The Best In Tent Camping New Jersey  by Matt Willen

The Best In Tent Camping: New Jersey Guide Book

by Matt Willen (Menasha Ridge Press)
The Best In Tent Camping New Jersey  by Matt Willen
At 8,729 square miles, New Jersey is the 47th-largest state in the union—not one of the big ones, or even medium-sized. But its public lands are big on diversity and character. And in spite of the state’s proximity to several of the country’s major population centers, you can still immerse yourself in nature and all it has to offer—only a short drive from home.

© 2018 Matt Willen/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "The Best In Tent Camping: New Jersey" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 50.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 50.

The Cape May Peninsula, 16 miles long and 8 miles wide, has more than a dozen campgrounds; many more line US 9 north of the peninsula. Nearly all of these campgrounds densely pack in RVs, and almost none are tent-friendly. Most encourage seasonal camping. Some don’t even allow tent camping. Adventure Bound Camping Resort is included here not because it has the most pristine, rustic, wilderness sites in the Garden State—rather, it’s included here because it has a tent section and is therefore a beacon of light among the glut of southern coastal RV parks. The RV section of Adventure Bound looks similar to those of neighboring campgrounds, but continue driving past the 11 small hookup lanes to the very end: a small dedicated tent loop sits on a northern spur apart from the other sites. There is no underbrush between sites, but there are trees and shade above the tents.
Cape May, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
In 1822, businessman James P. Allaire headed south from Manhattan to found the Howell Works on an industrial bog iron–processing area that had been active since 1793. His integrated mining, smelting, and forging business thrived for a few decades, with more than 400 people living on company land during the 1830s. The self-contained private community of Howell Works included homes, a church, a school, and service businesses such as a general store, blacksmith shop, carpenter’s shop, and a bakery. By the 1850s, bog furnaces were well on their way to extinction. Howell Works became a ghost town and was later used as a movie studio, a French restaurant, and a Boy Scout camp before volunteers began restoring it in the 1950s. Today Howell Works is called Allaire Village and is an outdoor living-history museum within Allaire State Park.
Farmingdale, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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If you’re looking for convenience, comfort, and small luxuries such as hot showers and wellmarked roads, the camping at Estell Manor and Camp Acagisca won’t suit your tastes. If, however, you want to get away from it all without heading very far afield, these two locations are worth trying out. While Lake Lenape (see next profile) is the signature campground for the Atlantic County park system, the camping at both Estell Manor and Camp Acagisca is considerably more low-key. You’ll have plenty of room to roam, and the possibility of having neighbors of any sort other than the resident wildlife is pretty slim. The sites at both locations are technically group sites, but since organized groups don’t use them every weekend, they’re often available for groups as small as a family. Camping at either location requires that you register at the boathouse/reservations office at Lake Lenape; the office closes at 5 p.m. during spring and fall; closing time is at 9 p.m. throughout summer.
Mays Landing, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Lake Lenape is one of those rare New Jersey campgrounds that are open to tent campers only. But unlike most tent-only campgrounds, these 18 sites are drive-in, not hike-in. Campers enter via a long driveway and loop around to set up house by the shore. A new loop with an additional 11 tent sites and 6 lakeside cabins was scheduled to be completed in 2018 but was not yet open at press time; contact the park for updates. Campsites are spacious and level, with towering woods offering plenty of shade. There’s almost no understory, however, which means no privacy barriers between sites. But while campers don’t have much privacy from each other, the access road is not a thoroughfare— only campers use the dead-end drive.
Mays Landing, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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New Jersey’s first state forest has come a long way since it was acquired in 1905. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) altered the landscape significantly in the 1930s, when they planted 4,500 acres of trees. When they dammed two streams and constructed the park’s centerpiece, Lake Absegami, a public park was born. More than 110 years later, the lake is surrounded by 176 campsites, 6 cabins, 6 lean-tos, 9 primitive shelters, and 6 group sites. Eighty-three campsites line the thin loop that comprises the South Shore Campground. A separate loop sits on the farther bank, housing 93 additional sites at the North Shore Campground.
New Gretna, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Unassuming and modest compared with their private cousins that pervade the nearby Cape May Peninsula, the campgrounds of Belleplain State Forest offer a respite from the Jersey Shore’s dense RV lifestyle. Belleplain, with its 20,000 acres, is not the southernmost of New Jersey’s state parks, but it does contain the three southernmost public campgrounds. It’s the closest tent campers can get to Cape May without sacrificing their wilderness experience for more-organized, close-knit fun. Belleplain is located within the Pinelands National Reserve, a unique ecosystem also known as the Pine Barrens. Belleplain’s centerpiece, 26-acre Lake Nummy, was the Meisle family’s cranberry bog before 1933, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Reforestation Relief Act transformed it. Three separate camps were set up, and the CCC got to work digging and constructing. Lake Nummy was then called Meisle Lake and was later renamed after a Lenni Lenape Indian chief.
