Master the three-day weekend getaway with advice from trusted locals in adventure towns so vibrant and authentic that you may never want to leave. Find out where to hike, bike, paddle, eat, imbibe, and sleep—plus a few surprises only the locals know. —Jayme Moye
Photograph by Ethan Welty
Boulder is the land of superlatives—happiest, brainiest, healthiest, foodiest—and it manages to live up to the hype. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder's nearly 100,000 residents enjoy playing in the nearly 100,000 acres of protected open space surrounding the town. Boulder is best known for rock climbing, with trail running, road biking, and triathlon participation all vying for second place. While it's not exactly a water town, the Boulder Creek runs through it, and the Boulder Reservoir is perfect for stand-up paddleboarding or hanging out at the swim beach. And while it's not exactly a ski town either, Boulder Nordic Club grooms North Boulder Park in the winter for cross-country skiing. A 45-minute drive into the high country is another option. Then there's the weather—not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter, and more than 300 days of sunshine. But Boulder's biggest asset may be its people—true "work hard, play harder" types who relish living in their dream town. "People are friendly, fun, and while the grandmother next door will likely drop you out on a road bike ride, there's always somebody up for adventure," says resident Will Frischkorn.
Meet the expert: Will Frischkorn, 33, has lived in Boulder since he was 18. He trained as a professional cyclist for ten years, nabbing second place in stage three of the 2008 Tour de France. In 2011, he and his wife opened Cured—a small shop selling cheese, charcuterie, wine, beer, gourmet sandwiches, and other interesting grocery items.
Hike: Mount Sanitas is so popular with locals that it can feel like a highway on weekends. But that doesn't mean you should avoid it—in fact, it's a Boulder right of passage. It's best done as a loop, starting at the trailhead on Mapleton Avenue and hiking up the Mount Sanitas Trail to the summit, then down the East Ridge Trail to the Sanitas Valley Trail. The loop is just over three miles, but plan for two hours, as the climb to the summit is like a staircase (i.e., painfully steep). Your reward is sweeping city views that stretch all the way to Denver on a clear day.
Ride: Probably nine out of ten road cyclists in Boulder will cite the loop from Boulder to Lyons via the Peak-to-Peak Highway as their favorite. Frischkorn prefers to ride it counterclockwise, with a pause in Nederland for cookies and coffee at Tin Shed Sports before dropping down Coal Creek Canyon and over a dirt road back to Flagstaff Mountain.
Climb: Eldorado Canyon—just ten minutes outside town—put Boulder on the map for climbing, and people still come from all over the world to test their mettle on literally hundreds of famous routes.
Ski: While big-name ski resorts such as Vail and Breckenridge are only a two-hour drive from Boulder, locals like to stick closer to home. For Frischkorn, it's a toss-up between Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness. "It's hard not to say Rocky Mountain National Park, with its nearly endless opportunities for backcountry escape," he says. "But when the time of year is right, and the snow is stable, and you're up for a mission, Mount Toll in the Indian Peaks is amazing. It's one long drop from the Continental Divide back toward Brainard Lake, looking down on the plains but with incredible mountain peaks on the other three sides."
Paddle: When the water is flowing in Boulder Creek, located in the heart of town, it's a great place to play. Locals sunbathe and picnic on the grassy field at Eben G. Fine Park and dip their feet in the water. College co-eds cruise by on inner tubes. "And there's lots of little spots to tinker in a play boat," says Frischkorn. "Even if you only have an hour you can still get in the water."
Locals' favorite adventure: Frischkorn calls this "an epic ride, run, hike, and sometimes even crawl combo." Starting from Amante Coffee in north Boulder on your road bike, ride up and over Lee Hill Road, through Ward, and on to Brainard Lake (about 50 total miles). At the Audubon trailhead, swap cycling shoes for trail-running gear and run four miles to the top of 13,223-foot Mount Audubon. "It's a couple hour trail run/hard hike to the top but worth every minute," says Frischkorn. Then turn around and run back down to your waiting bike, swap back into your cycling gear, and cruise back down the same way you came up. "Leave time for an incredibly satisfying brew or two at Upslope to toast the efforts of the day," says Frischkorn.
Something visitors don't do but should: Hike to the top of Green Mountain from Chautauqua Park. While tons of visitors come to Chautauqua for idyllic picnics and up-close views of Boulder's iconic Flatirons Mountains, most stay down low. Frischkorn says to throw the grub in a backpack and trek to the top of Green for a picnic at 8,144 feet. "It's a serious hike that requires a bit of fitness to make it fun, but it's not technical," he says. "We always drag our out-of-town friends along and every single one says it's one of the most memorable [hikes] that they've ever done."
Where to eat: Cured. "I have to plug my own little place," says Frischkorn. "And really, we make the best sandwich in town and put together a pretty mean backcountry picnic—think, an outstanding hard cheese, stick of salami, baguette, and bar of chocolate. Your adventures are instantly 20 percent more fun."
Where to drink: The West End Tavern for their killer rooftop patio, huge selection of whiskeys, and notable beer. "They host great tap takeover events and have a rooftop patio that's become iconic in Boulder," says Frischkorn. For something more upscale but relaxed, try the new PMG wine bar on Tenth Street. "They offer a small, curated list of both food and wine options that don't break the bank but never fail to impress," says Frischkorn.
Where to sleep (budget): Airbnb.com. "While we have some decent options that aren't crazy expensive, the only way to really score a great place to stay on a budget is [to] find a rental," says Frischkorn. "You have a kitchen that way, saving a few more bucks, and get a real feel for town versus a dive hotel in a bad location."
Where to sleep (splurge): The St. Julien Hotel and Spa. "They do it right, attend to the details, and have a great patio for cocktails and an amazing team at the spa to help you recover from any recent adventure," says Frischkorn.
Photograph by Steve Lloyd
Ogden is a large, thriving metropolitan area with just as large and thriving of an outdoor scene. The proof is in the stats: More than half a million people call the Ogden area home, and they enjoy more than 13,000 acres of water, 20 campgrounds, and 210 miles of trails. The city abuts 170,000 acres of national forest and is within a 25-minute drive to three major ski areas. Oh, and it's consistently ranked as one of the top ten places to rock climb in America. "When you look at cities featuring convenient outdoor adventures that also allow you to have a professional career outside of [the] service and tourism industries, the list gets pretty short," says resident Jake Pantone. "For this simple reason, Ogden is amazing—just about everything you'd rather be doing than working is within a 20-minute drive or pedal."
Meet the expert: Jake Pantone, 34, has lived in Ogden Valley for 20 years. Currently, he works as the director of marketing at ENVE Composites, a manufacturer of high-end carbon-fiber road- and mountain-bike wheels and components. Outside of the office, you'll most likely find him biking or skiing.
Hike: The Indian Trail follows a route originally used by the Shoshone Indians to avoid high water at the mouth of Ogden Canyon. It climbs steadily to the Nevada Viewpoint before descending into Cold Water Canyon. At 4.3 miles, it's the perfect length for a point-to-point hike or an out-and-back trail run. The short and steep Waterfall Canyon Trail (2.4 miles) remains the locals' favorite quickie.
Ride: For road biking, the Ogden and Morgan Valleys are preferred due to cooler temperatures and the least amount of traffic. Pantone's personal favorite is lapping Old Snowbasin Road. "Due to some bad freeze-thaw damage, the eight-mile climb to Snowbasin has been closed to automobiles for several years, making it a pristine road-cycling experience," he says. "From there you can link loops around Pineview Reservoir and Ogden or Morgan Valleys." For mountain biking, Pantone calls Ben Lomond Peak epic. "The ridgeline single-track offers panoramic views of the entire Ogden Wasatch Range," he says. "And when you make it to the top you're rewarded with a ripping eight-mile descent."
Climb: Ogden is known for its strong climbing community. "The most accessible and popular routes are at the 9th Street Crag," says Pantone. "For less traveled rock, you'll have to meet the right local to take you to the goods—the Front Climbing Club is a good place to start that quest."
Ski: Pantone picks Snowbasin Resort for lift-access skiing and its surrounding backcountry for touring. "Bring a local and a beacon if you plan to venture into the backcountry," he says. "There are a lot of drainages you don't want to end up in."
Paddle: Ogden’s local reservoirs offer plenty of opportunity for water sports, with Pineview being the hands-down favorite. “It has a plethora of wake-free zones for paddle sports, swimming, and fishing,” says Pantone. “This is the reservoir where the XTERRA triathlon takes place, and many Ogden area triathletes use it as their open water swim-training locale. It is also a world-famous Tiger Muskie fishing location.”
Locals' favorite adventure: "Most mornings I can show up to work with 20 miles of single-track or a couple thousand feet of fresh powder behind me," says Pantone. "Those are my passions, but it's the same for everyone else—whether you hike, bike, swim, ski, hunt, etc.—you can do a lot of these activities before and after work."
Something visitors don't do but should: Visit Antelope Island State Park. "This isn't technically in Ogden, but it's a short 30-minute drive down the road and anyone coming from the airport in Salt Lake essentially drives by it," says Pantone. "It's amazing between October and May. The island has a herd of bison and the views are incredible. The single-track isn't half bad either."
Where to eat: For breakfast, Kaffe Mercantile on 26th Street; lunch (or dinner) at Roosters Brewing Company on 25th Street; and dinner in Ogden Valley at Carlos and Harley's.
Where to drink: Slackwater serves the best selection of imported beers in town, and if you're in the Ogden Valley, Carlos and Harley's has a well-stocked bar. Try Shooting Star Saloon for burgers and beer—and because it's the oldest bar in Utah.
Where to sleep (budget): "We have plenty of cheap hotels," says Pantone, "but I'd look into condo rentals at Wolf Creek in Ogden Valley. Camping options are plentiful in the Ogden Valley as well."
Where to sleep (splurge): "So that doesn't really exist here," says Pantone, "but the Hilton Garden Inn is brand new and quite nice."
Fayetteville, West Virginia
Photograph by Trevor Clark
The tiny town of Fayetteville in southern West Virginia serves as base camp for big-time adventure in the adjacent New River Gorge and the nearby Gauley River National Recreation Area. Think of it as world-class white water meets world-class rock climbing. And by world class, we mean top five on the planet. Throw in fishing, hiking, camping, and BASE jumping from the town's 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge, and it's a wonder how anyone ever gets any work done in Fayetteville. "People never really grow up here," says long-time resident Dave Arnold. "I'm 60 and I wear a bathing suit and flip flops to work."
Meet the expert: Dave Arnold is one of the original founders of Adventures on the Gorge, the area's top outfitter and adventure resort. He's been running the New and Gauley Rivers for 40 years.
Hike: Starting in Fayetteville, the 1.6-mile Long Point trail heads into the New River Gorge National Park and ends at the town's most spectacular viewpoint. "It's iconic," says Arnold. "You're just not expecting it to turn into this steep, skinny, three-sided drop-off that overlooks the gorge and bridge." For epic multiday treks, locals head to the Monongahela National Forest, or what they refer to as "Mon Forest," home to 500-plus miles of trails that traverse nearly a million acres.
Ride: Fayetteville's Arrowhead Trails system is an ongoing project between the International Mountain Biking Association, local mountain biking enthusiasts, and the Boy Scouts of America. "It's extremely well done," Arnold says, "with about 30 miles of rolling single track."
Climb: "The beauty of the climbing here is that there is no one place," says Arnold. "You can climb something different every day. There are hundreds—maybe thousands—of routes, and people are still naming new ones." But if he has to choose just one area, Arnold picks the Endless Wall. The unbroken line of cliffs along the northern rim of the New River Gorge is visible from town and features just about every level of climb, from low-angled slabs to an overhanging cirque.
Ski: Locals drive 40 minutes south to Winterplace Resort to get their alpine fix, or if they're feeling more ambitious, 2.5 hours east to the bigger and better Snowshoe Mountain. Backcountry skiers hit Cranberry Glades in the Mon Forest.
Paddle: "No matter how you measure it, or who measures it, it's got to be the Gauley," says Arnold. "It's always in the top ten." White-water fanatics descend on Fayetteville to run the consistent Class V rapids created during the dam releases that occur in September and October, but Arnold says that he runs the Gauley all season long. "Even at low water, it's a great river."
Locals' favorite adventure: Ask any guide who's been around for a while and he or she will say camping along the Gauley. "Most people do the Gauley as a one-day trip," says Arnold, "but the Gauley is a 28-mile river. You can do the entire thing in two to three days, and the camping is spectacular."
Something visitors don't do but should: Take a pontoon boat out on Summersville Lake, preferably laden with "toys" like stand-up paddleboards, lake kayaks, and climbing equipment, like Arnold does (and offers through Adventures on the Gorge). "We'll pull the pontoon right up to a wall and set up an anchor to climb. People are like, 'Wow'—the quality of the water, how clear the lake is, the fact that there's nobody else there. It's the best trip we run that's unknown."
