Free Camping in New York
There’s so much more to New York State than city life! Once you are out of the city, you can experience primitive camping and recreational pursuits like hiking and biking. From the Catskills of southeast New York State to the Adirondacks in Northern New York, here are some ways to experience free camping in New York!
Finger Lakes National Forest
The Finger Lakes are a collection of eleven small lakes in the state. If you are planning on free camping in New York, you should definitely include a few nights in the Finger Lakes National Forest.
Backcountry camping, sometimes referred to as dispersed camping, involves setting up your tent at an undeveloped site. Set up your campsite at least 200 feet from developed trails or bodies of water. Plan to pitch a tent, but you may find that there is an established shelter or lean-to for your use.
Backcountry and dispersed camping is first-come, first-serve, so be prepared to arrive early and to be flexible. You should also plan to leave no trace and to avoid camping in areas with new tree growth. Dispersed and backcountry camping is permitted in most parts of the forest unless there is a specific closure due to weather.
Because these camping areas are off the beaten path, they are not likely to have amenities like a fire ring, picnic areas, or picnic tables. The trade-off for those amenities is privacy and a connection with nature that you might not experience in established campgrounds.
New York Forest Preserve Lands
The Department of Environmental Conservation permits dispersed, or primitive camping, in the mountainous regions of the Adirondacks (northern New York state) and the Catskills (southeast New York state). Dispersed camping is permitted on the Forest Preserve land but is not permitted in Wildlife Management Areas.
To take advantage of free camping in NY, you’ll need to pitch your tent at least 150 feet from any developed areas or bodies of water. In some areas, you will see lean-tos. These are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Similar to the shelters along the hiking trails, lean-tos are expected to be shared with other campers and are not exclusive.
New York State Forests
You can also find free camping in New York in a state forest. Most state forests allow for primitive camping in NY at no cost. You won’t have many amenities, outside of a primitive fire ring (sometimes), but you will be able to experience nature in solitude. To find New York State Forests on Campendium, select the "State Forests" filter on the New York State camping map page.
As you plan your free camping experience, you’ll notice that New York state parks do not offer primitive camping opportunities at no cost. State parks will offer activities like horse-back riding, fishing, hiking, and sometimes winter-sports like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, or snow-shoe hiking.
To visit state parks while camping for free, some adventurers pitch their tent at a state forest near a state park. You can then spend the day exploring the nearby state park! One popular state forest is the East Otto State Forest which is only an hour’s drive from Niagara Falls State Park.
Wherever you choose to go, free camping in NY can be one of the best ways to save money and experience the beauty of the northeast.