5 Alternatives To Car Camping This Summer

car camping
Jason Jones, Flickr

If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s hard not to enjoy car camping, as long as you find a destination and campground that are compatible with your interests and needs. Not that I’m speaking from experience, but … let’s just say the romantic, roughing-it weekend my ex and I had planned in southwestern Colorado a few years ago turned into pitching a tent in a trailer park populated by elderly snowbirds.

If you’re carless, or want something more adventurous/rigorous/off-beat, or safe for your bad back, I’ve got a few alternatives for your consideration. The good news is, the price points for these adventures ensure there’s at least one that will fit your budget. Depending upon where your travel plans are taking you, some regions even specialize in these types of camping trips. So get online, do some research and don’t forget the sunscreen. Happy Trails.

Hut trip
There are hut systems located all over North America (as well as in other alpine terrain worldwide); perhaps the most famous are Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a backpacking machine, there’s a hut hike suited for you. Tip: book well in advance. You can sometimes find last-minute beds, but this type of trip really requires advance planning.

pack trip
Alan English CPA, Flickr

Pack trip
If mountains are your thing, get on a horse or mule and take a pack trip. The Sierras, Rocky Mountains, and Cascades in particular are known for their alpine scenery and well-regarded pack trains. Tip: there’s no reason you can’t do a pack trip if you’re a novice rider, but you need to choose the right outfitter and destination; many trips are for experienced riders (you can even bring your own horse sometimes).

Sea kayak
I love sea kayaking, but I’m too novice to attempt a big paddle on my own. When I was living in Seattle a couple of years ago, I found an outfitter who, for a reasonable price, took me on a private paddle out to one of the many deserted islets off of Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island. We camped, watched bald eagles, gorged on a Marionberry pie picked up en route, and what do you know? He taught me how to read a tide chart well enough to give me the confidence to try this type of mini-excursion by myself.

sea kayaking
UK Ministry of Defence, Flickr

Water taxi
Some coastal, riverfront, or lakeside destinations offer water taxis to get you to and from your campsite. Although Kauai no longer offers this service for return hikers coming off the famous Kalalau Trail, there are plenty of other exotic options. I once took a water taxi from Picton on the South Island of New Zealand, in order to embark on a two-day hike of the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Track. Bonus: a pod of dolphins kept pace with us the entire ride out.

Shuttle it
Sometimes, it’s just not practical or possible to do a backpacking or camping trip with a car. In a couple of weeks, for example, I’m going to do Colorado’s West Maroon Pass, which is a roughly 11-mile hike over the Elk Mountains, from Crested Butte to Aspen. Since I’m going it alone, I’m arranging for Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle to bring me back. This Gunnison Valley-based airport shuttle addition also offers summertime returns for hikers coming off the Pass. At $60 a seat (as long as they have more than one passenger), it’s worth the price to not have to sort out the logistics of a car swap or transport. Best of all, you can take a nap after all that walking.

North Cascades National Park Looks To Expand

The North Cascades National Park In WashingtonHidden away in a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest, the North Cascades National Park is amongst the least visited parks in the entire U.S. system. On an annual basis, only about 20,000 people pass through its gates, despite the fact that it contains some of the most breathtaking backcountry in all of North America. There is a movement afoot to expand the park’s borders, however, and if successful, advocates of the plan believe that it could attract many more travelers to the region.

A group of conservationists, led by former U.S. Senator Dan Evans and mountaineer Jim Wickwire, have proposed an expansion to the North Cascades National Park that would add an additional 237,000 acres to its already impressive 500,000+. They also propose spending $23 million over five years to add or upgrade park amenities – something that is a bit of a tough sell with Congress these days.

Proponents of the plan feel that the addition of the extra land would move park boundaries closer to main access roads, giving it a higher profile with travelers passing through the region. It is hoped that the easier access and enhanced amenities would at the very least lure a few more visitors from Seattle, a major metropolitan area, which sits less than three hours away.

There will be major obstacles to the proposal getting the green light. As already mentioned, a looming budget crisis is likely to make the expansion of any national parks very difficult in the near future. In fact, most could be facing significant fiscal shortfalls in 2013 as Congress looks to cut spending across the board. Opposition is also expected to come from outdoor enthusiasts who don’t want to see more lands fall under the National Park Service‘s domain. While the NPS provides excellent protection for those lands they also greatly restrict how they can be used.

No matter the outcome, we’re likely a few years away from having this proposal get any serious attention. Still, if you enjoy hiking, camping or backpacking in remote areas, then you should make an effort to visit the North Cascades. Its snow capped peaks, pristine forests, idyllic waterfalls and more than 300 glaciers make it a fantastic destination for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Considering how low the visitation numbers are, you’re also likely to have the park mostly to yourself.

Video captures the essence of climbing Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta is a 14,179 foot tall volcano located in California’s Cascade Mountains. The peak is a popular one with climbers, who generally attempt the mountain between April and October, although winter summits are not out of the question. The climb is a challenging one that requires more than 6300 feet of vertical gain, while crossing over snowfields and treacherous glacial moraines, which makes it the perfect peak for tuning up for other, bigger mountains, elsewhere in the world.

Recently, climber Ryan Commons, whose beautiful video of the John Muir Trail we shared a few months back, made the climb to the top of Mt. Shasta, and created another spectacular video to share with the rest of us. The video is twenty minutes in length, but is well worth watching from start to finish. It not only shows off the amazing scenery off the Cascades, but also captures the experience of the climb very well. For anyone contemplating making the climb up Mt. Shasta for themselves, there is plenty of great information to assist in that adventure too.

The video shows us all the elements of the climb, both bad and good. Ryan and his partner Mark make the ascent along the most popular route on Shasta, Avalanche Gulch, and it was a cold and challenging climb almost from the start. I won’t spoil the rest of the video for you however, as it is so well made, you’ll almost feel like you’re out there on the trail with the guys. Enjoy.

Summiting the Volcano, Mt. Shasta California from Ryan Commons on Vimeo.

Drive Along US 90: Seattle to Philipsburg

The drive from Seattle, Washington to Philipsburg, Montana is one that takes you through the Cascade Mountains and past expansive fields of crops being watered by elaborate watering systems that keep the landscape green where, around the green, the dryness is startling.

As we traveled the ten hours it took last Friday to get from Point A (our friends’ house outside Seattle) to Point B (our friends’ house in Philipsburg) I noted some the points of interest we passed in case any of these might interest you if you are ever traveling along here in a car one day. There are several places that entice a person to turn off and take a detour. The thing about those brown signs that show places of interest, they don’t tell you how far anything is. If you turn off I-90 to head to any of them, you might be driving for miles. Don’t head off until you check first. Here’s the list of what caught my eye.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest
Wild Horse Monument
Cave B Estate Winery (This had a blue tourist attraction sign)
Grand Coulee Dam
Mullan Tree Historical Site
Silver Mountain-World’s Longest Gondola

Big Creek Historical Site

Along the way I learned that Grant County Washington is the “National Leading Potato Producing County” and that there is a stretch of highway where for 14 miles there are signs that say what crops are growing in the fields you are passing. Peas, sweet corn, wheat, potatoes and alfalfa sure look lush when you whiz by them at 70 miles an hour. If you click on the Flickr photo by squeezymoose, you’ll see that the blue sign in the photo says “Wheat.”