Where to eat: Cathedral Cafe, located in an old church, is a Fayetteville institution and frequent meeting point for people headed out on adventures. Other local favorites (all within walking distance) include a Cajun restaurant called Gumbo's, a pizza joint called Pies and Pints, and a Mexican restaurant called Diogis. Smokey's on the Gorge, perched on the rim of the New River Gorge, has the best views.
Where to drink: Pies and Pints is always a good choice for craft beer, but the best bar scene is Monday night wings at Chetty's Pub. "In the guiding industry, Monday is our Saturday," explains Arnold. "Hundreds of locals show up for the live music, cheap wings, cold beer, and camaraderie."
Where to sleep (budget): All the rafting companies have beautiful campgrounds. Or camp on public lands at scenic Summersville Lake.
Where to sleep (splurge): Located three miles outside Fayetteville, perched on the cliffs of the New River Gorge, a housing development called Wild Rock rents three of its million-dollar houses as vacation homes.
Photograph by Will McKay
Madison is the second largest city in Wisconsin and the outdoor adventure epicenter of the American heartland. Locals boast that there are more bikes than cars, and it's hard to argue when there are 120 miles of well-used hiking and biking trails to back up the claim. Five lakes surround the city (downtown is actually located on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona), along with 260 parks and beaches and some of the best rock climbing in the Midwest. Sure, the winters are cold, but locals look forward to snow thanks to an avid cross-country ski culture. "It's simply everything that a modern adventure enthusiast could possibly want," says resident James Edward Mills. "And it goes without saying we've got an incredible culture for the finest food—especially cheese—and beer in the nation!"
Meet the expert: James Edward Mills, 47, has lived in Madison since 1992. A professional freelance journalist, he specializes in stories about outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. He is the author of the book Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors and the co-writer and producer of the film An American Ascent, the true story of the first all African-American team ascent of Denali, the highest peak in North America.
Hike: Right in the heart of town, along the southern edge of Lake Wingra, you'll find the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, a 140-acre natural forest that's a beautiful reminder of the vegetation that used to cover most of central Wisconsin. In addition to hiking 20 miles of trails through old-growth forest and restored prairie, you can search for the remains of an abandoned development project known as the Lost City. "It's a romantic notion to discover an ancient civilization, but it's actually just a great excuse to wander around in a beautiful grove of trees," says Mills.
Ride: Dane County literally has hundreds of miles of low-traffic roads to bike, making it one of the premier road-biking destinations in the Midwest. Mills's favorite ride is Madison to Paoli, about 30 miles round-trip. The route starts at the center of the city and follows the Capital City Bike Path into the rolling hills and bucolic farmland that surround Madison.
Climb: The best rock climbing in the Midwest can be had 40 miles northwest of Madison in the quartzite rock cliffs of Devil's Lake State Park. "You'd have to drive all the way to South Dakota or Wyoming to find more challenging routes than on the park's South Bluffs," says Mills.
Ski: Come wintertime, Devil's Lake State Park is also the place for downhill skiing. While the 30 runs at Devil's Head Resort are relatively short compared to what you can ski out West, they are well worth a drive from Chicago or Milwaukee. Even so, Mills says he prefers Madison's cross-country skiing amenities. "Elver Park is groomed regularly for both skate and classic skiing. The trails are lit for night skiing, and on those early-season days when snow is in short supply, there are snowmaking capabilities to keep you going every day of the season."
Paddle: Madison has five lakes for open-water paddling, and the Yahara River connects four of them (Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa). "You can paddle for hours from one lake to the next by making your way through a series of locks that allow boat traffic of all varieties," says Mills. Along the way there are several restaurants with their own docks to pull into for food and drinks.
Locals' favorite adventure: The 50-mile bike ride to Spring Green is the classic Madison adventure, traversing a combination of hilly climbs and long, flat stretches along the Wisconsin River. "If you time it right in the summer, you can visit the American Players Theater, which offers a variety of plays in an outdoor setting," says Mills. "And you can tour Frank Lloyd Wright's estate, called Taliesin."
Something visitors don't do but should: Most of Madison's lakes freeze over in the winter, and every February a group gathers to run across Lake Mendota from the Memorial Union to the Nau-Ti-Gal Waterfront Restaurant on the other side. "It's about five miles, and the whole way you'll wonder if the ice is thick enough to support your weight," says Mills.
Where to eat: The Old Fashioned is a classically inspired Wisconsin supper club located right on Capitol Square. "It features a menu of traditional Wisconsin food items, including fried cheese curds, which anyone visiting the state should be required to try," says Mills. "They're amazing."
Where to drink "The Tornado Steak House is just off Capitol Square and a page right out of the 1960s," says Mills. "They make all the favorite cocktails of the last century. You'll swear you're in an episode of Mad Men."
Where to sleep (budget): Lake Farm Park on the outskirts of town on Lake Waubesa
Where to sleep (splurge): Hotel Red, a new boutique hotel with a classy bar and swanky rooms
Silver City, New Mexico
Photograph by Silas Fallstich
As far as must-visit adventure towns go, you don't hear much about Silver City, New Mexico. That's on purpose. Locals are fiercely loyal to their remote, rugged paradise adjacent to the 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest—and they intend for it to remain untrammeled and authentic. "Silver City itself has about 10,000 people, and unlike so many towns in the popular Southwest Sun Belt, it [has been] virtually stable in population for the last 40 years," says resident Dutch Salmon. But so long as you genuinely respect Silver City and its surrounding wilderness, locals will treat you as one of their own. The Gila National Forest is the largest in the Southwest. Within it sits the 800,000-acre Gila Wilderness, the nation's first public lands to be protected (in 1924), which means no development—not even a tourist center or a restroom. The Gila River is also special; it's the last undammed river in New Mexico. And finally, don't underestimate the vastness of these lands. "Be sure to get detailed info and maps for all local recreation ... at the Gila National Forest Headquarters," says Salmon.
Meet the expert: M.H. Dutch Salmon, 69, has lived in the county for 34 years. Nine of his books are currently in print, including Gila Descending, a canoe narrative of his 200-mile journey down the Gila River with a hound dog and a tomcat.
Hike: Originally a military outpost, Fort Bayard is now a wildlife refuge with a resident elk herd. Hike the 2.75-mile trail to the Big Tree, the largest alligator juniper in New Mexico at 63 feet tall and with a trunk diameter of 70 inches. "Be on the lookout for elk, deer, eagles, and jackrabbits," says Salmon. If panoramic views are more your style, hike to the top of 7,238-foot Gomez Peak, overlooking town.
Ride: The best road bike ride starts at the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House in Piños Altos, heading north on New Mexico Route 15 to the Little Toad Creek Inn and Tavern and back, stopping for a very well-deserved microbrew on tap at the Buckhorn afterward. "Those climbs are no joke," says Salmon, "especially the climb out from Sapillo to Wild Horse Mesa."
Climb: City of Rocks State Park, located 45 minutes from town, is the local spot for bouldering.
Ski: "No ski runs per se, but beyond the ghost town of Mogollon the road is closed each winter and you can ski or snowshoe from there all the way to the big wilderness above," says Salmon.
Paddle: Run the 42 miles of the Gila River in the remote Gila Wilderness at spring runoff. "There's no big rapids—Class II mostly—but the course is challenging for tight corners, sweepers, and the sheer solitude," says Salmon. Fish for bass, catfish, and trout along the way.
Locals' favorite adventure: Explore Upper Box Canyon. Salmon recommends getting dropped off at the trailhead to Turkey Creek, hiking and fishing about six miles down the Gila River, and getting picked up at the Mogollon Creek confluence. "The rock formations and colors are spectacular," he says. "Plus, [there are] bass and catfish and the most bird species in New Mexico."
Something visitors don't do but should: Explore the San Francisco River Canyon, which Salmon calls the finest riparian forest in the Southwest. It's 52 miles if you go all the way though, but Salmon says it doesn't matter if you go for a day or a week. "The birding is just wonderful," he says. "Think Mexican black hawks and vermillion flycatchers."
Where to eat: Vicki's Eatery for breakfast, Diane's for everything else (their bakery opens at 8 a.m.)
Where to drink: "The Buckhorn Saloon has an Old West ambiance, live music, and no fights," says Salmon.
Where to sleep (budget): Gila Forest maintains numerous campgrounds, with facilities ranging from none to the usual.
Where to sleep (splurge): Salmon sums up the traditional adobe Bear Mountain Lodge like this: "Artsy, toney, historical, gourmet meals, edge of the forest." (To be clear, that's the enormous Gila National Forest.)
Point Reyes Station, California
Photograph by Ravi Singh
The sign reads "Point Reyes Station Pop. 350 Elev. 33," but it may as well say "Heaven." (And for the official record, the population is more like 850 these days.) The heaven, err hamlet, known as Point Reyes Station sits on the southeast shore of Tomales Bay, adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore, a hundred-square-mile coastal wilderness that's the only national seashore on the West Coast. With 80 miles of unspoiled coastline and more than 150 miles of hiking trails, it's a favorite retreat for locals, who frequently revel in what they consider their own private nature sanctuary. "But Point Reyes Station is much more than just the seashore," says Marin County resident Gordon Wright. "It's also a hub for road cycling, trail running, and paddling, plus there's wine tasting, a meadery, world-renowned dairy products, and an entire culture of farm-to-table cuisine."
Meet the expert: Gordon Wright, 50, is a lifelong resident of Marin County, and a frequent adventurer to Point Reyes, which has unwittingly played host to several 24-hour adventure races he's staged there. When not orchestrating unsanctioned races, Wright works as president of Outside PR and Sports Marketing, which he founded in 1995.
Hike: Starting from the tourist-swarmed Bear Valley Visitor Center, it's a quick ascent into an alpine wilderness on the Mount Wittenberg Trail, which gains more than 1,100 feet of elevation in 1.8 miles. From there, you can do short or epic loops, depending on your speed and sense of adventure. "My favorite is to loop south on the Sky and Woodward Valley Trails, fetching up on the Coast Trail, which contours just above the ocean for three miles, before rejoining the Sky Trail," says Wright. "This loop is about 15.5 miles, so bring food and layers aplenty for the variegated weather conditions you'll find."
Ride: The Olema Valley Trail is one of the few swatches of single-track available to mountain bikers in Marin County. "The first half has some stiff climbs, but the second half features stream crossings, deep-meadow riding, magnificent wildflowers, jackrabbits, and berm-y, flowing descents," says Wright. Roadies have many more options. "You can literally ride out from town in any direction and encounter dozens and dozens of miles of the most epic roads and scenery anywhere," says Wright.
Paddle: Head to either side of Tomales Bay—Blue Waters Kayaking has rental facilities in both Marshall and Inverness. "With their help, you can examine the local oyster farms and the abundant marine mammal life and explore both sides of the coast," says Wright. "Beware of the local afternoon winds, though, which can make a return trip tougher than expected."
Locals' favorite adventure: Surfing in Point Reyes is experts-only due to its open exposure to massive Pacific swells, its teeming great white shark population, and epic tidal movement. These parts also lack both lifeguards and cell service, but for the skilled (and adventurous) surfer, it's a must-do. "Southerly swells deliver peeling barrels to Drake's Beach and Limantour Spit just across Drake's Estero," says Wright. "RCA and Palomarin Beaches to the south of the peninsula offer hard-to-find but surfer-free swells, as well as a chance to see some nude sunbathers. On big western swells, the exposed expanses of North and South Beaches offer heavy, cold-water beach breaks that are terrifying and, usually, empty."
Something visitors don't do but should: Visit the local population of tule elk, now a protected species reintroduced in the northernmost reaches of the Point Reyes Peninsula. "The tule (pronounced TOOL-ee) elk is a massive native species that's tough to spot, but [it's] well worth the long drive north on Pierce Point Road to try," says Wright.
Where to eat: It's hard to go wrong eating in Point Reyes, or anywhere in West Marin. From Nick's Cove in the town of Marshall on the northeast shore of Tomales Bay to the picnic delights in the tasting room of the Cowgirl Creamery, the Point Reyes region is widely considered a gustatory delight. "Even the local dive, the Pine Cone Diner, is superb," says Wright. "And ultrafine dining for food snobs with a local bent can be had just down the road ... at Sir and Star at the Olema. But for the purest expression of good local cuisine, my pick is the Marshall Store, a bayside shack that offers fresh and barbequed oysters pulled straight from the water, thick slabs of sourdough, and ample pints of craft beer served on rough pine boards."
