The LGBTQ community has long relished heading to woodsy campgrounds to explore the great outdoors and de-stress among kindred souls. In the early 1980s, camping was in its infancy. Now around 150 properties thrive in the US, some requiring memberships, often a nominal fee. Gay Camping USA offers a "Friends with Privileges" discount membership program for affiliated camps. In northern climes, campgrounds are seasonal, but it's year-round fun and adventure travel in the south and west. Most offer a spread of accommodations from basic tenting to RV hookups to rustic cabins and even lodges, but each is a unique experience. Why not sample a few or pick your favorite for a same-time-next-year holiday?
Dade City, Florida
At Sawmill in the Tampa Bay area, you can get out in nature and still have your essential comforts like a poolside bar, a large community fire pit, WiFi , nightclub and a round-the-clock game/pool room. Set on 120 acres (nearly 50 ha) of nature trails and cypress trees along the Withlacoochee River, it is a year-round camping paradise and one of the largest gay campground in the US. Campers can choose from full RV hook up, tent sites and air-conditioned cabins, rates varying according to accommodation and day of the week. The heated pool is clothing optional. Women are also welcomed, particularly at four special events a year.
Lizard Landing is a quiet, clothing optional campground where the social event of the week is the Saturday night potluck poolside. On 11.5 secluded acres (about 5 ha) in southwestern Alabama near the Georgia Border, it has a stretch of creek footage a short boat ride from Chattahoochee River. Open year around, it boasts a solar-heated saltwater pool, a club house and a welcoming porch where folks gather. The camp has RV hookups with city water and sewers plus deluxe cabins and travel trailers. A public park down the road has a boat ramp. Nearest civilization with shopping, dining and entertainment is less than two miles away in Columbia, AL.
Sugarloaf Key, Key West, United States
The Sugarloaf Women's Village, about 17 miles (27 km) from Key West, is a lush island sanctuary for women only. It offers a campground for tents as well as small, self-contained RVs, three private guest spaces in cottages and two bedrooms in the village's Community House. The relaxed vibe includes kayaking, dance parties, potlucks and evening sing-alongs. All women are welcomed, but only lesbians can apply for extended stays. It operates on a donation basis - suggested $15 a day for camping and $15-$50 a day for the indoor accommodations. Work exchange is also an option. Visitors are asked to limit their first stay to two weeks. Activists and authors Barbara Deming and Jane Verlaine founded Sugarloaf in the mid-70s in an era of establishing "womyn's lands."
Cactus Canyon in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks is a clothing-optional campground with tents, RV hookups, cabins and dormitory rooms. Owners Chaz and Jim are the on-site operators of the woodsy facility that opened in 1999. Its 720 acres (290 ha) of woods, streams and prairies are a naturist's paradise with hiking trails, float trips, canoeing, fishing, waterfalls and natural pools. The campground also has a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, weekend themed parties and various games like volleyball, croquet and bocce. All guests pay an annual $10 membership fee and $20 a night ($5 more on holidays) in addition to charges according to type of accommodations ranging for $6.50 a night for a tent site to $85-$95 a night for a cabin.
New Milford, Pennsylvania
Oneida is the grand old man of American gay campgrounds, established back in 1980 on 100 acres (40 ha) at the top of the Endless Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Operating seasonally, the clothing-optional resort features a state-of-the-arts dance club and weekend events that include beauty pageants, an illuminated golf cart Pride parade, bear hunts and a trailer trash weekend. It caters primarily to men, offering accommodations ranging from tents to lodges, but lesbians are also welcome.
Camp Mars in South Central Florida offers a taste of how the Sunshine State used to be before developers took over. Guests can enjoy 40 acres (16 ha) of live oaks, tropical foliage and nature trails meandering by ponds and a creek. Hunting and fishing are big pastimes around the neighborhood. Accommodations run from rudimentary tents to full hookup RV sites to unique cabins, including a yurt with queen bed. It has occasional themed weekends and a clothing-optional swimming pool.
In the Russian River Wine Country 90 minutes north of San Francisco, the Highlands Resort offers summer camping in a meadow if you bring your own tent. The year around resort, which dates from the 1920s and "came out" in 1980, nestles in three acres (c. 1 ha) of mature redwood trees and gardens in a residential neighborhood only four blocks from gay bars in the village. Early 1940s cabins - many with fireplaces - retain much of their original charm, undisturbed by telephones, TV or radios. It makes available basic WiFi but no streaming video. Nude sunbathing is popular around the pool and hot tub. Most guests are LGBT, but it is straight-owned and straight friends are welcomed.
Founded in 1986, the adults-only Windover Women's Resort offers a seasonal retreat with hiking trails, a heated pool and a 24-hour club house equipped with pool table, big screen TV, fireplace and cellphone reception. Lodging options include tenting areas, RV hookups, rental trailers and cabins, all peaceful and well maintained. In the heart of the Thumb Area on Michigan's Lower Peninsula, the resort is close to golfing, boating, fishing and recreational water sports. Socializing takes place around Friday night community fires, the newly installed multi-sports court and special weekend activities. Big off-site events are the annual golf outing in June, the Women on Wheels weekend in July (novice to experienced riders) and the kayak and canoe weekend in August.
Dewey Rose, Atlanta, United States
Two hours north by car from Atlanta, The River's Edge is a gay-owned and -populated, clothing optional camping ground. Rent an RV or tent or bring your own. Cabins are also available as well as a slew of traditional campsite-extras such as warm showers and a mess hall. There is a membership fee and then rates for additional guests. Caters primarily to men although women are welcome.
The clothing-optional Oz - or a Place Called Oz - Campground is 150 acres of relaxation just seven miles (11 km) off Interstate 75 near Macon. Known as "Lumberjack's Camping Resort" under previous owners, it has a 4000 square feet (37 m2) bar and night club as well as miles of trails. Membership - by day or by year - is limited to over-21 campers, most of whom are males with an average age of 40-50. Women and straight couples are welcomed, but some weekends are guys only. You can stay over in a tent, cabin or RV or as a day tripper. The rustic site has plenty of creature comforts, but you'd do well to bring some gnat spray for your encounter with nature. The campground is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, November through February.