Living in one of the world’s largest cities, you may think a weekend camping trip to be out of the question, impossibly inconvenient, more work than it’s worth. Indeed there are plenty of folks that never get out.
In reality, a trip upstate is all the more important when living here, a chance to unwind, and people are realizing its value (like the young men I recently overheard on the subway in which one twenty-something asked another, “So, what does camping entail exactly…?”). As you head north, it is astonishing how quickly the city diminishes in the rearview mirror while your surroundings transform from super urban to fantastically rural. Also, by virtue of being in the northeast, with its well established public transportation, there are a number of ways of escaping into nature that don’t even require driving—Metro North, Amtrak, bus, carpooling, and more.
Early last Saturday morning Hailey and I borrowed a friends car, loaded up our seven-year-old pup, Tooti, along with my two-person tent, bags, sleeping pads, food stuff (and of course a bottle of wine!) and headed north while the rest of the city slept off the previous night’s festivities. Thirty minutes later we crossed the Hudson River, the vantage south from the George Washington Bridge all fog and silhouetted skyscrapers. Glancing north, the view is pleasantly devoid of obvious development. We were out! Briefly dipping into Jersey, we continued north along the Hudson, passing several small towns, their simplicity and quaintness palpable when juxtaposed with where our trip began. Crossing back into New York state, we enter Harriman State Park and traverse the shoulder of Bear Mountain. Incredibly, we are alone on the roads.
Another hour had us turning west near Woodstock, up and into the Catskills Mountains. Coming from Colorado, the Catskills do not overpower, but their gentle beauty more then makes up for any lack of dramatic relief. Woodstock is a natural stop—iconic, walkable, great food and drink—but for me, the really good stuff lies another half hour to the west, near the tiny town of Phoenicia. We timed it so we hit town right as our bellies started to rumble. The Phoenicia Diner, directly off route 28, is our favorite stop. A hip little diner off the beaten path that offers mouthwatering all-American breakfast, all day. The perfect jumping off point for a weekend in the wilderness.
Satiated, we loaded up and turned off the highway onto Woodland Valley Road. The windows down and the music up, we enjoyed the final six mile meander along the creek to our destination. Woodland Valley Campground lies at the foot of Slide mountain, the tallest peak in the Catskills, and is surrounded by three others; Panther, Cornell, and Wittenberg. Situated on Woodland Valley Creek and serving as the trailhead to two major trail systems, there is plenty of water and hiking, fulfilling all our criteria for a great weekend getaway. You can make a reservation ahead of time ($20/night, minimum of two nights), but typically there is space and a quick phone call can reassure of this. To bring a dog you’ll need verification of a rabies vaccine, but we never do and haven’t had a problem yet!
Pitch your tent, go for a hike, wade in the creek, or simply kick back and enjoy, you’ve made it and the rest is all fun! This is camping. When it gets dark, bundles of firewood are available at the office for your s’more roasting/cooking pleasure (we suggest foil dinners!).
If you have a bike, the country roads around the campground make a great pedal. On your way back towards reality, Tavern 214 in Phoenicia is an excellent stop to smooth your reentry. It’s really quite hard to go wrong up here!
Words by Joel Caldwell.
Joel is a lifestyle and adventure photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow his adventures on Instagram @joelwcaldwell.
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