Who says camping in New York needs to cost an arm and a leg? So many things in the Big Apple may be expensive, but that doesn’t mean you need to shell out big bucks to enjoy a nice tent camping trip.
In fact, free camping in New York can be found all over the state and has sites perfect for nature lovers and budget-minded travelers alike.
Best Places for Free Camping in Western New York
You can enjoy the great outdoors at these Western New York campsites without paying a dime.
Carlton Hill Multiple Use Area
First on our list of free camping in New York is Carlton HIll Multiple Use Area.
One of the most popular free camping sites in Western New York lies in the Northwestern Cattaraugus Highlands found on the Appalachian Plateau. This massive campsite spans 2,500 acres and is teeming with wildlife, lush greenery, and gorgeous woodlands.
Situated primarily on an abandoned farm lot, the Carlton Hill Multiple Use Area is frequented by Yanks and tourists alike. Aside from its sprawling campgrounds, the site is also home to several biking, running, and hiking trails.
East Otto Forest Campground
Spanning 1,354 acres, the East Otto State Forest Campground is a go-to for hunters and campers. There are currently more than a dozen designated tent-pitching sites across the property, which means there’s plenty of room to camp even during the peak season.
There are several manmade ponds, a diverse range of tree life, and several wetlands to muck around in. Be sure to bring along a camera so you can commemorate all the wildlife you see!
While there aren’t any formal trails on the property, you’ll discover several old skid trails and abandoned farm roads that are great for exploring.
Little Rock City Camp Area
The Little Rock City campgrounds are a popular choice for hiking, nature, and camping experience enthusiasts. It is home to several mountainous bike trails, the remains of the old Seneca CCC camp, and enormous boulders that are bigger than some apartments. Its unique rock formations have amazing tunnels, caves, and passageways for adventurous visitors.
There are several free campsites scattered in strategic locations across the 2,905-acre property. Locals like to visit the area to immerse themselves in nature, camp, go for long hikes, or enjoy food on picnic tables with family and friends.
Ossian State Forest
The Ossian State National Forest is a highly protected 1,303-acre plot of land teeming with a boundless supply of timber, diverse wildlife habitats, crystal clear potable water formations, and several recreational opportunities.
Located in Livingston County, guests flock to the area to experience the beauty of untapped nature. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see black-throated blue warblers, brook trout, wild turkey, black bears, white-tailed deer, and other rare wildlife!
North Harmony State Forest
Located southwest of Chautauqua George State Forest County, the North Harmony National Forest preserve is spread out over 2,561 acres of lush forest. It is frequented by outdoor activity enthusiasts who enjoy cross-country skiing, hiking, hunting, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and of course, camping.
Teeming with various wildlife including deer, grouse, and turkey, you can explore the area on foot, on a bike, or on horseback.
Best Places for Free Camping in Central New York
Central New York is home to free camping sites that are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Here are some of our favorites:
Cherry Ridge Camping Area
965 Truck Trail 8 West Edmeston, NY
Open from May to December, the Cherry Ridge Camping Area has 15 free campsites you can enjoy. The area is surrounded by hemlock and pine trees, ferns, and several streams. It’s perfect for fishing, hiking, and bird watching.
Prepare yourself for a view of serene lakes and an abundance of wildlife. This is an excellent place to camp if you want to be surrounded by nature all night.
Rockwood State Forest Campsite – Johnstown, NY
One of the best spots for free camping in New York is Rockwood State Forest.
Situated near Rockwood village, the Rockwood State Forest sits on an 856-acre property. Aside from access to the gorgeous Rockwood Lake, the grounds are home to long trails and old logging roads that add a rustic feel to the area.
Well-suited for explorers with a deep respect for nature, the campsite is lush with wildlife and other recreational outdoor activities that you can enjoy, such as hiking, fishing, hunting, and even horseback riding.
North Lake near Utica, NY – Forestport, NY
To say that the North Lake near Utica is gorgeous would be an understatement. The serene lake is a popular spot for families and outdoor enthusiasts who love boating or fishing.
Locals and tourists frequent the area to camp during the summer. The lake itself is teeming with a variety of fish species. If you want to test out your fishing skills, you might be lucky enough to catch your dinner!
