Not car camping
June 12, 2021 6:38 PM   Subscribe

I would love to plan a getaway to somewhere quiet, scenic, and at least slightly wild. I'm not super picky about exactly where. Many of the less visited national parks are very appealing to me. However, I do not drive and have no plans to get a license, so even renting a car at a destination is a no-go. It seems like most of the national park facilities require visitors to drive in, even if the park proper is carless. Does anyone have suggestions for off the beaten path vacation spots for people who do not drive?

I have seen that Amtrak goes to the Grand Canyon, which seems very cool.

What else is out there? Steamboat trips down the Mississippi? A beach cottage accessible by bicycle? I'm not entirely stuck on the national park system; any and all suggestions are welcome. Places within the United States are my primary interest, and I have access to Amtrak, Greyhound, and a major hub airport (Minneapolis). I am willing to endure some transit-related unpleasantness to get to the good stuff.

Let me have it! Thank you!
posted by easy, lucky, free to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The gold standard is Acadia National Park's Island Explorer Shuttle, though it's slammed with visitors anytime other than shoulder season, when it's just very crowded. But it has the best of both worlds, Bar Harbor for amenities and zero-internet-service camping out in the park.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:50 PM on June 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Bar Harbor can be flown to by Cape Air & Jet Blue from Boston. There is a free shuttle from the airport that will deliver you to a selection of places on Mt. Desert Island and give you access to the rest of the island as noted above.
posted by chiefthe at 6:52 PM on June 12, 2021

I have looked into taking the train to Glacier and then taking the park shuttles. It's a one-seat (or one-roomette!) ride from Minneapolis on the Empire Builder; 23 hours, you leave in the evening and arrive the next evening. I'm not sure if you can do any backcountry camping via the shuttle system but there are lodges to visit. I haven't taken this trip but still really really want to; not just for the park but also for the train (I have taken the Coast Starlight sleeper and it was fantastic, but they've since made the food service significantly worse, and in particular I gather that it's much harder to meet your fellow passengers since they eliminated seated dining cars).

Another alternative is taking an organized tour, which is usually a train/bus combo. My wife and I saw people doing this in Banff via an organizer called Tauck but my guess is it's quite pricey.
posted by goingonit at 7:42 PM on June 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

(It looks like you might be in Fargo? in which case the train to Glacier is even more convenient though it leaves late at night)
posted by goingonit at 7:49 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you plan to do Glacier, ask your question on the Tripadvisor Glacier National Park forums. There is an older answer below, but things are very different this year with COVID closures and many, many, many people visiting Glacier.
posted by ITravelMontana at 8:06 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

From Denver CO, you can take a bus to Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park. There are also commercial bus tours of the park.

From Glenwood Springs CO, there is a bus into the Maroon Bells wilderness.
posted by nickggully at 8:36 PM on June 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

TBH all of the National Parks are going to be absolute shitshows this year and it's way late in the year to be planning something in a park for this summer, so you'll need to be flexible and possibly on the lookout for last minute reservations.

That said, the first thing I thought of was Isle Royale National Park - there are explicitly no cars on the island, so you'll just need to get to Grand Portage, MN, Houghton, MI, or Copper Harbor, MI to get a ferry. That in and of itself might be difficult, and so will getting a reservation at one of the resorts, but on the plus side the number of people on the island will be capped so it won't be mobbed.

The other thing suggestion I have, and it's a little off the wall, is the San Juan Islands in Washington State. You'd fly into SeaTac, get into Seattle proper via train or taxi, and then take a seaplane (Kenmore Air) from Lake Union in Seattle to one of the islands (normally folks drive to Anacortes and take a ferry, but it'd be very difficult to get there without a car). The islands are all beautiful and have varying degrees of quiet and wild. San Juan is the biggest with the most services, Orcas is also big with fewer people and more wild, and Lopez is downright sleepy but that in itself is nice. Once there you could rent a bike to get around; Lopez is flattest and most bike-friendly but you could roughly make it work for any of them.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 8:52 PM on June 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

