50 Great Adventure Ideas, State-by-State
Great adventures are all around us—and summer is the ideal time to seek them. To give you some ideas and inspiration, every weekday we will be sharing a different U.S. summer weekend adventure, state-by-state. —Chris Kassar
Maine: Hike and Canoe Baxter State Park
Photograph by Bridget Besaw, Alamy
Walk one of the park’s newest, toughest trails, then enjoy an easy lake paddle.
What Is It? Looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the crowds in one of Maine’s most heavily visited state parks? Try the Traveler Mountain Loop. It’s a lung-busting, 10.6-mile circuit that includes three separate mountain summits and climbs over 3,700 feet in total. You’ll spend two-thirds of your time above tree line, which means striking views but also rapidly changing weather, so be prepared.
Why Do It? Baxter State Park is an exquisite treasure in a state known for its beauty. The Traveler Mountain loop hike—which tops out on Peak of the Ridges, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler Mountain—rivals the popular Katahdin climb in vistas and difficulty. But it’s on the north side of the park, so you’ll likely experience solitude. Reward your intense effort with an easy paddle on a serene lake the next day, and keep an eye out for moose.
Make It Happen: Visit Baxter State Park’s site for maps, conditions, and information. Camp in the park or stay at the Mt. Chase Lodge, located just 15 miles from the park’s northern entrance. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at every lakeside campground in the park.
Louisiana: Take the Trail to Nowhere
Photograph by Justin Meissen, flickr
Hike the Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail.
What Is It? Central Louisiana’s Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail, located in the southwest of Alexandria, travels the length of a marathon (26.2 miles). You could hike the whole thing in a day or spend three days backpacking through this rich, biodiverse region. Even though the Bayou State is known for being flat, the Wild Azalea has a plethora of ups and downs as it travels through pine-covered hills, wetlands, bogs, lush bottomlands, and dense hardwood forests. If 26 miles is too much, you could choose to hike a shorter portion—say from the town of Woodworth to the Valentine Lake Recreation Area—which would allow you more time to stop and smell the azaleas.
Why Do It? As you travel this route through Louisiana’s only national forest, you’ll deeply feel the remote character of this uninhabited spot. Enjoy it as it traverses hardwood forests, creeks, piney uplands, and lands in the Castor Creek Scenic Area, where massive pines form a dramatic canopy. The region teems with wildlife so watch for eagles, flocks of turkeys, and beavers.
Make It Happen: For more information visit the Kisatchie National Forest website. For detailed information on the hike and the plants and animals you may see along the way, pick up the Explorer's Guide to 50 Hikes in Louisiana: Walks, Hikes and Backpacks in the Bayou State by Janina Baxley and the Long Trails of the Southeast by Johnny Molloy.
Kentucky: Visit Mammoth Cave National Park
Photograph by Clint Farlinger, Alamy
Slither, crawl, and climb on the Wild Cave Tour.
What Is It? With more than 400 miles of explored area, Mammoth Cave National Park boasts one of the world’s longest cave systems. The Park Service offers an array of tours varying in length and focus so you can pick the best ones for your needs. We highly recommend the refreshingly different Wild Cave Tour, a six-hour exploration of one of the world’s longest caves that makes you feel like a true pioneer.
Why Do It? No mood lighting or cornball guides. The Wild Cave Tour provides an action-packed escape from Kentucky’s summer heat. Of the tours, this one is the most authentic, complete with free climbing, crawling, squeezing, and slithering through openings as slight as nine inches high. You’ll really feel like an early voyager as you wander through tunnels and grottos that no other group visits.
Make It Happen: Visit Mammoth Cave National Park’s website.
Iowa: Discover Coon Creek Wildlife Area
Photograph by Brian Button
Find solitude with a backpacking trip in a hidden Iowa wilderness.
What Is It? The nearly thousand-acre Coon Creek Wildlife Management Area offers hikers, backpackers, and nature lovers a largely untouched, rarely visited spot to explore. Spend a day or the weekend bushwhacking off-trail or wandering the dirt paths and roads that snake through this expanse. Spend the night; chances are you’ll have the place to yourself.
