Top Ten Camps in North America
Welcome to the un-Hamptons. At Stafford Beach, only a shifting dune separates your live-oak-shaded encampment from an utterly uninhabited 18-mile sugar-sand beach. With the exception of one quiet inn, a few grandfathered private residences, and of course the brief media invasion that followed John-John Kennedy's nuptials, Cumberland Island remains a surprisingly wild place: Diamondback rattlers guard plantation ruins, feral horses graze sand dunes, and alligators patrol saltwater marshes. This 36,415-acre national seashore allows only 60 people at a time in its four backcountry campgrounds, which means Stafford, three miles from the ferry dock, is never crowded.
Since cars and bikes are generally not allowed, you'll be doing your exploring on foot. Head south through cactus-studded dunes and then inland among the palmettos, violets, and oxalis. Or walk north along the beach, where loggerhead turtles nest from April through August. Either way, set out early to avoid the heat and bugs, leaving the afternoon for bodysurfing. Since the ferry will not transport kayaks, paddlers must embark from Crooked River State Park, six miles west on the mainland (put in at high tide to avoid getting marooned). Rent kayaks from Up the Creek ($30 to $45 per day; 912-882-0911), seven miles south of the park in the town of St. Marys.
From Jacksonville, Florida, drive 60 miles north on I-95 and then east on Georgia 40 until it ends at the St. Marys ferry dock. The Cumberland Queen departs daily at 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. from March through November, returning at 10:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. ($12 round-trip; 912-882-4335). Park fees are $4 per person per day, plus $2 per person per day for a camping permit. For reservations, call the Dungeness visitor center (912-882-4335) a few months in advance.
Next Time Try
Randall Creek, California
Begin at Mattole Recreation Site, traipsing south along the Lost Coast for eight miles before arriving at the mouth of Randall Creek. Here you can dodge winds in a driftwood shelter, keeping an eye on rising tides and the 4,000-foot King range to the east.
Location: 260 miles north of San Francisco
Details: free campfire/stove permit required
Prime Time: April, September, October
Puntas Cabres, Baja California, Mexico
Drive south on Mexico 1 two hours from Ensenada. Pass a gas station, and then a tiny white church on the left. Hang a right. Make a beeline for the Pacific. Camp on the low red bluffs above endlessly south-curving beaches. Surf by morning, windsurf by afternoon. Repeat.
Location: about 120 miles south of Ensenada
Details: camp anywhere; no fees
Prime Time: April to July
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication