a hotel. You could do some guerrilla on-street parking in the Bronx or Queens and then subway in, but then you're also risking leaving a car with out-of-state plates unattended all day in the Bronx.

Bear in mind you'll be battling literally MILLIONS of commuters to try to make this happen, no matter what plan of attack you take. My general advice to out-of-towners is: NYC can be either cheap or easy but is NEVER both.
posted by ChasFile at 8:42 AM on June 26, 2008

Check out Greenbelt Park outside of DC. Its a small national park, and fairly metro accessible.
posted by mhaw at 10:03 AM on June 26, 2008

For NYC, you should be able to find a place near a New Jersey Transit station. While there are a lot of commuters, it isn't all that bad. I typically get on at the Hamilton Station and it takes 1 - 1 1/2 hours to get to Penn Station. There are usually seats on the trains.

This option might work for you - stay at D&R Canal State Park and drive ~5 miles to Princeton Junction. I've never gotten on the train there so I can't speak to the parking situation. Just try not to travel during peak rush hour, but you probably already knew that.
posted by jshort at 11:43 AM on June 26, 2008

As for NYC, Westchester County offers camping at two parks -- Croton Point Park and Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.

Ward Pound Ridge is a little out-of-the-way for what you want to do, but Croton Point Park is really close to Metro-North's Croton-Harmon station. Close enough to walk, even, should parking prove difficult. If you catch an express it's under an hour into the City. Bonus: the park is right on the beautiful Hudson River.
posted by Opposite George at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2008

Hm, I didn't actually know that you could camp at Greenbelt Park. That would probably be your best bet (though I've obviously never been there).

Other than that, if you want to stay in VA:
- Lake Fairfax Park is the closest I know of offhand. It's reasonably close (about a 10 or 15 minute drive, or more depending on the killer traffic) to the Vienna Metro station, so you could drive there and get in to town via Metro. They have showers and stuff, and in general it's pretty developed.
- If you want to be a little bit further away, Pohick Bay Regional Park is where we always went for scout trips. It's pretty nice, and being down by the water could be good (or gross; again, it depends). The closest Metro station is Franconia-Springfield, about a 20+ minute drive.
- If you want to be a lot farther away, Shenandoah National Park or the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests would generally be less developed and more pristine. Though it sounds like that's not what you want, figured I might as well stick them in for completeness.

Good luck! Sounds like fun.
posted by malthas at 12:30 PM on June 26, 2008

Hit post too fast. If you were at Pohick Bay, you could take the VRE train from Woodbridge or Lorton straight into town. It'd be less driving at least.
posted by malthas at 12:32 PM on June 26, 2008

Okay, I've typed this up twice now, but both times I scrolled back up the page to mark best answers and my text disappeared.

Thank you all, these were all really helpful.

ParmanParman, we'll be staying at Harpers Ferry for a couple of days after DC, but because of your answer, I found a commercial campground very close, that has the added bonus of an hourly shuttle to the Metro.

Opposite George, I think we'll be staying at Croton Point. It looks lovely.

malthas, we do want to be as close in as possible, while still not camping on the street. But thank you for your links.

We have five weeks to do this trip, so we have the time to lolly gag around and may hit some of these places just for the fun of it.
posted by jvilter at 4:47 PM on June 26, 2008

I did find this place in New Jersey on Google maps. As for getting into NYC, this is from their website:

Take a Tour Bus into Manhattan right from our front porch. The NY Waterway Ferry leaves from Liberty Harbor and runs Monday to Friday to Pier 11 at the foot of Wall Street.
Or you can walk up Marin Blvd. 5 blocks to the Grove St. PATH subway station which can take you up to 33rd Street and 6th Avenue or to the World Trade Center Site.
Either way... Manhattan is just a 15 minute ride away. Stay a day or two or a week or two…it's up to you. We have maps and directions to anywhere you want to visit and our friendly staff is always willing to help you get there.

That sounds great to me, but can anyone tell me if this is doable and if so is it possible to get back to this place late at night, say, after leaving a show? Hold my hand and talk to me like I'm 5, okay?
posted by jvilter at 4:53 PM on June 26, 2008

Today's Washington Post had a feature about camping near DC--places that are accessible via Metro, even.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2008

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