Why Do It? This is a haven for hikers and a birder’s paradise. Coon Creek winds through thickly forested, rolling countryside that is so varied you’ll find yourself rambling through a lush riparian corridor, old oak forests, aspen stands, and open meadows all in one day. Flowers thrive in summer, as do opportunities to see bobcats, opossums, and hawks. Make sure to stop and soak sore feet in the cool creek.
Indiana: Discover Turkey Run on Foot
Photograph by Clint Farlinger, Alamy
Hike the Crown Jewel of Indiana’s State Park System
What Is It? This series of 11-day hikes allows you to delve into the deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, and serene hemlock groves of stunning Turkey Run State Park. The trails are short, but don’t be fooled—most are rugged and challenging. Definitely don’t miss Trail 3, a 1.7-mile route that skirts hundred-foot cliffs and canyons as it snakes between the steep walls of both Rocky and Bear Hollows. Not for the faint of heart, this trail negotiates three vertical drops via 15-foot ladders; one section requires climbing up a waterfall while another part leads behind a cataract.
Why Do It? Hiking through Turkey Run is a trip back in time as you wander old-growth forests and discover canyons shaped by ancient forces. Plus, scenic Sugar Creek, good for fishing, wading, and canoeing runs, through the heart of it all. You can camp in the park or go the luxury route and stay at the Turkey Run Inn.
Make It Happen: Visit the park’s official site for fees, conditions, upcoming events, and maps.
Illinois: Explore Giant City State Park
Photograph by Jason Lindsey, Alamy
Climb and hike in one of Illinois’ most pristine places.
What Is It? Combining climbing and hiking is the preeminent way to explore this hilly, 4,055-acre oasis hidden amid the largely flat Corn Belt. Rock climbers can score great sandstone, top-roped routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13 at Shelter 1 Bluff and the Devil's Standtable Area. Boulders of varying difficulty also abound, providing an option for those preferring to leave ropes at home. The park’s Red Cedar Trail, a 12-mile path that leads past more remote rock formations, provides a rare wilderness escape for Midwestern backpackers.
Why Do It? Dappled with oak and hickory forests and peppered with sandstone bluffs up to a hundred feet high, Giant City offers a playground for rock climbers and hikers alike. It’s rarely crowded, making it an ideal secluded escape from the city.
Make It Happen: Check out Giant City State Park’s website for information on camping and permits for hiking the Red Cedar Trail. If you’re heading to the crag, pick up Eric Ulner’s Vertical Heartland: A Rock Climber’s Guide to Southern Illinois.
Idaho: Experience the Wild Side of the Sawtooths
Photograph by Justin Bailie, Aurora
Climb, float, and soak among the serrated peaks of south-central Idaho.
What Is It? A varied weekend full of high-adrenaline adventure starts with a quick boat ride across Redfish Lake. This shuttle ushers you to some of the best hiking and climbing in the state. After a short trek up the glacially sculpted Redfish Canyon, you’ll spend the day rock climbing on the Super Slabs with the stellar leaders at Sawtooth Mountain Guides. Stay the night at the charming Redfish Lodge and pass the
Why Do It? This is the perfect way to get a taste of all the majestic Sawtooth Mountain Range has to offer. Top-rope climbing instruction from Sawtooth Mountain Guides means climbers of all skill levels will be safe while pushing limits on the Super Slabs, a spot across the lake where 5.4 to 5.10 routes run as high as four pitches. And since the Sawtooth Adventure Company offers a range of rafting options, you get to choose. Do you want to spend a mellow river day learning about wildlife and history while floating Class III white water, or would you prefer an adrenaline pumping day spent paddling big, fast, and fun Class IV water? It’s up to you. Add mountain biking, hiking, and fly-fishing if you have more time. Either way, cap it all off with a soak in one of the many natural hot springs near Stanley.