Woodbine, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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North Shore Campground, like the other two Belleplain State Forest campgrounds (see previous profile), is secluded, pleasant, and located in a shady forest. Unlike the other two, however, North Shore Campground does not allow pets. Understory provides privacy between sites, although nearly all sites can be seen from the mazelike road that loops through these 82 sites. As in most New Jersey state parks, site sizes vary from small areas that comfortably house two tents to large clearings that can handle a 40-foot RV. No hookups are available. The sites along the eastern edge of the campground border Lake Nummy. Shrubs and bushes surround most of them, but sites 25–27 are open and can provide space for a small group or large family.
Woodbine, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
The clean scent of pine permeates the air at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest Camping Area, reminding visitors that they are in the 1.1-million-acre Pinelands National Reserve, a unique protected ecosystem. Eighty-two wooded sites on three flat, sandy loops make up this northernmost Pinelands campground. Like all state campgrounds in New Jersey, this one has no RV hookups, although there is a sanitation dump. Yurts sit permanently on a small loop off of Coopers Road, providing accommodation for campers who do not own tents and for those who need wheelchair-accessible accommodations. Three cabins, located near Pakim Pond, are also available. Cabin tenants share the campground showers in the two modern bathhouses, but the cabins do feature indoor toilets and sinks.
Vincentown, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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With the opening of its campground in 2012, Camp Gateway became the closest tent campground to the New York City metropolitan area. Nestled away near the beach at Horseshoe Cove in Sandy Hook, the campground consists of 20 tent-only campsites. Plan your trip and reserve well in advance, because these sites get booked very early in the season. Each site has a picnic table, a fire ring, a grill, and—most importantly—a shelter under which you can get a little shade and escape the sun, which can be pretty intense along this stretch of the northern New Jersey coast. First developed in 1972, the 27,000-acre Gateway National Recreation Area consists of three geographic units in New York and New Jersey, each of which has both historic and natural value.
Highlands, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Rustic and conveniently located, Bergen County’s newest campground is also its oldest. Camp Glen Gray was established in 1917 and developed over the next decade. For the next 85 years, it operated as a Boy Scouts of America camp. Generations of boys learned to boat, fish, respect nature, and cooperate on its 750 wooded acres. Bergen County acquired the camp from the Boy Scouts in 2002 with help from the Trust for Public Land and a group of volunteers. The county provides mosquito control and snow removal, but for the most part, Camp Glen Gray is self-funded and managed by the Friends of Glen Gray Camp Operating Committee. Ramapo Valley County Reservation is only 4.5 miles from Camp Glen Gray, and while both are wooded, primitive environments with great hiking trails, they serve different needs and different clienteles. Ramapo Valley is the top dog-walking and dog-camping destination in the region, and hundreds of people take their dogs through the park every day. Camp Glen Gray, however, does not allow visitors to bring dogs.
Mahwah, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Set on a remote hillside on the ridge of the Kittatinny Mountains, this private campground offers an unusual and appealing mix of attractions. Camp Taylor’s wooded hillside tenting area, with primitive sites that are both spacious and shaded, is only part of its appeal. The remote location is another draw; the 350-acre camp is adjacent to 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which is quite large for a backyard. Most campers who visit Camp Taylor come to take advantage of this proximity and to enjoy the remote setting. Nonetheless, Camp Taylor offers organized activities for both kids and adults, including a miniature golf course, a swimming area, and a game room. But what truly distinguishes Camp Taylor from the pack is its own pack—that is, an on-site wolf preserve. Lakota Wolf Preserve features four wildlife pens dispersed over 10 acres.
Columbia, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
With only 150 acres, Camp Wyanokie is definitely a small recreation area. Yet its four wooded tent sites provide an ideal setting for a youngster’s first overnight camping trip. And it’s a nice place for the more seasoned camper to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilized life. The sites at Camp Wyanokie are clean, spacious, and level. The cleanliness is due in part to the fact that all campers are encouraged to perform a bit of service by picking up trash, straightening the facilities, and so forth. In this manner, users of the park learn that stewardship involves caring for public lands, not just using them. Each tent site is situated in a clearing among the woods far enough from the other sites to provide the feel of a backcountry experience, yet no site is more than a 5-minute walk from the car, from latrines, or from water. In addition to the tent sites, the camp has five lean-tos, a 5-acre pond in which fishing is allowed (sunfish being the prominent “game fish”), and picnic facilities.
West Milford, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Famed for its ski resort rather than its camping, Campgaw Mountain County Reservation takes a lot of heat in winter. Detractors are quick to point out that the trails are easy and the slopes are mild. Supporters defend Campgaw with stories of learning to ski there, in a friendly environment that helped them build confidence in snow and the outdoors. Families take their children to Campgaw to teach them skiing or snowboarding in a nonthreatening environment, while parents appreciate the chance to practice close to home. The campsites at Campgaw generate similar reactions. Some wilderness buffs scoff at this urban forest, smack in the middle of northern Jersey and less than 30 miles from Manhattan. The steady drone of traffic on nearby I-287 is always audible from the campground, reminding you that civilization is just past the nearest row of trees. But Campgaw’s biggest handicap is also its major strength.
