Fans of Camplog may have noticed that we camped a record 4 weekends in 2016, and followed that up in 2017 with a two-week epic journey to chase the eclipse (and even managed to sneak in some fall camping to boot)! In 2018, however, we didn't manage even a single trip. The short version is that we moved out of White Plains and bought a house in beautiful Putnam County in early fall 2018. Our prime camping time was entirely consumed with packing! :•(
The bad news is that we broke a 20-year run of camping with the kids at least once a year—37 camping trips in all! The good news is that we have come full circle because our house now overlooks a section of Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park, where we camped way back in 2002. Our lake community is situated in the middle of the forest, with Fahnestock surrounding it on three sides, and California Hill State Forest on the fourth. Another benefit is that we are right off of the Taconic State Parkway, which means we are an hour closer to Upstate New York, Massachusetts and Vermont.
I've taken a new role at work and, other than a 25th anniversary trip to Ireland, it's been hard to plan time away this summer. That made the need for a fall camping trip even more necessary. We were joined for the seventh time by my cousin and her family.
This campground had long been on my bucket list. We had previously camped in Taconic State Park at the Rudd Pond Campground, about 11 miles south in adjacent Dutchess County. Rudd Pond is also run by New York State's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; as such, it meets the generally high standards of all of their parks, but the park's farm-country location and its limited amenities on our visit in 2006 were nothing to write home about. Copake Falls Campground, by contrast, had a reputation as the nicer and more rustic campground of the two. It certainly was nicer and more rustic, and like Rudd Pond, I'm glad we tried it but there's no hurry to get back there any time soon.
We arrived at 6:30 PM as the sun was setting. After checking in, we learned that the camp office was out of wood, but a deli across the street had wood, so we bought some there. The campsites are not well signed. Even with a campground map, we drove by the campsite before we realized it and we had to complete the one-way loop back to the site. To be perfectly honest, I am not 100% sure we camped in the right spot. According to the map, the campsite was 50 feet away on a grassy area next to the road with absolutely no shade. Instead we parked by the fire-ring and picnic table in a shaded area. By the time we got the tent up, it was already getting pretty dark. Our cousins arrived soon after and missed their site as well. Eventually they set up in one of the adjacent sites.
The place seemed full; I saw no vacant sites. It didn't feel crowded, though. The sites themselves were amply sized and generally well shaded by tall trees. There was little vegetation at the ground level, however, which meant that there was no sense of privacy between sites. Sites on the outside of the campground might be better in this regard. Maybe it was just late in the season, but it seemed remarkably quiet for a Friday night.
I tried in vain to get the Deli-wood to catch on fire. It charred. It Baked. It Smoked, but no flames. My cousin brought better wood, so we just hung out at Site 43. We enjoyed a pleasantly cool night, full of stories and smores, around the warm campfire. There was defnitely owl activity in the valley, from the sound of it, a Barred Owl. We could hear a distant return call across the valley.
Saturday awoke to a real stunner of a fall day, although a bit on the warmish side. After a liesurely morning, we went in search of an apple orchard. According to the Internet, the Hudson Valley Apple Project was one town away in nearby Ancram. It's lone YELP review was five stars and there was a picture in the search results of a family picking apples, so we went off to find it. Even with a street address on Route 27A, we drove by twice without finding where to go. A sign, people! I mean, why even write yourself a YELP review if people can't find your business!
We decided to return to Rose Hill Farms, a great orchard in Red Hook, NY that we visited on our last camping trip with my cousins. It was about a half-hour drive via pretty country roads in Columbia and Dutchess Counties. Once again, it was terrific! After fortifying ourselves with a tasty cider donut, we headed out to the orchards. The Gala apples were perfectly ripe and tasty. The Empire and Jonamacs were also ready. The interesting find was the golden Shizuka apples—they're HUGE! We filled a half-bushell bag for $23. Sweet (literally)!
On the way back, we stopped at Hannaford's for groceries and Stewart's for firewood and ice. If you're not familiar with Stewart's Shops, they are kind of like an Upstate New York version of Seven-Eleven. In Jersey it would be a Wawa; In Maine it would be a Cumby's. There are a couple hundred of these in the Catskills and Hudson Valley between Kingston and Lake George. They have great kiln-dried firewood, ice and they sell gass, too. In contrast to the Taconic Deli, where we gotu five pieces of the-wood-that-can-never-burn for $6.50 a "bundle," Stewart's gives you a fat bag that's easily twice the size and it's dry hardwood—they even throw in a couple of fire-starter sticks—all for $7.50. We easily got the fire going at dusk and we had enough wood to last until 1:30 AM. Saturday night proved to be even quieter than Friday. Apparently, Owl Tinder was not working, because our Barred Owl's hoots went unanswered...
Sunday was another delightful and liesurely morning: we had breakfast and packed up. We chatted a bit with Lars from CT at the next site. He and his wife converted a tall RAM panel van into an RV with a couple of beds, a fridge and a stove. They also had a tent and a screen hut to hang out in. Turns out they only brought the tent as a place to put their bicycles! After we packed out, we took a liesurely drive down the Mother Road—NY Rte. 22. It took less than two hours to get back home. We love camping with our cousins. The weather could not have been better. It was relatively close to home. All of this added up to a great and relaxing weekend! None of this was due to the park, however, and there are other parks (Mills-Norrie, North-South Lake, Lake Taghkanic) that would make a better fall camping spot.
That said, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the park. The iron pit pond, small but some 40 feet deep, might make an excellent summer camp swimming experience. For serious hikers, there are challenging hikes leading up the steep face of the Taconics to Mt. Washington State Forest in Massachusetts. There's an easy hike to nearby Bash Bish Falls. There's an iron mining museum adjacent to the park. Otherwise, there's not a lot of things to do here and the nearest town of any size is probably Great Barrington, MA. But sometimes, that's the goal: plunk yerself down in a quiet corner of the state and just relax, and for that, this park would do nicely.