The new Gunks campground has been a polarizing topic for climbers in the northeast since Its official opening was announced early this year. Some are psyched to have a legitimate place to stay within walking distance of the Trapps, and others are frustrated at the prospect of paying for camping at the Gunks. I attended the American Alpine Club’s volunteer prep weekend to help get the campground ready for its official opening on May 15th, here is what I found.

Siteplan for the new Gunks campground

First, the stats. The campground has 50 sites, roughly half of which are drive- up. The rest require a walk somewhere between 30 and 300 feet. From a design standpoint, the campground is located on a pretty challenging site. The whole site slopes quite a bit, is surrounded by private property, has a protected wetland in the middle of it, and had to meet a very stringent set of criterias for accessibility and environmental impact.  Despite all the challenges, the designers did a great job weaving the sites into the landscape, and the proximity to the Trapps really cannot be beat.

A site consists of a single parking spot, a picnic table, and a gravel tent platform.  Due to the presence of black bears in the area, the walk-in sites have bear bins, and the campground asks drive-up campers to keep food in their cars. Campsites are $24 per night for AAC and Mohonk Preserve members, and $38 for non members. Tents must stay on the gravel platforms, and each site can accommodate 4 people max.  Due to the campground design, parking is quite limited, resulting in only one parking space per site. If your group has more than one car, you may be able to snag a spot in the overflow lot right at the entrance to the campground. If that’s all full you can always get a spot at the preserve’s visitor center parking lot just up the hill.

A Standard Campsite

A Standard Campsite

All reservations must be made online and can be done so here. Sites are assigned when you check in. You can request a site next to your friends, and also request a drive-up site if you’d prefer one. The earlier you reserve the better your chances of having those requests filled, but nothing is guaranteed in advance. So I suggest you pack accordingly, and expect to walk a little to get to your campsite.

The first building you’ll see when you drive in is the campground manager’s cabin (the manager Paul Curran lives there year round and is an awesome dude, definitely worth spending a couple minutes saying hi when you check in). Across the parking lot is a bathhouse with showers and dishwashing stations, a lighted pavilion with picnic tables, and a communal fire pit. There are no campfires allowed at the campsites, but I personally prefer to have the campfire in one big communal place away from the sites. Keeps the campground itself from being smoky all night, and forces you to go meet some new people. As of now the showers are coin operated, in part because the state and AAC have decided to make the showers open to everyone, not just people staying at the campground. So I’d say keep that in mind as you’re weighing your options of where to stay for your next Gunks visit.

The Campground Pavilion

The Campground Pavilion

The biggest question I had when I first saw the AAC’s info on the campground was their claim that the campground was “a short walk from the cliff”. I immediately had two thoughts 1) Why would you hike up that hill when you can drive instead, and 2) What ultra- runner did they clock to get a time of 25 minutes on the way up!? I’ve driven that hill many a time and thought “man, I’m glad I don’t have to hike up this.” I’m usually the guy in the back puffing his way up longer approaches, so I figured if I can get up this thing anybody can. Despite my concerns, it really did only take about 30 minutes to get from the last campsite in the very back of the campground to the carriage road with a 35 liter pack. It really didn’t feel like much of a hike, and the way back took roughly 20 minutes from the top of the stairmaster.  The trail is thoughtfully cut and taking it lets you skip a lot of the shenanigans of driving up and looking for parking in the crowded Trapps parking lots.

Looking up at the Trapps from the campground

Looking up at the Trapps from the campground

Even with the campground at maybe a quarter of the normal capacity for the volunteer weekend, the grounds already had a great vibe to them. They felt like a real breeding ground for fond memories. You can almost sense the presence of the climbers who have put in thousands of hours getting the campground open. For me, the best part of the whole experience was getting up Sunday morning, shrugging off the beers from the night before and brewing up some coffee with my partner on our picnic table just feet from the door of our tent. We reminisced about old friends we’d just run in to and made plans to meet up with new ones we had met the night before. We sorted the rack, shouldered our packs, (left the car keys behind) and hiked up to the crag. We hopped on the route City Lights, and from the top of pitch two, we looked down on the new campground. Between the trees we could see little dots of color moving around as AAC members, clad in neon puffies, woke up to do their day of labor, doing their part to build a place that I think will become an important part of the climbing community in the northeast.   

Shawn Ryan can be found occasionally puffing his way uphill, and talking about climbing more than actually climbing at campgrounds all over the East coast.  He can be contacted at phillychapter@americanalpineclub.org.