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
Wyoming: Wander in Sweetwater Canyon
Photograph by Lowell Georgia, National Geographic
Stroll along the Sweetwater River with the help of a pack animal.
What Is It? Not far from Lander, vast, rolling plains give way to the high desert refuge of Sweetwater Canyon. Here, the Sweetwater River has carved through blocky granite walls to form rugged 500-foot walls and cliffs dappled with fissures and cracks. On your way into the canyon, take note of the southern Wind River Range looming to the east.
Why Do It? As you stroll along the Sweetwater, you’ll find yourself slowing down and relaxing to match the rhythm of the river. The canyon is magnificent and the river, which slowly snakes through the landscape, has excellent rainbow and brown trout fishing. Take time to cast into the bountiful pools and riffles scattered throughout the crystal-clear water and to meander up the many draws—lined with stands of aspen, willow, and birch—leading into and out of the canyon. Antelope, desert elk, sage grouse, hawks, falcons, and prairie dogs are among the wildlife that call this canyon home, so keep your camera handy.
Make It Happen: Though you can walk this spectacular canyon on your own by grabbing a couple of maps and a copy of Hiking Wyoming by Bill Hunger, why not go guided with llamas and explore unencumbered by a heavy pack? Lander Llama Company offers a range of llama pack trips into the wilderness.
Wisconsin: Try an Apostle Island Adventure
Photograph by Raymond Gehman, National Geographic
Hike, paddle, sail, and fish to your heart’s content in this different kind of island paradise.
What Is It? Immerse yourself in discovery with a journey to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a coastal park consisting of 21 islands and a 12-mile mainland unit. Located at the northeastern tip of the Bayfield Peninsula, the northernmost mainland point in Wisconsin, the cultural and natural resources in this park were set aside for preservation and public enjoyment. As a result, adventuring of all sorts and opportunities for communing with nature abound on the Apostle Islands.
Why Do It? Its pristine beaches, natural splendor, protected bays, public docks, and unique history have earned the Apostle Islands a reputation. In summer, outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world flock to experience the premiere paddling offered by this island wilderness floating on Lake Superior. Paddle endless miles of shoreline or head into the wild deep blue for a more remote feel. Visit lighthouses and sunken shipwrecks, hike through old-growth forest, comb remote sand spits for treasure, relax around a campfire with friends, and doze off under a sky full of shining stars.
Make It Happen: Contact the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to learn more about the park and current conditions. You can kayak or sail to the islands on your own, take a sightseeing tour, or hire an outfitter to plan your adventure. Throughout the summer Living Adventure, Inc offers exciting and informative wilderness kayaking trips that range in length from one to six nights.
West Virginia: Backpacking the Dolly Sods Wilderness
Photograph by Harrison Shull, Aurora
Lace up your hiking boots and explore a treasure of the Monongahela National Forest.
What Is It? On this moderate 15- to 17-mile loop through the 17,371-acre Dolly Sods Wilderness, you’ll meander along Red Creek, its tributaries, the depths of the canyon, and the rim. The landscape isn’t extremely challenging, but a lack of trail markings and the presence of muddy trails and high-river crossings—depending on recent weather—can add to the adventure and adrenaline factor. We highly recommend taking the time for a short side trip to Lions Head, a rocky outcropping with astounding views of the surrounding valley and mountains.
Why Do It? When John Denver referred to West Virginia as “almost heaven,” he must have been talking about the Dolly Sods Wilderness. The trail weaves in and out of plains, pine forests, and glades bursting with blueberries, periodically passing waterfalls perfect for swimming. Mountain and meadow views along Red Creek are spectacular. Opportunities abound for snacking on wild huckleberries, cranberries, and blueberries. Climbing on and around Lion’s Head is exciting, and there are plenty of backcountry campsites nearby, including Big Stonecoal Beach (not to be missed).
Make It Happen: Contact the Monongahela National Forest for information on current conditions. Check out the following resources: Day and Overnight Hikes: West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest by Johnny Molloy; Hiking West Virginia (State Hiking Guides Series) by Mary Reed; and the Potomac Applachian Trail Club.
Washington: Become Enchanted
Photograph by TMI/Alamy
Enjoy a wild ride on a stunning backpacking trip through the Enchantments.
What Is It? Nestled in the mountains above the tiny Bavarian village of Leavenworth is a sublime 18-mile thru-hike that ranks as one of the country’s top hikes. Starting from the Stuart Lake trailhead, follow the Colchuk route through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. You’ll gain 4,400 feet over the first six miles to climb up and over Aasgard Pass, where you reach the top of a giant basin surrounded by towering peaks. Here, the walking levels out so you can enjoy the series of brilliant, gem-like, high-alpine lakes. After walking through the basin, you’ll begin descending. Take special care when you come to the steep, exposed granite slab lined with rebar. Continue descending for eight-plus miles, passing more lakes and fantastic campsites, crossing an old dam, and traversing a series of steep, seemingly endless switchbacks.