Where to drink: The Old Western Saloon is the only bar in Point Reyes Station—and the only one it needs, according to Wright. "With an affable bar staff, plenty of live music, and a widely cherished ability to mix a killer bloody Mary, the Old Western is where locals and tourists alike can shoot pool and BS."
Where to sleep (budget): The national seashore offers four hike-in camps that are among the most beautiful—and most difficult to reserve—as any in the world. "Of the four, the most accessible, Sky Camp, is my favorite," says Wright. "Sitting at just over a thousand feet above the Pacific, you can watch an epic sunset as the fog creeps up the Inverness Ridge toward you."
Where to sleep (splurge): "Manka's Inverness Lodge burned to the ground just after Christmas in 2006—a fire that Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal survived," says Wright. "The 1910 hunter's lodge has never been rebuilt, but the owners still operate luxury cabins, an annex, and a shorefront boathouse that epitomize rustic relaxation."
Photograph by Gordon Wiltsie
Even among the many notable adventure havens in the American West, Whitefish stands out. The Whitefish River literally runs through it, and the pristine 3,300-acre Whitefish Lake abuts it. In case that's not enough water, there are more than 30 lakes within a 45-minute drive. Whitefish Mountain Resort, with 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, presides over the unpretentious town, and iconic Glacier National Park sits just down the road. In fact, head out of town in any direction and you'll be surrounded by thousands of acres of forested public lands. Consequently, both the road biking and mountain biking are world class. Oh, and the locals are approachable and low-key, valuing the human connection as much as the outdoor one. "There's a sense of community that runs like a strong undercurrent through the many outdoor activities here," says resident Sonny Schierl.
Meet the expert: Sonny Schierl, 45, is a Wisconsin transplant who fell in love with Whitefish during vacations in the early 1990s, when she visited twice a year before finally relocating in 2006. He is the owner of Paddlefish Sports, a stand-up paddleboard pro shop that's known around town as the "small shop with big stoke."
Hike: While there's ample hiking all around Whitefish, it's worth the short drive to Glacier National Park for truly world-class scenery. The Grinnell Glacier hike (about eight miles total) is a favorite of both locals and visitors. You won't exactly have the trail to yourself, but you will have a moderately challenging trek through prime grizzly bear habitat and stellar views of several crystal-clear alpine lakes, the Garden Wall, and Mount Gould. "Plus, you get up close and personal with a glacier," says Schierl.
Ride: For mountain biking, the 30-mile Whitefish Trail located just outside of town is a no-brainer with its soft, flowy single-track and multiple access points. A little farther, about ten miles out of town, an area known as Pig Farm serves up remote single-track through the forest. Roadies will want to bike the Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park at least once a year, either right before it opens to vehicle traffic for the season or just after it closes. "It's one of the greatest road bike rides on Earth," says Schierl.
Climb: The quartzite crags at Stonehill above Lake Koocanusa, located in the Kootenai National Forest straddling the U.S.-Canadian border, are an easy drive from Whitefish. While Schierl can't claim expertise in the sport, friends swear it's some of the best rock climbing in northwest Montana.
Ski: Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly known as Big Mountain) boasts 3,000 acres offering exceptional tree skiing and robust side-country terrain. You'll most likely find Schierl skiing the East Rim or Area 51. For backcountry, head to Essex or up into the North Fork. For Nordic, the Whitefish Lake Golf Course grooms 7.5 miles of trails daily, with 1.86 miles lit for nighttime use. Glacier Cyclery's Nordic Shop provides on-site rentals, demos, and lessons.
Paddle: For a quick, convenient getaway, the Whitefish River meanders through town to the lake. For a wilder ride, the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River offer adventure and white water. For breathtaking alpine scenery, and what Schierl calls "soul stoking," it's hard to beat beautiful, rugged Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.
Locals' favorite adventure: Whitefish Mountain Resort allows uphill travel, which means a killer workout can be had skinning up the ski hill. In fact, the burly sport of ski mountaineering may very well be the town's most exemplary outdoor activity. Test your mettle at the Whitefish Whiteout, a popular ski mountaineering race held in January.
Something visitors don't do but should: Hunt for big, juicy huckleberries on Big Mountain. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.
Where to eat: For breakfast, the family-owned Buffalo Cafe, a Whitefish landmark since 1979. Try the Kansas City, a "buffalo pie" with bacon, cheddar, and poached eggs, served with hash browns. For lunch, get a house sirloin burger slathered in Havarti, smoked bacon, and horseradish sauce, served with a side of sweet potato fries, at Craggy Range Bar and Grill. For dinner, make the three-mile drive out of town to Stillwater Fish House for the best seafood selection and oyster bar in the region.
Where to drink: Great Northern Brewing Company has the best views and some of the best beer in town. The high-quality, small-batch brews at Bonsai Brewing Project are another good choice for beer. For martinis, head to the Red Room Basement Bar, located inside Latitude 48 Bistro. And for handcrafted cocktails, Crush is the place to be. "You just may run into local legend Murphy Taterskins, the skateboarding/paddleboarding bulldog," says Schierl.
Where to sleep (budget): The Whitefish Hostel, located near the Amtrak station in the charming Railway District two blocks from downtown, offers single beds, shared facilities, 24-hour security, and free Wi-Fi and movies. An on-site café dishes up fresh, healthy food made from organic and locally grown ingredients. To stay out of town, drive ten miles to the Whitefish Bike Retreat. "Think upscale hostel in the woods," says Schierl. The bike retreat also offers camping and private rooms, with the Whitefish Trail running through its backyard.
Where to sleep (splurge): The Lodge at Whitefish Lake for deluxe accommodations and outstanding service, as well as a romantic dinner as the sun sets over the lake. Or on the mountain, choose a private luxury home with ski in/ski out access, gourmet kitchens, and hot tubs (available directly through Whitefish Mountain Resort).
Photograph by Chris Murray
Charlottesville is the all-American adventure town. Two American presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe) hailed from Charlottesville, and another (James Madison) lived 25 miles away. And Charlottesville's amenities remain presidential to this day, complete with a notable university; a thriving dining, music, and entertainment scene; and one of the longest outdoor pedestrian malls in the nation. But on an even grander scale is the town's proximity to some of the greatest swatches of wilderness in the east. In 20 minutes, residents can be on the Appalachian Trail (AT), at Shenandoah National Park, or cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway. "On a typical Saturday, one can hike on the AT, canoe or SUP at Beaver Creek or Mint Springs parks, then head over to one of the many wineries for a tasting before going into town to eat at an acclaimed restaurant and see Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, or Alison Kraus perform that evening at the Downtown Amphitheater," says resident Sophie Speidel.
Meet the expert: Sophie Speidel, 51, has lived in Charlottesville for 20 years with her husband, raising three now grown children. A University of Virginia (UVA) graduate, she works full-time as a school counselor while pursuing her outdoor passions of local road races, marathons, triathlons, and, most recently, trail ultramarathons.
Hike: For a chill hike above the Shenandoah Valley, head to Humpback Rocks. For more challenge or a trail run, try the section of the AT that includes Doyles Run and Jones Falls (just west of Sugar Hollow Reservoir).
Ride: Roadies have their pick of low-traffic back roads in Albemarle and Nelson Counties, including the quad-thrashing climbs near Vesuvius and Wintergreen. Equally bucolic are the northern routes through Somerset and Orange, near James Madison's Montpelier. Mountain bikers get out on the gravel roads near Jefferson's Monticello for big climbs and sweet views of the Priest and Three Ridges Wilderness. In town, choose from the rolling single-track of Walnut Creek Park or the more technical fare on Observatory Hill, adjacent to UVA.
Climb: Skyline Drive offers easy access to the ample climbing routes of Shenandoah National Park. Old Rag Mountain is a favorite with locals and visitors and a must-do; just don't expect to have it to yourself.
Ski: Drive 45 minutes into the Blue Ridge Mountains to reach Wintergreen Resort, which Speidel says offers "a great balance of slopes for every level." It also houses Virginia's largest tubing park, which features a 900-foot-long hill—that's three football fields.
Paddle: "Stand-up paddleboarding at Beaver Creek, Mint Springs, and Chris Greene Lake was a huge hit this past summer," Speidel says. "And check out Mango Yoga Adventures' website for SUP yoga."
Locals' favorite adventure: Over the Labor Day weekend, five moms who call themselves the Dirty Mothers ran 101 miles over three days from Front Royal to Rockfish Gap on the Appalachian Trail, celebrating their finish with beers and pizza at Blue Mountain Brewery, about two miles from the AT. "This is a typical adventure for trail runners from the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs), who organize regular mountain training runs (as well as post-run storytelling and libation sharing)," says Speidel.
Something visitors don't do but should: Millions of visitors come to Charlottesville to see Monticello, Jefferson's plantation manor. But most don't know about the Carter's Mountain and Secluded Farm Trails adjacent to the property. "The gorgeous single-track and ten-plus miles of trails that meander along the mountain are a perfect way to start the day," says Speidel. "Afterward, have a hearty, southern-style lunch at Michie Tavern a mile up the road."
Where to eat: Grab your caffeine at Greenberry's and your carbs at Bodo's Bagels before a run or ride. After active pursuits, everyone heads to Devils Backbone Brewing Company or Blue Mountain Brewery. In town, locals like Continental Divide for the margaritas and nachos, Mas for the tapas, Tavola for gourmet Italian, and Bizou for good food and people-watching on the downtown mall.
Where to drink: Beer Run has a wide selection of beer (not to mention an exceptional Sunday brunch), and wineries dot the countryside. "Stop at Stinson Vineyards on the way home from Shenandoah National Park and Sugar Hollow," says Speidel. "Try their 2013 rosé with local goat cheese and fresh bread while soaking in the views."
Where to sleep (budget): Camping at Misty Mountain campground west of Charlottesville is a good option and puts you right next to Shenandoah National Park.
Where to sleep (splurge): "The Clifton Inn is the place to go if you want a fantastic meal and romantic getaway, and it's only ten minutes from downtown," says Speidel.
Photograph by Turner Forte
Seward sits on the edge of Resurrection Bay, a glacier-carved fjord encompassed by mountains that rise a vertical mile straight out of the ocean (think: sea kayaking, salmon fishing, cliff jumping). The historic Iditarod trail starts in Seward, and Kenai Fjords National Park—home of the Harding Icefield, a giant sheet of snow and ice encompassing over 300 square miles—is just up the road. From downtown, you can walk five blocks to three different mountain trailheads. "Even though Seward gets up to 19 hours of daylight in the summer, there still isn't enough time to do everything outdoors that I'd like to in a day," says resident Pyper Dixon.
Meet the expert: Pyper Dixon, 23, was born and raised in Seward. While Dixon has spent a couple of winters away from Seward while at college in Montana, he returns each summer to guide with Exit Glacier Guides. When not at work, you'll most likely find him running (or skiing) Mount Marathon or paragliding over town.
Hike: The eight-mile, round-trip path known as the Harding Icefield Trail is Seward's must-do hike, offering picture-perfect views of Exit Glacier, abundant wildlife, and a see-forever vista of the Harding Icefield at the trail's end.
Ride: The Lost Lake Trail offers 16 miles of sweet single-track, not to mention near-constant panoramas of snow-covered peaks, cirque glaciers, and pristine blue tarns. "On hairpin turns, watch out for bears that frequent the area during salmonberry season," says Dixon.
Climb: Ice climbing in the crevasses of Exit Glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for visitors—and a local favorite.
Ski: Dixon recommends heading to Mount Marathon and hiking the race trail to the top with your skis on your back. From Race Point at the top, ski over the backside into Marathon Bowl, then down the Bench Trail for a long, 3,000-foot run. "This is best in late spring, when the race trail can be hiked in sneakers and the bowl still holds good corn," he says.
Paddle: Stand-up paddleboard or pack raft down the Resurrection River. It's too shallow for any other type of boat, which means you'll have all that wild Alaskan scenery all to yourself.
Locals' favorite adventure: The Mount Marathon race (the third oldest footrace in America and perhaps the most notorious) is held every year in Seward on the Fourth of July. Runners race to the top of 3,022-foot Mount Marathon, then descend a 45- to 60-degree slope of snow, shale, waterfalls, and cliffs.
Something visitors don't do but should: Godwin Glacier occupies a remote valley that's only a few miles from town—as the chopper flies. A seven-minute helicopter ride drops you right at the foot of the glacier, a location unreachable by foot. "Currently a massive river is flowing under the toe of Godwin, causing house-size blocks of ice to calve every day," says Dixon. "As you climb in crevasses and moulins [vertical blue shafts in the glacier] you can hear ice collapsing a comfortable distance away—hopefully."
