This summer, City Moms are getting back to nature! According to our insiders, more and more urban families are choosing camping as their number one pick for a family-friendly weekend get-away.
We’ve gathered a list of our favorite family camping spots in Northern and Southern California, New York, and Chicago, and what to expect so you, too, can pack up your crew and spend a summer night or two under the stars.
Not convinced “roughing it” is for you? Lynn Perkins, an UrbanSitter founder and mom of twin boys insists, “There is no better bonding experience than sleeping in a tent together as a family. Camping is a great chance for parents to unplug from their jobs, get back to nature, and learn new things with their kids. It also gives everyone a much needed break from screen time.”
Not to worry, we’ve also included a few picks for those who aren’t cut out for tenting it!
Both of these camping spots are about a two-hour drive from NYC.
Taconic State Park in New York’s Copake Falls region. Families choose Taconic for its convenience and safety, including a nice beach where the kids can swim and easy trails for the whole family to hike. In addition to campsites, Taconic also offers well-equipped cabins with running water, electricity and full kitchens for those who enjoy a pretty big step up from a tent. The park boasts a network of trails that are fantastic for family bike rides.
Insider Tip: Book well in advance, and if you’re hoping for one of the cabins, know that you must book 7-day or 14-day reservations during the peak summer season.
Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Putnam County, NY, is a big hit thanks to its large, sandy beach at Canopus Lake. It’s a great place to swim, fish, rent a rowboat, and enjoy a picnic lunch at the nearby picnic area.
Insider Tip: Keep Fahnestock top of mind for a winter getaway, too. Fahnestock Winter Park offers excellent sledding and is a great place for the whole family to try snowshoeing.
Camping in Southern California
San Elijo State Beach on the San Diego Coast provides all the thrills of camping and a day at the beach, rolled into one, easy to reach location. By day, families can build sand castles and play in the reef-protected waters. When the sun goes down, build a bonfire, roast marshmallows and teach your kids camp songs. Clean restrooms, a snack bar and camp store make it especially easy on families.
* The secret is out on San Elijo as a top choice for families. Book 6 months in advance.
* If you need a break from nature, Wan Pizza is a close-by bite to eat. The pizza is delicious, and the waiters bring kids pizza dough, instead of crayons, to play with while waiting for their food.
The Observatory Campground at Mt. Palomar in San Diego County is a top pick for its spectacular star gazing and learning opportunities, thanks to its proximity to the Palomar Observatory, a world-class center of astronomy research operated by the California Institute of Technology. But, it’s not just about seeing the stars, although star gazing is truly reason enough to visit. Plan on hiking during the day, and spending lots of time around a campfire in the evening. There’s an optimal view of the sky thanks to specially cleared camp spots. Here’s your chance to try out your campfire cooking skills. Eating around a campfire beats sitting in a restaurant with restless kids any day! Do your homework for preparing easy, kid-pleasing campfire meals. And don’t forget the s’mores!
* Bring a telescope!
* The 4.2 mile (round trip) hike to the Observatory may be tough for a preschooler.
* Remember to bring bug spray in the summer.
Camping in Northern California
Costanoa Lodge, an eco-adventure resort in Pescadero, CA, is a hands-down favorite. It’s just a bit more than an hour’s drive from San Francisco, and is situated on what is arguably the most ruggedly beautiful stretch of California coast. The property offers several levels of accommodations to fit a range of “camping” comfort requirements – campgrounds for serious campers and tent bungalows or lodge-style rooms for the less adventurous.
This resort truly takes the planning and coordination pressure off parents by providing scheduled hikes, kids camps, horseback riding, and live music for awesome family entertainment during the summer. There’s even a general store onsite. It’s unlikely you’ll want to leave the property, but if you do, a family visit to Pie Ranch, Swanton Berry Farm, and Pigeon Point Lighthouse are short treks away.
Insider Tip: Keep your eyes pealed for wildlife sightings, as wildlife is abundant on the property, including many rare and endangered species, and they are sure to be a highlight of your family’s weekend.
Olemar RV Resort and Campground near the Point Reyes National Seashore is also just an hour outside SF, and provides a gorgeous mix of grassy, open meadows, wooded area and plenty of wildlife. There is a lot to do as a family, including hiking, biking and just exploring, whether on the grounds or the nearby shore. The campground has newly renovated restrooms and showers and a new playground for the kids. It’s walking distance or a short drive to Point Reyes Station for groceries, restaurants or shopping if you need a reprieve from your tent.
Insider Tip: Watch out for raccoons! There are many, so secure your belongings before heading to bed.
Camping near Chicago
Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris, Illinois, is the nearest campsite (about seven miles) from the spectacular Goose Lake in Goose Lake Prairie State Park. It’s true camping style with no extra hand-holding and few amenities other than the Great Outdoors. Families love it for its natural beauty and easy accessibility – just an hour outside of Chicago – and have a blast fishing and canoeing in one the several ponds and Nettle Creek, which gently flows around the park’s perimeter.
Insider Tip: While it’s very inexpensive (just $6/day to camp), the campsites aren’t a park-and-camp experience. Plan to walk about ½ mile from your car to your campsite.
Hickory Hideaway at Lake Carroll in Shannon, Illinois, is the pick if you prefer a little more luxe in your nature getaway. It offers whirlpool cottages and family country cottages, as well as luxury cabins equipped with a jacuzzi, fireplace, king-size bed and wet bar! Guests can also use a clubhouse with grills and picnic tables, along with bench swings and a fire pit. Drive time from Chicago is about 2.5 hours.
Insider Tip: Chat with the owners while you are there. They are incredibly helpful, and can maximize the family-friendliness of your trip by providing recommendations on nearby restaurants and even providing your kids with movies and games.