Why Do It? After just a few moments in the Enchantments, it becomes clear that the area has been aptly named. Unlike many hikes in the Cascades, you won’t need to bushwhack or wade through soggy forest trails to explore this miraculous, glacially carved wilderness. Instead, you’ll follow the difficult but well-maintained granite trail from one shimmering emerald lake to the next—all the while working to keep your jaw from dropping to the ground. Waterfalls, mountain goats that don’t keep their distance, stands of larch trees, and soft meadows of tundra rest against the jagged backdrop of the Stuart Range, adding to the majesty and mystery of this ethereal spot. Along the way, there are plenty of campsites to settle into, side trails to take, and peaks to summit, so consider adding a few more days to your permit to really enjoy the majesty of this spot.
Make It Happen: Permits are required for overnight camping anywhere in the area. For high-season permits (June 15 to Oct 15), the Leavenworth Ranger Station has a lottery starting in spring. If you miss this, make a reservation online or take your chances and show up as early as possible for a “walk-in” permit on the day you hope to leave. This area is popular and permits are a hot and sometimes difficult commodity to acquire, so if you just show up, you might need to retool your itinerary or come back the next day, depending on what’s available. Pick up the definitive guide from Mountaineers Books, 100 Hikes in Washington's Alpine Lakes by Ira Spring, Vicky Spring, and Harvey Manning, and Green Trails Maps 209S & 209.
Virginia: Hike the Priest
Photograph by Christine Letsky-Anderson
Get your prayers answered and climb the Priest.
What Is It? The Priest, a rocky peak located in the 6,000-acre Priest Wilderness southwest of Charlottesville, towers 4,063 feet high. This mountain, which is relatively tall by eastern standards, dominates the skyline and makes an excellent, challenging day hike or overnight backpacking trip. From the south Crabtree Falls trailhead, you’ll follow a well-maintained, four-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail to gain the summit. Over 40 switchbacks and a few stream crossings make this 3,100-foot climb both interesting and enjoyable.
Why Do It? The terrain on this hike is sublime, especially in summer, when ferns blanket the forest floor and rhododendron, mountain laurels, and azaleas line the route higher up. The elevation you gain during the entire hike is relatively gradual, and spectacular views make walking along the ridge especially pleasant. Rocky outcroppings along the way offer vistas of the vast Tye River Valley below and the rest of the aptly name Cardinal Range, which includes Spy Rock, the Little Priest, the Friar, the Little Friar, and the Cardinal. For a longer trip, add the walk to Crabtree Falls, one of the highest falls east of the Mississippi.
Make It Happen: The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club sells great resources, including the Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District by Michael T. Shoemaker and maps of the area.
Vermont: Discover Lake Champlain
Photograph by Caleb Kenna, Aurora
Get to know a truly “great lake” while paddling its tranquil waters.
What Is It? Hop on a paddleboard, kayak, or sailboat and set off to explore all that Champlain’s 435 square miles of surface area and 587 miles of shoreline have to offer. This picturesque lake provides whatever level of adventure you seek. Stay close and explore Burlington Bay or float parallel to the Burlington Bike Path as you head toward downtown. Paddle farther out to more secluded Shelburne Point and Red Rocks Park, where sweet rock formations hang over the water and brave adventurers take the 40-foot plunge from cliff to lake.
Why Do It? What better way to truly experience this exceptional spot than peacefully gliding along its wild waters? Setting off from shore, it feels as if you’re headed straight for the capacious mountain wilderness. Cruise by lush shoreline, comb secluded beaches, and enjoy towering rock formations and views of the majestic Green and Adirondack Mountains that dominate the skyline. Make camp as a fiery sunset illuminates the peaks in bright orange and red. Doze off under a night sky that pops with countless stars.
Make It Happen: PaddleSurf Champlain offers SUP lessons, tours, and rentals. If you’d rather canoe, Canoe Imports offers rentals, instructional classes, and tours. The International Sailing School in Colchester will get you cruising.
Utah: High-Country Happiness
Photograph by William Church, Getty Images
Find solitude on a backpacking trip through the Uinta Mountains.
What Is It? The Uinta Mountains boast remote and intact high-alpine terrain. Wander through this pristine country on a 21-mile round-trip backpacking adventure along the moderately challenging West Fork Blacks Fork route. Camp for a night or two at Dead Horse Lake, where you can soak in the splendid scenery and solitude while fishing to your heart’s—and stomach’s—content.
Why Do It? With more than two million acres of untouched, high-country wilderness, peaks over 13,000 feet, wildflower-filled meadows, and countless lakes, this trip rewards every bit of effort. For the majority of the hike, the walking is pleasant, with sweeping views in every direction. You’ll climb more steeply for the last 1.5 miles to reach the edge of the tree line, but you’ll forget all the huffing and puffing when you reach Dead Horse Lake, a breathtaking turquoise basin filled with fish that’s nestled at the base of towering peaks.
Make It Happen: Pick up Hiking Utah's High Uintas: 99 Day and Overnight Hikes by Jeffrey and Brad Probst. Contact the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Texas: Explore McKinney Falls State Park
Photograph by mlhradio, flickr
Embark on a multisport adventure in a peaceful refuge only 20 minutes from Austin.
What Is It? Escape the hustle and bustle of Texas’s capital city with a jaunt to McKinney Falls State Park, a 725-acre reserve set aside for recreation and relaxation. This lush park—known for attractions such as giant waterfalls cascading into peaceful pools and Old Baldy, a 500-year-old bald cypress tree—offers camping, mountain biking, road cycling, hiking, and fishing.
Why Do It? McKinney Falls State Park has something for every type of outdoor enthusiast. Looking to meander through the woods on foot or mountain bike? Head to one of the trails in the park or link a few together for a longer, tougher adventure. Visit pioneer ruins, an Indian rock shelter, exquisite waterfalls, and an ideal spot to test your bouldering skills. Critters are plentiful, so keep an eye out for deer, raccoons, armadillos, and countless birds, including the vibrantly painted bunting. No matter what activity you choose, once you’ve worked up a sweat, be sure to take a dive into refreshing Onion Creek.
Tennessee: Backpack the Fiery Gizzard Trail
Photograph by Byron Jorjorian, Alamy
Hike a rough route through a natural area just an hour from Chattanooga.
What Is It? Less than 50 miles from one of Tennessee’s coolest cities, the Fiery Gizzard Trail—a point-to-point, 12.5-mile track—leads intrepid hikers to some of the choicest and wildest natural features in the state, including towering cascades, fertile woodlands, and an intimidating (but awesome) rocky gorge. For the first four miles, from Grundy Forest to Raven Point, this route is rugged, rocky, and difficult. After this point, the trail mellows and follows a gentle grade, with the exception of a drop into and climb out of Laurel Branch Gorge. Though you can do it in a day, spend the night and take your time investigating the area’s intricacies.
Why Do It? Due to its diversity, beauty, and notable natural features, the Fiery Gizzard ranks as one of the premiere trails in the country. Early on, the trail passes Blue Hole Falls and then climbs to the top of a 12-foot cascade called Sycamore Falls, which offers a superb setting and another great swimming opportunity. You’ll pass spectacular rock formations, panoramic overlooks, and idyllic streams while facing exhilarating obstacles, including a challenging jaunt through a giant boulder field called the Fruit Bowl, a precipitous 200-foot descent into Little Gizzard Creek, an intimidating traverse of a rocky gorge, and an exciting stream crossing.
Make It Happen: Visit the South Cumberland State Park website. Pick up the Falcon Guide’s Hiking Tennessee by Kelley Roark, or check out this online map and brochure from Friends of South Cumberland Recreation Area.
South Dakota: Beyond the Badlands
Photograph by Phil Schermeister, National Geographic
Climb and hike in Spearfish Canyon.
What Is It? With over 600 routes, the creek-carved gorge of Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills could keep you busy for a lifetime of climbing. Spearfish Canyon’s narrow, thousand-foot limestone walls create a stunning playground for rockhoppers of all levels and affinities. With seven main areas, countless smaller crags, and climbs ranging in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.13c, there’s enough space and variety for everyone.
Why Do It? Staggering amounts of rock. Spectacular scenery. Short approaches. World-class limestone. These are among the top reasons to visit this ancient chasm. Add the fact that Spearfish boasts almost every style of climbing—crimpy, pocketed technical routes, overhanging cliffs, steep walls—and it’s impossible to find a reason not to venture here. Spearfish also offers countless hiking opportunities (don’t miss 11th Hour Gulch) and is within striking distance of other popular climbing destinations, including the Emancipation Rock Formation behind Mount Rushmore and the well-loved Needles in Custer State Park.
Make It Happen: To do it yourself, order South Dakota’s Spearfish Canyon, The VC, and other Black Hills Limestone by Mikel Cronin. Arrange a guided excursion through Sylvan Rocks by calling +1 (605) 484-7585. Get info and gear at Base Camp Adventure Sports, located in Spearfish.
South Carolina: Paddle Folly Creek
Photograph courtesy Charleston Outdoor Adventures
Paddle an untamed estuary in the company of dolphins.
What Is It? Paddle Folly Creek as it snakes its way through the inlets, creeks, and marshes of the South Carolina coast. Enjoy a mellow journey (fit for experienced or novice paddlers) through the wildlife-rich maze of the Folly Creek estuary as you wind your way through the Barrier Islands, Morris Island, historic Long Island, and Folly Beach.
Why Do It? Folly’s inlets, creeks, and marshes provide a rare opportunity to see wildlife up close and personal. Majestic Atlantic bottlenose dolphins frequently play and feed in the area; it’s not unusual to have pods of these magical critters cruise right by as you paddle! As you revel in the relaxing experience of paddling through this pristine biodiversity hot spot, also keep an eye out for loggerhead sea turtles, American wood storks, and local waterfowl.