Make It Happen: Sawtooth Mountain Guides and Sawtooth Adventure Company have partnered to bring you a variety of multisport options. Redfish Lake Lodge offers rooms and cabins with awe-inspiring mountain views. Learn more about local hot springs.
Hawaii: Catch Waves in Oahu
Photograph by Sean Davey, Aurora
Learn to surf from the pros in a tropical paradise.
What Is It? Never surfed before? Have a lot of experience? Either way, lessons or a full-immersion surf camp on Oahu’s legendary North Shore will improve your skills in no time. Beginners: You’ll gain confidence and all the information you need to catch your first wave. Those of you with more experience will acquire the knowledge needed to take your surfing to the next level.
Why Do It? School was never so sweet. Spend days learning to ride waves from the experts while staying in a serene, quiet family home near the surfing mecca of Haleiwa. In addition to daily lessons on renowned beaches around the island, you’ll be pampered with yoga classes designed to improve your surfing prowess. During your time in this tropical paradise, you’ll also have the opportunity to partake in mind-blowing sightseeing tours, horseback riding, hiking, and whale-watching.
Make It Happen: Contact Edison de Paula, owner and head instructor with over 20 years of surfing experience at Surf Hawaii Surf School.
Georgia: Hang Glide on Lookout Mountain
Photograph courtesy Lookout Mountain Flight Park
Enroll in hang gliding flight school in the gorgeous hills of northwest Georgia.
What Is It? Learn the nuts and bolts of hang gliding from lovely Lookout Mountain. In just two days, you’ll acquire all the skills necessary to successfully complete the requirements for the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association Hang 1 (beginner) foot-launch rating.
Why Do It? In just a weekend, first-rate instructors help you master necessary skills as you launch, fly, and land 20 solo flights from the 65-foot training hill on site at this phenomenal locale. But it’s not all work. At the end of each day, an ultralight pulls you up to 1,800 feet, where you fly high above the lush, verdant Lookout Mountain.
Make It Happen: Touch base with Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding for more info about their weekend flight school.
Florida: Bike Big Shoals Country
Photograph by John Moran, Getty Images
Tour the diverse terrain along the Suwannee River on bicycle.
What Is It? This ride combs through the hidden gem of Big Shoals Conservation Area and can be 5 to 25 miles, depending on your energy level. We definitely recommend cycling at least the ten-mile loop along the Suwannee River that starts from the Little Shoals entrance to Big Shoals State Park and proceeds on the Woodpecker, Mossy Ravine, and Palmetto Trails.
Why Do It? This ride has a smattering of everything. You’ll travel through stands of huge hickories and oaks, cruise across pine flats, ride next to rushing rivers, and wind around wetlands. You’ll enjoy single-track, double-track, pavement, an old wagon road, and even some uphill climbing—a rarity in largely flat Florida. But the big reward comes when you reach the biggest attraction—the Big Shoals—where the river flows over a series of giant limestone ledges, creating a section of loud, powerful, rushing white water.
Make It Happen: For detailed trail info check in with the Suwannee Bicycle Association and Big Shoals State Park.
Delaware: Fly High
Photograph courtesy Will Vickers, Dewey Beach Parasailing
Get a bird’s-eye view as you parasail hundreds of feet over the ocean.
What Is It? A thrilling experience where up to three people attached to a parachute fastened to a motorboat soar high in the air while the boat cruises along the ocean below.
Why Do It? This bucket list item is the most scenic, tranquil way to experience the Delaware coast. Plus, the adrenaline rush you get from soaring with the seagulls—and from getting dipped in the water (optional)—will spice up any beach vacation.
Make It Happen: Contact Dewey Beach Parasail—they’ve got two locations, a perfect safety record, and professional staff who’ll get you flying high.
Connecticut: Trout Unlimited
Photograph by Stan Tess, Alamy
Fish the Housatonic River, considered one of the best trout streams in the East.
What Is It? Test your fishing skills along northwest Connecticut’s beloved and beautifully forested Housatonic River. Because managers have created a 10.4-mile Trout Management Area that begins in West Cornwall and have designated another stretch as “fly-fishing only,” this spot provides some of the best fishing in the East.
