Where to camp at the Jersey Shore (2024)

While the idea of roasting marshmallows in a sandy firepit and falling asleep to the world’s biggest white noise machine is dreamy, in New Jersey, it is truly just a dream.

You can’t camp on the beach here. At least not legally.

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There’s a whole slew of reasons, including lack of plumbing and human waste, but that doesn’t mean you can’t park an RV or even pitch a tent relatively close to the ocean, off the barrier islands. Most of the Jersey Shore campgrounds are along Route 9, which runs north along the coast from Cape May for about 150 miles.

“Any one of these campgrounds is a 10-minute drive to the beach,” said Mike Slifer, general manager of Avalon Campground in Middle Township, Cape May County.

For many, Jersey Shore campgrounds provide a convenient and often more affordable option than renting a home in Ocean City or a hotel room in Wildwood. They’re not just a place to rest your head. The amenities often keep people parked there instead of heading over the bridges to drop hundreds of dollars on the piers and boardwalks. Many private campgrounds like Avalon Campground feature everything from pools to small water parks, swimmable lakes, theme nights, shows, playgrounds, arcades, rentable cabins, and spots to park and connect your RV for a week.

It would be nice to think of the campgrounds as the Shore’s best-kept but they’re not much of a secret these days.

“We’re almost completely sold out from mid-July to Labor Day,” Silfer said.

Many of the sites at the Jersey Shore campgrounds are seasonal, a Shore-house-on-wheels parked at the site for decades by a single family. Visitors can also bring RVs and pop-up campers, or rent an assortment of cabins that range from rustic to multibedroom with full kitchens and air-conditioning. Visitors can even rent their own RVs before arriving.

Slifer said private campgrounds are often a self-contained vacation, where parents can head to the pool while children go to the arcade or pedal bicycles on a 5 mph gravel road.

“That’s not as easy to do in a Shore resort town,” he said.

If all of this sounds like “glamping” instead of actual camping, other options remain. Some campgrounds offer rustic tent-only sites, with no electricity or water, and others will let you pitch a tent on an RV site as long as you’re willing to pay the fee. You won’t feel ocean breezes, though, and may have to tangle with New Jersey’s flying menaces, like mosquitoes.

“Yeah, it can be pretty hot,” said Matt Benn, co-owner of Sea Pirate Campground in West Creek, Ocean County.

Sea Pirate is about a 10-mile drive from Long Beach Island’s public beaches but also offers fishing in its private lake and even crabbing along a trail into the salt marshes.

If you’re still looking for a more traditional, and even more affordable, camping experience, the New Jersey State Park Service runs two campgrounds close to Jersey Shore beaches, and both will give you a feel for the state’s other natural wonderland: the Pine Barrens.

Bass River State Forest, in Ocean County, is about a 20-minute drive from Long Beach Island’s beaches and it offers 176 tent and trailer sites, along with cabins and lean-tos. There’s also swimming at Lake Absegami, along with fishing and hiking. Farther south, Belleplain State Forest is about 11 miles west of Sea Isle City, with 169 tent and trailer sites and a lake for swimming.

While the state’s offerings are rustic compared to private campgrounds, Caryn Shinske, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said there’s little to no vacancy in many of them during summer months.

“Campers should remember that the State Park Service only provides the space to camp, a table, and a grill,” Shinske said. “Campers must bring everything else with them — tents, sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, food, cooking supplies, etc.”

While New Jersey has a state park on the beach in Island Beach State Park, Shinske said there’s no camping there. One reason, she said, is the “ever-changing landscape” caused by erosion.

There’s no camping at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook beach, either, in Monmouth County. In Delaware, Cape Henlopen State Park is very close to the beach. For real beach camping, you’d need to head even farther south to Assateague Island.

“The barrier island habitat can be harsh if you are not prepared,” the National Park Service warns.

Places to camp at the Jersey Shore

Bass River State Forest

762 Stage Rd., Bass River Twp., 08224, (609) 296-1114

Closest beach: Long Beach Island.

Sea Pirate Campground

148 Main St., West Creek, 08092, (609) 296-7400

Closest beach: Long Beach Island.

Acorn Campground

419 Route 47 South, Green Creek, 08219, (609) 886-7119

Closest beach: Stone Harbor/North Wildwood.

Cheesequake State Park

300 Gordon Rd., Matawan, 07747, (732) 566-2161

Closest beach: Old Bridge.

Avalon Campground

1917 US-9 #1917, Cape May Court House, 08210, 609-624-075

Closest beach: Avalon/Sea Isle City.

810 South Shore Rd., Marmora, 08223, 609-390-3458

Closest beach: Ocean City.

Belleplain State Forest

1 Henkinsifkin Rd., Woodbine, 08270, (609) 861-2404

Closest beach: Sea Isle City.

King Nummy Trail Campground

205 NJ-47 South, Cape May Court House, 08210, (609) 465-4242

Closest beach: Wildwoods.

Sun Retreats Seashore

720 Seashore Rd., Cape May, 08204, (609) 293-3270

Closest beach: Wildwood Crest/Diamond Beach.

For more campgrounds visit campnj.com.

Where to camp at the Jersey Shore (2024)
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