Mahwah, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Cedar Creek Campground has tent sites, RV sites, cabins, and trailer rentals. It’s near beaches, boardwalks, forests, and man-made attractions. But most visitors stay overnight at Cedar Creek not because of its location or amenities, but for the canoeing. Cedar Creek doesn’t have the only canoe and kayak livery in the area, but it does have an enviable combination of canoe rentals, beach access, and tent campsites. The 29 tent sites sit along the southern and western ends of the park, under hardwood trees; they are well shaded and well separated from the RV sites. The tent sites closest to Cedar Creek are 1, 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, and 15. All of the tent sites are near the canoe take-out at Cedar Creek. Some sites are surrounded by understory nearby, while most are open to other sites.
Bayville, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Cheesequake is the most urban state park in the densest, most urbanized state in the country. A mere 36 miles from Manhattan, its wooded and marsh 1,292 acres play host to swimmers, anglers, hikers, bikers, picnickers, sports enthusiasts, small mammals, deer, and 186 species of birds. The Garden State Parkway, a congested coastal toll highway that can be scenic or aggravating (depending on traffic), runs right through it. The PNC Bank Arts Center, a 17,500-seat amphitheater that features multimillion-dollar live concerts, is just 8 miles away. But its disadvantages are also advantages: Travelers who want to be near New York happily set up tents here. Concertgoers enjoy Cheesequake for its access to the arts center. And its proximity to the Garden State Parkway makes Cheesequake desirable for budgetconscious campers who want to be near Jersey’s northern beaches.
Laurence Harbor, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Tucked away in the northwestern corner of this private riverside RV park are 121 grassy tent-only sites. Don’t be deceived by the rows of trailers you must pass to get there, and don’t be put off by the clambakes, barbecues, or bingo. There are two secluded, wooded state parks nearby for those who prefer more scenic, wilder experiences. But for families with children, for those wishing to bring along the family pet, or for those who like to consume a beer with their freshly caught fish, Delaware River Family Campground is a well maintained, friendly option. It’s also one of the rare private campgrounds that don’t give short shrift to tent campers. In fact, the best sites in the campground—those right on the river—are reserved for tents. Many of the RV sites are closer to the main road, which make them noisier than the tent sites. The campground does try to control the noise; no motorized scooters, motorbikes, or chainsaws are allowed.
Delaware, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Setting up camp in the Delaware Water Gap along the Appalachian Trail isn’t something you do on a whim. You can’t park your car nearby, lug your gear up a hill, drag along the cooler, and erect a tent. Instead, camping along the Appalachian Trail (AT) in New Jersey’s heavily used Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) is limited to designated areas and reserved exclusively for hikers on trips that require an overnight stop. As most hikers know, the Appalachian Trail traverses mountain ridges and valleys for 2,100 miles as it winds its way across 14 states. The Garden State, although this term seems a misnomer on the craggy Kittatinny Range, is crossed by 73.6 of those miles. The Delaware Water Gap’s 27.3 miles get a lot of use, particularly on weekends, when urban refugees leave New York City and North Jersey behind and take to the remote trails. Some states allow dispersed backcountry camping along the AT.
Delaware Water Gap, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
The shallow, gentle Delaware River hardly seems powerful enough to wash away a sandbar, much less a chunk of mountain. But centuries ago, this unassuming body of water carved a 1,100-foot-deep, 3-mile-long gorge out of the solid rock of the Kittatinny Ridge. Canoeists have used this part of the Delaware for travel since the days of the Lenape Indian Tribe, but today’s boaters are more interested in scenery and recreation than in transportation. Mount Tammany rises above the river on the Jersey side, and Mount Minsi overshadows it on the Pennsylvania side. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) stretches north from the gap for 40 miles, encompassing 70,000 acres of land along both sides of the river in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The National Park Service administers the recreation area and runs no developed campgrounds within its boundaries.
Delaware Water Gap, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Frontier Campground, which has no dedicated tenting area, merits a mention for its pleasing all-purpose sites and agreeable camping philosophy. The campground brochure includes six paragraphs that declare that Frontier’s management—three brothers who have run the campground for many years—understand that people camp for various reasons. Some people camp to play bingo or participate in square dances, but Frontier’s declared purpose is to offer a peaceful, private, natural setting for families who wish to relax. RV and tent campers both get the same treatment, which is quite considerate. Most people associate tent camping with privacy and shady, natural settings. RV campers will be happy to know that they will not be stuck out in a sunny parking lot at Frontier. Instead, they’re given trees and private clearings along with their canvas-covered friends.
Ocean View, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Only a few private campgrounds in northern Jersey offer tent camping, and fewer still actually designate entire sections for tents only. Many private campgrounds cater to RV and trailer camping because tent campers require fewer services and expect to pay less for sites. Conversely, public campgrounds are often geared toward tents, with trailer camping being an afterthought. Family-run Harmony Ridge is a rare private campground that encourages tent camping. Section O and its 28 tent sites are set off by themselves in a shaded, level grove. The small dirt road discourages RV owners; that said, the RV sites are spacious and not crammed together as they are at many private campgrounds. The entire campground has been carefully landscaped and is impeccably maintained.
Branchville, NJ - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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