Urban Camping: Pitch A Tent In Central Park

urban camping in Manhattan
Flickr, Sarah Ackerman

High Manhattan hotel prices ruining your summer travel plans? If you’d like to try urban camping — sleeping under the skyscrapers of New York City — you can try your luck for a spot at one of the city’s summer Family Camping sessions. The Urban Park Rangers lead programs in more than a dozen city parks in all five boroughs, including Manhattan’s Central Park (August 24) and Prospect Park (September 21) in Brooklyn. The campouts are all free, starting with an early evening hike, cookout with food provided (don’t expect anything fancy, but you might be surprised with s’mores) and even a tent — you need only bring sleeping bags. The catch? There’s a lot of competition to join, with only 30 tents available for each night. Each event is open to online registration for 24 hours, with the “winners” chosen by lottery and notified about two weeks in advance. Find all the details and get lucky here.

Where else can you pitch a tent without leaving the city? Here are a few other urban areas with camping options.Austin: Emma Long Park offers campsites for $10-25 per night, depending on utilities, in addition to the $5-10 park entrance fee charged to all visitors. Set beside Lake Austin, the Texas city park is less than a half-hour from downtown. Check out the our adventure guide to Austin for more ideas.

Berlin: An innovative use of “fallow” urban space, the Tentstation project is unfortunately not open this season, but you’ll find other options in and around Berlin to pitch a tent or park an RV, even with a group. In typical German efficiency, some are within a few minutes’ walk to public transportation.

Honolulu: The Hawaiian capital has over a dozen campsites, many on the beach with fishing and surfing opportunities and views to rival expensive Waikiki resorts. Camping permits are issued for 3 or 5 days, and cost $32 and $52, respectively. Interesting note: several of the campsites warn that “houseless encounters are likely,” so look out for beach bums.

Japan: One of the most notoriously pricey countries also has a strong tradition of urban camping. While not officially sanctioned, it’s tolerated and generally quite safe in public parks. It might be hard to actually pitch a tent in downtown Tokyo, but you’ll find many guides online to finding a place to sleep al fresco.

Would you want to camp in a city? Have you done any urban camping?

Boulder’s Chautauqua Park: more than just hiking and climbing

Chatauqua Park, boulderThe Chautauqua Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided millions of Americans with cultural, educational, and entertainment experiences that included concerts, classes, lectures, and exhibitions. It was, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, “The most American thing in America.” Ask most Americans today what a Chautauqua is, and odds are, you’ll get a blank stare.

Until recently, I too would have had that deer-in-the-headlights expression. I’m ashamed to say that although I lived in Boulder for nearly two years, I had no idea that Chautauqua Park was anything more than just an exceptional place to hike, with some cool historic buildings thrown in. Thankfully, while in Boulder on business last month, I displayed the instinctive intellectual curiosity I possess when I’m in travel mode. Thus, I discovered that the city’s–and my–favorite recreational spot is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The first “Mother” Chautauqua was organized by a Methodist minister, at a campsite on New York’s Chautauqua Lake in 1874. By the end of the first World War, 12,000 Chautauquas were in the U.S.. Many had religious leanings, but Chautauquas were primarily educational adult or family summer camps, fostering a sense of community and culture.

The 40-acre Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder opened on July 4, 1898 as a summer retreat. Today, according to the website, it’s one of three remaining Chautauquas in the U.S., and the only site west of the Mississippi River in continuous operation, with its original structures intact. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

%Gallery-129131%Chautauqua Park, boulderThe Colorado Chautauqua (locals just call it “Chautauqua”) includes 60 guest cottages and two lodges for nightly or long term rental; a dining hall and auditorium; 48 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails; climbing routes and bouldering spots, and 8000 acres of open space. The “Green” located at the entrance was Boulder’s first city park.

In 2008, the Colorado Chautauqua Association vowed to make the grounds the country’s “greenest” National Historic Landmark. Changes in operation include water and energy conservation, and expanding methods of diverting waste from landfills. Even the (adorable) cottages have recycling bins, water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets, eco-friendly soaps and hair products, and alternative cooling systems.
Chautauqua Park, boulder
Chautauqua hosts public events at reasonable fees year-round, including music, theater, dance, film, forums on everything from global warming to sustainable farming, outdoor “active” plays for children and family, and the Colorado Music Festival. It’s also immensely popular for weddings and other outdoor gatherings (which must be booked through the Chautauqua).

Even if you skip the events, I recommend a pre-hike, al fresco breakfast or brunch, or a post-hike (local, craft-brewed) beer at the Dining Hall, which has been in existence since 1898. It’s not where you’ll find the best meal in town, but the wrap-around porch offers stellar views, and it’s an ideal place to absorb the essence of Boulder life. The Dining Hall offers classic American cuisine, and is also open for lunch and dinner; reservations strongly recommended.

Sadly, the Chautauqua Movement lost its mojo as we became a more urbanized and technologically advanced society. Why go to the Chautauqua when you can play “Angry Birds” or see what those crazy Kardashians are up to? And that’s exactly why I was so affected by what I learned in Boulder last month. I used to live less than two miles from this remarkable monument to American history. Yet I was too self-absorbed and distracted at the time to be curious about its roots, despite hiking there on a weekly basis.Chautauqua Park, boulder Sometimes, we need to put down the toys, be in the moment, and really take note of our surroundings. And that’s what the Chautauqua Movement was all about. May it one day thrive again.

If you’d like to support the revival of the Chautauqua Movement, go to this new site launched by the Chautauqua Network: Chautauqua Trail.

The Best City Parks in Los Angeles

There is something about a big city that can really suck the life out of you if you spend too much time there.

That’s why most cities try to maintain some type of sanctuary–such as public parks–where its people can escape and recharge. When traveling, I often find myself in such a place. Usually, it’s toward the end of a long day of sightseeing and all I want is a simple bench upon which I can watch the world stroll by.

Every city is blessed with a range of city parks that reinvigorate the soul, but where are they? Most guide books don’t go out of their way to mention a leafy Shangri-La tucked between high rises.

And so, when I came across a recent article featuring the best parks that my hometown of Los Angeles has to offer, I thought I’d share it with our readers who might be heading this way in the near future. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be the local strolling by you as you stop for a break from your sightseeing.