For those native New Yorkers who want to enjoy a great camping experience close to their own backyard, I highly recommend the Camp Gateway campgrounds at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island. Just three minutes away after you drive across the Verrazano Bridge, these campgrounds are immaculately maintained with several great amenities and amazing views. I reserved several sites online for myself and members of my local running club. When we got to the campgrounds, we were able to park our cars at a special parking lot made for those who already reserved the sites. There were several campsites, each with it’s own fire pit, a large tent pad and a picnic table. A rustic wooden fence divided each site. From the description on the recreation.gov website, each site can hold up to 6 people and two small tents or one large tent. Additionally, firewood is provided free for all campers. The campgrounds sit on top of a large hill overlooking the Narrows waterway with the Verrazano Bridge and the West Brooklyn coastline in view. As soon as we got to the campgrounds, this view immediately impressed us and was a great photo op. At the edge of the campgrounds was a beautiful deck with a gazebo and a set of stairs leading down to the beach level. Unfortunately, the stairs were closed to all campground guests. I had later found out that the manager of the campgrounds deliberately closed them because random strangers were walking up the stairs and straight through the campgrounds. Situated in one corner of the campgrounds were men’s and women’s bathrooms with two very spacious showers. An added bonus was that these were hot showers; the website mentioned cold showers only. The campground manager whose name was Kathy came to visit each site and asked every camper if they had any questions, concerns or recommendations for improvement. She told me that one of the latest upgrades were the hot showers. I was extremely impressed that a governmental endeavor such as this campground would include a campground manager who was genuinely concerned about giving us a great camping experience. These campgrounds are still relatively new and only began operations in 2012.
Regarding some activities that you can do around the campgrounds, the website states that “bird watching, basketball, kayaking, and playground areas are within the Staten Island Unit”. When my friends and I went, we were able to walk to the South Beach Boardwalk for some ice cream (about a 1-mile walk) and go on a ranger-lead walking tour of the historic structures of Fort Wadsworth. Besides that, I recommend that you bring some things for the family to do while at the campsite such as frisbees, balls, lawn games and board games. At night, everyone can sit around a campfire and make s’mores and roasted marshmallows like we did. And if you are a runner, a popular running trail passes right next to the campgrounds where you have a choice of running beneath the Verrazano Bridge or along the Boardwalk.
If you look at it from most angles, this campground could exist anywhere. But when you look upwards and behind, the breathtaking view of the Verrazano Bridge towering over you tells you exactly where you are and reminds you that home is just minutes away. The campgrounds were built on top of a hill and are surrounded by many trees making it feel like you are deep in the woods. But if you start walking down the escarpment that surrounds this hill and follow a dirt trail that cuts through a field of bushes, you will discover a beach silhouetted by a stunning view of the entire span of the Verrazano Bridge. This is a campground with a beach; how often do you find that?! A warning though; the beach area immediately behind the campgrounds is unprotected with no lifeguards. If you want to go to the protected section, you have to walk up the beach for about a mile or so when you will see the first lifeguard station. In the photo below, the campgrounds are up the hill behind the line of trees. The dirt trail to the left leads directly to the beach. Since these campgrounds abut the Narrows waterway, which is the main entrance to New York Harbor, you will occasionally see humungous cruise ships pass by. Seeing the cruise ship pass by in the photo below was indeed a nice surprise while at the same time, it paradoxically showed how one could vacation by either “roughing it” in a tent or by being aboard a cruise ship in the lap of luxury. The most important part of this experience was in seeing the smiles on our children’s faces as they spent their time living in and appreciating nature, enjoying their families while creating new friendships.
To reserve a site, go to http://www.recreation.gov, then type in the search window, “Camp Gateway, Staten Island”.