Vacation in nature--without a car to get there?
November 22, 2014 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I am taking a much-needed vacation in December before the holiday season. I would LOVE to get out of the city for a week and just wander around in nature, but I don't know where to start given the potential obstacles. I grew up going to Acadia National Park in I'm basically looking for the same thing somewhere warmer.

The BIGGEST problem is that I don't have a car and have pretty bad driving anxiety, so I don't want to rent a car to go on this trip by myself. (Re: by myself, safety being out by myself is obviously a concern but that's not what this question is about.)

Here is what I am looking for:

--Location where I can go on day hiking trips (and potential kayaking would be a big plus). I am in moderately good shape but not an athlete.
--Someplace that is not going to have snow and ice on the ground at this time of year and pretty safe conditions generally.
--Preferably kind of close to me--I'm in the mid south--and must be in the U.S. because my passport is expired.
--Reasonably comfortable & clean place to stay. Not looking to sleep in a tent.

I guess that's it. Does such a place exist? I would love to do this, it has been several years since I have wandered around in the great outdoors.
posted by picardythird to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can go to Puerto Rico. It's a US Territory, so you can go there without a passport, plus it'll be warm, and you get the bonus of stepping out into a different culture.

Since it's a tourist oriented place, you don't have to drive anywhere.

Here's a list of outdoor activities.

I'd also suggest Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It'll be cold, but not Maine cold. Lots to see and do in the park. There's a lodge in the park Le Conte. It includes breakfast and dinner. Lots of nearby hiking trails. You have to hike in, and Llamas pack in the supplies. Could be fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:55 PM on November 22, 2014

So, this is pretty tricky, because car-free usually means public transit, which means population, which is usually not in the middle of natural areas. And some national parks where you could do this in the summer are pretty cold in the winter.

For example, the Smokies: there can definitely be snow and ice there in the winter, and I don't know how you'd get there without driving.

One idea is to head to the coast. Mid-December, if you're really going before the Christmas rush, can be a pretty quiet time, so even typically busier beach areas might feel more empty.

Little St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast is a privately-owned, car-free island only accessible by boat. Once you get there, it's all-inclusive, and you can hike, kayak, etc. You'd probably want to give them a call and figure out how to get to the marina without renting a car.

A bit further away, in California, is Catalina Island.

You could also look in the adventure lodge category, which should make it easier, once you get somewhere, not to have to drive.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:18 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Come to the Florida Everglades.
Everglades National Park is really nice this time of year. You can easily get from Miami to Homestead, Florida, where the main entrance to the park is located. There are endless day trips into the park that you can plan from Homestead. Or, You could even take a bus from Miami to Everglades City, the only town inside the Everglades.

There are hotels all around the park entrances. There are nice camp sites in the park. There are lots of hiking trails. Fan boat tours. And there are fantastic "canoe trails". You can rent a kayak, and paddle miles of trails in the River of Grass. There will be other people paddling the trails with you, but it is still really amazing to paddle into mangrove.

The birds in the Everglades are amazing: Flamingos, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Bald Eagles, and so much more. This time of year the gators will be up in the water trying to get some sun. You will see lots of gators and turtles too.

In the summer, the Everglades are a truly awful swamp from hell. The National Park is actually closed during the summer. But, in the winter, the weather is beautiful and sunny, and it is an enchanting place.
posted by Flood at 7:21 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I believe you can also travel to the US Virgin Islands without a passport. Two thirds of the island of St. John are covered by a US National Park, with some steep hiking trails. Depending where you stay you may be able to walk to some trailheads. You can also get around by taxi. If memory serves, one good hike is to be taken to the top of the Reef Bay Trail by a taxi in the morning and ask to be picked up from Reef Bay at a pre-arranged time in the afternoon. Take in the petroglyphs on your way down the trail, then eat your packed lunch and have a swim at the beach before meeting up with your return taxi.
posted by Orinda at 7:24 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Orinda is right, St. Thomas would fit your description, it has public transportation available and is tourist friendly. Be safe.
posted by just asking at 7:34 PM on November 22, 2014

Well, this may be difficult based on the time of year but in terms of the not having a car part it might be worth spending some time on Amtrak's "Amtrak to Parks" website to see if there are any decent options that you could train to.
posted by pie_seven at 8:29 AM on November 23, 2014

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