When planning a fun-filled vacation, you don’t usually think of going to a land of ice and snow. After all, it’s a vacation! Shouldn’t it involve beaches and a breathtaking view of the water? Believe it or not, our No. 1 spot has all of the above.
One day in Glacier Bay National Park will have you wishing Alaska had 365 days of sunshine so that you could explore it all. The icebergs have melted and instead of crying about global warming, we are rejoicing over the deep fjords and freshwater streams they have left behind. While you could explore this gorgeous Southeast Alaskan terrain by floating around on a tidewater glacier, we recommend sea kayaking to the park’s Beardslee Islands.
While you’re paddling around out there by the Icy Straits, perhaps you’ll see a famous AK resident, the humpback whale. If the idea of being eyelevel with this surfacing gentle giant is too adventurous for you, book a boat tour. From the deck, witness the magnificence of the Grand Pacific, Johns Hopkins and Muir glaciers along with marine life like seals, sea otters, porpoises and more.
Acadia National Park
A wave crashes against a large rock and splashes into the evening sky. As hues of pink and orange streak the clouds and the sun sinks into the Schoodic Coast, you sigh with satisfaction. The day spent entirely outdoors has come to a beautiful end.
This feeling of contentment comes from our No. 2 Adventure Site, Acadia National Park on Maine’s Atlantic coast. So, put on a pair of sneakers and really delve into this ruggedly stunning park with features such as Cadillac Mountain, standing at 1,530-ft. as the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States. Other mountains worth noticing are the Otter and Great Head Cliffs. These solid pink granites offer sea cliff climbing – a daring sport not usually available elsewhere with a rewarding view at the top.
We believe that everything happens for a reason and the forests of Mount Desert Island are living proof. A tragic fire in 1947 burned more than 17,000 acres of spruce-fir forest. However, in their place grew deciduous trees, which makes for an amazing autumn hike. It seems as if the fire left its mark through the bursts of red, orange and yellow leaves that now paint Acadia.
Half Dome - Yosemite National Park
Everyone has a different level of adventurous spirit, which is why we have turned to California to appease the more extreme. No, we are not talking about politics. We are talking about the challenge of scaling the heights through rock climbing at our No. 3 spot!
Though you might not be afraid of heights, even the bravest altitude conquistador will have to take a deep breath before climbing the Half Dome. Yosemite Park’s famed symbol stands about 5,000 ft. from the Yosemite Valley floor. We’re pretty sure you might have to pack a lunch…and a dinner. But the all-encompassing view from the top is reward enough for a day of peanut butter sandwiches and granola bars.
For climbers that still want a thrilling climb without the extra couple thousand feet, Yosemite has rock solid options. Cling to the crystal-like granules of Tuolumne Meadows or wiggle your fingers in the crags and cracks of Merced River Canyon.
The river water sparkles like the glint of a diamond. Ancient pines and twisted madrone trees muffle all noises but the trickling travel of the water. In one graceful swoop, an osprey catches a Chinook. It would almost be peaceful except – you wanted that salmon!
The Rogue River is an angler’s dream spot, despite the competition from the osprey. This 215-mile winding river is only one of eight in the United States designated as wild and scenic. We designate it as wild and fun! Fish are in the Rogue River year round and we can tell that your stringer can’t wait to meet them. The fall brings a run of steelhead, Chinook and Coho salmon. Other fish that lurk beneath the waters are catfish, brown and golden trout and sturgeon.
The river waters aren’t just good for fishing, though. For a leisurely afternoon floating, head to the stretch between Gold Hill and Rogue River, while the more adventure-hungry rafters can battle the rapids below Graves Creek. White water rafting is just the beginning. Grab a jet ski, a kayak or a canoe to further explore this legendary Oregon river.
Devils Tower National Monument
Fairytales are fraught with towers. There are tales of princesses unjustly locked in their high towers being rescued by their dashing prince and all live happily ever after. But your fairytale U.S. outdoor adventure has a whole different kind of tower you can’t wait to come true.
Our No. 5 spot, Devils Tower National Monument, is possibly a climber’s greatest temptation. Bring out the daredevil in you when you attempt to scale the hundreds of parallel cracks running down its sides. Follow the longest of these cracks, which is almost 400 ft. long, on your 1,267-ft. journey upward. If there’s not much devil in you, stay at the base and experience the towering Wyoming mountain through the eight miles of hiking trails, 1.3 miles of which is a paved path that circles Devils Tower itself.
Don’t think you can handle the Devil by itself? Learn more about Devils Tower through one of the many ranger-led programs. Take an especially adventurous Full Moon Walk. Explore how the Devils Tower looks after the sun goes down and discover creatures from the underworld – ummm, we mean – creatures of the night!