Make It Happen: Explore the area via SUP or kayak with Charleston Outdoor Adventures, a local outfitter that provides ecotours and rentals.
Rhode Island: Cragging on the Coast
Photograph by Kris Kearney
Push your limits with a weekend climbing Snake Den State Park’s granite cliffs.
What Is It? Among the rocky outcrops scattered throughout the forest in Snake Den State Park, you’ll find some of the toughest rock routes in the state, including the Fang, Toastmaster (5.11+), and Rattlesnake (5.12+). While the park’s overhanging cliffs provide the perfect setting for a myriad of tough top ropes, less experienced rockhoppers can find respite in easier climbs like Crag 4, a low-angle wall with routes from 5.4 to 5.8.
Why Do It? Snake Den State Park is one of Rhode Island’s best kept secrets. Seven cliffs ranging from 15 to 35 feet high make up the bulk of climbing in the park. But what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Roof routes, overhanging walls, giant slabs with easy lines, solid granite, and bouldering that will push your skills to the limit make it worth the trip. Plus, after crushing it on the rock, you can go beachcombing, take a dip in the ocean, and sleep under the stars at a nearby campground.
Make It Happen: Learn more about Rhode Island’s secret treasure—Snake Den State Park. Pick up a copy of Rock Climbs of Snake Den State Park, Johnston, Rhode Island (1991) by Ed Sewall or Falcon Guide’s Rock Climbing New England by Stewart M. Green.
Pennsylvania: Multisport Adventure in the Keystone State
Photograph by Tony DeFilippo Photography
Pedal and paddle the fabulous Middle Yough Waterway.
What Is It? Pedal nine gradual, scenic miles along the Great Allegheny Passage until you reach the launch point, then ditch your bike and trade it for a raft, duck, or canoe—your choice. Here, you’ll begin a float of the Middle Yough—a Class 1 to 2 river with some small waves and numerous swimming opportunities.
Why Do It? This is a relaxing, unguided adventure that allows you to explore Ohiopyle State Park and the beauty of the Middle Yough on your own timeframe. Begin with a scenic bike ride along the river. Enjoy views of the Yough, waterfalls, lush streams, and vibrant rhododendrons bursting throughout the forest. Once in your raft, plan for a relaxing day on the water, dipping in for an occasional swim and taking in the sights.
Oregon: Surf’s Up
Photograph by Buddy Mays, Alamy
Ride the northern breaks off the Oregon coast.
What Is It? Grab your board and head to Oswald West State Park to ride the clean but cold lines of northern Oregon’s coast. A short hike across a small suspension bridge and through lush rain forest brings you to the relatively isolated Short Sands Beach, where you can windsurf, surf, boogie board, or swim in the deep blue. With water temps in the 40s, be sure to bring a wetsuit.
Why Do It? This isn’t your typical tropical surf spot. No tiki bars, no warm water, no worries. This surfing hot spot nestled in the scenic Smugglers Cove and sandwiched between Cape Falcon to the north and Neahkahnie Mountain to the south offers sweet swells, multiple breaks, resplendent views of the surrounding peaks, and solitude. Walk to the north end of the cove and visit Blumenthal Falls, a cascade plunging directly into the ocean.
Make It Happen: In addition to surfing, Oswald West State Park offers miles of hiking trails. For current surfing conditions, visit Swell Info. Cleanline Surf in Cannon Beach will supply the surfboard, wax, wetsuit, and advice.
Oklahoma: Fish the Mountain Fork River
Photograph by Keith Kapple, Alamy
Spend a peaceful weekend discovering trout fishing’s best kept secret.
What Is It? Hang up the Gone Fishin’ sign and head to southeast Oklahoma, where Broken Bow Lake, with 180 miles of undeveloped shoreline, drains into the Mountain Fork River, a favorite with local paddlers for its riffles and exceptional year-round trout fishing.
Why Do It? Though the altitude only reaches to the very low four figures, the flawless streams and lakes, the surrounding peaks, and the giant pine trees will make you feel like you’re nestled deep in the Rockies. Below the dam, 12 miles of frigid river bursting with big brown trout (some nine to ten pounds) and broad-shouldered rainbows will electrify even the most experienced angler. The area, including the Ouachita National Forest and the Beavers Bend Resort Park, boasts a number of other activities sure to entertain the outdoor enthusiast. Hiking and mountain-biking trails cruise along ridge tops, through dense forest, and into wild and remote zones, while opportunities abound to explore streams and lakes via canoe, kayak, or raft.
Make It Happen: Get insider tips, buy supplies, or hire a local guide at the Three Rivers Fly Shop in Broken Bow. Read an updated fishing report on Orvis’s website and rent a peaceful cabin on the river from Beavers Bend Resort Park.
Ohio: Backpack the Buckeye State’s Big Sky Territory
Photograph by Triple Tri, flickr
Camp out under the stars during a backpack in Burr Oak State Park.
