RV camping is a truly distinctive way to see and experience New York! From the wine regions, mountains, and waterfalls of upstate New York to the bustling metropolis of New York City – it’s possible to see it all from an RV. You’ll see exciting sights and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing every night you’ll have comfortable accommodations with everything you need right at your fingertips.
Planning a trip to New York is an undertaking, however! This guide can help – we’ll show you what to pack, where to camp, what to see, and everything you need to know to plan a successful trip.
Preparing for RV Camping
The first thing you’ll want to do on a New York RV camping trip is to make sure you have an RV! If you don’t own your own RV, you can rent one from RVshare. There are New York rentals across the state, so you can choose one near where you want to be on your trip, or select one in your hometown to drive.
Choosing the right RV for your needs
If this is your first time renting an RV, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. First, you’ll want to think about the size of your group. If you’re traveling alone or with one other person, you may be comfortable in a campervan or small trailer. If you have a very large group, you might want a Class A motorhome or fifth-wheel trailer to fit everyone. There are also several mid-size options like Class C campers and travel trailers.
You can also look at what amenities are offered for various models. Some smaller RVs have very few perks, and may not have much more than a bed. Larger RVs often have multiple beds, indoor bathrooms and showers, a kitchen, an entertainment area, and sometimes even laundry machines or fireplaces.
You’ll also want to think about your budget when renting an RV. Obviously, a larger RV, a newer RV, or an RV with lots of extras will cost considerably more than a bare-bones, older model.
Finally, think about how you will get around after you’ve set up camp. If you have a campervan, you can use that as your sightseeing vehicle and then set up each night back at your campsite. If you tow a trailer, you can use your tow vehicle after you’ve unhitched. But if you have a larger RV like a Class A vehicle, you may need to tow a car behind that you can use to get around once your RV is set up. You can also look into whether there is public transportation near your campground, or whether there are park shuttles or other options to get around.
Packing essentials for a successful trip
After you’ve chosen an RV rental, you’ll need to decide what to pack in it! Packing an RV is a skill – you’ll want to make sure you don’t forget anything, but you also don’t want to overpack and take up more space or unnecessarily weigh down your RV.
You may find it helps to make two lists – one for your personal items and one for the things you need for RV camping.
On your personal packing list, you’ll want:
- Clothing appropriate for the weather and activities you’ve planned. Pack for the number of days you’ll be gone, or the number of days between laundry stops.
- First aid kit
- Bug spray or citronella candles
- Entertainment (books, games, movies)
- Outdoor gear (hiking boots, bathing suit, paddleboards, etc)
- Cold or warm weather gear as needed (heavy jacket, hat, mittens, sun hat, rain jacket)
- Extra batteries
- Electronics & chargers
- Pet supplies
- Quarters for showers or laundry
Before you make your RV packing list, you’ll want to check your rental listing. Different rentals can include different extras. You may find that your rental includes things like dishes, linens, and even camp chairs or paddleboards. On the other hand, it may include none of those things. You’ll want to know before you plan your list!
- Pots & pans
- Utensils – don’t forget a can opener, bottle opener, spatula, set of knives, etc.
- Dish towels & sponges
- Sheets & pillows
- Bath Towels
- Tool kit
- Folding camp chairs
- RV leveling blocks
- Sewer hose and adapter
- Freshwater hose
- Surge protector
You may find that you need to change items your list depending on what time of year you’re camping and where you’re going. Check out this pre-travel checklist for a more thorough list of what to bring.
Considerations for Camping in New York
Before you head to New York, you’ll want to ensure you know the RV driving laws for the state. While RV laws are basically the same in each state, there can be some differences. You’ll want to know what those are, and New York’s specific laws, so you don’t get a ticket!
The maximum width for an RV in New York is 96 inches, which is smaller than many other states. It’s 102 inches on qualifying or access highways. The maximum motorhome length is 45 feet. The maximum trailer length is 48 feet, and the maximum RV height is 13 1/2 feet. The maximum combined length for a two-vehicle combination is 65 feet.
Passengers are allowed to ride in truck campers or fifth-wheel trailers. RVs are not allowed in the carpool lane unless posted otherwise. Bottled gas is banned in tunnels, the lower levels of the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and on I-95 through Manhattan.
Trailers over 1,000 lbs. unladen and trailers having a maximum gross weight over 3,000 lbs must have trailer brakes and safety chains.
General New York driving laws require that when wipers are on, headlights must be on. A right turn on red is allowed unless posted otherwise. IN New York City, a right turn on red is not allowed unless otherwise posted. Radar detectors and mobile police scanners are not permitted in non-commercial motor vehicles with a GVWR of over 18,000 lbs.
Researching campground options and making reservations
Once you’ve chosen your RV and figured out what to pack, it’s time to start looking for campgrounds for your trip! There are lots of websites that can help you plan where to camp! RoverPass, BookOutdoors, Campspot, and The Dyrt can all help you research where to stay and can help you make reservations online. Try Harvest Hosts and Hipcamp to stay in unique venues like wineries and farms.
