Little St. George Island, Florida
THE PITCH After a long day of paddling, coast to an uninhabited island and toss your tent beneath palm trees on a stretch of white sand licked by water the color of lapis lazuli. If it's hard to imagine this is North Florida, that's because this thin, nine-mile-long barrier island separating Apalachicola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico is an anomalyone of the only island wilderness preserves on the Gulf Coast on which you can camp. Cast for speckled trout and redfish in the bay before breakfast. After lunch, explore the dunes and try spotting some of the island's 200-plus species of birds. As the sun sets, grab a bottle of merlot and hike the southern shore to the recently renovated 1850s St. George Lighthouse.
BETA Put in at the marina on St. George Island, 80 miles southwest of Tallahassee. Paddle west along the island's north shore for eight miles. Cross Sikes Cut and continue another nine miles to the western tip of Little St. George. Check in with Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) at 850-653-8063 for camping information. No fees or permits required.
PRIME TIME April, October
RESOURCES For general info: ANERR. For guided trips: Journeys of St. George Island, 850-927-3259, www.sgislandjourneys.com.
Resurrection Bay, Alaska
THE PITCH You'd think that Thumb Covea protected pebble-and-sand beach ringed by three hanging glaciers and offering rugged hiking, primo salmon fishing, and two state-owned log cabins for rentwould be hard to get to. It isn't. From Seward, a port town on the Kenai Peninsula, 128 miles south of Anchorage, it's a challenging nine-mile paddle across Resurrection Bay from your put-in at Lowell Point. Glide past waterfalls and mussel-noshing otters near Tonsina Creek before setting up camp at Caines Head State Recreation Area. Now stretch your legs with the mile hike up to Fort McGilvery, an abandoned WWII-era fortress carved into the hill.
RESOURCES For info: Department of Natural RESOURCESat Morgan's Landing, 907-262-5581, www.dnr.state.ak.us. For boat rentals and guided trips: Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking Company, 800-770-9119, www.sunnycove.com.
Isle au Haut, Maine
THE PITCH Most folks still get to rural Isle au Haut by mail boat, but kayaking is the more admirable way to reach this seven-square-mile island, 60 percent of which is part of Acadia National Park. Paddle due south four and a half miles from Stonington, Maine, hugging the islands of Merchant Row for protection as you cross Penobscot Bay. Aim for Duck Harbor, which offers shelter in the form of five sturdy lean-tos. Once you've established your Camp au Haut, take your pick of activities: Hike the four miles to Robinson Lighthouse, scale the island's six gentle mountains, or explore dozens of surrounding islands, like York, whose only inhabitants are sheep.
RESOURCES For info: Acadia National Park, 207-288-3338 (call well in advance; permits go quickly), www.nps.gov/acad. For guided trips: Granite Island Guide Service, 207-348-2668, www.graniteislandguide.com.
Bending Branches' Sun Shadow Evening kayak touring paddle ($155; 715-755-3405, www.bendingbranches.com) is a two-piece work of art carved from basswood, maple, cherry, butternut, black willow, and alderalmost as beautiful as your surroundings.