WHAT DRIVES US TO CONNECT WITH NATURE?
This is different for everyone. I like to say we are reconnecting with our natural habitat. While humans have adapted to modern lifestyles, over the generations we have maintained a deep longing for our natural setting. We find reward in the challenges it presents, and we revel in the vast and profound beauty it holds. We appreciate the peaceful, relaxing pace that allows us to address only that which is necessary. As John Burroughs said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
HOW DO WE DEFINE THAT CONNECTION THAT WE MAKE WITH NATURE?
We all recognize the concept of spending time in the outdoors as being essential to the human experience; however, we all have vastly differing expectations of what that time should look like, and this is perfectly ok. Not everyone wants to be the next Grizzly Adams; in fact, most of us don’t. So it is important for anyone looking to plan an adventure in the outdoors to ask him/herself: Why am I coming here, what am I hoping to achieve, who do I want to enjoy this with, and is this something we can do? Wow! All of a sudden, this camping thing is sounding a bit more complicated than just sleeping outside. Well, it can be, and it can even be unpleasant or dangerous if you are unprepared. This is why I encourage people to think about their ideal experience first. Then they should find, or create, the experience to match those expectations.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
I will give you an example: When I camp with my family to travel, our goal is to discover new areas and enjoy what the region has to offer. This extends past the campsite to the main streets. Naturally, we select a campground with amenities that allow us to travel comfortably. Something like a state campground with showers, a table to eat at, and so on. On the other hand, when I travel deep into the backcountry with fellow guides or adventurers, generally our goal is to cover as much ground as possible. Right off the bat we have two wildly different goals with two wildly different experiences. While my family would likely enjoy time in the backcountry, they would not appreciate the subsequent exploration of a charming little town while smelling of campfire and wearing a patina of forest dirt; likewise, I am sure that other campers at a campground would not be so fond of the type of revelry that occurs when a driven group of outdoor explorers gathers around a campfire after a long adventure. Both of these are great options to enjoy with friends and loved ones, but they are vastly different and are not suitable for all adventure-seekers.
how do we find that sweet spot?
The spot that allows us to be us! That spot where we can have that dream experience. You can take a few steps to match your ideal experience with a location that will support the best possible outcome. Let’s take a look at the range of options, starting with campgrounds.
state campgrounds in catskill park
State Campgrounds, while not free, offer an additional level of amenities and have the capacity and ability to serve larger groups of less experienced, or less adventurous, campers. These campgrounds are generally great options for all ages, and offer a high level of accessibility, making them the perfect choice for the whole family.
There are numerous state campgrounds in the Catskills and surrounding areas to choose from. Each site has its own unique character and points of interest. It is worth the time it takes to find the one that fits your idea of an ideal site.
Here are some examples of local campgrounds in Catskill Park that offer unique opportunities to enjoy a wide range of recreational activities, from horseback riding to boating.
north-south lake in haines falls
The biggest and most popular state campground in the Catskill Forest Preserve, offering extraordinary scenic beauty and historical sites, such as Alligator Rock, Kaaterskill Falls, and the former site of the Catskill Mountain House. The area around the lakes has long provided visitors with exceptional views of the surrounding countryside. It is said that on a clear day, five states can be viewed from the escarpment.
woodland valley campground
Phoenicia: Close to the Slide-Wittenberg Trail and Woodland Valley-Denning Trail, as well as the charming town of Phoenicia, where you can go fishing and tubing on the Esopus Creek, take a train ride on the Catskill Mountain Railroad, or visit nearby shops and restaurants.
kenneth l. wilson campground
Mount Tremper: Part of the Slide Mountain trail network which offers 35 miles of trails, some going along the tallest peaks in the Catskill Mountains. Five miles from the town of Woodstock, where there is always an adventure waiting to happen.
mongaup pond campground
Livingston Manor: Situated on a 120-acre lake that offers swimming and boating. Surrounded by forestry with hiking trails that connect to the vast Big Indian Wilderness and Willowemoc Wild Forest trail systems.
devil’s tombstone campground
Hunter: One of the oldest campground sites in the Catskill Forest Preserve, it is ideal for primitive camping, but does have access to North-South Lake for more amenities. The 21-mile Devil’s Path hiking trail passes through here and links the Indian Head and Hunter-West Kill Wilderness Trail systems. Junior Naturalist Program available for youth.
little pond campground
Andes: Scenic campground located on a 13-acre pond surrounded by hiking trails, with remote camp sites available. Junior Naturalist Program available for youth.
bear spring mountain campground
Downsville: Located on the western end of the Catskill Forest Preserve, this campground is especially appealing for the horse riding enthusiast: it includes 24 horse stalls and 24 miles of horse trails. For hiking, the Launt Pond Spur Trail connects into the larger Bear Springs Wildlife Management Area trail system. Primitive camping is also available here.
most of these state campgrounds offer the following amenities:
- • numerous tent and trailer sites
- • picnic areas with tables and grills
- • flush toilets and hot showers
- • trailer dump stations
- • recycling centers
- • hiking trails
All are located near water where fishing is permitted and most provide beaches for swimming (although lifeguards may not be on duty). Most allow non-motor boats and provide a boat launch, in addition to offering rowboat, kayak, canoe and/or paddle boat rentals. Many amenities are wheelchair accessible. Check out the New York State DEC website (www.dec.ny.gov) for more information.