There are plenty of campgrounds in New York, catering to a variety of different campers! If you want to stay in nature but not give up your own comfort, there are lots of luxury campgrounds to visit. You can also stay at rustic campgrounds, or urban campgrounds in places like New York City.
Exploring public campgrounds in the state
We’ll first take a look at public campgrounds in New York State. Public campgrounds include those in national or state parks, national forests, and on other publicly-owned land.
National Park Camping
Although there are no national parks in New York, there are national monuments, memorials, seashores, and more. Fire Island National Seashore has camping available for visitors. Learn about Long Island’s maritime history and enjoy some amazing views of the coast! Gateway National Recreation Area has camping, and the area has military installations, wildlife refuges, and historical sites.
National Forest Camping
You can often find cheap – or even free – camping in national forests! The Finger Lakes National Forest is the second smallest national forest in the United States. But don’t let its small area fool you – you’ll find waterfalls, gorges, wildflowers, and wineries in or near the region of the forest. You can hike, fish, bike, ski, and more, all while surrounded by the beauty of this upstate New York region. There’s plenty of camping as well, in places like Greendale Campground, Blueberry Patch Campground, and Conesus Lake Campground.
State Park Camping
State parks are another excellent option for public campgrounds! Buttermilk Falls State Park is a beautiful spot near Cornell where Buttermilk Creek rushes down to its final destination at Cayoga Lake. Glimmerglass State Park is just north of Cooperstown and has fishing, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor activities. Watkins Glen State Park showcases steep cliffs and nineteen waterfalls that cascade down the limestone cliffs.
Exploring private campgrounds and RV parks
The public campgrounds in New York are likely to be less expensive than private ones…but they probably have fewer amenities as well. Private campgrounds and RV parks in New York can have perks like showers, WiFi, laundry, hookups, or dump stations. You can go glamping at upscale resorts like the Swan Bay Resort or the Alpine Lake RV Resort in the Adirondacks.
Boondocking in New York
If you want to go the complete opposite route from a fancy glamping campground, you can also go boondocking in New York! Boondocking involves being completely off the grid and disconnected from power and water. Also, it’s often free or very cheap.
The Chautauqua Gorge State Forest has lots of sites for fishing and hiking, along with primitive sites where you can camp. The Windfall Ponds in the Windfall Creek State Forest make another beautiful spot to camp! Hunting and trapping are allowed, along with fishing. The Sugar Hill Fire Tower near Watkins Glen has free camping so it’s an option if you’re visiting the state park. It’s one of the last fire towers accessible to the public in New York, and you won’t want to miss the view from the top!
Planning your itinerary
After you’ve decided where you’re going to camp in New York, it’s time to plan your schedule while you’re there! Of course, you’ll want to spend some time exploring Brooklyn and the other boroughs of New York City. But there’s so much more to New York than simply the Big Apple! Here are the places to go for museums, amusement parks, wildlife refuges, and much more.
Features and attractions in New York
A wonderful way to see more of New York State is by taking a scenic drive. The High Peaks Scenic Byway winds through the Adirondacks, passing streams, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and other amazing scenery. You’ll also get views of Lake Champlain, which is a great spot for a picnic.
You’ll want to see some of New York’s big landmarks while you’re in the state, too. Iconic New York City attractions include The Empire State Building, The Brooklyn Bridge, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. In other parts of the state, look for Niagara Falls, The Erie Canal, and Montauk Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is next to Montauk Point State Park and is at the easternmost point of Long Island. It was just the fourth-operating lighthouse in the United States, and the first in New York.
Be sure to visit some of the many national historic sites in New York as well! The African Burial Ground National Monument is at a site where an estimated 20,000 free and enslaved African people were found buried. The monument includes a visitor center with exhibits that honor the thousands of slaves who helped build the island of Manhattan. Saratoga National Historical Park commemorates the first big American military victory of the Revolutionary War. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park celebrates the women and men who fought for equal rights for women and eventually obtained them the right to vote.
Festivals, fairs, and events in New York
You may be planning to attend a festival or other event in New York on your trip! The New York State Fair happens each summer in Syracuse. The Electric Zoo takes place in New York City each September. It’s a music festival with some of the biggest names in modern electronica. Holiday parades and festivals like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Lunar New Year Parade and Festival are also great reasons to visit New York City!
If you do come to New York for a special event, you may want to check your rental listing. For a fee, some owners will set up their motorhomes for you at your campground so you don’t have to. You can arrive and get right to celebrating!
Exploring Outdoor Activities in New York
If spending time outdoors is important to you on your New York trip, never fear! There are plenty of opportunities to hike, mountain bike, snowshoe, ice fish, and more.
Hiking, biking, and nature trails
A hike is a fantastic way to experience New York’s nature or to take an urban trek right through the city. Hiking is also a savvy vacation activity because it doesn’t cost a thing.
If you prefer mountain biking to hiking, there are lots of options in New York for you as well! Try some of these excellent mountain biking trails.
If these trails don’t suit you and your group, you can find a number of other suggestions on the AllTrails website!
Fishing, boating, and water activities
New York is a lush, green state with many waterfalls, lakes, creeks, and a shoreline. All of these make excellent places for outdoor water activities!
