“I’m not sure you’ve really thought this through,” my wife, Kara, said as I crammed the fourth sleeping bag into my backpack in preparation for our first hypothetical family camping trip. The seams of the backpack creaked and groaned under the strain.
“We’ll have plenty of room for everything, as long as we don’t pack any clothing. Or food,” I replied.
I’d decided that we were ready to tackle an overnight backpacking trip with our two sons, ages nine and six, even though our only previous attempts at camping (in our backyard) had failed pitiably. We’d pitch the tent, polish off the marshmallows, and immediately head inside to watch Netflix and sleep in our beds.
“We need to go backpacking! Then we can’t wimp out and come inside,” I suggested.
“We should really ease into actual camping. Let’s try car camping first,” Kara suggested.
She was right. Car camping removes the Netflix-and-comfortable-bed temptation, while also allowing the luxury of having room to pack clothing and food.
When we rolled up to our campsite at North-South Lake (named indirectly for the first European explorer to visit this area, Jebediah Oxymoron) in the Catskills a few days later, it was clear we’d made the right call.
What a beautiful spot. This place is awesome. I’d been here for day hiking before (documented in the North-South Lake: North Point trail guide), and had heard good things about the campsites being plentiful yet surprisingly private, but had never visited this area with the intention of sleeping on its dirt.
And what nice dirt it is.
We chose North-South Lake because there’s a ton to do within the park or very nearby: Swimming, boating, hiking, visiting Kaaterskill Falls or the cool little town of Tannersville, running the hand dryers non-stop in the (surprisingly clean!) bathroom directly behind our campsite, etc.
Our kids were especially jazzed about the swimming. While the park is dog-friendly, though, the beach is not.
If you’re going to drag your reluctant family on a hike, too, this is the place to do it. We took the route from the old Mountain House site to Artist’s Rock and Sunset Rock (we did steps 1-13 from the North Point trail guide, totaling about 3 miles). It’s tough to think of another hike that packs more gorgeous views into a shortish, flatish hike.
“You said this hike was FLAT!” my family yelled along the way.
“I said flat-ISH,” I replied. Some parts were more flatish than others.
Fortunately, the view from Sunset Rock silenced all whining.
After the hike, we gave the kids the choice between pizza in Tannersville or cooking hot dogs at our campsite.
“Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” they yelled, even though they don’t like hot dogs. They were right. You don’t go out for pizza when you’re camping. (It’s nice to have the option, though!)
Turns out, there’s a general store about a mile down the road, and a Stewart’s Shop about a mile beyond that, where they have firewood and all the major camping food groups: hot dogs, buns, Doritos, Hershey bars, marshmallows, etc. Good for your soul, bad for your general health.
We might have run out of time for the high-stakes card games at the picnic table afterwards, too.
That night, we actually cobbled together a better night’s sleep than a reasonable person could have expected from our situation: four humans and one dog packed into an 8’ x 8’ square on the ground (practicing with our backpacking tent!). Most importantly, we didn’t wimp out and sneak back to our house, proving that our family can indeed sleep outside if bribed with the proper amount of junk food.
For its scenery, friendly greeters, facilities, gorgeous trails, well-maintained campsites, swimming beaches, scenic overlooks, and striking distance to Kaaterskill Falls and Tannersville, I’m giving North-South Lake a 9 out of 10 on the Scientific Car Camping Destination Rating Scale (still under development). I’d give it a 10, but since this is the only place we’ve camped, it seems prudent to leave some room for growth.
While North-South Lake turned out to be the perfect choice for our first family camping trip, the Hudson Valley has plenty of other excellent camping destinations. What’s your favorite place to camp around here?