The Ouachita (that’s wash-uh-taw) Mountains of west-central Arkansas are home to mineral springs, lakes, rivers, trails, and the strategically placed Sugar Creek Lodge. Just to the east of the cabins, which sit outside Mena, are 80-foot bluffs towering above the Little Missouri River. To the south is the Ouachita Trail, 222 miles of rideable singletrack. And out the door is a placid stretch of the Wild and Scenic Cossatot River, where you can splash around or toss a line for smallmouth (doubles from $60; cossatotriver.com).
Uncommon Adventures runs paddling trips throughout the upper Midwest (not to mention Alaska and Honduras), but Labor Day weekend is all about the outfitter’s home turf and surf in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area of northwest Michigan. “We have so many kayaking options right here,” says guide and owner Michael Gray. “We’ll cruise along the dunes, play in a surf zone, or skirt beneath the tall Arcadia Bluffs in crystal clear water. It’s a breathtaking spot.” Gray hosts the weekend at his own home on 40 acres of hardwood forest beside the Betsie River (another paddling possibility), which serves as base camp for daily trips. He dishes out kayak-stoking fare like fresh pesto-encrusted Lake Michigan whitefish with local greens; breakfast might be pancakes with just picked blueberries and coffee roasted the night before (September 3–6; $900 for two; uncommonadv.com).
The Wisconsin 400 State Trail is arguably the state’s prettiest cycling route. It traces 22 miles of the old 400-mile passenger train line from Chicago to St. Paul, which means that the crushed-limestone path is pool table flat ($4; elroybiketrails.org). Along the way are wetlands, farms, pastures, pine forests, and no fewer than 11 crossings of the Baraboo River from Reedsburg to Elroy. (The entire trail is within the river valley.) In between are only-in-Wisconsin towns like Wonewoc and La Valle; at the latter, stop in at the Carr Valley Cheese Co. to taste the curds of fourth-generation cheesemaker Sid Cook. In Elroy, you can camp near the center of town at Schultz City Park ($10) before making the about-face ride the next day—or, more ambitiously, proceeding 32 miles along the Elroy-Sparta Trail, another narrow-gauge route for two-wheeled travelers ( elroy-sparta-trail.com).
[SAVE THE DATE: August 4-7] “People are obsessing about it,” says race director Scott Mansker of the Missouri River 340, the world’s longest nonstop river race. Word is out about the event’s charms—bleeding hands, sleep deprivation, dodging barges—so Mansker is expecting 250 canoes and kayaks, double last year’s entries, to queue up in Kansas City and paddle across the state. Anyone bent on winning must go through the night (the event is timed to coincide with a full moon). The cutoff is 88 hours, but the first boats will beat the stragglers by a day and a half. Still, every competitor has something in common, says Mansker: “Everyone’s uncomfortable. Miserable. But if you just keep paddling, you’re getting closer to that hot shower and warm meal” ($115; rivermiles.com).