How To Stay In New York City For $30/Night : Camp Gateway – Staten Island

I haven’t heard of anything crazier than tent camping in New York City, but why not? I do have a tendency to come up with crazy ideas, and this one scores pretty high on the craziness scale. What’s the likelihood that there’s a campground in New York City, though?

“Might as well give it a try,” I mumbled under my breath, while my fingers deftly clicked upon the keyboard. We are trying to keep the costs of our East Coast trip down, so what better way than tent camping, especially in New York where hotels are crazy expensive and we would need two rooms.

I typed the words “tent camping in New York City” into the google browser. A person has to love Google, while simultaneously hating it, because you would not believe this! You actually CAN tent camp in New York City!! Ok, admittedly not in lower Manhattan, but not too far away, on Staten Island at a place called Camp Gateway!

I did as much research as I possibly could, and booked what seemed like the nicest spot in the campground for a mere $30. Sweet! There’s 7 tent spots in this campground with reserved parking for one vehicle for each site. There’s also bathrooms and showers. What more do you need? I might add here that Camp Gateway has two other campgrounds. One is located in Brooklyn and one at Sandy Hook.

That’s how we find ourselves this fine evening on Staten Island trying to find our campground. It takes us a few minutes, as we end up getting a little disoriented following Google Map instructions. We are driving around in what looks like housing for a navy base of some sort, but soon we are at our destination just before sunset. We have no time to explore, because camp needs set up before it’s dark!

There’s only one other camper here at Camp Gateway, and no camp host to be seen. I have no idea where we need to go to register. As soon as that thought enters my head, a camp host pulls up in a big pickup truck. I guess we had come in the back way and that’s why we were so confused. I should have followed my old fashioned written instructions instead of google maps.

The host is quite welcoming, shows us to our camping spot, and has even provided us with a pile of free firewood! I have never had any camp host do that before! He had even carried it to our site for us! He almost seems too eager to have guests.

I decide to push my luck. I have noticed that the campground restricts each site to only 2 tents, but we have 3 for our crew. I explain our predicament to the host, and much to my great pleasure he says that it’s not a problem. He even shows us where we might fit the third tent. I suppose if I hadn’t asked it might have become a problem.

David heads off with the camp host to register and to make a quick run to a nearby outdoor sports store to buy fuel for my MSR stove. The rest of us pitch our tents. While we are working the camp host returns with some final instructions, and to unlock the shower and restrooms.

“I gave your husband a direct phone number to the military police. If anything happens, which it won’t, just call that number and they will be here in less than one minute? I will give you the number, too.”

I guess I was right. We are on some kind of military base, although we didn’t have to go through any gates to get in here.

I am shocked. Shell shocked. Well, how dumb am I? What do I expect? Tent camping in New York City is going to be super safe? Heck, Brooklyn is just on the other side of the bridge over there! There’s some rough people thereabouts, never mind about here in Staten Island. Like – this place probably isn’t the safest in the world either!

This is some kind of a park here, so who knows what kinds of hobos hang out in this park all night long! There’s only one other camper here at Camp Gateway, and he looks like he is already settling down for the night. He probably is packing iron and knows how to use it. Nobody else is stupid enough to come here to sleep in a tent. If there were other campers maybe I would feel safer.

My imagination runs wild. Really wild. I don’t know if we can back out any more. The tents are up already. David isn’t here yet. Who knows where he is. It’s taking him forever to get back from REI. It’s getting late, and it will be hard to find a hotel at this hour if he agrees that we must leave.

I want to ask the camp host if this campground is dangerous, but I don’t want to sound like an idiot. Maybe he can read my face, because I soon hear words intended to reassure me.

“So the military police drive through this area all night long. If you have any trouble, which I suspect you won’t, just call the number I gave you and they will be here in one minute.”

In other words don’t call 911. The cops won’t make it in time. I take the piece of paper with the phone number on it and shove it in my pocket. That number needs to go on my speed dial.

The camp host turns to leave. “All right! Good night. And stay safe!” he says as he departs.

Those words ring sharply in my ears. Stay safe. I truly am in such a state of disbelief that I can scarcely contain it. Stay safe? What must I do to stay safe, I wonder, other than pack up and leave!