If you are looking for a camping trip that offers a wide range of options to entertain everyone in your group, the private campground may be the way to go. They can offer fun in the great outdoors in the form of water parks and mini-golf, in addition to standard camping activities.
At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Gardiner (lazyriverny.com), you can find all of these amenities and more, all on 100 acres of beauty right next to the Shawangunk Ridge. Choose from all kinds of accommodations, including tent sites, RV sites, and premium loft cabins that provide full kitchens, full bathrooms, and heating/air conditioning.
Similarly, Rondout Valley Resort in Accord (rondoutvalley.com) hosts RV sites, tent sites, and cabin rentals, and offers a large swimming pool, min-golf course, and many activities for adults and children alike. With close proximity to surrounding nature preserves and charming towns, there is something for everyone!
And in Phoenicia you'll find Phoenicia Black Bear Campground (phoeniciablackbearcampground.com) located directly on the Esopus Creek in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. Phoenicia Black Bear offers group and individual camping sites as well as RV sites, and is animal friendly, so go ahead and bring that pup along for your stay! Walking distance to the center of town, where you'll find plenty to see and do.
If you are seeking a more primitive adventure—something where you can really disconnect and bask in the glory of fresh mountain air—there are a number of great trails with shelters and designated campsites. For guaranteed peace and quiet, here in the Catskills you can shelter on any slice of land that falls at least 150 feet away from road, trail, or water.
The Catskills are home to many great trails that you could enjoy for a night or longer, including:
- • The Long Path (LP)
- • Burroughs Range
- • Devil’s Path
- • The Eastern Escarpment Trail
The views seen from these trails cover a range from New Jersey to Vermont.
It is important to note that all designated sites and lean-tos are first come, first served. There is no reservation system and groups may not claim exclusive use. It is important to remember that these sites are for everyone, and you should be prepared to welcome others should you plan to stay. Additionally, groups of ten or more people, and/or groups staying in one location for three or more days, are required to obtain a free camping permit from the local NYS DEC Forest Ranger. This can easily be done by contacting the ranger for the intended area. This step helps rangers and forestry staff to prepare and manage the resources, and is also a great way to let a responsible party know where you plan to be—this is a key step for safe adventures in the backcountry.
With a little extra preparation, you can plan to stay comfortably in the backcountry. There are many great resources for maps, which you should carry with you if you plan to enter the forest anyway. Some maps, like the NYNJ Trail Conference maps, are designed for recreation and list the points of interest and resources, such as shelter/campsites and water sources. Other maps, such as the USGS, will provide a more detailed look at the terrain, but might lack information about shelters or improved water sources. Either way, a good review of these can reveal potentially favorable sites for backcountry camping.
before heading out on a camping trip
Before you begin any outdoor adventure I would recommend following the hikeSafe (hikeSafe. com) list of The Ten Essentials for Day Hikes and the Hiker Responsibility Code. Being prepared with the right gear will help you to deal with the unexpected. What if you don’t have time to learn all the skills you require for your adventure, or if you don’t feel confident in your abilities? You have some options
that could save you the trouble of getting in over your head: you can start smaller, picking a less intense, less remote site; you can find an experienced group to join; or you can hire a licensed guide to help you gain the skills and confidence to continue enjoying the outdoors. NYSOGA.org has a list of guides throughout the state and can be searched by region or activity.
respecting the land and your fellow campers
This is something that likely does not occur to any of us; after all, we are just heading out to have some fun, right? This is where we get back to these questions: Why am I going there, what I am I looking to do, who will be there, what are the goals and abilities of the group? When looking to understand what options are available to match your desired experience, it is important to understand the classification of public lands and the parameters of use on those lands.
WILDERNESS LANDS are the most protected and have group limits of 12 or less for overnight stays. These lands offer remote and primitive camping, and require a strict adherence to the seven principles of Leave No Trace, which help recreationists enjoy their experience in a manner that is mindful of both the natural resources and their fellow recreationist.
WILD FOREST is similar to wilderness in that it offers remote and primitive camping options; however, the land is not as sensitive and can accommodate larger groups (don’t forget your camping permit for ten or more). These lands also require that users adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace as there are no trash or waste disposal services.
HIGH-INTENSITY USE AREAS (state campgrounds) are ideal for when you are looking for a beautiful outdoor setting to enjoy with friends or family. Most have simple amenities such as running water, showers, trash cans, picnic tables, and the like. You might find that these campgrounds provide the right balance, and they are generally surrounded by numerous options that allow you to delve deeper into the wilderness if you choose.
There are endless ways in which you can enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us, and while I would hesitate to say there are wrong and right ways to do so, I would say there are steps you can take to enjoy the best possible experience for you and everyone else. Remember that a little preparation and consideration can go a long way to ensuring that you, and those around you, have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Upstate Adventure Guides, LLC