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Governor’s Island Camping: A Short Ferry Ride from Manhattan Feeling A Mill

Governor's Island and the Manhattan Skyline
Governor's Island and the Manhattan Skyline

Updated March 03rd, 2020

After a week of subway treks, countless elevator rides, and my narrow office cubicle, I begin to pine for far-flung places—landscapes with rolling hills, majestic seascapes, and pristine sunsets. Of course, I don't always have the time—or budget—to drive off to Hudson Valley to enjoy the splendor of fall foliage or to rent a house on Martha's Vineyard for a long beach weekend. Even so, I've discovered that I don't have to leave New York City to obtain nature's rejuvenating force. Some of my best, most relaxing weekends have involved Governors Island camping and comfy Governors Island hammocks where I can get away from it all without even having to leave the city


About the Island

Governor's Island encompasses 172 acres and is situated in New York Harbor. Only 400 yards from Brooklyn and 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan, the island is accessible by ferry and is open to the public between May 1st and October 31st. The island is happily car-free, and that's one of the reasons it seems so far from the bustle of the city. The northern tip of the island is designated as a national monument and is administered by the National Park service. If you're in need of a break and could do with some green space, a $2 ferry ride will land you at this urban oasis for Governors Island camping and other activities. I've visited for a day and for overnight stays when I need a recharge. I also try to encourage others to visit. It's surprising to me how many New Yorkers have yet to check it out and experience all that Governors Island camping can offer.

Governors Island Camping

The Collective Governors Island retreat features overnight accommodations for visitors looking for a nature-inspired lodging experience for Governors Island camping. There is lodging available with private en suite bathrooms as well as bell tents with shared bathrooms. The Three Peaks Lodge offers on-site dining so you can spend your entire weekend on the island. While you can bring a picnic basket to the island, I personally look forward to the lodge's seasonal menu. The "BBQ in a Box" is your ticket to an informal harborside meal. When I've visited with friends, we've opted for a traditional dining experience at the Lodge. The dining room is rustic, but also boasts a majestic view of the harbor and city skyline. Of course, there are other food vendors on the island so I like to try something different every time I visit to do some Governors Island camping. Last time, I had crepes but the time before that I had wings.

Governors Island Hammocks

When visiting Governors Island for rest and relaxation, be sure to head to Hammock Grove, a particularly peaceful section of the island that includes 50 hammock stations. As you kick up your feet to enjoy the fresh air, you can witness some of the city's most amazing views of the Statue of Liberty. The island's views of the city are truly postcard worthy—and the island's iconic hammocks will help repair all the stress that life in the big city might have caused you during the work week. I've set aside many weekends for Governors Island camping and always make time to spend a few hours reading in a hammock. In fact, I usually bring a couple books when I visit as it's such a pleasant way to pass the day.

Governors Island Activities

Whether you're traveling alone, with friends, or with family, there are plenty of fun activities to try on your Governors Island camping weekend. Biking is one of the more popular Governors Island pastimes. With no cars, adults and kids alike can bike along the 7 miles of pavement designed for cycling. Bike rentals—even 6-seat surreys—are available on Governors Island for added convenience. While riding, you'll be able to witness splendid views of New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline. I find that the bikes are kept in outstanding condition and are the best means for traversing the island, especially when I'm visiting with friends. It doesn't cost much to rent one during your Governors Island camping experience and it helps you squeeze in a bit of fitness while you're there. You can also bring your own camping equipment and go glamping if that's more of your style.


Visit Governors Island to do some kayaking when the weather is pleasant. The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayak use for visitors. Even if you don't know how to kayak, you can learn. The staff provide safety gear and tips for navigating your sit-on-top kayak. With free instruction available, this attraction is especially popular with families who visit the island. I've only kayaked a few times, but I intend to get back on the water the next time I visit.

Arts and Culture

Governors Island has long attracted artists and art enthusiasts with its art exhibitions and special events. If you're doing some Governors Island camping with kids, keep in mind that there is an art workshop on the weekends offered to children. During the summer, Art Colony Summer Camps attract throngs of young art lovers who visit to enjoy photography, painting, and more. I hope to see even more art installations on the island in the future.

Ball Fields

Governors Island is home to two natural turf ball fields that provide a backdrop for sportive fun within view of the Statue of Liberty. While youth leagues and school groups can play on the fields for free, there is a charge for adult leagues who wish to play there. To reserve one of the fields, you'll need to submit an application. Even if you don't play, it can be enjoyable to watch an exciting game when you're visiting the island. I like to grab an ice cream cone and watch the soccer action.


Consider hosting your next reunion or birthday party on Governors Island. You can bring your own food and party supplies and even rent a grill to use when visiting. For parties and grills, you'll need to reserve space at least two days in advance. Bridal showers, family reunions, and kids' birthday parties are popular celebrations held on the island during its open season. You can let staff know your plans and they'll provide you with a wagon so you can easily transport your party supplies from the ferry. Remember, there are plenty of vendors throughout, so if you don't want to haul food for a picnic, you'll have plenty of meal and dessert options at the ready.

The Hills

The Hills is an outdoor park and recreational area that literally features hills where you can climb for spectacular views of the city. Studded with trees, the Hills are nature-inspired attractions that rise as high as 70 feet above the sea. While more is planned for the area, the Hills currently boast four slides that are popular attractions for kids. Grassy Hill, my favorite, features a gentle slope where people enjoy lounging, reading outdoors, and witnessing the marvelous NY skyline. Be sure that you explore Outlook Hill when visiting Governors Island. This hill features a popular "granite scramble" that leads to the hill's summit. When you reach its 70-ft. summit, you'll be able to experience majestic views of the Statue of Liberty, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the world-famous New York City skyline.


Special Events

While I enjoy Governors Island camping in order to relax on its hammocks with my latest read, I also keep an eye out for special events. You might want to attend its Rite of Summer fest or Jazz Age Lawn Party. From outdoor concerts to short marathons, the island hosts many events and fests during its season. I prefer to visit when it's less crowded, but the Jazz Age Lawn Party is a blast and I hope to go again in the future.

The fact is, you don't have to spend a fortune to travel out of the city to rent a cabin somewhere in Hudson Valley or elsewhere in New England. You can take advantage of this increasingly popular New York City attraction that combines art, culture, and nature in exciting ways. Whether you need to get away on your own or are searching for family-friendly environs, Governors Island is worth checking out.

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