Why Do It? This is an angler’s paradise. Flawless pockets, short riffles, and slow, deep pools harbor large rainbows and browns. Because a hefty number of these wily critters measure 14 to 18 inches (some even break the plus-18-inch barrier), the stories you end up telling after this trip may actually be true. And not only are they big, they’re also plentiful—and they like to bite, so most anglers find success.
Colorado: Hike High
Photograph by J.C. Leacock, Aurora
Hike from Crested Butte to Aspen.
What Is It? Hike a butt-busting 11 miles from the tiny mountain hamlet of Crested Butte, over West Maroon Pass to the extravagant ski town of Aspen. From the Butte, you’ll climb 2,200 feet through patches of aspen and spruce that dapple a narrow, grassy valley. Even in summer, you’ll likely encounter persistent snowfields near the pass. Immense views of the vast mountains, including the iconic Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak, reward those who persevere to reach 12,500 feet. From here, the trail begins its rocky, 3,000-foot descent through a soulful, glacial-carved valley surrounded by towering peaks.
Why Do It? Breathtaking panoramas, fields of head-high wildflowers, critters galore, and a great workout—all capped off with a delicious meal and cozy bed. Bonus: In your downtime, you can tour two of Colorado’s coolest mountain towns. Ride the famed single-track of Crested Butte, hike up Pearl Pass, and photograph the iconic and renowned Maroon Bells outside of Aspen.
Make It Happen: Do it yourself with a good map and a shuttle. Or go guided with Crested Butte Mountain Guides. Reward yourself with a luxurious stay before and after your big hike at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, a property with lavish suites and five-star service located just minutes from hiking and biking in the heart of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
California: Rock Climb Lassen Volcanic National Park
Photograph by Craig Lovell, Alamy
Scale exquisite, vertical rock in a wilderness setting.
What Is It? Lassen Volcanic National Park features a giant volcanic dome, hot springs, and a variety of secluded, high-country cliffs and outcrops that provide excellent climbing for all levels. Spend the weekend scaling cracks, arêtes, and crags that rival those of Yosemite. You’ll find that the high-altitude climbs of Lassen challenge not only your climbing ability but also your lungs. Don’t miss the classic Belly Button, the biggest crag in the park.
Why Do It? Rock climbers in northern California will be hard pressed to find a better climbing zone than Lassen Volcanic National Park near Redding. High-country climbing—some crags top out near 10,000 feet—means sweeping vistas, seclusion, and cool summer days. Lassen boasts enough sport routes, cracks, and walls to keep you busy for weeks. Once you’ve had enough rock, possibilities proliferate. The Lassen Peak Trail provides a rewarding option for climbers looking to do some scenic hiking, while active hydrothermals like Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell are worth a visit.
Make It Happen: Learn more about Lassen Volcanic National Park. Free camping is available in the adjacent Lassen National Forest. Go guided with SWS Mountain Guides or DIY with Falcon Guide’s Rock Climbing Northwest California (Regional Rock Climbing Series) by Steven Mackay.
Arkansas: Discover the Ouachita Mountains
Photograph by Carmen Troesser, Aurora
Explore the Ouachita Mountains on foot, by mountain bike, or with fishing rod in hand.
What Is It? Located in west-central Arkansas, the Ouachitas offer a weekend full of options and a setting for being as active or as relaxed as you wish. The Ouachita Trail boasts 222 miles of sweet single-track, perfect for riding or hiking. Or head to Mena for a spin around the challenging Earthquake Ridge Trails. Hike the Scenic Cossatot Trail through the Cossatot Wilderness Area and then spend the afternoon fishing in the Cossatot, designated a national wild and scenic river. Cap the adventure off with a cooling swim in the river or a quiet afternoon reading on the shores of a nearby lake.
