Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to invest in expensive equipment or even leave New York City to pitch a tent and camp this summer. The Urban Park Rangers offer FREE overnight family camping in city parks at select times and locations throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Bonus: They bring almost everything you need for a night spent under the stars, including the tent!
The annual program kicks off a little before Memorial Day and although it's FREE, advance registration is required for all campouts. Read on to find out how to snag a spot at one of these cool camping trips—including some signup periods that open this week!
If you've never gone camping before, it might seem a little intimidating. That's why these Urban Park Rangers family camping trips are so great. The staff provides most of the equipment; all you need to pack is clothes, flashlights, and sleeping bags.
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Classic camp-style eats are on the menu for some of the NYC campouts.
The adventure starts in the early evening. At some campouts there's a barbecue, with s'mores as the obligatory dessert. Nighttime activities include hiking, stargazing, and visiting the nocturnal creatures who live in the parks. These campouts start in late spring and continue on select Friday and Saturday nights throughout June and into the summer and fall.
The only hard part about these camping trips is securing a spot. There are around 30 spaces per outing, and registration only stays open for 24 hours. Lucky families are selected via lottery.
Here are a few of the upcoming family camping adventures:
Family Camping at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) on Friday, June 7
Register by lottery
Family Camping at Alley Pond Park (Queens) on Saturday, June 8
Register on May 29
Family Camping at Blue Heron Park Preserve (Staten Island) on Saturday, June 8
Register on May 28
Family Camping in Prospect Park (Brooklyn) on Friday, June 14
Register on June 5
Family Camping in Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx) on Saturday, June 22
Register on June 12
Family Camping at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) on Saturday, June 22
Register on June 12
Check back for additional times as they are released. Smart tip: Make a note to register on the correct date. It's best to register for as many of the trips as possible until you snag a spot, but don’t register for the same trip more than once! If you do, you'll be disqualified.
Still not sure you can commit to an overnight campout with kids? The Urban Park Rangers also lead a variety of one-day outdoor education events all summer, including canoeing, birding, wildlife walks, and even a workshop in how to build the perfect campfire.
A version of this article was first published in April 2010, but it is updated annually.
Photos courtesy of NYC Parks.