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Long Key State Park, Florida1 of 10
You're practically in the Bahamas here. One of several Florida Key campgrounds, Long Key offers ocean front campsites on a subtropical island. The Keys were formed by prehistoric coral reefs and you'll snorkel among dolphins, sea turtles, giant rays and tropical fish. Yes, chances are you'll spot some barracuda and reef sharks but don't worry, the sharks won't bother you. And as for the barracudas, just make sure you remove all your jewelry and any other shiny objects--those toothy little creatures will strike at anything that glimmers.?
If you'd rather stay on the surface, kayak and canoe through bays and mangroves, looking for manatees and alligators or catch some Dorado, grouper and tarpon, and cook up one of the best seafood dinners you may have ever had.
On land, explore the island or run across one of the Keys' 43 bridges connecting all of the islands. A camping trip here is nothing short of a Caribbean vacation so even though you may be roughing it, jump in the car for some island hopping. Florida Key watering holes feel as if they're straight out of a Jimmy Buffet song. Hit up fish joints and try some cracked conch, conch chowder, stone crab claws and other fresh, local fare.
Acadia National Park, Maine2 of 10
The coast of Maine is unlike any other American region, with its rocky shoreline, granite mountains, firey fall colors, small-town charm, moss and evergreen wilderness, marshlands, glacier-made kettle lakes, local color and old-school harbor living. Most of Acadia National Park's 35,000 acres is located on Mount Desert Island and although there's no backcountry camping here, there are plenty of campsites to choose from and miles of pristine ecosystems.
When you want a taste of civilization, check out the little town of Bar Harbor (pronounced "Baah Haa-bah") for some lobster, a local microbrew and cuppa "chowdah."
Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kauai, Hawaii3 of 10
This coastline is so dramatic, it's played setting to movies like Jurassic Park, King Kong and Raiders of the Lost Arc. With jagged, green, Polynesian mountains plunging into the Hawaiian Pacific, this shoreline is only accessible via the Kalalau Hiking Trail or by boat.
The 11-mile trail crosses cliffs and valleys before dropping to sea level at Hanakapi'ai and Kalalau beaches. Parts of the trail are pretty gnarly, to say the least--especially if you're planning to hike the entire 22 miles (roundtrip) and obtain camping permits--so make sure you know exactly what you're getting into.
But waterfalls will greet you practically every mile and you'll spot mountain goats hopping around everywhere. This is camping at its most primitive, especially when you find yourself looking up at one of the most plentiful star-filled skies you've ever seen, in the middle of the Pacific, on the edge of a tropical jungle, half expecting a pterodactyl to swoop down on you.
Conundrum Hot Springs, Aspen, Colorado4 of 10
Located in the Elk Mountain's Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness near Aspen, an almost-9-mile hike from the trailhead (on Conundrum Road off of Castle Creek Road) through Conundrum Valley and along Conundrum Creek leads you to two natural hot springs. The water bubbles at about 100 degrees, surrounded by the quintessential Colorado scene: Craggy peaks, crisp sky and alpine forest.
The main trail isn't always clearly marked and you may have to ford a couple river areas (which are pretty minor unless you're planning on snowy conditions) if bridges are out--but herein lays all the fun, right? A sign and maps near the springs will direct you to any of the several nearby campsites, though you may have to travel a little further to find a site that allows campfires.
Word on the trail is, the springs are never usually very crowded but clothing is optional, so make sure you're just as comfortable sharing water time with nude Aspenites or visitors as they are with you.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii5 of 10
With vast lava fields, alpine and lush rainforest, hot, rugged desert, typical Hawaiian coastline, two active volcanoes all packed into 323,432 acres and over 140 miles of trails, a visit to the Big Island may prove to be your most schizophrenic backpacking and camping trip ever.
Want to ski the largest volcano in the world? Snow on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea permit skiing and snowboarding at their summits (no passes, no lifts, no resort--drive and hike, island style). Nmakanipaio and Kulanaokuaiki Campgrounds provide some amenities and most of the park is designated as wilderness for backcountry camping in solitude.
Hiking and backpacking can be as easy or as difficult as you like. With very few streams and rivers and few luxuries in a somewhat desolate landscape, your gear and supplies--especially water--become crucial.
Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico6 of 10
An island off of an island, Puerto Rico visitors and locals alike often describe Culebra, which sits off of the east coast of Puerto Rico just before the Virgin Islands, as one of the most magical and romantic spots around. Flamenco Beach, on the north side of the island, is the only area that allows camping.
It's not exactly "rugged," with nearby options of Pia Coladas, gift shops--even yoga classes--and setting up your tent on soft, white sand near turquoise water may feel more like a tropical vacation than fending for oneself in the wild. But after one dip in the bath-water-warm Caribbean Atlantic and a snorkel through the reef and you'll understand the draw.
AMC Huts, Appalachian Trail, White Mountains, New Hampshire7 of 10
The AMC's network of huts, each a day's hike apart along the Appalachian Trail of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, offers one of the most fun and unique ways to experience a distinct part of the Appalachian Trail--one that differs so much from its southern sibling. Huts have co-ed bunkrooms, separate washrooms with cold running water and no electrical outlets. Full-service season and self-service season differ in services offered.
During full-service season, staff members (who are usually fun, friendly college kids on summer break) serve breakfast and dinner family style and during self-service months, you're on your own. Limited heating makes your experience similar to tent sleeping but you'll welcome access to kitchen supplies and cooking area after a long, cold but beautiful hike. In the dead of winter, you may endure bone-chilling, evil winds or you may travel through blue-bird, sparkling white, snowy stillness. Autumn is comfortable for the most part and the birches and seasonal colors are inspiring. Look out for moose, foxes, bears, deer and the occasional bald eagle.
North Beach Cabin, Kruzof Island, Tongass National Forest Cabins, Alaska8 of 10
The Tongass National Forest has 150 rustic cabins for camping. Access this one, located on Kruzof Island, only by boat, helicopter or ATV and you'll really feel the Call of the Wild. The wooden, A-frame cabin is available year round, nestled just inside the forest fringe on the north beach of Shelikof Bay.
Hiking, mountain biking, salmon? fishing and surfing (yes, brrr) are just a handful of things you'll get into while exploring.? And just because you've rented a cabin at $35 per night, that doesn't mean you're not roughing it. Amenities include an outhouse, wood stove, bunk, sleeping loft, axe and splitting maul (you'll be chopping your own wood, gathering your own water and treating it). And among the deep pine and rainforests, ferns, sea plants and rocky coastline, you'd be hard pressed to get much closer to nature. Scan the surf for orcas, gray whales, humpbacks, sea lions and sea otters. On dry land, don't be surprised to spot deer, mountain goats, bears and eagles.
Camp Gateway, Brooklyn, New York9 of 10
Hello, Brooklyn. Yes, you heard right: Sleep under the stars at night, hit the Guggenheim in the morning. Located in Floyd Bennett Field, once New York's very first airfield, this "urban outback," as it's been touted, provides an oasis smack in the middle of one of the world's most bustling cities. Hike and bike or kayak, canoe and fish, surf nearby Sandy Hook or Long Island, view some of the abundant, protected bird life or check out some Chelsea art galleries, a Yankees game, China Town and the 9/11 Memorial, all in one camping trip.
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