5 Alternatives To Car Camping This Summer

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
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.

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.

Photo Of The Day: Milford Sound, New Zealand

New Zealand seems to be infinitely photogenic and these unbelievable fjords in Milford Sound are an astounding testament to that notion. Taken by Andrea Schaffer, this image gets me incredibly excited about different ideas for traveling the North and South Islands. I’m now filled with daydreams of jetting off to below the equator and living in a campervan.

You too can have your photography featured here on Gadling as our Photo of the Day by submitting it either to our Gadling Flickr Group or by mentioning us on Instagram, @GadlingTravel, and tagging your photo with #gadling.

[Photo Credit: Flickr User Andrea Schaffer]

Photo Of The Day: Dunedin Train Station

Dunedin, with a population of over 115,000, is New Zealand’s southernmost big city. (No disrespect to smaller Invercargill and other southerly towns.) For visitors to New Zealand, Dunedin feels like the real south of the country.

Flickr user carlcroom‘s photo of Dunedin’s train station offers a little bit of a sense of that South Island end-of-the-road magic. Mostly, though, he simply captures the grandeur of an impressive train station. Dunedin’s, finished in 1906, was built in a Renaissance Revival style.

Upload your favorite images to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Our favorites from the pool are chosen as Photos of the Day.

Photo of the Day (12.28.10)

I typically associate images of massive glaciers with the Antarctic, Himilayas, or Alaska; certainly not the south-western Pacific. But believe it or not, today’s stunning Photo of the Day comes from the Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Sweet as!

The Franz Josef is an impressive 12km long glacier that stretches from the slopes of the South Alps to a temperate rainforest that’s less than 300 metres above sea level. Visitors can day-hike or take a helicopter tour onto the glacier for beautiful views like this one, taken by Flickr user Martin O’Connell.

While it may be hard to take a bad photo with scenery like this, I think the contrast of the ice against the clouds and mountains in the distance makes it an especially engaging photo. Show us your winter wonderland! Upload your best shots to our Flickr pool and it could be our next Photo of the Day.

In the Corner of the World: TranzAlpine Train

Railway travel just isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the fastidiously dressed conductors checking their pocket watches before yelling, “All aboard!” Gone, too, are the eager young porters loading trunks into the luxury cars of well-heeled travelers. It’s the era of air travel and checked baggage fees, and we may all be worse off because of it. Sure. you can still take trains domestically and abroad, but rail travel has become antiquated and overlooked. However, those with a sense of adventure and a desire to slow things down can still find railway trips that not only get you to your desired location, but do so while enhancing your trip. One such journey exists on the South Island of New Zealand. All aboard the TranzAlpine railway.


The TranzAlpine is part of the TranzScenic line of railways that operates on both islands of New Zealand. While their primary purpose is scenic travel for tourists, many Kiwis use the trains to traverse the countryside on holiday and to visit family. Its popularity can be credited to the fantastic views passengers enjoy as they depart Christchurch and meander through the Southern Alps on their way to Greymouth. The Canterbury Plains stretch out towards rolling hills until finally giving way to the snow-capped mountains that make the South Island a skier’s paradise.

The conductor routinely plays tour guide by announcing fun facts such as, “We’ll be going through 16 tunnels.” For tunnel enthusiasts, this is surely a real treat. For those looking to steal a nap in between Kiwi adventure activities, it can get a bit tiresome. However, if you’re going to enjoy some of the most breathtaking landscapes that New Zealand has to offer, you might as well know where you are.

The full ride from Christchurch to Greymouth is more than 200km and takes about four-and-a-half hours. That’s more than enough time to take advantage of the snack car and linger in the open-air observation area where you can take pictures without worrying about the glare created by windows. It can get pretty brisk in that open car, however, so bundle up and hold on to your camera tightly. It will all be worth it when the mountains begin to reveal themselves on the horizon.

One-way fares will run you about $166NZ and return trips will be double that. There are deals to be had if you do the return in the same day, but you’d have to really love trains to spend nine hours in a railway car only to end up in the same place you started. Especially since the one negative I detected on the TranzAlpine is how truly uncomfortable the seats are.

But many people do make the same-day return trip. That only allows for an hour in Greymouth, which is a shame since it’s actually a pretty adorable little town. I bought my copy of the Greymouth Evening Star at the newspaper’s office, found a bench on the main drag and enjoyed the slow pace of the West Coast’s largest city (population: 9,970). Whitebait fisherman strolled by with their over-sized nets while locals waved hello and stopped to gossip with each other.

Most travelers who don’t head right back to Christchurch will use Greymouth as a jumping-off point to other South Island destinations. Car rentals are available right next to the train station, making self-drive holidays outside of Greymouth quite simple. But do yourself a favor and spend a couple of hours there first.

Planes will always be faster, but trains can still play a role in modern travel. Scenic railways like the TranzAlpine help travelers slow down, relax and enjoy hidden gems that exists between larger hubs. Digital clocks may have replaced pocket watches and you’ll have to carry your own luggage to the baggage car, but the TranzAlpine is more than just a mode of transportation. Its journey is a worthy destination.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series here.