Camp Hero is a local haunt that has amassed some of the top conspiracy theories in our pop culture. The history of Camp Hero spans over several generations including WWII and the Cold War. Considering it’s located in our favorite town, Montauk, and it has a spooky backstory, we just had to go!
This tip of Long Island is rich in military history reaching all the way back to the American Revolution. It has seen Amistad, George Washington, Teddy’s Rough Riders, German U-boats and visitors from another planet(?). Positioned between two major cities and being the first line of defense from the ocean, Montauk has held its own.
Today, Camp Hero is a 415 acre state park open to the public for hiking, biking, and horseback riding with an extensive trail system. This park also boasts some of the best surf fishing in the world (permit required) on its wide beachfront along the Atlantic Ocean. (Swimming is not permitted here, but there are many more agreeable beaches for swimming in the Montauk area.)
Hiking through the park shows a variety of diverse landscapes- maritime forests, freshwater wetlands, breathtaking ocean vistas, and striking bluffs. You’ll find lots of wildlife and an abundance of birds. There are areas for a picnic with barbecue access. You can even bring your favorite furry companion as long as he/she is on a leash no longer than six feet. Let’s not forget the historic military installation! In addition to the popular SAGE radar, a town was built to conceal the identity of the Air Force base. It’s still standing for you to visit, but creepily abandoned. The park is registered a National Historic Site.
We have visited Camp Hero State Park twice. Our first visit was a day hike that led us to the back side of the Montauk Lighthouse. We enjoyed staying on main trails (dirt and paved roads) as we meandered our way to the ocean. The bunkers and Batteries were pretty easy to find and you can see the radar dish from just about any open area in the park. The park map is basic, but delivers the information clearly with good signage in the park with historical explanation.
Our second visit followed the phenomenon of the Netflix original “Stranger Things.” We camped overnight with our Boy Scout Troop and really had some fun working in some tall tales of government experimentation and ghosts. I must admit, it was a little eerie sleeping under the radar dish, in the woods, next to the abandoned town. There was a moment in the evening when the storytelling was done that we spotted five sets of glowing red eyes in the woods. They flickered and bobbed, giving us chills. Slowly, some of the glowing ringlets turned down and disappeared. We gripped each other.
Then suddenly they popped back up staring at us intensely. It took every fiber of our being to keep our composure and not run away screaming in front of our kids. Don’t worry, it turned out to be a family of deer.
You can really submerse yourself into the “Montauk Project” at this state park. There’s enough oddly placed doors and buildings in the woods to surround you in spooky mystery. And, of course, who doesn’t wonder about all of the government conspiracies floating around?! “Stranger Things,” based on the book, “The Montauk Project” touches on so many questionable theories about this facility and you can really put the two together with a good imagination as you walk around the park. Underground tunnels? Labs with security? Bunkers built into hills so you can never truly know how far they go? It’s real enough. All you have to do is imagine where they may have dabbled in inter-dimensional travel, held abducted children for experimentation or imprisoned other life forms to “keep us safe.”
Visiting Camp Hero State Park
Located at 1898 Montauk Highway, Montauk, NY 11954
Cars $8 *Collected weekends 5/7 to 5/22, daily 5/28 to 10/10, & weekends/holidays 10/15 to 11/13 or Empire Pass Accepted
Hours of Operation
- Annual Sport Fishing: 4/1 – 12/31. Annual permit needed.
- Picnicking, hiking, surfing and bird watching: Year-round, sunrise to sunset.
Family Adventure Rating ♥♥
Cost- Your main cost is transportation if you don’t already live on the South Fork. There are no tolls on Long Island (coming to LI from every direction is a bridge or tunnel that has a toll). It’s mostly a straight run across the island and out to Montauk involving highway until you reach the forks and then single lane “Main Streets” until you arrive at your destination. There are gas stations all along the way, but filling up in Montauk will cost the most per gallon. Fill up for the day at home if you have good gas mileage to save a few dollars. You can bring your own food (definitely snacks and water in the least) to keep costs down. There are some nice restaurants in town ranging from moderate bar pricing to specialty restaurant pricing if you want to splurge.
Parking & Transportation- See “Cost” for driving. The Long Island Rail Road also runs out to Montauk, but buses are seasonal. You can call an Uber or Taxi from the train station. It’s only a few minutes to the state park from there. There is plenty of parking inside Camp Hero, but if you go during the busy season you may not get to park as close to your area of interest as you like. However, it is a park and a hike will do you good. There’s also parking across the way by the lighthouse if needed.
Location- We may be biased, but we think this is one of the most wonderful places in the world. You are right on the ocean with a bay behind you. This is a waterfront town in every meaning of the word. There are several state parks, golf, surfing, fishing, swimming, water sports, restaurants, shopping, festivals, etc. If you enjoy nature (and a little bit of the mainland), you will be in heaven.
Day Trip or Overnight- If you are already on Long Island, you can make this a day trip (longer the distance, longer the day). Coming from the opposite end of Suffolk County (about 3 hours), we have made this a really long day trip from 8am to 11pm. If you have the option to stay overnight- take it! You won’t want to leave. There are high priced hotels with spas, smaller motels and cottage rentals, airbnb’s, and campsites.
Experience- This is my idea of a wholesome family experience. It is a very relaxing environment full of oxygen. No electronics near the saltwater makes for a very easy “unplug.” In addition to exercise, family interaction, and sunshine, there’s an abundance of history to explore and learn.
Combination– You can plan your trip to accommodate as much as you want in Montauk. The longer you stay, the more you’ll find to do. If you plan a couple of hours in Camp Hero, you can easily walk over and visit the lighthouse. On your way home, you can stop in town for a bite to eat or stroll around the stores. (If you travel during the winter months be advised that some stores close for the season.)