Let the palm-latitude surfers have their 70-degree waters and tiki bars. Oswald West State Park delivers ocean temps in the upper 40s—break out the five-mil neoprene—paired with multiple peaks and a très Oregon setting: a 1.5-mile stretch of sand framed by sheer bluffs and stands of old-growth spruce, cedar, and hemlock. The park’s campground is closed right now (a little issue with mammoth spruce trees tumbling over), but surfers can hole up at Nehalem Bay State Park five miles south (primitive sites, $8; furnished yurts, $27; oregonstateparks.org). Cleanline Surf in Cannon Beach will supply the surfboard, wax, wetsuit, and advice (cleanlinesurf.com).
Killer whales are about half again the length of the average sea kayak and weigh, oh, about eight tons more. Luckily, paddling the San Juan Islands with Discovery Sea Kayak is more than a lesson in whale dodging. Spend three days gliding through the nutrient-rich currents of the Strait of Georgia, cruising from Discovery’s base isle of San Juan to waterfront campgrounds on rocky, fir-covered islands like Jones and Stewart. Bald eagles strafe overhead and seals cavort on the shoals. “We don’t guarantee orca sightings,” says Discovery owner Richard Swanson. “They can travel a hundred miles a day; we might cover 12.” The paddling’s all the better for the company’s choice of boat: A day in one of Discovery’s lightweight Seawards is like getting a Beemer for your rental car (three days and all meals, $547; discoveryseakayak.com ).
It can be as moving to stand amid unbroken miles of tallgrass prairie as it is to stand in a redwood forest. Nothing but grasses, wildflowers, birdsong, and endless horizons. Few places preserve the feel of that landscape better than the Flint Hills of central Kansas, which were too rocky to ever meet a plow blade—a fate that befell most of the country’s original 140 million acres of grassland. One unsullied swath is the Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, a private 220-acre tract preserved by prairie devotees who have also built a lovely guest cabin surrounded by grasses and woodlands. Here you can wander at will—splash in creeks, bushwhack through hills where blue-eyed grass and blue wild indigo are coming into bloom, and scope wild turkeys and bobcats. At night, settle onto a private deck and turn that scope skyward, stargazing to the tune of bullfrogs croaking and coyotes howling (doubles from $75; prairie-heritage.org).
Keep an eye out for the trail-building crew (some 300 feral mustangs and burros) when you canter through the Wild Horse Sanctuary near Lassen Volcanic National Park, 170 miles northeast of Sacramento. Paths forged by the wild equines crisscross the 5,000-acre preserve, a rugged landscape of oaks and pines, volcanic rock outcroppings, wildflowers, meandering streams, and meadows. Base camp is a cabin fronting Vernal Lake, where a country cookhouse dishes out grilled steak dinners and evenings are spent fireside (two-day rides, $435; three-day rides, $535; wildhorsesanctuary.org).
The answer to the lower 48’s ephemeral ice climbing season: Alaska’s Byron Glacier. The Ascending Path guide service leads instructional trips to the Byron, less than an hour south of Anchorage, via a beautiful two-mile-long approach in a narrow valley framed by snowfields. “The walls change every year,” says AP owner Matt Szundy. “We never know what they’ll look like.” In peak season (mid-June), figure on 50-foot climbs up 80-degree faces (one day, $220; theascendingpath.com).