In theory, camping should not require extensive planning.
Yes, you need to gather your gear and supplies. And yes, you need to clear Friday with the suit to whom you report (unless you are said suit, in which case, bully for you). But everything else — from your destination to your time of arrival/departure to your daily activities — should be somewhat spontaneous.
Such is the spirit of camping.
The only issue: most National and State Park campgrounds (or at least the best ones) tend to require advanced reservations these days. Look no further than the summer campsites at Yosemite, which famously book up in a matter of minutes each year.
A possible solution for those who need to find a great site on short notice? The American Alpine Club, a non-profit group that operates a series of little-known lodges and bunkhouses in some of America's most attractive outdoor settings.
The AAC was founded in 1902. Their mission over the century and change since has been to “provide knowledge and inspiration, conservation and advocacy, and logistical support for the climbing community.” Unbeknownst to us until Adventure Journal pointed it out this morning, that logistical support includes actual room and board near six climbing meccas:
- The Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch in Wyoming
- New River Gorge in West Virginia
- The Gunks in New Paltz, New York
- The Rumney Rattlesnake Campground in New Hampshire
- The Hueco Rock Ranch near El Paso, Texas
- And the Snowbird Hut, a remote cabin at the edge of a glacier in Alaska
Bunks will run you in the $20-$35 range, with camping available at some locations for around $10 per night. Non-members are welcome to stay, though a membership ($80 per year) will get you discounted rates and access to huts run by similar organizations all over the world.
Amenities vary by location: Rumney has wifi and a library, while the Snowbird is a simple, spartan cabin with naught but a Coleman stove and some basic cooking supplies. (The latter is also free — assuming you can trek to it on foot or skis.)
But the one thing they all have in common is what matters: unrivaled access to some of America's best outdoor playgrounds at a price on par with a backpacker's hostel.
Can't beat that with a walking stick.
h/t Adventure Journal / Image via the American Alpine Club