What Is It? The 18-mile trail that loops around the tranquil oak- and hickory-lined Burr Oak Lake drops into hollows, climbs onto hilltops, and occasionally intersects with the lake itself at primitive waterside campsites. Make a weekend of it by hiking counterclockwise and camping by the lake at the Main Camp one night and at the Scout Camp the next.
Why Do It? Ohio isn’t known for its wild lands or mountaintop stargazing, but in the deeply wooded Appalachian foothills you’ll experience a different side of the Buckeye State. This hike offers an easy backpacking loop that epitomizes the wilderness character of southeast Ohio. On this two-day trek, you’ll ramble through woodlands that support ruffed grouse, box turtles, and wild turkey—and you’ll be greeted by brilliant wildflowers along the way. Oak Burr offers particularly great stargazing. Bring a scope and set it up at the high and open Scout Camp—it’s a favorite spot for local astronomers.
Make It Happen: Visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources page for information about Oak Burr activities and accommodations. Post-trek, rest up at Burr Oak Resort overlooking the lake (doubles from $115).
North Dakota: Walk Through Time
Photograph by Stephen Saks, Getty Images
Hike around the Petrified Forest Loop in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
What Is It? When you reach far west North Dakota, the landscape suddenly changes, the wide open fields of the Great Plains giving way to the rugged and striking Little Missouri Badlands. Intrepid hikers will find an array of backcountry adventures in the 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park nestled among these badlands. Our favorite is the 16-mile Petrified Forest Loop, which wanders through ancient petrified forests and explores a portion of designated wilderness.
Why Do It? This stunning and harsh landscape will astound you. The Little Missouri River flows wildly. Prairie dogs pop out of holes, revealing entire towns of the critters. Colorful rocky mounds and spires dominate the landscape. Bison signs—trampled dirt, wallows, scat, and scratched posts—remind us that we are not alone. Seeing these giant beasts gives a glimpse into the past. Remnants of petrified wood litter the ground, stone stumps give an eerie feel to a time long gone, and bizarre rock formations inspire awe.
Make It Happen: Visit the park’s website. Pick up Explore! Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Guide to Exploring the Roads, Trails, River, and Canyons (Exploring Series).
North Carolina: Experience Paradise
Photograph courtesy Pura Vida Adventures
Immerse yourself in Paradise Canyon with a multisport canyoneering excursion.
What Is It? This is a daylong canyoneering escapade, complete with rappelling down a waterfall, rock climbing, bouldering, swimming, and hiking in the majestic Paradise Canyon near Brevard, North Carolina.
Why Do It? They don’t call it Paradise for nothing. You’ll travel through smooth white slots, descend steeply along a trail littered with potholes, rappel next to a 125-foot cascade, and complete a technical descent of a choked rock slab called the Throat. These challenging, exciting, and somewhat harrowing elements will be followed by a cliff jump into a refreshing pool and then a swim to Paradise Beach, where you’ll fuel up in preparation for the arduous uphill hike out of the canyon.
Make It Happen: Arrange to participate with Pura Vida Outfitters. Thanks to their competent guides, you’ll receive instruction on rappelling and other technical skills so you can complete this journey safely and competently.
New York: Adirondack Adventure
Photograph by William Mahar, Getty Images
Head out on a rock-climbing adventure that requires a canoe for the approach.
What Is It? Ever paddled to the crag before? No? Us either. But this is the only way to approach Roger’s Rock, a 700-foot slab floating on Lake George in the Adirondacks. Climbers of all capabilities can appreciate Roger’s Rock, since it offers traditional climbing routes ranging from 5.3 to 5.10. And this slab is only one of the awesome climbing spots in the range. The Adirondacks boast a variety of other climbing opportunities, including blank faces, splitter cracks, crags, cliffs, and multipitch routes on remote walls. Located just a five-hour drive north of New York City, these glorious mountains make the perfect weekend getaway.
Why Do It? Starting the day with a 30-minute paddle across Lake George is reason enough for us, but if you need more motivation, just look to the rock. This bomber, excellent-quality granite slab—with an array of single and multipitch climbs for all abilities—rises directly out of the lake so you can start climbing straight from your boat. And the deep-blue waters of the lake are ready and waiting any time you need to cool off.
Make It Happen: Hire an AMGA-certified guide through Alpine Endeavors, an organization accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association. Or, if you’re skilled enough and have the gear, go it alone with help from Adirondack Rock: A Rock Climber's Guide by Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Haas.
New Mexico: Ride Mount Taylor
Photograph by Paul Gordon, Alamy
Bust a lung as you pedal your mountain bike to the top of an extinct volcano.
What Is It? Climb and then climb some more on a 17- to 20-mile loop through the Cibola National Forest. You’ll gain 3,000 feet of elevation as you pedal dirt roads and stellar single-track—complete with some rooted ledges—to gain the summit of Mount Taylor. Enjoy (slowly!) a sweet, somewhat steep, narrow technical descent through pine forest and volcanic outcroppings. Eventually you reach a gravel road, where you can ease up on the brakes and give in to gravity for the last five miles back to the car.