Why Do It? What better way to experience the untamed side of Arkansas? You’ll experience amazing vistas, rough mountains, unmatched fishing, picturesque waterways, and top-notch riding. Camping here is fantastic, but if you’d prefer a more luxurious experience, you can stay in one of the local resorts, like the Sugar Creek Lodge, which is nestled right on the Cossatot River.
Arizona: Hike Mount Humphreys
Photograph by Tom Bean, Alamy
Enjoy unfettered views from 12,633 feet after hiking to the top of the tallest peak in Arizona.
What Is It? A moderately strenuous nine-mile round-trip hike to the apex of Arizona, a peak deemed sacred by many Southwestern tribes. The Mount Humphreys Trail, located just 14.5 miles outside of Flagstaff, climbs over 3,300 feet and provides the perfect contrast to the nearby Grand Canyon. The route begins at 9,300 feet in a flat, open, wildflower-filled meadow, but quickly ducks into the dense, switchback-filled forest. After three miles and 2,500 feet of gain, you’ll reach a saddle where the trail gets steeper, rockier, and more difficult to follow. Pay attention and you’ll do fine, but don’t be fooled by multiple false summits along the way. The true summit sits at the end of a treeless ridge full of boulders that will test your balance and endurance.
Why Do It? To discover firsthand that Arizona isn’t all flat desert covered in cacti. Scaling Mount Humphreys reveals a different side of the Grand Canyon State–one full of trees, mountains, creeks, and even snow. And, since it’s the biggest thing for hundreds of miles, the scenes from the top are beyond compare. On a clear day you can see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, and the White Mountains.
Alaska: Hike Lost Lake
Photograph by Doug Demarest, Corbis
Find your bliss in the Land of the Midnight Sun by backpacking one of the most scenic trails on the Kenai Peninsula.
What Is It? This 15-mile moderately challenging point-to-point route begins at mile post 5 on the Seward Highway and climbs 2,000 feet. After the first 7.5 miles, you’ll link up with the Primrose Trail on the east side of Lost Lake. Primrose Trail traverses a remarkable alpine ridge full of lakes and vistas. After a couple miles, it descends back into the forest and ends at the Primrose Campground. Though this can be done in a day, we recommend camping at Lost Lake to give yourself more time to take in the forbidding ridges and powerful glaciers nearby.
Why Do It? Over two days, you’ll climb through dense spruce forest, wander through meadows bursting with wildflowers, linger in Dr. Seuss-like hemlock groves, top out on tundra-covered ridges, swim in chilly alpine lakes (if you’re hardy enough), and be enchanted by tremendous views of Lost Lake and towering peaks. Plus, you’ll find yourself enamored with the deep stone chasm harboring the rushing creek. In addition to spectacular scenery, this spot provides opportunities for world-class fishing and unrivaled wildlife viewing—marmots and bears abound.
Make It Happen: Grab the Hiking Alaska, 2nd edition by Dean Littlepage for information about this and the other best trails in Alaska. Also check the Chugach National Forest page for information and updates about trail conditions.
Alabama: Ride the Chief Ladiga Trail
Photograph by Mimi Mia Photography, flickr
Pedal a paved trail through northeast Alabama’s quiet countryside and quaint towns without fighting traffic or dodging cars.
What Is It? The 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail follows a former railroad corridor that meanders through beautiful wetlands, streams, farms, and forest. Once you cross the Georgia state line, the Chief Ladiga Trail turns into the 62-mile Silver Comet Trail. These two flat, smooth, family-friendly trails combine for a total of 95 miles of blissful riding along the longest paved path in the nation. Because of various access points, you can create your own adventure. Pedal, hike, or skate a few different sections over the course of a weekend, stop to fish, or ride the entire 95 miles point to point while staying at bed-and-breakfasts along the way.
Why Do It? The Chief Ladiga Trail is Alabama’s crown jewel and the perfect way to delve into the varied, wild side of the Heart of Dixie. Along the way, you’ll wander along Terrapin Creek and enjoy views of the southern Appalachians as wide-open fields give way to thick pine forests and travel through the magnificent Talladega National Forest.