Stealth Camping in the Catskills

Stealth Camping in the Catskills is a nice solution for camping further from roads and other people than designated sites allow. Designated sites in the Catskills tend to be near roads or trailheads and fill up early in the day. You’re allowed to camp outside of designated sites if you follow a few rules. Keep reading to learn more about stealth camping in the Catskills.

stealth camping in the catskills
An Ideal Stealth Site in the Catskills: off the plants and well away from the trail.

What is Stealth Camping?

Stealth Camping is the art of legally camping in the back country without leaving a trace. It is done in areas where there is no existing campsite available. It is a convenient option when hiking long distances in areas where the established campsites don’t work for your need.

Good campsites are found, not made. The idea behind stealth camping is to not establish a new site. A good stealth camp site is located out-of-view of the trail. You don’t build a fire, cut trees, or clear brush. If you clear a tent spot of forest debris, you should cover it back over before leaving.

It is a lot easier to stealth camp if you have a tiny tent like the Tarptent Notch.

Why I like Stealth Camping in the Catskills

I’m more of a backpacker than a day hiker. After many years of section hiking the Appalachian Trail, I’ve developed a certain mode of backpacking. I like to hike 10-15 miles in a day, camp, and then hike another 7 to 12 miles the next day. Most of the primitive campsites and lean-tos in the Catskills are located just 1-3 miles in from trailheads. They are not located conveniently for my kind of backpacking. Even worse: If I spend the day hiking 10-15 miles, any campsite I come to in the Catskills will already be occupied. My solution is to Stealth Camp

stealth camping in the catskills
This established campsite is way too crowded, I would prefer to camp with more privacy.

Regulations for Stealth Camping in the Catskills

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has a set of guidelines for stealth camping in the Catskills. You should follow these guidelines as a courtesy to others and to avoid getting a ticket.

Here are some of the rules set by the NY DEC:

  • Camp at least 150 feet from an established campsite or lean-to
  • Camp at least 150 feet from a trail or water source
  • Do not camp above 3500 feet except between December 21 and March 21
  • Do not camp in areas marked with “No Camping” signs
  • Only build fires at designated locations

You can find more information at the DEC Website.

Don’t Camp near “No Camping” Signs!

Regulations for Stealth Camping in Other Regions:

Applying Leave-No-Trace

In addition to following the rules set by the NY DEC, you should apply Leave-no-Trace Principals when you stealth camp in the Catskills. Here are some guidelines:

  • Plan Ahead: Do some research before heading out. Pick an area where you think you might want to camp. Do some web searches to see what others recommend. Know the rules. If possible, plan to camp at a designated site.
  • Camp on Durable Surfaces – Camp on soil, dead leaves, or rock. Do not camp on grass or other vegetation. You may consider a hammock for stealth camping. Hammocks don’t require flat or clear ground.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out your trash. Leave nothing behind except human waste. Human waste should be buried in a hole 6-8″ deep and covered over with packed soil.
  • Minimize Fire Impact: Build fires only at designated locations or in an emergency. Keep fires small and under control at all times. Completely extinguish a fire before leaving. You typically should not build a fire when stealth camping.
  • Respect Wildlife: Protect animals from your food. Yeah, you read that right. If animals become accustomed to eating human food, they may become dangerous. Dangerous animals are often killed to protect humans. Keep your food in animal-proof containers like bear canisters or ursacks.
  • Be Courteous to Others: If you see others stealth camping nearby, move on. Don’t stealth camp on private property. If you can see people walking on the trail, or they can see you, you’re too close. Avoid bright colored tents or clothing if you plan to stealth camp. Don’t play loud music!
stealth camping in the catskills
Protect Animals from your Food! “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear!”

Consider a Hammock

A Hammock is an excellent shelter for Stealth Camping in the Catskills. A hammock doesn’t require flat or smooth ground. You can set a hammock up between two trees without having to clear away any brush or debris. A hammock can hang over rocks or water or sloped land.

Hammocks are great for stealth camping in the catksills
A Hammock can hang over the ground without creating any impact.