Less than two hours outside of New York City, Wildwood State Park is a gravelly paradise on the Long Island Sound.
After parking at the campsite check-in, we walked down the steep path cut between the sheer cliffs that line the beach below. A comfort station greeted us, as well as a mile or so of beach, studded with fishing poles.
We chose Wildwood State Park because it’s one of several on Long Island that offer beach adjacent camping but one of the only ones that is accessible via the LIRR from the city. We had this dream of waking up in Brooklyn, grabbing our hiking bags, taking the train out to the beach in the morning and simply hiking to a campfire under the stars.
As the day approached, however, we came to our senses. The round-trip Uber from the LIRR and the train tickets themselves put the public transportation price in the same neighborhood as a two-day car2go rental, so we opted for that instead. It allowed us to drive around the Hamptons the next day, admiring the houses and embracing the bougie atmosphere, mentally separating ourselves as much as possible from the people who had slept on the ground the night before.
Ultimately, it didn’t live up to our expectations. Wildwood is on the north side of Long Island, facing the Sound, so beneath our feet wasn’t sand but rocks and pebbles, small enough to slip in between your foot and your sandal and big enough for you to notice. The calm water before us made it easy to see the shores of New Haven, Connecticut, not fifteen miles away. The lack of waves and the surplus of fishing poles made swimming unappealing, and the rocks made walking with sandals almost impossible. But the view was nice.
We headed back up the trail to check in to our campsite, passing families heading to the beach or the picnic area. No one, it seems, travels from the city to come here. This is a locals’ park. The cliffs and trees block any view of the city anyway. You can feel the Mid-Atlantic transitioning into New England, the hardwood forests of the Catskills meeting the rocky and abrupt shoreline of Newport Beach. We were about two thirds down the island, but at Montauk there’s a ferry that will take you to Block Island, off the coast of Narragansett.
The camping facilities are all new and convenient, with individual shower stalls and stores throughout the park. There are a couple of hikes through the forest, but they all lead away from the water and are generally uninteresting. The campsites are big, but they don’t have fire rings. They are, however, available to rent at the store, along with wood and briquettes for cooking. We had limited ourselves to a portable grill that fits in our bag, but that worked well enough for chicken at night and bacon in the morning.
Hither Hills, in Montauk, comes closer to the platonic ideal of beach camping than Wildwood, with its fine ocean sand and campsites positioned directly behind the dunes. But the scenery and the people, while perhaps not more relaxing, are certainly more interesting.