Where to eat: The Salmon Bake restaurant and pub, located between Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park, serves up big portions of local fare like fresh salmon. For something more exotic, Dixon goes to Woody's Thai Kitchen for large-portioned Thai. "Their panang curry is every guide's dream," he says. "And there's a bonus: Two dollars gets you a PBR, the cheapest beer in town."
Where to drink: The Resurrection Roadhouse is the go-to for post-adventure beers, with more than 20 Alaskan microbrews on tap. Dixon's favorite evening out is Thursday dance night at the Yukon Bar. "It's a good night if your tab is under $60 and you don't get caught in the middle of a brawl," he says.
Where to sleep (budget): Seward possesses what very well could be the greatest municipal campground on the planet. "For $10 per night you can pitch your tent right on the waterfront and get a better view of the bay and surrounding mountains than you could from any hotel in town," says Dixon.
Where to sleep (splurge): Dixon suggests renting a house on the cliffs that overlook town. "Some of them have decks with hot tubs that jut out over a 300-foot precipice," he says.
Photograph by Greg Heil
Salida is the ultimate Rocky Mountain surf and turf—part river town, part ski town or, as locals like to say, a river town with a skiing problem. Salida sits smack in the middle of 80-plus miles of white water on the Arkansas River, where base-flow releases from upstream dams enable year-round paddling. Monarch Mountain—a low-key ski resort (read: uncrowded and affordable)—is just a 20-minute drive up Monarch Pass. Salida has a "Banana Belt" climate, which means the area has dry hiking and biking trails year-round. It can be dumping snow on Monarch Mountain, but in town, there's not even enough to warrant shoveling your driveway. "All that and it's [also] a 'real' Colorado mountain community that's relatively affordable and still pretty funky," says resident Mike Harvey.
Meet the expert: Mike Harvey, 40, has lived in Salida full time for 17 years. He's co-owner of Badfish SUP and a project manager and designer for Recreation Engineering and Planning, a Colorado-based company that designs white-water parks all over North America (including the one in Salida and the neighboring town of Buena Vista).
Hike: Salida has more than a dozen 14,000-foot peaks, the largest concentration in the U.S., but for early morning dog walks or trail runs, locals head to the Salida Mountain Trail system at Tenderfoot Mountain (otherwise known as S Mountain). It may not be as mammoth, but the access is hard to beat. "You are literally on single-track 200 yards from downtown," says Harvey.
Ride: For road biking, Harvey recommends the 60-mile out-and-back route on scenic country roads up to the village of Nathrop, past Chalk Creek Canyon, and out to Cascade Falls. For mountain biking, locals laud the Monarch Crest Trail, but Harvey has another idea. "My favorite mountain biking is during the late fall or winter, when you can ride the North Backbone Trail to the Sand Dunes Trail—a local test piece located in a heat trap. It's a desert environment with slickrock and only a ten-minute spin from downtown."
Climb: Salida serves as base camp for peak baggers looking to conquer the town's numerous 14,000-foot mountains. For rock climbers, routes are scattered in Bighorn Sheep Canyon between Salida and Canon City and along the river road upstream of Buena Vista. Shelf Road and Penitente Canyon, two world-class climbing destinations, are about a 1.5-hour drive from Salida.
Ski: Monarch Mountain is one of Colorado's best kept secrets. The resort is "old school," with five lifts and no crowds, while consistently putting up some of the best snow totals in the state (an average of 350 inches annually). And Monarch Pass offers some of the most accessible backcountry skiing in the region. "You can make dawn patrol laps in the backcountry and be back to work by 9 a.m.," says Harvey.
Paddle: "Famous Class III-IV runs like the Numbers and Browns Canyon are close to town, and then there's the Salida Whitewater Park right downtown," says Harvey. "The park has two kayaking play holes and two standing waves designed for SUP surfing, plus a slalom course practice area that is great for year-round workouts."
Locals' favorite adventure: Every April, the Salida Pole, Pedal, Paddle Race follows the spring runoff, starting on Monarch Pass with a seven-mile backcountry ski. Racers then transition to their mountain bikes for a 20-mile ride to the Arkansas River, on which they'll paddle six miles to town, finishing at a riverside bar called the Boathouse Cantina. "The 3P encompasses what I love about Salida," says Harvey. "Where else in the mountains of Colorado can you ski, ride your mountain bike, and paddle on the same day?"
Something visitors don't do but should: Come to Salida to ride mountain bikes in the off-season. "It seems like no one realizes we have year-round riding," says Harvey. "People head out to Moab or Fruita in October or March to ride bikes when they could save over half the drive and ride the Salida Mountain Trail network almost all year."
Where to eat: Try the Fritz for tapas, Laughing Ladies for a dinner date, the Boathouse Cantina or Rivers Edge for outdoor seating along the Arkansas River, or Poco for authentic street tacos.
Where to drink: The Boathouse for summertime beers while watching tube, kayak, and SUP chaos in the Salida Whitewater Park
Where to sleep (budget): "Simple Lodge is kind of a new-school hostel right downtown," says Harvey. "Clean rooms, lots of people paddling, riding bikes, and skiing, so it's a good place to connect for local beta."
Where to sleep (splurge): The Palace Hotel is a restored historic hotel right in the heart of downtown, less than one block from the river and the Salida Mountain Trail system. Harvey also notes that there are tons of good vacation rentals on Pinonvacationrentals.com.
Park City, Utah
Photograph by Scott Markewitz, Aurora/Corbis
For a small adventure town surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains, Park City is big time. It’s one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S., home to three upscale ski resorts and the U.S. ski team, and the site of the glitzy Sundance Film Festival. With all that affluence, it’s no wonder that Park City draws an admirable type of athlete—the one who gives back.
“It is the people who make Park City so incredible, not just as an outdoor town, but as a real outdoor community,” says resident Geoff Tabin. “We have many individuals who are passionate about their active pursuits and also dedicated to improving our trails, slopes, environment, and making life better for everyone.”
Meet the expert: Geoff Tabin, 57, was the fourth person to climb to the highest point on all seven continents, including the first ascent of the east face of Everest in 1983. He has lived in Park City for nine years and works as an ophthalmologist and founding chairman of the Himalayan Cataract Project.
Hike: Park City’s preserved open space is home to 350 miles of recreation trails. After work, you can find Tabin running Flying Dog or Glenwild Loop. For an all-day outing, hit the Wasatch Peaks. Start at the Aspen Grove trailhead near Sundance and hike to the summit of 11,749-foot Mount Timpanogos.
Ride: “My favorite mountain bike ride starts in my driveway,” Tabin says. He rides up the road for a half mile to access Rob’s Trail, climbing 1,500 feet to Mid-Mountain Trail, and then cutting over to the Ridge Connector to do the steep climb to the Watsatch Crest Trail.
Climb: In the heat of summer, it’s a 45-minute drive along scenic Mirror Lake Highway to sport climbing in the high Uinta Mountains, known for lower temps, short approaches, and mountain lakes. “In the spring and fall we follow the shade or sun, depending on the temperature,” Tabin says. “Bolted lines in Maple or American Fork Canyon, granite in Little Cottonwood Canyon, quartzite in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and our closest crag in Echo Canyon all have more classics at every grade than one can count.”
Ski: There are miles of free groomed classic and skate-skiing in the Round Valley trail system, and all three of Park City’s downhill ski resorts (Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, and Canyons) are currently listed among the Top 20 in America. “Personally, with our abundance of Wasatch powder and steep chutes, I head to the backcountry—you get first tracks on every run,” Tabin says. “For a great line just above town, skin up to the Monitor Bowls.”
Paddle: Get exciting shots in the Uinta Mountain streams, or access the Green and Colorado Rivers two hours east in Vernal. Fly-fishing is popular, with several streams in town, and the Provo and Weber Rivers are nearby.
Locals’ favorite adventure: The Tour des Suds in September is a rowdy uphill mountain bike race where the best prizes are given for costumes, not speed.
Something visitors don't do but should: Visit Utah Olympic Park and ride the bobsled. In the winter, you’ll experience up to 5 g of force while clocking speeds up to 80 miles an hour.
Where to eat: Asian fusion at Shabu, Sushi Blue in Kimball Junction, Billy Blanco’s at Jeremy Ranch. For inexpensive, tasty eats post-adventure, try El Chubasco. Or for the ultimate splurge, go to J&G Grill at the St. Regis in Deer Valley.
Where to imbibe: The best Old West saloon in town is the High West Distillery & Saloon on Park Avenue. “They make some of the greatest whiskeys this side of Scotland,” Tabin says.
Where to stay (budget): Park City is not cheap. Less expensive lodging is available 30 minutes away in Salt Lake City.
Where to stay (splurge): Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street, or the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley.
Photograph by Whit Richardson, Aurora/Getty Images
Locals will be the first to tell you that their tiny town doesn’t have any bragging rights—there’s no art scene, no music scene, no cocktail scene. In fact, there’s not much going on indoors at all. The fabled allure of Moab instead comes from its spectacular natural setting, from otherworldly Arches National Park to the snowcapped La Sal Mountains to the legendary Slickrock Bike Trail.
Moab is a place so geologically unique and rife with outdoor recreation that even the most cosmopolitan visitor admits it’s the Adventure Capital of America. “The opportunities for outdoor adventure are almost limitless,” says resident Steph Davis. “But Moab is not really a place for nightlife, mainly because everyone is worn out by dark.”
Meet the expert: Steph Davis, 40, has lived in Moab for 18 years. She is a professional climber and BASE jumper, and the co-owner of Moab BASE Adventures.
Hike: In the hot season, Negro Bill Canyon stays cooler than most as it runs along a creek and has a surprising arch at the end of the trail. In the cold season, the Corona Arch Trail is sun soaked, and has its own beautiful arch. Both trails are dog friendly and are about three to four miles round-trip.
Ride: “The ultimate downhill ride is the Whole Enchilada, which starts with an ascent to the top of Burro Pass in the La Sal Mountains, and comes all the way down to Moab, finishing on the classic Porcupine Rim Trail,” Davis says. “Poison Spider Mesa Trail is another classic ride. It starts down in Moab and you can do it as an out-and-back.”
Climb: Moab is known for desert tower climbs, Castleton Tower and Ancient Art being the most famous, and for Indian Creek (an hour south of town), a world-class crack climbing destination. There is also bouldering along River Road at Big Bend Boulders, some excellent sport climbing in the La Sals, and super-accessible cragging along Potash Road. “There is a lifetime's worth of climbing scattered around the area,” Davis says.
Ski: The La Sals call to backcountry skiers, but are avalanche-prone and only appropriate for the most experienced. Consider Nordic instead. Volunteers groom trails on Geyser Pass Road into Gold Basin two to three times a week in the winter, for both classic and skate skiing.
Paddle: There are more than a dozen rafting companies in Moab who rent gear, give advice on river conditions, and provide shuttles to put-in and/or take-out on the Colorado River. The “Daily” is the local favorite float ride, and can even be done on a stand-up paddleboard.
Locals’ favorite adventure: Suitable for all ages, canyoneering adventures put you literally right into the desert scenery. “It’s a great way to experience the thrill of scrambling, hiking, and rappelling through the canyons,” Davis says.
Something visitors don't do but should: Moab is a world destination for BASE jumping, contact Moab BASE Adventures.
Where to eat: Coffee and breakfast at the Love Muffin Cafe, which also offers sandwiches until close at 1 p.m. Paradox’s Pizza for dinner, or the Moab Brewery next door. Locals love Sabaku Sushi, so it can get rather busy.
Where to imbibe: Woody’s Tavern, Frankie D’s Bar & Grill, or the Rio.
Where to stay (budget): Slickrock Campground has campsites and small cabins. There is also good camping along River Road and in Kane Creek Canyon. The Lazy Lizard Hostel has bunks (and showers). The Bowen Motel usually has the best prices.
Where to stay (splurge): Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, or for something really unique rent the Hauer Rock House, which was featured on the cover of Architectural Digest.
Photograph by Scott Markewitz, Aurora
Home to four ski resorts, Aspen is celebrated for its world-class skiing. But locals know snow is just the start. There’s tons of rock climbing, some of the best road biking in the country (Aspen hosts two stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2013), and a river, the Roaring Fork, literally runs through it. But that’s not all. For a small town (population 6,658), Aspen has a giant scene—the food, drink, music, and culture rivals the biggest, most influential cities on the planet.
“I grew up in Rome and have lived in London, Paris, New York, and L.A.,” says resident Marco Cingolani. “Aspen is the only place that has it all. And not just the skiing, the hiking, the biking—this is a cosmopolitan and cultured place.”
Meet the expert: Marco Cingolani, 48, has lived in Aspen for 20 years. A former bike racer and ski racer, he is one the owner/operators of Justice Snow's.