I could work myself into a tizzy with all the worrying that I am doing, but I get task oriented. Soon I have a ‘one match’ fire started, started with only one match because I forgot to pack any matches. I have the kids run to borrow a light from the lone camper over yonder. Everyone is incredibly hungry, and before long we are cooking some delicious hotdogs over the fire. Now admittedly, it feels pretty awesome to be roasting hotdogs over a campfire in New York City! I can’t decide if it feels rebellious or liberating, or just so ridiculous that it’s hilarious. We make some s’mores, too. Why not? ¬†How many people can say they cooked s’mores over an open campfire in New York City?

David returns much later, without any fuel. I guess REI in NYC doesn’t sell MSR, because maybe NYC people don’t really ever CAMP. But who am I to judge? We just won’t have coffee in the morning, no worries!

My very first question to David when he returns, as you can well imagine, is if we should leave. I tell him what the park host had said. He looks at me like I have three heads.

“We aren’t going anywhere,” he says. “It’s perfectly safe here. We are on a base, and it’s perfectly safe.” And the conversation ended right then and there.

After everyone has finished eating we take the car and drive up on the nearby hill. It’s not that far, but I don’t want to walk past the bushes and trees at the edge of the campground, for who knows what might be lurking there.

Once we are on top of the hill we capture some incredibly amazing photos of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Now admittedly I am pretty nervous the whole time. There is a random car stopped nearby with the motor running. I can tell someone is inside, but can’t make out who. Not that it would matter. The whole time I am acutely aware for danger. Not that I could do anything if something happened. I am pretty helpless and defenseless.

Across the waterway we can see the shimmering lights of Brooklyn. We can also see the beacon of Lady Liberty beckoning all to come to the land of freedom, but unfortunately with my limited photography skills I can’t get a good enough photo.

It’s actually pretty creepy walking under a bridge in the evening when there’s seemingly nobody around.

I feel quite relieved when we return to our campsite. There is some odd feeling of relative security here compared to on top of the hill. Our fire is burning low and it’s time to turn in for what hopefully is an uneventful night.

As I lay in my tent I post a photo of our camping spot next to this gorgeous bridge on Instagram and Facebook. I want to write something like, “Hey everyone…. I am just going to sleep in this campground in NYC just below the Verrazano Bridge – hoping I wake up alive in the morning! #verazzano #camping #staysafe….”. I decide not to, because you never know about Instagram. If someone in Brooklyn or Staten Island who follows Verrazano Bridge postings on Instagram sees my post, they might try to come down and murder me in my sleep, or worse yet steal my iPhone.

I am so exhausted I sleep like a baby. Imagine my surprise when I wake up alive in the morning with my iPhone intact. My kids are all still in their tents. No one has been assaulted or kidnapped. It’s a beautiful morning!

Come on, husband! Let’s check out the sunrise! Man, is he gorgeous, or what?

Our neighbor is already gone. My car is still parked where I left it. The campground is beautiful in the morning light. I like that big ramada they have here for campers to use.

Fort Wadsworth is where we are at. You can see some dilapidated buildings right next to our camping spot.

Our spot (H4) is the best, because it’s right next to this gazebo and close to the water. You do need to carry your gear a little way in, because the parking spots are at the street.

Before the kids wake up we grab quick showers. The water is not super hot, but it feels great. I bet there aren’t too many showers in NYC that are open to the sky.

If you ever find yourself camping here let me give you a little tip. There is an electrical outlet in this gazebo so you can charge your devices. There’s also a light you can turn on in the evening. I like the elevated pads they have for placing your tent.

The river views are awesome. You can literally watch huge oceanliners and cruise ships float by your campsite.

If you really want to know what I think about Camp Gateway – Staten Island at Fort Wadsworth at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, I will tell you. It’s amazing and awesome. Yeah, I was nervous last night, but this morning my heart is awash with only happiness that I had the opportunity to stay here! My only regret is that we don’t spend more time here. We should have come a bit earlier so we could scope the area out before it got dark. Later I find out that the ruins at Fort Wadsworth are pretty cool, and it would have been awesome to check them out! You can tour these ruins. This fort was built in the 1800’s to protect NYC.

This is a cool aerial photo I snagged off the web. When I look at this photo I realize we were standing right up against the wall overlooking this incredible fort (near the US flag). That mysterious car was parked on the street (bottom left) facing the water. We had no idea last night that there was a fort right here. The more I think about it the more I regret that we didn’t explore more. Oh well, there’s always next time……

As for me, I am proud to say I survived a night of tent camping in New York City! I loved it! You can literally stay here for $30 a night. You can park free of charge in your own designated spot. You can leave your car parked for the day, and take a city bus to a free ferry that will bring you to Manhattan. You simply can’t beat it!

And with that we are off again, this time to Philadelphia.

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