Why Do It? About 50 miles west of Albuquerque, the massive, extinct volcano called Mount Taylor stands alone and dominates the skyline. The high-altitude trail along its flanks challenges riders as it winds from 8,000 feet through forests of ponderosa, spruce, and fir. Once you break through timberline, you’ll find majestic lookouts that are well worth the effort. Standing at 11,300 feet atop this sacred peak, you can see remnants of this once massive mountain strewn about for miles. Here, you’ll feel the magic of nature.
Make It Happen: Grab Mountain Biking New Mexico by Sarah Bennett Alley and Bruce Grubbs (Falcon Publishing), the definitive guide to this ride and others in the state.
New Jersey: Paddle the Pine Barrens
Photograph by Ellen McKnight, Alamy
See a different side of the Garden State with a paddle trip down the Mullica River.
What Is It? Escape the hustle and bustle of the nation’s most densely populated state with a paddle trip through the Pine Barrens (aka Pinelands), a 1.1-million-acre wilderness valued for its clean waters, rich plant and animal life, and undeveloped land. Push off below Atsion Lake and leave your worries behind as the narrow Mullica River snakes its way through the lush and secluded Jersey jungle. After a mellow and enjoyable 5.5-mile float through huge pine groves, cedars, oaks, and swampy meadows, make camp at the Mullica River Campsite, a spot open only to those on foot, boat, or horseback. Revel in the soothing song of the whip-poor-wills and the eventual silence that comes with darkness. The next morning, float another four miles down toward Batsto Village, a town built in the mid-1700s with a historic ironworks—both worth exploring.
Why Do It? The Pine Barrens make up the largest expanse of open space on the East Coast between Boston and Richmond. That’s reason alone to spend some time gliding silently through this sanctuary’s waters. Other draws include the chance to relish in gorgeous scenery made even more enchanting by densely forested banks, soothing birdsong, and tea-colored water that gets its reddish hue from the iron and tannins excreted from shoreline cedars. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of a strange and rare Pinelands critter like the venomous timber rattlesnake, the Pine Barrens tree frog, or the carnivorous pitcher plant.
New Hampshire: Hike the Presidential Traverse
Photograph by Erin Paul Donovan, Alamy
Check this classic Northeast challenge off your bucket list.
What Is It? Push your limits by hiking from one end of the Presidential Range to the other. This challenge, located in New Hampshire’s famed White Mountains, involves walking 20 to 24-plus miles over stout, mountainous landscape and gaining a total of 8,500 to 10,000 feet in the process. For most people, this traverse includes summiting the majority of peaks in the range: Mount Madison (5,367 feet), Mount Adams (5,774 feet), Mount Jefferson (5,712 feet), Mount Washington (6,288 feet), Mount Monroe (5,372 feet), Mount Eisenhower (4,780 feet), and Mount Pierce (4,310 feet). Options exist to add Mount Clay (5,533 feet), Mount Jackson (4,052 feet), Mount Webster (3,911 feet), and Mount Franklin (5,003 feet).
Why Do It? Doing this in a long day—or even as an overnight—is one of the biggest challenges the East Coast has to offer. You’ll begin the day walking along streambeds and through gorgeous stands of birch, beech, maple, spruce, and fir. Quickly, though, you’ll break through to spend most of the trip above tree line (a rare opportunity in the densely forested East) getting 360-degree vistas of the peaks, ridges, forests, and rivers that attract so many to this area.
Make It Happen: Weather in the Presidentials can be brutal. Like any mountain range, it can change quickly, so check the Mount Washington Observatory for accurate weather forecasts and changing trail conditions. Go guided (in summer or winter) with Cathedral Mountain Guides, a company run by AMGA-certified guide Bayard Russell, Jr., and accomplished alpinist Freddie Wilkinson.
Nevada: Discover the Ruby Mountains
Photograph by Tomas Kaspar, Alamy
Explore “Nevada’s Swiss Alps” on foot.
What Is It? Nevada has a lot more to offer than the lights, casinos, and showgirls of Las Vegas. Take your time getting to know some of its more natural features with a day hike or backpacking journey through the rarely visited Ruby Mountains, located 20 miles south of Elko in northeastern Nevada. Thru-hike the 42-mile Ruby Crest Trail, which traverses the Rubies north to south and is the longest trail in the range. Or choose from a variety of shorter trails (3 to 15 miles round-trip) leading up to canyons and alpine lakes, over mountaintops, around mining remnants, or to an old water flume.
Why Do It? A visit to “Nevada's Swiss Alps” comes with countless rewards. Within this isolated, untouched territory you’ll find ten peaks over 10,000 feet, more than 20 lakes, 900,000 acres of wilderness, and the rare commodity of solitude. You won’t have to compete for campsites with many people, but you will share the landscape with Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mountain lions, wild turkey, and the Himalayan snowcock, a bird native to mountain ranges in Central Asia. The Rubies are the only place in the U.S. where this transplanted bird lives.
Nebraska: Float the Niobrara
Photograph by Chris Machian, The New York Times/Redux
Paddle a wondrous river that snakes through the heartland.