Hike: The Ute Trail located on the outskirts of town gains more than 1,000 feet of elevation in just one mile, ending at a rocky outcropping overlooking Aspen. “People run/hike it in about 18 to 35 minutes for a workout,” Cingolani says. For a longer hike, continue to the top of Aspen Mountain (often called by its former name, Ajax).
Ride: “Three of the most beautiful road bike rides in the world start right from town,” Cingolani says. “The Maroon Bells, Independence Pass, and the ride to Ashcroft [an old mining town at about 10,000 feet in elevation]. The problem is, you get spoiled here. You get on your bike and do the Maroon Bells ride so many times that you forget there’s nothing else like it.”
Climb: Independence Pass is the place to climb, with more than 700 climbs and bouldering problems between Aspen and Twin Lakes. Locals also like to boulder along the riverbed—follow the Roaring Fork about six to eight miles out of town toward the pass.
Ski: The rugged Elk Range area surrounding Aspen has eight peaks over 14,000 feet and some of the most intense skiing on the planet. “I think the Highland Bowl is some of the best skiing in the world," Cingolani says. "You have a thousand acres of big mountain ski terrain, mostly double blacks. And if you like fast carving and turns, Ajax will give you the ride of your life.”
Paddle: Kayak or raft the Roaring Fork River. “There’s also a place right outside town where the river slows down in marshland and SUP has gotten really popular,” Cingolani says.
Locals’ favorite adventures: In winter, the 40-mile Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race across the mountains from Crested Butte to Aspen. In the summer during wildflower season, hike from Aspen to Crested Butte (11 to 16 miles, depending on the route), stay the night in Crested Butte, then hike back.
Something visitors don't do but should: The aforementioned hike from Aspen to Crested Butte. The Limelight Hotel can coordinate the hike for visitors and even provide a shuttle back to Aspen for those who only want to hike one-way.
Where to eat: L'Hostaria for authentic Northern Italian, Cache Cache Bistro for French-American, and Piñons for Colorado-inspired gourmet.
Where to imbibe: Justice Snow’s. “Playboy magazine just named us the best high-altitude bar in the U.S.,” Cingolani says. “Our mixologist brings a selection that’s not even available in most big cities—200 hand-crafted cocktails.”
Where to stay (budget): Saint Moritz Inn—hostel style rooms with bunk beds. “It’s three blocks from town, very well kept, and you feel like you’re in the Alps,” Cingolani says.
Where to stay (splurge): The Limelight Hotel or in winter, the Little Nell, which is Aspen Mountain’s only ski-in/ski-out hotel.
Photograph by Caleb Kenna, Corbis
Located just 45 miles south of Quebec, Burlington combines the best of Canadian and American hospitality, resulting in perhaps the friendliest outdoor mecca in the nation. Locals love their small college town located on a big lake, and it shows.
They also appreciate the ease of access to not only water sports, but to nearly every outdoor sport on the planet. Exceptional hiking, biking, climbing, and skiing can all be found within an hour’s drive of downtown. “It’s not only friendly here, but it’s user-friendly too,” says resident Berne Broudy. “It’s super easy to get out and play.”
Meet the expert: Berne Broudy has lived in the greater Burlington area since 1991. She works as an outdoor adventure journalist and photographer, and serves as the chair of the board of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.
Hike: Camel’s Hump in the Green Mountains is Vermont’s third-highest peak. “I especially like to hike up it on the Fourth of July and watch like 20 different towns’ fireworks displays,” Broudy says.
Ride: For roadies, head south on Spear or Dorset into Addison County and ride through rolling farm country and along Lake Champlain. Or go north and bike the vineyards and farms of the Champlain Islands. For mountain bikers, a local club called the Fellowship of the Wheel maintains 100 miles of singletrack in Chittenden County.
Climb: Located 25 minutes from downtown, Bolton Valley has a little bit of everything, starting at 5.5 up to 5.12. The Lower West cliff will get you up about 100 feet, and the Upper West goes to 250, and has a standout bouldering field. Also check out 82 Crag and Carcass Crag for some of the best sport routes in the area.
Ski: The Bolton Valley Ski Resort—one of the top Nordic resorts in the east with more than 62 miles of trails—is just 40 minutes out of town. About 1,100 acres are permanently protected for recreation. Three downhill resorts, Stowe, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen, are all just 45 to 60 minutes away. “Most Burlington kids learn to ski at Cochran’s, a family-owned rope tow hill that has produced at least a half dozen Olympians,” Broudy says. “And it's got a great race league.”
Paddle: Burlington sits on the shores of a giant lake—the 435-square-mile Lake Champlain. The community sailing center rents sailboats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards right at the waterfront. There’s no charge to put in, and plenty of parking.
Locals’ favorite adventure: Bike out on the granite Colchester Causeway, a rail trail bike path built on old railroad pilings, and swim in the lake. Or in the summer and fall, take Local Motion's Bike Ferry into the Champlain Islands, and pedal to one of the local wineries or apple orchards.
Something visitors don't do but should: “Mountain bike,” says Broudy. “There’s 1,000 miles of legal singletrack in Vermont, much of it within an hour’s drive of Burlington.” Learn more at www.vmba.org.
Where to eat: The Friday food truck event put on by ArtsRiot draws locals for dinner and socializing. Otherwise head to the Farmhouse Tap & Grill for burgers, Misery Loves Company for comfort food, or the Mule Bar in Winooski, which is an ingenious combination of Mad Taco (the best taco joint in Vermont) and Three Penny Tap Room.
Where to imbibe: The basement of the Farmhouse, or the Mule Bar.
Where to stay (budget): The North Beach Campground, 45 acres of lakeside woods and beach.
Where to stay (splurge): The new eco-chic Hotel Vermont, or Lang House, a downtown B&B.
Photograph by Andre Jenny, Alamy
Most adventure towns have a hard time competing with their natural surroundings for sheer beauty. The one exception may be Leavenworth. The tiny town set in the Wenatchee River Valley at the base of the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains is modeled after a Bavarian village. Think hanging flower baskets, handpainted murals, and Bavarian-style architecture—which the city requires every building follow, even McDonald’s.
“There’s a lot to do outdoors here, and a lot going on in town too—from festivals to theater to shopping,” says resident Pamela Brulotte. “Leavenworth is truly the best of both worlds.”
Meet the expert: Pamela Brulotte, 40, has lived in Leavenworth since 2001. She is the co-owner, along with her husband, of München Haus and Icicle Brewing Company.
Hike: For a mellow hike on the valley bottom along Icicle Creek, do the Icicle Gorge Loop Trail. For something more challenging, take the Colchuck Lake Trail, which is a gateway to the even more challenging Enchantment Lakes Traverse.
Ride: A local favorite mountain bike ride, the eight-mile Freund Canyon route climbs up out of town and descends like a joyride (read: fast and bermy). For road biking, pedal to the Lake Wenatchee area.
Climb: Leavenworth’s best climbing happens in two granite canyons west of town: Icicle Creek and Tumwater. Within these areas you’ll find bouldering, ten-pitch routes, and everything in between.
Ski: The ample, dry snow at both Stevens Pass Ski Resort and Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort make for exceptional downhill skiing. And both are just 35 miles away. Cross-country skiing is popular in town at the dog-friendly Waterfront Park, the golf course, Ski Hill, and Icicle River.
Paddle: Leavenworth sits at the confluence of the Icicle Creek and Wenatchee River, with rafting options ranging from Class I to IV. Tubing season happens at the height of summer, when the temperatures rise and the water levels drop. Put your tube in at KOA campground for a one-hour float, and take out at the Happy Wave Beach Club.
Locals’ favorite adventures: “In Leavenworth, it’s impossible to pick just one,” Brulotte says. “SUP-ing at Lake Wenatchee, hiking Icicle Ridge Trail for the incredible views, hiking to Colchuck Lake and jumping off boulders into the turquoise alpine lake, trail running at the Ski Hill trails, and cross-country skiing at the fish hatchery trails.”
Something visitors don't do but should: Supplement your outdoor action with an in-town event. There is always something going on in Leavenworth, including wine festivals, music festivals, and live theater (imagine watching The Sound of Music performed in an outdoor setting at the Ski Hill Lodge area). Check leavenworth.org for events.
Where to eat: Good Mood Food for coffee and healthy breakfasts; Heidle Burger Drive In for gourmet burgers (like Brulotte’s favorite of mushroom and Swiss); München Haus for dinner. “Our outdoor views will make you think you are in the Alps,” Brulotte says.
Where to imbibe: “Icicle Brewing Company, where you can enjoy our craft ales and lagers, along with local, fresh, artisan foods that pair well with our beers,” Brulotte says. “We also have some amazing local wineries including Icicle Ridge, Boudreaux Cellars, '37 Cellars, Eagle Creek, and numerous wine tasting rooms in town.”
Where to stay (budget): Camping up Icicle Road.
Where to stay (splurge): Sleeping Lady, and coming soon, the Posthotel & Spa, currently under construction.
Asheville, North Carolina
Photograph by Kennan Harvey, Corbis
In Asheville’s lush backyard are the highest mountains and wildest lands in the East. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway and the 950-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail run through town, as does the curling whitewater of the French Broad River. But locals will be the first to tell you that Asheville is more than just an outdoor recreation paradise (and that the Blue Ridge Mountains are actually more purple than blue). The city is known for its quirky culture almost as much as its natural splendor. “Asheville is the capital city of weird,” says resident Will Harlan. “It’s a funky, eclectic mountain town that boasts more than ten breweries and a vibrant music and arts scene.”
Meet the expert: Will Harlan, 38, has lived in Asheville for 15 years and works as the Editor in Chief of Blue Ridge Outdoors. An avid runner, he’s the five-time champion of the Mount Mitchell Challenge, the 2009 champion of the Caballo Blanco 50-Mile Ultra Marathon, and the four-time champion of the Fig Leaf—a clothing-optional 5k.
Hike: The Appalachian Trail—more than 70 miles of it traverse Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Trail run: Any part of the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest. Or if you’re Will Harlan, the entire trail.
Ride: For mountain biking, DuPont State Forest, Kitsuma, and Mills River. For roadies, the classic ride is the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mount Pisgah to Mount Mitchell. “And check out the 'Mellowdrome' in Carrier Park,” Harlan says. “It’s an old auto racetrack that is now used by cyclists. There are Tuesday night rides and races every week throughout the summer.”
Climb: Looking Glass, Whiteside Mountain, and Rumbling Bald. The quartzite boulders at Grandmother Mountain are known for their high-country setting and awesome views.
Ski: Beech Mountain Resort is Eastern America’s highest resort. Other good ones are Sugar Mountain Resort and Appalachian Ski Mountain. For backcountry, Roan Mountain and Mount Mitchell.
Paddle: For beginners, the Nantahala River. For experts, Green River.
Locals’ favorite adventures: The Mount Mitchell Challenge 40-mile run in February, the French Broad Challenge Triathlon in May, the Green River Games (a multi-sport event in and around the Green River Narrows) in September, and the Shut-In Ridge Run in November. “Asheville is especially known for its endurance athletes and events,” Harlan says. “The Mountain Sports Festival is the biggest outdoor gathering, with at least a dozen events and competitions.”
Something visitors don't do but should: Paddle the French Broad River Paddle Trail or visit the farmers market—it’s open seven days a week.
Where to eat: Universal Joint, White Duck Taco Shop, Mellow Mushroom pizzeria, and Asheville Brewing (locals call it Brew 'n View).
Where to imbibe: The Bywater, located on the river with 18 beers on tap, or the Wedge Brewing Company in the River Arts District.
Where to stay (budget): Sweet Peas, a hostel with a great downtown location.
Where to stay (splurge): Grove Park Inn, a 100-year-old historic resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Photograph by Jon Alm, Bruneau Dunes State Park
Outdoors adventure in Boise can be summed up in three words: accessible, affordable, and fun. Located on the Boise River, the town features a greenbelt along the water that links more than 850 acres of parks and natural areas, and a nearby Ridge to Rivers trail system with more than 130 miles of singletrack. The robust sports scene includes everything from watersports to skiing. The only thing missing is the pretense, and the city prides itself on providing a high quality of life without a high cost of living.
“Living in Boise has never made much sense for my career, but something tells me to stay, and I listen,” says resident adventure filmmaker Skip Armstrong. “Perhaps it’s all the wonderful people and incredible wild places that make up our community.”
Meet the expert: Skip Armstrong, 35, moved to Boise in 2007 after guiding Idaho whitewater for several summers. He works as a freelance cinematographer and his home is just a few feet away from the recently opened Boise River Park.