San Juan Islands
When we first heard about the No. 6 spot for our list of U.S. Outdoor Adventure Sites, visions of palm trees and cool fruity drinks with umbrellas began to invade our senses so much that we could’ve sworn we felt an ocean breeze. Our No. 6 pick may not involve beaches, but it does involve islands!
While we don’t necessarily advocate quantity over quality, we couldn’t help but get excited over the fact that San Juan Islands is a group of three! That means triple the amount of island adventure! The namesake of the group, San Juan Island, has the most diverse terrain ranging from rocky shores to prairies to lakes and woods. Visit Roche Harbor and the San Juan Vineyards or spend a day beachcombing and SCUBA diving.
Just because you’re surrounded by water, doesn’t mean you’re stuck! Island hop over to Orca Island and head to Moran State Park. Mount Constitution not only has a stately name, but also an incredible view of the islands, water and mountains that would make the forefathers proud. Finally, enter the Tour de Lopez – the non-competitive bicycle tour of scenic Lopez Island!
Rocky Mountain National Park
A classic outdoor adventure not mentioned yet is best brought up now: camping. Unlike sleepless nights with tent-tipping wars in a friend’s backyard, the backcountry camping at this U.S. destination is home to non-tent-tipping friends like elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, black bears and more.
The Rocky Mountain National Park is 416 sq. miles of diversity. Between lush grass valleys and the 14,259-ft. Longs Peak, the list of adventure to be had within its boundaries is diverse, too. We can’t think of a more invigorating way to start our Colorado morning than to throw on a helmet and start pedaling. You can take in the crisp, fresh mountain air on your bicycle year-round on trails like Upper Beaver Meadows Road, Moraine Park Campground, Endovalley Road, Aspenglen Campground and High Drive. Take an afternoon lunch break and picnic at Lake Irene, Tuxedo Park, Hidden Valley or one of several picnic areas.
After a hardy meal, tackle climbing Longs Peak. Or, choose another granite formation first to practice big wall, snow and ice climbing, bouldering and mountaineering. You can also decide to take it easy and fish for brown, brook, rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Boston Harbor Islands
Boston inspires images of autumn leaves falling to wet pavement and the famous Paul Revere’s Ride. Though that must have been a heart-pounding adventure for him, you don’t have to ride quite that fast to have an adrenaline-pumping time at our No. 8 spot.
Boston Harbor Islands may not strike one as the ideal place to pitch a tent, but we were pleasantly surprised to find secluded areas on Lovells, Grape and Bumpkin Islands that still had sweeping view of downtown Boston. If you prefer to camp out on water, dock your boat at Spectacle Island Marina. Watch the sun rise and set surrounded by crystal blue waters, sea birds and striped bass.
With 34 islands in the Boston Harbor Islands group, it’s difficult to make up your mind on where to stay. Let us suggest island hopping. Cross-country ski on Worlds End, swim at the beach on Spectacle Island or hike on the most diverse island, Peddocks, with its four headlands connected by sand or gravel bars called tombolos.
Zion National Park
Towering blocks of cream and pink and red line your narrow path. You reach out to touch them and the texture of soft sandpaper meets your fingertips. This isn’t some bizarre dream set in a Dr. Seuss book – it’s the colorful canyon hike of our No. 9 pick!
Zion National Park is known for its impressive Zion Canyon of varying colors, but other colorful facets of the park caught our attention, as well. All the different habitats within Zion make it an ideal place for wildflowers and brilliant fall colors to flourish – which in turn means your camera should be just as handy as your canteen. Since for part of the year, Zion is only accessible by shuttle bus, we suggest using either two feet or two wheels to explore Utah’s very first national park. The Pa’rus Trail is not only scenic – it’s also paved and car-free!
Don’t miss other majestic sights like the Great White Throne or the gorge carved out by the North Fork of the Virgin River. With high plateaus, mesas bordered by sandstone canyons and lower desert areas, Zion has been a delightful sanctuary for visitors for more than a century – and now it’s your turn to join the history of adventure!
Grand Teton National Park
We know we spoke of Wyoming adventures in our No. 5 spot, but there’s just so much more to explore that we couldn’t help getting a second helping! What we dished out onto our adventure dinner plates was Grand Teton National Park.
There’s been evidence of inhabitants in the Grand Tetons for more than 11,000 years, but the first sign of adventurous mountain men came with the fur traders who trapped beavers in the icy waters of the valley. Although trapping beavers is not an everyday occurrence for us (and we assume the majority of others), that’s not the kind of adventure we’re suggesting you embark upon. We do suggest simply visiting the beavers in their natural habitat at Willow Flats, Wyoming’s freshwater marshes.
You should also find time to visit Jenny – don’t worry, you don’t have to hide it from your significant other. Jenny Lake has a six-mile hiking trail around its shores, and trails on the west shore give you access to WY nature gems like Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and Cascade Canyon. And don’t skip out because there’s a little snow on the ground. Snuggle up to your sweetheart and take a warm snowcoach tour!