What Is It? The Niobrara, a national scenic river, wanders through a sea of grass and extraordinary, fossil-filled sandstone cliffs hidden in northern Nebraska. Explore the river’s diversity with a mellow, 22-mile Class I/II weekend float from the Cornell Bridge to Rocky Ford. Camp or stop midway for a stay at the Niobrara River Ranch, a log cabin retreat and working cattle ranch at river’s edge.
Why Do It? You’ll enjoy exploring this beautiful waterway as it flows peacefully and steadily, carving a lush valley filled with birch, oak, ash, walnut, aspen, and ponderosa pine. Keep an eye out as you pass hundreds of waterfalls that line the river corridor; some merely trickle down side canyons while bigger ones—such as 60-foot Smith Falls, the largest in the state—plunge over the corridor’s rocky bluffs. Six major ecosystems converge on the Niobrara, creating a biodiversity hot spot that’s home to 160 animal and plant species. The river also cuts through several rock formations that hold distinctive fossils, including beaver, horse, mastodon, and alligator. Pay attention on side hikes and you might get lucky!
Make It Happen: Visit the Niobrara National Scenic website for updated conditions and detailed information about canoeing and kayaking. Arrange for accommodations and rentals through the Niobrara River Ranch.
Montana: Climb Granite Peak
Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic
Take a two- to four-day weekend to tackle the highest point in Montana.
What Is It? Take on a burly 20- to 24-mile round-trip backpack excursion to top out on one of the most difficult high points in the 50 states. Granite Peak, an imposing chunk of rock located in the Beartooth Range, towers over southern Montana, beckoning to those with an adventurous spirit. But don’t take this climb lightly—it’s not just a walk-up. Even though Granite itself is only 12,799 feet, you’ll climb 6,300-plus feet over 10 to 12 miles and will encounter Class 3, 4, and up to 5.7 climbing depending on the route you choose. Reaching this high point requires good physical fitness and a guide or your own solid skills in navigation and safe travel over steep, exposed rock and snow.
Why Do It? The approach is literally and figuratively breathtaking. As you climb continuously, you’ll travel through Montana’s quintessential Big Sky Country, complete with snowfields, flower-filled meadows, clear alpine lakes, snow-capped peaks, and incredible panoramas. The technical portion of the climb—which involves traveling over a snow bridge and across scree slopes, traversing a few narrow ledges, and climbing a chimney—will challenge your balance and grit and will definitely get the adrenaline pumping. This is truly a wilderness adventure.
Make It Happen: Go with the experts. Sam Magro, owner and head guide at Montana Alpine Guides, will arrange logistics and safely guide you up and down Granite.
Missouri: Fly-Fishing in the Ozarks
Photograph courtesy Brian Wise
Land a trophy-size fish while angling the world-class waters of southern Missouri.
What Is It? Imagine having exclusive entry to over a mile of private riverbank on the North Fork of the White River, considered one of the top hundred trout streams in the U.S. Head to the River of Life Farm (ROLF), and you’ll have access to the “miracle mile” of the North Fork’s Wild Trout Management Area while staying in one of the coolest, most secluded spots in the Ozarks.
Why Do It? This is your chance to learn from the best against one of the most magnificent backdrops on the planet. Brian Wise, one of the top guides in the Midwest for his uncanny fishing and teaching abilities, heads up the guiding staff at ROLF. Along with the other guides, he’ll teach you fly-fishing techniques, show you prime holes, and share some of their “big fish catching karma.” You’ll walk away with memories from the trip of a lifetime and—hopefully—a huge trout. Plus, where else can you choose to stay in a treehouse? The option is among a range of lodging at ROLF that also includes log cabins and camping.
Mississippi: Ride the Homochitto
Photograph by David Muench, Corbis
Pedal the trails throughout this national forest nestled in the pines of the Magnolia State.
What Is It? Challenge your legs, lungs, and bike-handling skills with a weekend of mountain biking on the trails traversing this 189,000-acre forest in southwest Mississippi. The well-planned and maintained trails wind smoothly through spectacular scenery, including beautiful pine and hardwood forests that burst brightly with flowers and harbor deer, turkey, and other critters.
Why Do It? No matter what you’re in search of—flowing singletrack, extremely steep hill climbs, ridge cruises, creek rides, exciting downhills—the Homochitto has it. Plus, many of the trails are located in the Clear Springs Recreation Area, which comes complete with an idyllic campground perched on the banks of a spring-fed lake. Base camp from here so you can you take a post-ride dip in the lake and catch some fish for dinner.
Minnesota: Canoe the Boundary Waters
Photograph by Christian Heeb, Aurora
Recharge with a paddle trip through Minnesota’s iconic wilderness.
What Is It? Create the experience of a lifetime by immersing yourself in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), one of the last truly untouched places on the planet. With approximately 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) of canoe routes and 2,000 secluded campsites, there are countless options for spending a long weekend—or an entire week—here.
