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Where to Sleep Under the Stars in NYC

It’s the cheapest—and maybe the best—night in New York City.

Brooklyn is known for hipsters, a thriving arts scene, 19th-century brownstones, and overpriced artisanal pickle shops—not camping. But this borough of New York City is also home to Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which belongs to the U.S. National Park Service, and one of two federally protected campgrounds in the city. (The other is on Staten Island.) Located off of Aviation Road, Floyd Bennett Field—or Camp Gateway as it is sometimes called—is home to 32 tent sites, nine RV parking sites, and a retired air field. There’s even a vintage Boeing C97 dating from somewhere between 1947 and 1958 not far from the camp store, where you can buy tent stakes or insect repellent.

At only $30 per night, Floyd Bennett Field is probably the cheapest accommodation in New York and a great springboard to the Big Apple’s most iconic sites, including the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center Memorial. Kayak in the morning, swim at nearby Riis Beach, then catch the Q35 bus near the camp’s visitors center to go into Manhattan and see a Broadway matinee before capping off the day by roasting marshmallows over your campfire. (The nearest subway stop is four miles from the camp, but the Q35 bus will take you to the 2 or 5 subway lines.)

Floyd Bennett may not be a lush campground surrounded by vast wilderness, but the tents are clustered around an open green space enclosed by trees, with cars parked several yards away. Walk around on a Saturday afternoon, and you night smell pork kebabs smoking on a woodfire grill, see kids tossing a frisbee or playing badminton, and hear the crackle of campfires warming up. And while there may not be many stars visible in the night sky, you will definitely hear and see plenty of planes—busy JFK International Airport is only 11 miles away.

Like the rest of New York City, the campground attracts folks from all around the world. “We get locals and domestic and overseas visitors,” said Daphne Yun, a spokeswoman for Gateway National Recreation Area. “Travelers camp and go sightseeing, and many locals are beginning campers.”

On a recent evening, Kristina Tura and her family were among those neophyte campers, trying things out only 15 minutes from their home in Sheepshead Bay (a Brooklyn neighborhood). Tura was putting the final touches on the family’s just-pitched tent while her two sons, ages four and two, darted in and out of it. The nearby picnic table was overflowing with equipment and the evening’s dinner. Behind the tent, Tura’s husband was stringing up a hammock between two trees. They had bought new camping gear to see how the kids might like a night under the stars—and planes.

“My husband and I are both hikers, but we’ve never taken the kids camping before,” Tura said. “It’s convenient for us and a nice starting place to see if we can ever try for Mount Everest.”

Their tent neighbors, Nicole Robertson and Chris Billups from Hollis, Queens, were also on their first camping excursion and about to head out for a short hike across soil and cement. “I didn’t even know until recently you could camp in New York City, and I live here,” said Billups. “I thought you had to go to upstate New York or to Long Island.”

This year marks the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, so expect crowds—this is New York City, after all. Floyd Bennett Field is open year-round, with summer being peak season. Pets are not allowed, nor are charcoal grills or glass containers. But make sure to remember to pack a sleeping bag; the camp store doesn’t sell them (although there is an REI store on Lafayette Street in Manhattan’s chic SoHo neighborhood, should you forget anything). Both showers and bathrooms are available onsite, though showers are only open in season from May through October. Camping reservations can be made online at www.recreation.gov. Spots may fill up two to three months ahead during peak season with weekends being in the highest demand. 

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