Try fishing at Selkirk Shore along Lake Ontario, which offers a unique combination of river and lake fishing. Owasco Lake at Filmore Glen State Park has primitive camping, rushing waterfalls, and lake fishing where you might catch small and largemouth bass, bluegill, northern pike, walleye, and yellow perch. Wellesley Island at Wellesley Island State Park is in the middle of the St. Lawrence River and has fishing along the shore. You might catch smallmouth bass, perch, pike, or muskie.
If you want to swim, play in the sand, or just relax for a bit, try one of New York’s many beaches! Coney Island Beach won’t be quiet or secluded, but it’s packed with fun! Jones Beach on Long Island is a little less crowded, and has amenities like picnic areas, showers, and even two freshwater pools if you don’t want to swim in the ocean. Farther upstate, you’ll find Sandy Island Beach State Park along Lake Ontario and Long Lake Town Beach in the Adirondacks.
You’ll find lots of waterfalls in New York to admire as well! Niagara Falls is, of course, a set of falls that can’t be missed! You can view Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls from the U.S. side in New York, or from the Canadian side. Letchworth State Park also has three waterfalls that cascade along the Genessee River – the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. Middle Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls on the river, and a paved walking path has many great viewpoints of the falls. Watkins Glen State Park is home to 19 waterfalls, including several you can walk behind.
Wildlife viewing and photography
Want to see some New York wildlife? There are plenty of places to view animals, birds, and marine life native to New York! The state is home to wild animals including black bears, bobcats, lynx, mountain lions (called cougars in these parts), wild boars, and many more. The Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge on Long Island is a great place for viewing sea turtles, plovers, and a variety of shorebirds. The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Central New York has wetlands, grasslands, shrublands, and forests so a variety of animals feel at home. You’ll find lots of waterfowl and migratory birds who stop here. The Adirondack Mountains are also home to lots of wild animals and a camping trip to many Adirondack spots could reward you with views of bears, deer, and other wildlife.
Family-friendly activities and attractions
Bringing the family to New York? There’s lots for everyone to do! Whether you want to learn about the history or science in the state, spend a day on exciting rides, or head to the zoo, plenty of things keep people of all ages entertained.
Historical Sites and Museums
Why not add some education to a fun family trip? You can take the kids to a variety of historic sites in New York! At the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, you can visit the Lindenwald mansion where he lived after serving as president. The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Central New York celebrates the life of the brave woman who helped so many to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
New York also has some of the best museums in the world! The Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases 5,000 years of art in one space. The American Museum of Natural History is known for the 94-foot-long blue whale that’s suspended from the ceiling and covers the literal history of mankind from its inception to the present. The New York Transit Museum provides the unique history of the New York subway system, among other subjects.
Amusement parks, zoos, and wildlife refuges
Looking for a day of family fun? Head to one of New York’s many amusement parks for thrills and rides! Six Flags Darien Lake has the fast, exciting rollercoasters Six Flags is known for, plus tamer rides for younger kids. There are also water rides so families can cool off during the summer months. Adventureland is a Long Island classic since its opening in 1962. The park has 28 rides and is a great smaller park to explore with the family. Of course, Coney Island is also an iconic New York destination, and Luna Park has rollercoasters, the beloved Coney Island Cyclone, and boardwalk games.
You can also take the family for a day at the zoo! The Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. The Central Park Zoo is much smaller, but is a beloved institution (and your kids might recognize it from the Madagascar movie series!) If you’re visiting Upstate New York, the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester is a wonderful option.
Safety and Preparedness when RV Camping in New York
An RV camping trip to New York is an opportunity to make lasting memories! However, you’ll want to be conscious of the potential dangers that come with a trip to the state. Knowing about the natural disasters that can occur in New York will help you be prepared if there’s an emergency.
Weather conditions and natural disaster preparedness
Some of the natural disasters that are most common in New York include severe summer storms, floods, winter storms, and hurricanes. If you’re in New York during a summer storm with thunder and lightning, seek shelter indoors immediately and stay there until the lightning has stopped. You can also look for an app that will tell you the distance the lightning is from your location.
If there is a hurricane while you’re in New York, the best thing you can do is evacuate the area before the hurricane arrives. If you can’t leave, move to higher ground. Do not stay in your RV during a hurricane but seek shelter in a more substantial building. Move away from the coast and stay away from areas where there could be landslides. Close curtains and move away from windows to protect yourself from broken glass.
You can find more tips for dealing with extreme weather while RVing here!
Wildlife encounters and precautions
Wildlife, including predators like black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions, live in New York. Be careful when hiking and do not let small children or animals run ahead on the trail. Read any posted signs and follow their advice on what to do if you spot a wild animal. You can use the thumb rule to determine if you’re too close to a wild animal – extend your arm in front of you and give a “thumbs up.” Make sure your thumb is blocking the entire animal. If you can see the animal around the edges of your thumb, you’re too close!
An RV camping trip to New York is a unique way to explore the state! You’ll be flexible to move around but still have all the comforts of home right with you along the way. Most importantly, you’re sure to make some memories with people you love!
More Inspiration for Your New York Travels
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