Beach campsites to suit every taste

Bayville resident Madeline Mullen, 6, munches on strawberries

Bayville resident Madeline Mullen, 6, munches on strawberries at the Hither Hills Campground in Hither Hills State Park in Montauk. (June 18, 2010) (Credit: Photo by Emily Anne Epstein)

Waterfront property. Only for the rich, right? Not necessarily. If you're willing to pitch a tent or sleep in a camper, you can have instant digs for a relative pittance. From Montauk to Lido Beach, half a dozen or more campgrounds offer accommodations right on the sand or a short walk to the waves.

"This is really relaxing," Vicki Clark, 61, a retired teacher's aide from Bayport, says while sitting outside her camper at Wildwood State Park Campground in Wading River and reading People magazine. "At home you have to scrub the floor, you have to do the laundry. Here you can commune with nature. You can walk down to the water."

But getting reservations at some campgrounds can be as competitive as scoring tickets for a Justin Bieber concert. For instance, you have to call nine months in advance for the week you want at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk; the reservation line opens at 9 a.m. and sites are sold out by 9:04 for weeks in July and August, says Tom Deff, park superintendent.

Here's where you can go. 

Wildwood State Park Campground

Hulse Landing Road, Wading River, 631-929-4262

Reserve: 800-456-2267, newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com
Cost: $15-$22 for tent sites, $27-$31 for trailers

Best for: If you want the Long Island Sound

The beach: The backdrop of this North Shore beach includes bluffs with green vegetation. A deck area has picnic tables; a concession rents umbrellas.

The campground: The nearby campground is lush with grass and shady trees. Paved paths connect the 242 tent sites and 80 trailer sites with full electric, water and sewer hookups. Recreation includes a sand volleyball court, basketball hoops and ballfield.

Perks: On summer Fridays from July 16 to Aug. 13, the park runs square dancing from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Farm stands are close by.

Drawbacks: The beach is a 10-minute walk from the campground. The skinny, meandering strip of sand is full of white rocks.

Hither Hills State Park

50 S. Fairview Ave., Montauk, 631-668-2554

Reserve: 800-456-2267, newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com
Cost: $225 per week

Best for: If you want a 'summer camp' feeling

The beach: Open oceanfront beach just over the dunes.

The campground: Hither Hills has 168 tent and trailer sites (no hookups). A general store offers staples and snacks - craft activities and outdoor movies are organized weekly. Kids bring bicycles and zip around the campground.

Perks: Because campers stay for a full week, families get to know one another, creating community.

Drawbacks: Reserving a summer spot means planning nine months in advance and getting on the phone at 9 a.m. on the dot.

Theodore Roosevelt County Park

East Lake Drive, Montauk, 631-852-7879, suffolkcountyny.gov/parks

Reserve: No reservations; it's first-come, first-served.
Cost: $14 a night for Suffolk residents with Green Key Card ($24 nonresidents); plus $75 outer beach permit ($200 nonresidents)

Best for: If you want to be on the sand

The beach: This nautical campground is a secluded enclave right smack on the sand.

The campground: Here's the view: Boats chug by on the ocean; gulls swoop; a rock jetty juts into the distance.

Perks: It's a few miles from the bustling center of Montauk and close to the Montauk Lighthouse and the Crabby Cowboy Cafe.

Drawbacks: No amenities - no water, sewer or electric. No shade, either. No tents allowed. No lifeguards.

Also try: Suffolk County has other such right-on-the-sand sites on the East End. Shinnecock East County Park in Southampton has ocean and bayfront camping and draws people who like to surfcast or fish off the rocks. It's not as remote as Theodore Roosevelt, but there aren't any concessions or full bathrooms ($14-$25 a night, 631-852-8899).

Smith Point County Park

End of William Floyd Parkway, Shirley, 631-852-1316, suffolkcountyny.gov/parks

Reserve: 631-244-7275 or reserve online
Cost: $14 for tent sites with Green Key card ($24 nonresidents); $21 for sites with water, electric, sewer ($32 nonresidents)

Best for: If you like Fire Island

The beach: John Kaufmann and Nora Bragaglia-Kaufmann of Holbrook love taking their six youngest children to this eastern tip of the Fire Island National Seashore because camping offers a beach vacation at a value. The ocean is over the dunes, the bay a jaunt away. "The bay is fun because it's nice and low, and we get to swim," says Bragaglia-Kaufmann's daughter Lasundjra, 11.

The campground: Smith Point has 270 tent and trailer sites, with some offering water and electric hookup but no sewer, and others with all three. "We get to play a lot of games at the playground," says Lasundjra's sister Sadarria, 8.

Perks: The Beach Hut serves meals and a camp store sells firewood and ice. The Fire Island National Seashore Visitors' Center is within walking distance.

Drawbacks: The campground is relatively spare, not many trees or other types of vegetation. Sites are adjacent to the camp roadway.

Also try: There's also camping at Watch Hill on 26 tent sites just over the dunes. Campers bring their equipment on the ferry from Patchogue. "If you're able to take off during the week, you feel like you've got the island to yourself, miles of undeveloped beaches, white sand, rolling dunes," says Paula Valentine, public affairs specialist for the seashore ($20 a night with two-night minimum; 631-567-6664, watchhillfi.com).

Nickerson Beach Park Campground

Lido Boulevard, Lido Beach, 516-571-7724, www.nassaucountyny.gov

Reserve: 516-571-7700
Cost: $12-$29 for tent sites; $22-$42 a night for trailers; $7 for water and electric hookup

Best for: If you want 'urban' camping

The beach: A breathtaking vista of white sand flows to the sparkling ocean. A cordoned area protects piping plovers.

The campground: There are eight tent sites and 74 camper sites at this park, which has a concession stand and skateboard park.

Drawbacks: White clover dots the patchy grass; campers hear the whoosh of traffic on Lido Boulevard. The campfire pit is concrete blocks; grills are rusty. It's a hike to the water.

Perks: Campground fee includes admission to the public swimming pool.

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