Moose River/Old Forge/Woodhull State Forest
Spanning 3500 acres of land, you can find 100 backcountry camping sites in Moose River/Old Forge/Woodhull State Forest. Its charm lies in the fact that the spots are completely secluded, so you feel as far away from the hustle and bustle of the city as possible.
You can drive to the campsites if you don’t want to hike up long trails while carrying your gear.
Stoney Pond State Forest Camping Area – Morrisville, NY
For fans of wildlife and wildlife management, gorgeous scenery, and a chance to stop and smell the flowers, the Stony Pond State Forest camping area is a good choice. At the heart of the property lies a 44-acre man made pond. Constructed in the late 1950s, Stoney Pond serves as a wildlife habitat for many aquatic species.
Best Places for Free Camping in Northern New York
Northern New York is home to some of the most beautiful free campsites in the state. Here are some of the best ones:
Watkins Glen State Park
If you’re looking for breathtaking views while enjoying some free camping in New York, then Watkins Glen State Park should be on your list.
Watkins Glen State Park has something for everyone. Home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in upstate New York, the park is an ideal location for campers who enjoy these natural water features.
Park amenities include backcountry camping spots with access to electricity, hot showers and bathrooms, picnic tables, grills, and playgrounds.
Cherry Plain State Park
Nestled in the woods of the Taconic Valley, Cherry Plain State Park is a beautiful 175-acre piece of land teeming with beauty and charm. The park is home to several nature trails, including hiking trails through gorgeous mountain views.
Its campsites are secluded and quiet, making them perfect for anyone who wants to disconnect from the modern world.
Saranac Lake Islands
Perfect for boating enthusiasts, Saranac Lake Islands is a working camp where you can stay and fish during the summer. It also has several primitive campsites for those who want to fully immerse themselves in nature.
Try your luck at catching a rainbow trout, largemouth bass, or smallmouth bass. Or check out the park’s nature trails for your next hiking adventure.
Letchworth State Park
Dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park is a steep gorge surrounded by high cliffs. It is home to several waterfalls and breathtaking mountainous views. Campers can enjoy camping in the gorge or on the lakeshore.
You can enjoy the beautiful weather and warm summer nights with picturesque views of the mountainside and lush waterfalls.
Wellesley Island State Park
The largest camping complex in the Thousand Islands region, Wellesley Island State Park is home to over 400 free camp sites. The island itself is a perfect spot for nature lovers and those who want to relax outdoors.
The camp sites are secluded (only reachable by foot or by boat), with a beautiful sandy beach for all of your sunbathing and swimming needs.
The North-South Lake
The North-South Lake spans 1,100 acres, and its most popular attractions are the two swimming beaches and two picnic areas. The lake area is perfect for boating, sunbathing, and fishing.
You can take advantage of a wide range of amenities, such as showers, fireplaces, and charcoal grills, for a fun and comfortable camping experience.
Kenneth L. Wilson Campground
Kenneth L. Wilson Campground has 76 tent and trailer campsites, and it is surrounded by beautiful mountains with panoramic views. You can go out in the water on a rented canoe, or go on a rowboat and try to catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, or yellow perch for your dinner.
All 35 miles of the hiking trails are only accessible via foot travel, so all visitors can enjoy an uninterrupted backcountry experience.
Best Places For Free Camping In Eastern New York
Below are our favorite spots for free camping in Eastern New York.
Hearthstone Point Campground
Situated on Lake George, the Hearthstone Point Campground sits in a beautiful cove. It is home to several hiking trails that meander throughout the area, giving you a chance to enjoy the wonders of nature.
The campgrounds also feature primitive camping spots with access to electricity, clean showers and bathrooms, picnic tables, and grills for cooking your own meals.
Schodack Island State Park
Last but not least of our spots for free camping in New York is Schodack Island State Park.
Featuring plenty of camping spots and a river, Schodack Island State Park is a perfect spot for campers who want to spend quality time with friends and family.
Hiking trails are abundant in the area. You can also visit Schodack Island’s Bird Conservation Areas with varying topography and widespread distribution and abundance of birds.
Wrapping Up The Best Free Camping in New York
There are plenty of spots for free camping in New York for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you want a secluded, quiet night alone in the woods or you enjoy the communal experience of shared campgrounds, you can easily find what you’re looking for.
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