For a guy who has spent much of his life on one adventure after another, this could be a really long list. To narrow it down, I will post only my favorites…. and tell why they have special appeal to me. Since I am a quiet laid-back guy, most of these are away from the crowds and the noise of the popular parks and resorts.
Valley of the Gods, Utah.
The desert landscape is remarkable enough; it is an extension of the iconic Monument Valley Tribal Park a few miles away. But when the sun sets you discover you are in Dark Sky country. The Milky Way is dazzling above and hanging over the nearby cliffs.
My free campsite was just below a huge butte and there wasn’t a level spot to park, so I drove onto some rocks to level the camper for the night. Complete solitude. And almost unnerving silence.
Hole-In-The-Rock Road, Escalante, Utah
After spending a rainy afternoon at Devil’s Garden, I drove a couple of miles farther down the washboard road and found a flat spot on the open prairie across from Dinosaur Tracks road. This is boon docking – no facilities. No problem, I am self-contained with the truck camper. And all alone for the night.
Pacific Coast Highway, Seacliff, California
It is hard to find places where one can camp on the beach. Especially on the west coast. This park is two miles long and about 20 feet wide. Everybody gets a 40-foot-long space to park for the night and our rig fit exactly from bumper to bumper. You can walk the beach for miles. No hookups. Again, no problem.
Coal River Lodge, Coal River, Yukon Territory
I think this was one of the most remote campsites we ever stayed at on our epic trek along the Alaska Highway. At Milepost 533, Coal River is one of the original Roadhouses built to accommodate the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942-1943 and is beyond the reach of the electric grid. They were generating their own power while we were there. We had the campground to ourselves with hookups to water and electricity.
Denali Canyon “Glitter Gulch”, Parks Highway, Alaska
After driving up from southern California, we were fortunate to find a campsite at the Rainbow Village RV Park right behind the coffee shop where our daughter was working every summer. We stayed half the summer, biking the canyon and hiking the ridges and peaks surrounding the village. A highlight was backcountry hiking with two of my daughters inside Denali National Park.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
One winter we set out to camp only on islands where we could walk the beaches all winter long. Dauphin Island was our choice for the month of January and we were camped in the woods a short walk from the gulf beach and historic Fort Gaines.
South Manitou Island, Leland, Michigan
This is one of my favorite backpacking spots that’s not far from my home in Michigan. The island is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and is run by the NPS. It is entirely covered with hardwood forests or perched sand dunes. The extensive network of hiking trails can thoroughly exhaust even the most hearty of souls. As a lifelong adventure sport director, I have been there several times with groups of kids.
The Cove, Samana, Dominican Republic
What I liked about our winter vacation rental on the beach was not the infinity pool or the air-conditioned condo, but the close interaction with the natives. Many resorts are isolated and walled away from the locals meaning you miss a lot of the indigenous flavor. Our beach was shared with the fishermen and their kids. We were able to walk to the local tienda for a cold Coke and provisions for cooking our own meals. Local shuttles would take us to the nearest village for a few cents.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan
The lighthouse is staffed by teams of volunteers who spend two weeks living in the original light keepers’ quarters and running the gift shop, museum and tower which is open for a fews hours every day. The rest of the time we are free to hike the dunes or splash in the refreshing waters of Lake Michigan.
Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan
We used to live about an hour’s drive from this park so we got to know it pretty well. One of our favorite things was when we were lucky enough to get one of the campsites that are right on the shore with our rear bumper almost hanging over the beach. The water is shallow and stays warm in the fall so we would often wait till after Labor Day when the kids were back in school and there was plenty of elbow room in the park.
Sierra Madre Mountains Trek, Central Mexico
I usually avoid the resorts when I want an authentic experience and hiking in the mountains of Mexico is one I have been able to do several times. Usually I have been directing a group of youths on a cross-cultural experience. The organic nature of this kind of adventure means that we eat the local foods and use the local outhouses. – if there are outhouses. Fun!
Redwoods National Park, California
Okay, I have spent the night in at least 15 of the most amazing national parks. That could be a list all of its own. But the Redwoods were so remarkable I had to mention them. We pulled into a deserted county park in the redwood forest late at night and weaved our way between the giant trees that showed in the headlights. We found a spot to set up the tents and went to sleep. Climbing out of the tents in the morning, we were rendered speechless at the fantasy land that surrounded us. Nothing tops this. Huge!
Well, this listing is just a sampling of the wild places where I have stayed. It makes me sad to leave out a whole bunch of wonderful places. Maybe I should write a Part Two including Glacier National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the over-water bungalow in the Maldive Islands… and so on.
I would be interested in hearing about a wild place you have stayed in the comments below. Do tell!
Note: Header photo at the top is Butler Wash, Bluff, Utah, banked by cliffs on both sides and sheltering many ancient cliff dwellings nestled on the ledges and alcoves.