Hike: Table Rock—a quick hike with killer views overlooking the city, and the Boise Greenbelt—has 25 miles of riverfront trail with numerous swimming holes. For something more unusual, the Bruneau Dunes State Park, 65 miles southeast of Boise, has the tallest single-structure sand dune in North America at nearly 500 feet.
Ride: “Boise boasts an impressive Ridge to Rivers trail system with badass singletrack just blocks from the state capitol building,” Armstrong says. For after-work quickies, locals prefer the Hulls Gulch climb around to Crestline, Sidewinder, and other trails. For all-day rides, try the Hard Guy trail up to Mahalo and back down Dry Creek.
Climb: Train indoors at the 6,500-square-foot Asana Climbing Gym, or outside at the Black Cliffs—basalt towers just a few miles east of town that rise to 70 feet.
Ski: Locals love Bogus Basin, located 20.5 miles from town, for its understated vibe, stellar terrain on powder days, and night skiing. “But the most unique and genuine ski area I’ve ever experienced is the Little Ski Hill, 110 miles north of town near McCall, Idaho,” Armstrong says. “It has only one lift, but makes up for it with passion and heart—young shredders learning to ski, freestyle competitions, and plenty of fun. It's worth checking out.”
Paddle: “We are beyond stoked to be near the Payette River system,” Armstrong says. “In my opinion, it's the perfect river drainage. There's everything from warm-water beginner rapids for learning to kayak and for family rafting, to 15 miles of nearly continuous class-V whitewater. Beyond that, it's just stunningly beautiful—white sand beaches and warm, clean water.”
Locals’ favorite adventures: Surfing and kayaking at the Boise River Park and watching the migrating wild salmon leap up Dagger Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in June.
Something visitors don't do but should: Tubing or stand-up paddleboardng in the Boise River on a hot summer day.
Where to eat: For breakfast, Big City Coffee; for lunch, local organic sandwiches at the Boise Co-op; and for dinner, Flying Pie Pizzeria, known for its funky vibe and excellent service.
Where to imbibe: Modern Hotel and Bar, Payette Brewing Company, Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery, and Cactus Bar. “Cactus is the only bar in the world I can go into with $10 and leave hours later with $3.50 in my pocket and far too many drinks onboard,” says Armstrong. “Friendly people, very reasonably priced drinks, and in the heart of downtown. I apologize in advance because there's a good chance you'll leave the Cactus on the festive side of wasted.”
Where to stay (budget): Camp along the South Fork of the Payette River system northeast of Boise, or stay downtown at Idahostel. For mid-range, the Modern Hotel and Bar in the chic Linen District is within a few blocks of the nightlife.
Where to stay (splurge): “The natural world surrounding Boise is where most of us splurge when we have free time, so I'm no expert on this question,” says Armstrong. “I've heard The Grove Hotel is wonderful.”
Photograph by Patrick Orton, Getty Images
Don’t let Bozeman fool you. It may seem all blue jeans and cowboy hats, but the adventure capital of the Northern Rockies has just as much brains as brawn. Montana State University is ranked in the top tier of U.S. research institutions by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and in 2010, Outside magazine reported that Bozeman’s Ph.D. rate was twice the national average.
Admittedly, it’s easy to get distracted from Bozeman’s intellectual and cultural pursuits by the 350 inches of snowfall per year, and the climbable, hikeable, bikeable mountains topping out at 10,000 feet. “When I think of Bozeman I think of cold smoke powder for sure,” says resident Gregg Treinish. “But also gardens, Shakespeare in the Park, Music on Main, plays at the Ellen Theatre, and IPAs at the 406 Brewing Company.”
Meet the expert: Gregg Treinish has been living in Bozeman for five years. His work as founder and executive director of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation earned him National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers honor in 2013. He is also one of our Adventurers of the Year.
Hike: Hike the Pine Creek Trail in Paradise Valley, but don’t stop at the waterfall. The next four miles to the lake are steep (you’ll gain 3,400 feet of elevation), but worth it.
Ride: The Bangtail Divide is Bozeman’s classic mountain biking ride, accessed about 14 miles out of town. “It’s a 24-mile traverse that is directly opposite the Bridgers with awesome views of the Absaroka Range,” Treinish says.
Climb: Stellar climbing surrounds Bozeman. Gallatin Canyon is a local favorite, and is known for staying the warmest.
Ski: “I'll never tell my secret spots, but there are epic runs to be had on the side country of Bridger Bowl,” Treinish says. “For backcountry, it's hard to beat the Beehive Basin area.”
Paddle: The Yellowstone River is relatively close to town and has a Class III section near Gardiner.
Locals’ favorite adventure: Crossing the 20-mile Bridger Range in one day.
Something visitors don't do but should: “As you walk down Main Street in Bozeman, you are looking at occupied lynx, wolverine, grizzly, and wolf habitat,” Treinish says. “The opportunities are endless.”
Where to eat: The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill, where the best seat in the house is outside during the summer.
Where to imbibe: “If you don't wear fancy pants, the Eagle Lodge is pretty fun,” Treinish says.
Where to stay (budget): Camp in Gallatin Canyon near Storm Castle Peak.
Where to stay (splurge): The Gallatin River Lodge.
Photograph by Kyle George, Aurora
Flagstaff is a manageable drive from some of the most storied sights in the country, including the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Sedona’s red rocks, but it's also a bona fide must-see destination in its own right. Set just south of the highest peaks in Arizona, Flagstaff is a high-altitude semidesert retreat where residents relish their town’s Wild West charm and enthusiastically embrace the active life—from climbing to camping to cycling.
“Flagstaff is a mellow, fun, beer-drinking community and has every adventure you can think of except for swimming with sharks,” says resident adventure photographer Dawn Kish. “Plus, we have the Grand Canyon—oh yeah, baby.”
Meet the expert: Dawn Kish moved to Arizona when she was seven. She made a name for herself as a photographer, including shooting for National Geographic Adventure during its ten years in print. She’s also a rock climber often spotted on adventures with John “Vermin” Sherman, who developed the V scale to grade bouldering problems that is now standard in North America.
Hike: Elden Lookout Trail—a steep scenic trail gaining 2,400 feet of elevation in three miles. “It’s a really good workout, plus the biodiversity is awesome with ponderosa pines, agave plants, alligator junipers, and big boulders to climb on,” Kish says. “It’s just gorgeous.”
Ride: Schultz Creek to the Arizona Trail to Moto Trail is a rip-roaringly fun mountain biking circuit through the pine forest with tons of banked turns.
Climb: Flagstaff is surrounded by standout climbs, with the closest being Le Petit Verdon, aka the Pit, limestone sport climbing just ten minutes from town, and only a ten-minute walk in. For bouldering, locals head to Buffalo Park, a mesa on the north edge of town with basalt boulders 20 feet high.
Ski: Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort is 14 miles from town and notable for its tree skiing. Or if you’re Kish, you can cross-country ski right from your house into the woods.
Paddle: “We don’t have a river in town, but we have creeks and lakes, and I love rowing rafts down the Grand Canyon,” Kish says.
Locals’ favorite adventures: Canyoneering in James Canyon, complete with scrambling, rappelling, and an eight-foot jump into a pool of water.
Something visitors don't do but should: Trekking four miles to the top of 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak—an extinct volcano in the San Francisco Peaks and the highest point in Arizona. “You can see all of Arizona from up there,” Kish says. “Well, not really, but it feels like that. And you can definitely see the Grand Canyon.”
Where to eat: Locals hit MartAnne’s Café before heading out for a big day. No credit cards—it’s cash only—but the chilaquiles are worth it.
Where to imbibe: Wanderlust Brewing Company, a local brewery with 9-percent beers, and Vino Loco Wine Shop & Bar for chilling out with friends over a glass of wine.
Where to stay (budget): It’s free to camp up Schultz Pass Road, plus the hiking and biking trails are right there.
Where to stay (splurge): The classy vintage Hotel Monte Vista, which opened January 1, 1927, and is said to be haunted. No extra charge for ghosts.
Santa Cruz, California
Photograph by William Stevenson, Stock Connection/Aurora
California towns . . . the irresistible blend of clean, sandy beaches and forested mountain state parks. Even among the most sought after Golden State cities, Santa Cruz stands out for its vibrant surf culture and a rich wave-riding history dating back to the 1800s. O’Neill is headquartered here, as are many surfing legends both young and old. The town is part of the World Surfing Reserve and home to the only major seaside amusement park on the West Coast, an attraction as unique as the locals.
“In Santa Cruz, everyone is born with a surfboard in one hand and a skateboard in the other,” says resident Neil Pearlberg. “But in a period of five years, I’ve written more than 120 surf articles and never once about the same person or subject.”
Meet the expert: Neil Pearlberg, 56, has lived in Santa Cruz for 35 years. He’s a surf writer/journalist, and the host of the surf and skateboard radio show “Off the Lip” on KSCO 1080 AM. You can typically find him stand-up paddleboarding in the bay with his dog, Rusty, who stands on the end of the board.
Hike: The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park—more than 30 miles of dense redwood-lined trails rising from sea level 2,600 feet into the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Ride: Wilder Ranch State Park just north of town has 34 miles of trails through coastal terraces and valleys. The trails are multiuse, but as one of the Bay Area’s most popular mountain biking destinations, fat tires dominate the terrain.
Climb: With a 50-foot wall, bouldering, and a weight room, the Pacific Edge Climbing Gym is where local climbers train.
Ski: Kirkwood Mountain Resort in the Lake Tahoe region is nearly a four-hour drive from Santa Cruz, but the whopping 600 inches of average annual snowfall make the trip more than worth it.
Paddle: One of just 14 federally protected NOAA national marine sanctuaries, Monterey Bay is an ocean playground for kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, surfers, and sailors—if only they could all get along. “As far as stand-up paddle surfing—my favorite pastime—is concerned, there’s an ongoing feud with surfers trying to catch the same waves,” Pearlberg says. “So far, we haven’t been able to mix well, kind of like oil and vinegar.”
Locals’ favorite adventure: “Santa Cruz is the mecca of surfing in the U.S.A.,” Pearlberg says. “There are miles of different breaks here, many well known, and some that I could never mention.” The best places to learn to surf are the breaks at Cowell Beach on the west side of Santa Cruz, and at Capitola, a nearby village on the east side.
Something visitors don't do but should: Ride the Giant Dipper, a historic wooden roller coaster, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Where to eat: The Crow's Nest Restaurant—located on the beach where the harbor meets the sea—has been serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and live entertainment for more than 40 years.
Where to imbibe: Motiv has great drinks, tapas, and a strong community vibe.
Where to stay (budget): Sunset Beach Campground—16 miles south of Santa Cruz off Highway One. Reservations required.
Where to stay (splurge): The upscale Santa Cruz Dream Inn is located on Cowell Beach, with views of the bay from every room.
Photograph by Chase Jarvis, Getty Images
Located on the Deschutes River in the high desert at the base of a ski resort, Bend has long attracted a variety of adventure enthusiasts and athletes. But its biggest allure is the mountain biking—nearly 500 miles of epic singletrack can be found within an hour’s drive of the medium-size town. “And some of the trails can be ridden year-round,” says resident Lindsey Voreis. “Bend is an awesome place to live and play. Your vacation is our life.”
Meet the expert: Lindsey Voreis, 38, grew up in Portland and has lived in Bend for nine years. The professional mountain biker and cycling skills instructor teaches mountain bike clinics around the globe. When home, she guides tours for Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours.
Hike: For a flat, mellow hike or run along the Deschutes River, go from Benham Falls as an out-and-back. For more challenge, take the North Fork Trail uphill from Tumalo Falls, passing half a dozen waterfalls. For an all-day excursion complete with spectacular summit views, hike to the top of the 10,358-foot South Sister, the pinnacle of the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Ride: “Mountain bike rides are endless in Bend,” Voreis says. “My favorite ride is up the North Fork trail starting at Tumalo Falls and looping up above Happy Valley toward Flagline, then down Southfork back to the falls.”
Climb: The Smith Rock State Park climbing area has thousands of routes. Monkey Face, a 350-foot spire in the center of the park, is the most famous section.
Ski: Mount Bachelor is Bend’s beloved local mountain. When the Summit lift opens after a storm, you can ski 360 degrees around the entire mountain. “On a powder day, we get there early and climb a few laps on the cone, as we call it, to get fresh tracks before the crowds arrive,” Voreis says.
Paddle: Locals take their kayaks to the Deschutes First Street Rapids for easy-access playtime. Several rafting companies, like Sun Country Tours, operate in town, and a whitewater play park is currently being constructed.
Locals’ favorite adventures: "The best thing about Bend is you can ski/snowboard, climb, and mountain bike all in the same day if the snow stays away from the winter mountain biking spots,” Voreis says. “The spring is amazing for doing multiple sports and our big multisport event in May, the Pole Pedal Paddle, is a hoot."
