GO Gay Outdoors (photo: courtesy GO Gay Outdoors)
Camping 'out' in the great outdoors this summer
by Scott Kearnan
Note: This story is adapted from the July/August 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
Ready to rough it?
Summer’s here and the itch for a weekend (or longer) escape gets stronger with each passing sunny day. But despite stereotypes to the contrary, not all LGBT folks want to book some fabulous far-flung vacation—or even lay towel-to-towel with all the usual suspects in P’town. Yes, world, we love the great outdoors too: not just the bears. (Grizzly or otherwise.) The thing is, campsites and woodsy getaways aren’t always among the most inclusive spots. Any bad run-in with a backwoods hick can attest to that. So we found ten queer-friendly spots throughout beautiful New England that are perfect for tossing up a tent or curling up in a cabin, turning off the iPhone, and getting back to nature with fellow gay campers. Take that, Boy Scouts of America!
Looking like the set of an All-American summer camp movie (though not the type with hockey masks) is ‘Camp’ Camp, tucked away in southwestern Maine. It attracts over 200 diverse LGBT people annually—this year from August 18-25—with all the activities you did as a kid: adventure courses, hikes, canoeing, tie dying, pottery—oh my! But the community-building environment is worlds apart from intimidating adolescent experiences. Camp’s cabins are even named for famous LGBT people, so after a day of swimming you may dry off in Greg Louganis—or you could hit the hay in Ellen Degeneres after wowing the talent show audience. Throw in evening campfire parties, a barn dance, and even a sanctioned skinny-dipping outing (didn’t have that as a teenager), and it equals a perfect summer vacation. A sliding work/play fee scale allows payment via sweat equity, so there’s an option for every budget. (More: Campcamp.com)
(photo: Cheryl Colombo)
Chiltern Mountain Club
Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, Chiltern started when its founder placed an ad in a newspaper looking for gay men and lesbians with whom to share a hike up Mt. Wachusett. Decades later, it bills itself as New England’s largest LGBT outdoor recreation group, with hundreds of volunteers that organize outings throughout the year for members and non-members alike. Check out Chiltern's website for its next big outing. (More: Chiltern.org)
(photo: courtesy Chiltern)
Combine a social activist community, artist colony, and ashram of New Age spiritualists and you might have an idea of Easton Mountain. The unique, multi-service “sanctuary” started in 1989, when founder John Stasio organized a gay men’s retreat to find solace amid the plague of HIV that seemed to be suffocating the community. A decade later he identified a 175-acre resort, nestled in the rolling hills of upstate New York’s Hudson Valley, as the setting for a more fully realized vision of refuge: massage, Reiki, life coaching are all available. You can book rooms in the guest house for independent visits, exploring the scenery on your own, or dive into diverse programming: from the big “Out in the Woods” music festival this coming weekend (Aug. 10) to Gay Spirit Camp (the week beginning Monday, Aug. 12), and from spiritual retreats to erotic workshops with The Body Electric. (More: EastonMountain.org)
(photo: David Dietz)
Rowe Labor Day
Many LGBT camps and retreats offer a recurring theme throughout their mission statements: a desire to create a safe, fun space for queer folks outside the quote-unquote traditional, party-heavy gay bar environs. (Yes, Dorothy. There is a way to have fun without tequila.) That’s true of Rowe Labor Day, too. Every holiday weekend, this year August 30—September 2, the Rowe Camp & Conference Center in northwestern Massachusetts becomes a place especially for gay, bi, and questioning men to have fun, build life skills (workshops galore) and emotional healing or awakening with likeminded guys. If you like yoga by morning, dancing by night, self-reflecting rituals and bond-building bonfires—you’ve found your match. (More: RoweLaborDay.com)
Opening for its first season this summer is Joe’s Hideaway in tiny Washington, New Hampshire. Joe Mcguire, the camp’s namesake, says he and his partner Rich wanted to “take the best” of what they saw at gay campgrounds around the country and create a 45-acre paradise for nature lovers: 45 camp sites (most with full RV hookups) and 25 seasonal sites. But when you’re not hiking through miles of trails or jumping in on special barbecues and pancake breakfasts, there are some other activities that will satisfy city slickers: think poolside dance parties with go-go boys, “trailer trash” drag shows, and a “Leather and Lace” party celebrating the camp-founding couple’s 29th anniversary. Sounds like their Hideaway has a happy future ahead too. (More: JoesHideaway.com.)