Why Do It? This is your chance to really leave life behind and tune in to the rhythm of the natural world. Disappearing into this million-acre sanctuary dappled with pristine lakes, singing streams, enchanted forests, and rocky bluffs will leave you inspired and recharged. Witness rainbow sunsets, moose diving into the water’s depths, eagles soaring overhead, and wolves howling at the moon. These astonishing acts of nature and the peace you find will make you want to come back year after year.
Make It Happen: To do it yourself, pick up Exploring the Boundary Waters: A Trip Planner and Guide to the BWCAW by Daniel Pauly or visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources site for planning information. Go guided with Wilderness Outfitters—they can plan and run everything or just rent you the necessary equipment.
Michigan: A Grand Adventure
Photograph by Danita Delimont, Getty Images
Tour Grand Island on foot, by bike, and by kayak.
What Is It? Grand Island, located a quick boat ride from the bustling town of Munising, boasts spectacular scenery, rich history, and countless recreational opportunities. Take advantage of all this island has to offer with a multisport weekend camping adventure featuring hiking, biking, paddling, and fishing.
Why Do It? This island is aptly named. It’s the largest of four distinctly different Great Lakes islands within the Hiawatha National Forest, and it’s truly an outdoor lover’s paradise. Ride or walk a vast network (over 40 miles) of scenic and challenging trails complete with lookouts, 300-foot cliffs, pristine forests, and quiet lakes. Wander an array of varied beaches, some with stone-covered shores where rock hounds and agate seekers frolic, some offering seclusion, and some boasting unblemished views of nearby crags and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Or jump in a kayak and paddle the usually calm waters to discover shipwrecks, sea caves, lighthouses, and secluded beaches.
Make It Happen: Learn more from the Hiawatha National Forest website. Explore nature's wonders on your own or arrange a tour. Northern Waters offers guided daylong kayak tours while UP Michigan offers guided hiking tours.
Massachusetts: Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
Photograph courtesy SUPfari Adventures
Recon the shores of Cape Cod on a stand-up paddleboard adventure.
What Is It? Get to know the beauty of Cape Cod as you paddle, swim, and play throughout its pristine beaches, hidden salt marshes, rich estuaries, and bountiful bays. Excursions include a lesson that covers all the skills you need for a fun, enjoyable “SUPfari.” Afterward, you’ll head out into the great blue yonder for a day of exploration and discovery.
Why Do It? Tourists flock to Cape Cod, but a SUPfari provides a remarkable, tourist-free way to enjoy the Cape’s natural splendor. Highly trained and certified instructors will help advance your SUP skills as you paddle down clandestine and secluded waterways full of marine, plant, and animal life. You’ll cruise over shellfish farms and near active osprey nests. Crabs, eels, and stripers will jet by as gulls and osprey float overhead. Wander an isolated beach and take a dip in the soothing ocean.
Make It Happen: Contact SUPfari Adventures. Instructors are trained and certified by the American Canoe Association (ACA), the Professional Stand Up Paddle Association (PSUPA), and the American Red Cross in small craft safety/water rescue.
Maryland: Float the Yough River
Photograph by Tom Uhlman, Alamy
White-water raft the scenic and wild Youghiogheny River.
What Is It: A white-water paddling trip on the fantastic Youghiogheny, known as the Yough, a river that begins its journey through Maryland in gently rolling farmlands only to cut north through some of the state’s most rugged mountain topography. Choose the Upper Yough if you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping trip through continuous, tight, technical white water. For a less intimidating but still exciting Class-III to -IV journey, choose the Lower Yough. Both sound like too much? The more mellow Class-I to -II Middle Yough lets you stay dry, enjoy the scenery, or bring along young children.
Why Do It? What better way to create lifetime memories than by cruising world-class white water set against the gorgeous, virgin beauty of western Maryland?
Make It Happen: Book the guided rafting trip of your choice and find other activities to fill your weekend in Maryland at Get Out and Play Outfitters.
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.
Kansas: Experience Life on the Prairie
Photograph by Scott Bean
Spend the night at the Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge.
What Is It? Explore the Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, a private, 220-acre tract located in the Flint Hills and preserved by prairie devotees. Here you can wander at will—splash in creeks, bushwhack through hills where blue-eyed grass and blue indigo 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.
Why Do It? Spend time standing amid unbroken miles of prairie, taking in the beauty of endless vistas, hawks soaring high overhead, and wildflowers and tall grasses swaying in the breeze. Few places preserve the feel of this landscape better than the Flint Hills of central Kansas. Too rocky for plowing, the terrain avoided the fate that befell most of the country’s original 140 million acres of grassland. The Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge is one of the last unsullied swaths left. And there are three different types of accommodations—a stone house, a cabin, and a guest house—to meet your needs.
Make It Happen: Permission for a day visit and/or accommodations for overnight stays must be secured in advance at the Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge website.
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.
Top National Geographic Adventures Trips
A coast-to-coast bicycle ride is just one of our favorite 10 classic adventures.