Something visitors don't do but should: Explore multiple Cascade lakes with a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard.
Where to eat: Jackson's Corner for quick and healthy eats. “It’s kid and dirty mountain biker friendly, plus has live music on weekends,” says Voreis.
Where to imbibe: “There are more breweries than I can count in Bend,” Voreis says. “Deschutes, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., and Crux Fermentation Project are always good choices.”
Where to stay (budget): Pine Ridge Inn, a bed and breakfast on a cliff overlooking the Deschutes River, or the Riverhouse, which is also on the river and only a few minutes out of downtown.
Where to stay (splurge): The Oxford Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown.
Taos, New Mexico
Photograph by Michael DeYoung, Getty Images
Taos—where the high desert meets the Southern Rockies—is a place of epic contrasts. To the northeast, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains tower over Taos Valley at 13,000 feet. To the west, the Rio Grande Gorge plunges 800 feet down into the canyon. As remote and rugged as this region can feel, humans have lived in Taos Pueblo on the northern edge of town for nearly a millennium, making it the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in North America.
“Taos is steeped in traditional culture and history, and that element is an integral part of every outdoor adventure,” local Stuart Wilde says.
Meet the expert: Stuart Wilde, 45, has lived in Taos for 20-plus years. He is the director and head wilderness guide for Wild Earth Llama Adventures, working with low-impact pack llamas to lead wilderness adventures in the New Mexico backcountry and promote conservation of our public wild lands.
Hike: The Williams Lake Trail winds from the Taos Ski Valley Resort through spruce and fir forests for two miles before reaching picture-perfect Williams Lake at 11,101 feet. For more, continue up the trail to Wheeler Peak—the highest point in New Mexico at 13,161 feet. “Look out for bighorn sheep and marmots,” Wilde says.
Ride: Locals and visitors alike claim that South Boundary Trail is the best cross-country mountain biking trail in all of New Mexico. The 22-mile point-to-point is mostly singletrack through mountain meadows and aspen and pine forests, with a few tough (but short) climbs.
Climb: The Rio Grande Gorge—vertical basalt walls and cliffs for climbers of all levels. John’s Wall has easy access and about 20 different routes, and Miner’s Crag has a number of both sport and trad routes.
Ski: “Taos Ski Valley Resort offers truly world-class skiing and snowboarding, without the lift lines,” Wilde says. “For the advanced, climb the ridge to Kachina Peak or the West Basin, and ski/board some of the best powder and most challenging terrain anywhere.”
Paddle: For Class III and IV whitewater, run the famous Taos Box in the Rio Grande Gorge. For a mellower ride, run the Pilar Racecourse. For a multiday scenic adventure in Georgia O’Keefe country, float the Rio Chama.
Locals’ favorite adventure: “The annual Pow Wow in July—a gathering of native nations—or any of the traditional dances or cultural ceremonies that are open to the public are a whole different kind of adventure,” Wilde says.
Something visitors don't do but should: Tsankawi at Bandelier National Monument is seldom visited, despite featuring ancient footpaths to Pueblo ruins and petroglyphs.
Where to eat: After a mountain adventure, get a green chile cheeseburger at the Stray Dog Cantina, or fondue at the Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant. In town, Antonio’s makes a killer chile relleno en nogada.
Where to imbibe: “The Taos Mesa Brewing has great beer and live music in a scenic desert backdrop,” Wilde says. “What more could you want?”
Where to stay (budget): La Doña Luz Inn, a bed and breakfast just steps from the old plaza, or for families with children, the Old Taos Guesthouse Bed & Breakfast. For camping, Orilla Verde or Wild Rivers Recreation Areas.
Where to stay (splurge): The Historic Taos Inn, located in the heart of town and known as the "living room of Taos." Or the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, located 50 minutes west of town.
North Conway, New Hampshire
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
Situated in the White Mountains almost at the Maine border, North Conway defines adventure in the northeast with its dizzying options for skiing, cycling, climbing, and watersports. “People are shocked when I tell them how many ski areas I can get to within 15 minutes of my house,” says resident Mark Synnott. “And I can be at about 20 different climbing areas in 20 minutes.”
But the thing visitors remember most about this active playground is the attitude, or more accurately, the complete lack of attitude. “People here are super-friendly and really welcoming,” Synnott says. “They are just as accessible as the outdoor sports, and that’s the number one draw.”
Meet the expert: Mark Synnott, 43, started coming to his parents’ ski house in North Conway when he was six years old and has lived just north of the city in Jackson full-time since 1997. A professional climber for The North Face, a writer, and a speaker, Synnott is also the owner of Synnott Mountain Guides.
Hike: Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeast, climbing 4,250 vertical feet in 4.2 miles from the east side trailhead to the summit. “On a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean, into Vermont, into Canada, and across the entire chain of the White Mountains,” Synnott says.
Ride: There are many mountain bike trails all around town, but the most classic ride is a road biking route circumnavigating Mount Washington. You can also bike the road to the top of the mountain, but only during the annual Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb race.
Climb: Just west of town in Echo Lake State Park, the 500-foot granite Cathedral Ledge is one of the premier trad climbing areas in the northeast. Bonus: Cathedral’s 800-foot sister cliff, Whitehorse Ledge, is located right beside it.
Ski: “North Conway is the mecca of resort skiing in the east,” Synnott says. “Wildcat Mountain, Attitash, Cranmore, Bretton Woods, and King Pine, to name a few, are all easily accessible from town. But if I could do only one thing the rest of my life, it would be skinning up Mount Washington and backcountry skiing 4,300 feet to the bottom.”
Paddle: The Saco River has a few rapids, but it’s better suited for canoes, which residents use to float from North Conway to the ocean in about five days in the summer. For whitewater, hit the Saco’s tributaries, the Ellis or the Swift, in the springtime.
Locals’ favorite adventure: Cathedral Ledge is east facing, so it’s in the shade by 2 p.m. and cools down nicely for afterwork climbs. Locals hang out at the bottom for a beer or two before heading home for the day.
Something visitors don't do but should: “Hike to the top of Mount Washington instead of driving up the Auto Road in your car,” says Synnott. “It can take as long as five hours, but the trails are well-marked and it just feels so much more legit when you’re snapping your summit photo.”
Where to eat: Breakfast at Bagels Plus or Frontside Grind (known for the best coffee in town), or at the J-Town Deli in Jackson. For dinner, Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., Wildcat Inn & Tavern, the White Mountain Cider Company, or Shannon Door Irish Pub & Restaurant.
Where to imbibe: Tuckerman’s Restaurant & Tavern or the Moat.
Where to stay (budget): Conway White Mountains Hostel.
Where to stay (splurge): Nereledge Inn, Attitash Grand Summit Hotel (in Bartlett), or Christmas Farm Inn and Spa (in Jackson).
Photograph by Jimmy Chin, Corbis
Jackson is the king of adventure towns. Located in the Jackson Hole Valley, it’s nestled between two ski resorts, with a third (Grand Targhee) located just over Teton Pass. Grand Teton National Park—home of the 40-mile-long Teton Range, the Snake River, and numerous lakes—is just 13 miles north of Jackson, and Yellowstone National Park is less than an hour beyond that.
“We have everything you’d ever want to do here,” says local Patrick McDermott. “Everything from the mountains to the skiing to water sports to paragliding.”
Meet the expert: Patrick McDermott, 35, has lived and skied in Jackson for 13 years. He recycles old, unwanted mountain bikes and turns them into cruisers designed for Jackson’s bountiful bike paths.
Hike: “You can’t go wrong with a mellow hike to a beautiful alpine lake where you can bring your dog,” McDermott says. Two favorites are Ski Lake (4.6 miles round-trip) on Teton Pass at Phillips Canyon, and Goodwin Lake (5.7 miles round-trip) on the east flank of Jackson Peak.
Ride: For road biking, the “Around the Block” route, which makes a loop starting and ending in Jackson. Ride over Teton Pass to Pine Creek Pass to the small town of Alpine on the southern end of Snake River Canyon. Then ride back to Jackson through the canyon. For mountain biking, the Cache Creek area in Jackson and Teton Pass at Phillips Canyon (which also has a lot of options for freeride/downhill). “We have a ton of bike paths here too,” McDermott says. “You can ride from Jackson up to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park and be on a bike path the entire time.”
Climb: From the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, take the tram to the top of the mountain and hike down to either Rock Springs Buttress or Corbett's Couloir. Corbett’s is closer, ten minutes of hiking compared with nearly an hour, and has a variety of routes, whereas Rock Springs is better suited to experienced climbers.
Ski: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s vertical drop is over 4,000 feet, some of the steepest terrain in North America. The favorite lifts are Tram, Sublette, and Thunder. “My favorite run depends on the snow,” McDermott says. “But skiing from Rendezvous Bowl to the north Hoback is a classic—one of the longest runs on the mountain and really good vertical.” For night skiing, locals head to the smaller (but not necessarily easier) Snow King Resort.
Paddle: The northern section of Snake River in Grand Teton National Park for rafting and kayaking. For stand-up paddleboarding, String Lake, also in the park, prohibits motorized vessels and is known for warm water, little wind, and a ring of beaches, forests, and mountains. “People are also starting to SUP the calmer sections of the Snake River,” McDermott says.
Locals’ favorite adventures: Tram powder skiing in the winter and boating at Jackson Lake in the summer.
Something visitors don't do but should: Tandem paragliding with Jackson Hole Paragliding.
Where to eat: For breakfast sandwiches and coffee, Elevated Grounds Coffeehouse. For quick food, grab a burrito at the Jackson Whole Grocer or a gourmet sandwich at the Pearl St. Market. For dinner, try Teton Thai in the village, or for a romantic dinner, the Couloir at the top of the Bridger Gondola. For après ski food and drinks, Spur at Teton Mountain Lodge.
Where to imbibe: For some rowdy history, the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar; for cocktails and ambiance, the Rose.
Where to stay (budget): The Hostel in the village, or Antler Inn in town.
Where to stay (splurge): Amangani or Four Seasons.
Photograph by Jeff Scher
A fishing village turned adventure paradise, Portland is home of Maine’s largest port. Here you’ll find equal parts paddlers and lobstermen exploring Casco Bay and the outlying islands. But Portland is not just a water town (although surfers go at it year-round). New Hampshire’s White Mountains are within striking distance, as are three ski resorts.
“There are few places in the world where you can wake up in the morning, have a leisurely cup of coffee, load your car and Thule roof rack or box, and in two hours or less be rockin’ just about every adventure sport you can think of,” says Portland local John Connelly. “Not to mention the incredible beer.”
Meet the expert: John Connelly, 57, has lived on the border between Portland and Falmouth for almost 20 years. A former member of the U.S. Whitewater Kayak and Canoe Team, Connelly is currently co-founder, president, and chief experience officer of Adventurous Joe Coffee LLC.
Hike: The nonprofit Portland Trails maintains a network of more than 30 trails throughout the Portland area. Choose the Presumpscot River Trail—featuring singletrack and wooden bridges—to follow the river and ditch the crowds.
Ride: The East Coast Greenway Trail, extending from Maine to Florida, runs through Portland on its way south. Try a section of it by taking the Amtrak Downeaster train from Portland to Wells, Maine. Then bike the Eastern Trail (a mix of off-road and country roads that is part of the East Coast Greenway) 35 miles back to the train station in Portland. “Refuel at the Great Lost Bear,” Connelly suggests. “It’s one of America’s best brew pubs with more than 70 taps. And it’s just a mile from the train station.”
Climb: The Portland Head Light, a lighthouse on the craggy coast, is a fun local bouldering spot (up to V4), and has climbing on the cliffs up to 5.12.
Ski: For cross-country, Pineland Farms is 30 minutes away. For downhill, travel an hour to Shawnee Peak in Bridgeton, known for its night skiing and family vibe. Or go 1.5 hours to Sunday River Ski Resort, one of the East Coast’s best ski resorts with double black diamond runs like White Heat and challenging glades.
Paddle: Put-in downtown at East End Beach and paddle over to Back Cove or into Casco Bay to Peaks Island. “If you paddle to Peaks, be sure to go to the Inn and get a Portland-made microbrew from Shipyard Brewing Company,” Connelly says.
Surf: Higgins Beach and Scarborough Beach State Park, pristine sand beaches with consistent breaks, can be found 20 minutes south of Portland. An hour to the north is Popham Beach State Park, with a vast beach and different exposures to open ocean offering right and left breaks. “At the right tides, long rides are a feature here,” Connelly says.
Locals’ favorite adventure: In nearby Falmouth, the Class IV Presumpscot River falls are always runnable. Plus, they are virtually unknown—most visiting whitewater paddlers journey north to the Class IV–V Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers.