(photo: courtesy Joe's Hideaway)
A campground for gay men in southern New Hampshire, MountainSide is an especially animal-friendly choice for campers who can’t bear to leave the pooch at home. (Besides the tent campsites, bunkhouse and cabins, stalls and kennels are available for four-legged friends.) There are plenty of trails for hiking and mountain biking—though the site is close to cute and quirky Brattleboro, Vermont, if you feel inclined to escape for shopping and dining. It’s hard to imagine tiring of the great outdoors here, though, where everyone from baby boomer couples to thirty-something guys craving an urban escape clink red Solo cups under the stars, around the grill, or during themed weekends that encompass everything from Bocce ball tournaments to camp-wide scavenger hunts. (More: MountainSideNH.com)
(photo: courtesy MountainSide Campground)
Kate’s Lazy Meadow
They don’t come kitschier than this motel owned by Kate Pierson, she of the red beehive hairdo and The B-52’s fame, and her partner Monica Coleman. Located in the Catskill Mountains, just over the western Massachusetts border, Lazy Meadows is primarily made up of suite-style log cabins, many with fireplaces and kitchenettes, that are decorated—well, exactly as you’d imagine, given they come from the “Love Shack” singer. Expect a retro sensibility straight out of a ‘50s drive-in, where campy accoutrement and quirky flea market finds share space with, say, drawers full of VHS B-movies. Great for cuddling up when you’re exhausted from hiking on nearby Mount Tremper, or fishing on the Esopus Creek behind the motel. (More: LazyMeadow.com)
GO Gay Outdoors
Another member-based group that takes advantage of wired world to help outdoorsy guys connect with each other—and disconnect from technology. GO Gay Outdoors members volunteer to organize outings (hiking, kayaking, national park visits, even lawn parties) that non-paying guest members alike are able to sign up for. (Though paid members do get some additional perks, like updates on occasional bar socials.) Since 1999, the online “base camp” that births these activities has expanded to encompass 7,500 members in all 50 states and nine countries; but since it was founded in New England, the local chapter is among the most active. Plus the virtual meet-up approach allows it to function year-round, so you’ll find as many snowshoe and ski trips in winter as leaf peeping hikes in the fall. (More: GayOutdoors.org)
(photo: courtesy GO Gay Outdoors)
The Highlands Inn
This “lesbian paradise” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is perfect for outdoorsy women who want to take a romantic getaway—or maybe find a future partner for sharing a tent. You’re not exactly roughing it on the resort proper: this isn’t a campground but a gorgeous 18-room inn, plus a farmhouse and cottage, boasting a fireplace for cool months and swimming pool for warm weather. But when you’re not enjoying the onsite entertainment, like the year-long Women’s Concert Series, you’re smack in the middle of the outdoor activities of the White Mountains: from ziplining through the treetops to hiking trails to horseback rides and cave exploration. (More: HighlandsInn-Nh.com)
Twin Ponds Lodge
If you really want to get back to nature, check out Twin Ponds Lodge, a men’s club for naturists tucked away 90-minutes north of Portland, Maine. The huge main lodge has a pool, hot tub, sauna, and game room for billiards and book reading; but gay campers can also make use of the 20 tent sites, 16 RV sites, and five pond-side cabins perfectly positioned for fishing. If jumping barefoot first into a clothing-optional camp sounds a little daunting, there’s a day pass option that’ll let you dip your toes into the (hopefully, not too chilly) water. (More: TwinPondsLodge.com) [x]
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