Was going to mention the San Juan Islands as something to look into as well.
posted by wats at 10:09 PM on June 12, 2021

Why not fly to Switzerland. It’s filled with beautiful nature and hiking paths all reachable with a fantastic public transportation network?
posted by jazh at 10:23 PM on June 12, 2021

While it's slightly outside of your primary (US) interest, Prince Edward Island is great on a bicycle, and you can fly in.
posted by inexorably_forward at 2:05 AM on June 13, 2021

Response by poster: I've been to PEI and LOVED it, and we actually have a tiny cabin in the Olympic National Park area. San Juans would be easily accessible, even via Anacortes. That's a great suggestion, thanks!

I'm also looking into the water shuttle at Voyageurs.

I would love to fly to Switzerland someday, and the comment about publicly accessible hiking has me dreaming. It's not in the budget right now, alas.

The Glacier suggestion is wonderful. Any getaway would be this fall at the earliest so ideally things will be quieter then.

Sorry, not thread sitting!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:36 AM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've taken Amtrak to Glacier National Park from Chicago and it was great! We had a private roomette for 2. We departed at Whitefish and used a car for exploring, but this article goes into detail about other stops, lodging and walkable hiking within the park itself. Last year we visited the park in late September and the crowds were way down from usual summer visitors, and the weather was fantastic. But snow starts with cooler weather as early as mid October.
posted by j810c at 9:16 AM on June 13, 2021

You can take Amtrak's Coast Starlight to Klamath Falls and then take a trolley to get to the Crater Lake National Park.

When I was living in NYC, I often took the train up to Cold Spring to hike in the Hudson Highlands. Perhaps not as remote as you're looking for, but it is beautiful, and easy to walk to from the train station.
posted by pinochiette at 9:21 AM on June 13, 2021

There are not only passenger boat tours on the Mississippi, but on the Columbia/Snake rivers system as well. Perhaps Amtrak (and certainly Greyhound) to Seattle, then to Portland?
posted by lhauser at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2021

Bike touring? It doesn't have to be long-distance - we've done a fair bit of what might be more properly called bike camping, where we spend more time at the campground than we do riding. Is there a state, regional, or national park within a day's ride? Or a few days' ride, with campgrounds, WarmShowers hosts, or even hotels for the intervening nights? Many parks even offer a discounted "hiker/biker" camping rate.
posted by sibilatorix at 10:02 AM on June 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Glacier via Amtrak is the best way I know of to get to a national park without driving. A friend of mine just did this trip. However, no national parks are off the beaten path. You'd have to get further into the park. You might be able to do this with a shuttle and backpacking, but "wild" can be hard to find, especially during peak summer season.

I also am wondering if you are game for riding a bike. You don't have to do a full-on bikepacking (bike camping) tour carrying a tent. But you can bus/train/fly to many places and then use a bike to get a bit further afield, even if that's a cabin in the woods. But that only works if you regularly bike.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:35 PM on June 13, 2021

On the roughing it end of the scale Channel Islands National Park has piqued my interest. I don't know of anyone that's been.
posted by tinker at 5:58 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I took a camping kayak tour in (or possibly just near) the San Juans years ago - it was great, and I was able to get from Seattle airport to the start point in Anacortes and back without a car. I was with a small group (me, a couple, and our guide) and the camping was on an island that I think was really only accessible by small personal watercraft.

There are also at least a couple of places you can camp via public transport in Massachusetts: the Boston Harbor Islands (very cool - accessible via ferry and simultaneously isolated and in view of the city), and I think there is a campground in Provincetown on Cape Cod that you could reasonably get to via ferry + bike.

You can also do sections of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire with bus service to NH from Boston Logan airport plus rides to/from trailheads from the AMC White Mountain Shuttle.
posted by mskyle at 6:22 PM on June 13, 2021

In Canada there's Parkbus.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:30 PM on June 14, 2021

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