Something visitors don't do but should: Hike and float down the Presumpscot in the summer at high tide. Wear your bathing suit under your clothes and bring a dry bag. Leave one car at the Walton Park parking lot in Falmouth, and drive the other upstream to the Presumpscot River trailhead at the Gray Road bridge just north of Portland. Hike the riverside trail roughly 1.5 miles downstream to the falls. Put your clothes and shoes in the dry bag, jump in, and float downstream in the current. Use your dry bag for support and keep your feet up. After passing beneath the Allen Avenue Extension Bridge, climb out on the all-tide dock on river left at Walton Park where you left your car. Hang out at the swimming float and soak up some sun with the locals.
Where to eat: Pre-adventure—Bintliff's American Café for breakfast or brunch. Or grab something quick from Bernie's Foreside in Falmouth, Bruce's Burritos in Yarmouth, or Marcy's Breakfast & Lunch in Portland. Post-adventure, head to Novare Res Bier Café in the Old Port district downtown, or Sea Dog Brewing Company. Feeling brave? Try Silly's, with dishes you’ve never had (or heard of) and an eclectic vibe. For a bit more elegance, go to the Front Room Restaurant and Bar, the Grill Room & Bar, or the Corner Room Italian Kitchen & Bar restaurants. For foodies looking to drop coin—Fore Street, Hugo's, or Street and Company. “Don't miss Eventide Oyster Co. for an epic oyster experience, including oyster shooters,” Connelly says. “And be sure to grab one of their curbside tables on Fore Street.”
Where to imbibe: Great Lost Bear, Novare Res Bier Café, Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub, Sebago Brewing Company, In'finiti Fermentation & Distillation on the waterfront.
Where to stay (budget): Recompence Shore Campground at Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport, or the Maine Island Trail, where camping is free for members. Join and choose any one of the many islands with campsites in Casco Bay.
Where to stay (splurge): The Portland Regency Hotel & Spa in Portland's Old Port.
Photograph by Whit Richardson, Getty images
Spectacular Telluride sits in a box canyon surrounded by forested mountains and rock cliffs and is among the most picturesque towns in the country. But Telluride is more than just a pretty face. In addition to its ample outdoor recreation—it's ranked among the best skiing in North America—the destination has become an icon of music and film. Come summertime, Telluride hosts a number of world-famous festivals, including the Telluride Film Festival, Mountainfilm in Telluride, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the Telluride Jazz Celebration.
“What's really amazing about Telluride is that once you get to town, you can enjoy world-class skiing, hiking, biking, climbing, dining, and culture without ever getting in a car,” says David Holbrooke, the director of Mountainfilm in Telluride.
Meet the expert: David Holbrooke, 48, is the director of Mountainfilm in Telluride, a festival that takes place Memorial Day weekend.
Hike: Hike the five-mile round-trip Bear Creek Trail to upper Bear Creek Falls. For something just as scenic, but steeper, do the Jud Wiebe Trail loop. Both trails are easy to find from town and are located just off Main Street.
Ride: Prospect Trail off the gondola drops down to the Mountain Village over the course of seven miles on mostly intermediate-level singletrack through the forest, and across a few open ski runs with killer views.
Climb: A couple of sport-climbing cliffs just outside Telluride serve up sandstone, granite, and conglomerate routes. Pipeline Wall on the east side of town near Bridal Veil Falls is a local favorite.
Ski: The world-class Telluride Ski Resort is legendary for its annual 300 inches of snow, 300 days of sunshine, and zero lift lines. “There’s nothing better than Gold Hill on a powder day,” Holbrooke says.
Paddle: Walk from Main Street to Boot Doctors to rent a tube and float down the San Miguel River to the end of the Valley Floor.
Locals’ favorite adventures: Run Imogene Pass. Or consider this trifecta: climbing in the morning, biking in the afternoon, and drinking outside at sunset.
Something visitors don't do but should: “Everyone should try to get up Cornet Creek,” Holbrooke says. “It's a short 15-minute hike/scramble to a 75-foot waterfall. Just go up Aspen Street and stay to the right of the river.”
Where to eat: Oak at the bottom of the gondola in town. Sit outside and have a beer and some BBQ.
Where to imbibe: “There (yes, the bar’s name is There) makes ridiculously good cocktails, but you can't go wrong with the Last Dollar Saloon or the Historic New Sheridan Bar either,” says Holbrooke.
Where to stay (budget): The Telluride Town Park campground between the San Miguel River and Bear Creek.
Where to stay (splurge): Camel’s Garden for modern, or the New Sheridan for classic.
Montauk, New York
Photograph by Tony Cenicola, The New York Times/Redux
The hamlet of Montauk, located on the south shore of Long Island, is small in population, but big on natural splendor. Within 19.8 square miles, Montauk houses six state parks and perhaps the most photographed coastline (complete with wind-sculpted rocks and a historic lighthouse) in America. Locals love to fish and relish the fact that their mind-blowingly beautiful port sets more fishing records than any other place in the world.
“Montauk is virtually surrounded by the ocean and as such, has always been a surfing and fishing town,” says Christian Iooss. “People are drawn to its laid-back vibe—it’s truly a special place.”
Meet the expert: Christian Iooss, 36, has been in Montauk on and off his entire life. He works as the director of photography at Golf Digest.
Hike: Shadmoor, Camp Hero, and Montauk Point State Parks—all known for great hiking trails with killer ocean views.
Ride: The Hither Woods area comprises three tracts of land that total roughly 3,000 acres and have a good amount of variety, from singletrack to hilly rail trails. Enter at Edward Ecker County Park at the west end of Navy Road.
Surf: “Ditch Plains Beach is the epicenter of surf in Montauk, but don't be afraid to explore east and west of town as there are many hidden gems,” Iooss says. To rent a board, check out Air & Speed surf shop.
Paddle: Montauk and Napeague (west of town) for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Other good options are Fort Pond Bay, Napeague Harbor, and Lake Montauk. “If the conditions are right, I love launching from the Montauk lighthouse and paddling west to check out the rugged coastline,” Iooss says.
Locals’ favorite adventure: An off-season round of golf at Montauk Downs State Park Golf Course.
Something visitors don't do but should: Montauk is famous for its fishing—go out on a charter boat from the harbor.
Where to eat: The Ditch Witch for a pre-surf breakfast burrito, Naturally Good Foods & Cafe for lunch, and Happy Bowls for a snack. For dinner, the Crow’s Nest Inn & Restaurant, Harvest on Fort Pond, or Duryea's Lobster Deck (BYOB).
Where to imbibe: “Montauk has been called a small fishing village with a big drinking problem, so there are no shortage of bars in town,” Iooss says. For a low-key sunset drink, try the Montauket. To get loose, go to the Gig Shack or the Sloppy Tuna.
Where to stay (budget): Camp at Hither Hills State Park, but plan in advance as space fills quickly in the summer.
Where to stay (splurge): For anything longer than a weekend, rent a house. “There are lots of options in great locations,” Iooss says. “To find yours, connect with a local real estate agent.”
Photograph by Jordan Siemens, Getty Images
High in elevation and mountain town charm, Truckee sits at 5,817 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As expected, the iconic adventure town draws hard-core skiers, climbers, and mountain bikers. But it draws a very specific type—those who value access to different places. The Reno airport is only 40 minutes away, the north end of Lake Tahoe is about 20 minutes away, and Sacramento, the capital of California, is 100 miles east.
“I moved to Truckee for the 450 inches of annual snowfall at Squaw Valley, but I think it was the 300 days of sun a year that has kept me here,” says resident Jeremy Jones. “The proximity to the ocean gives me the fix I missed while living in Jackson, and the Reno airport so close makes for very easy travel.”
Meet the expert: Jeremy Jones, 38, spent 20 years living in Tahoe and the last 12 in Truckee. He’s a professional snowboarder and the founder of Protect Our Winters, a group that unites the global winter sports community in a goal of reducing climate change’s effects on winter sports and local economies.
Hike: Donner Pass to Squaw Valley—a 15-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail with great views. Plan for an all-day adventure, as the difficult hike takes eight to ten hours.
Ride: Hole in the Ground—a relatively new swath of singletrack and paved roads—the fun, challenging 17-mile loop quickly became a Truckee classic. Topping out at 8,000 feet, the trail serves up scenic vistas and high alpine lakes along with steep climbs and technical descents.
Climb: Locals say that the three- to four-pitch One Hand Clapping (5.9) is the prettiest route at Donner Pass. Other favorites include Aerial (around a 5.11a, though the rating is debated) and Peter Principle (5.11a, also debated).
Ski: For backcountry, Castle Peak. For resort skiing, Chute 75 at Squaw Valley. “It’s the most direct fall line off of my favorite chair KT22,” Jones says. “The sides of the chute have some of the steepest turns on the mountain, and due to its northern exposure, the snow stays smooth and edgeable even during long high pressures.”
Paddle: Truckee River—particularly the section from Hirschdale to Floristan.
Locals’ favorite adventures: Complete the spring trifecta: spend the morning skiing or snowboarding, the afternoon mountain biking, and the evening stand-up paddleboarding at Prosser Creek Reservoir.
Something visitors don't do but should: Early morning stand-up paddleboarding. “The views are amazing and the wildlife is out in abundance,” Jones says.
Where to eat: Dragon Fly. “The mix of Thai, local vegetables, Cali flare, and sushi make for a new and exciting dining experience every time,” Jones says.
Where to imbibe: Moody's Bistro, Bar & Beats, with live music Thursday through Saturday. “If you get lucky you might get a set from Paul McCartney,” Jones says. “He’s played there twice unannounced.”
Where to stay (budget): Camping by the lake in Donner Memorial State Park or River Street Inn.
Where to stay (splurge): Cedar House Sport Hotel.
New Paltz, New York
Photograph by Chris Vultaggio
Be clear, this is not the Hamptons. The small college town of New Paltz, located 80 miles north of New York City, is more often compared with the climbing mecca of Boulder, Colorado, than anyplace east of the Mississippi. The Gunks (short for the Shawangunk Mountains), a quartzite conglomerate just west of town, provide world-class climbing, along with the notable hiking and mountain biking of the southern Catskills. Two state parks add more than 120 miles of trails that see every sport from running to Nordic skiing.
The vibe in town is decidedly liberal, bohemian even. “Maybe it's the people, the variable seasons and weather, or the proximity to one of the greatest cities in the world,” says resident Andy Salo. “Whatever the case, New Paltz can satiate the cravings of any outdoor enthusiast.”
Meet the expert: Andy Salo, 30, has lived in New Paltz for ten years. A climber and a landscaper, he’s currently working on a new bouldering guidebook for the region.
Hike: Hike/scramble (depending on your approach) the 1.25 miles up Sky Top Trail to the observation tower. “It’s the iconic New Paltz hike,” Salo says. “Climb up the inside staircase for 360-degree panoramic views of the Gunks and the Catskill Range.”
Ride: For a mellow ride, cruise the rail trail that runs through town. For more action, head to either Mohonk Preserve or Minnewaska State Park for countless miles of carriage roads. Feeling hardcore? Try the Catskills. “The rough trails there have been known to ruin even the sturdiest bikes,” Salo says.
Climb: The Gunks are one of the premier climbing areas in North America, with more than 2,000 climbs. Don’t miss these classics: Gelsa, Disneyland, High Exposure, CCK, Yellow Ridge, Modern Times, Alphonse, Arrow, Bonnie's Roof, MF, Erect Direction, Fat City Direct, Yellow Wall, Kligfield's Follies, Supper's Ready, Projectile, and Survival of the Fittest.
Ski: There are downhill ski resorts within driving distance of New Paltz, but many locals prefer cross-country skiing nearby on the groomed trails of the state parks’ carriage roads.
Locals’ favorite adventure: Running the 29-mile Wagathon race across the Shawangunk Ridge in November.
Something visitors don't do but should: Explore the caves at Bonticou or Sam's Point Preserve. “And if you come in June or early July, head to the ridge for wild blueberries,” Salo says.
Where to eat: Get breakfast at the Main Street Bistro. At the end of the day, stop by the Mountain Brauhaus Restaurant, located at the base of the Gunks, for German specialties and beer. Be sure to try a pretzel.
Where to imbibe: Bacchus, with more than 400 beers to choose from, or Oasis Café for live music. “For a local dive, Snug Harbor can't be beat; the cast of characters one could encounter there would fill several reality TV shows,” Salo says.
Where to stay (budget): The New Paltz Hostel is located on Main Street. Camping is not allowed in a majority of the state parks, but a new American Alpine Club campground is set to open nearby in the future.
Where to stay (splurge): Mohonk Mountain House.
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