Daniel D. Snyder
We've selected our favorite off-the-beaten-path adventure in each state. Only question is, which will you toss in your bucket first?—Kate Siber
Alabama: Talladega Days Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock
Even if you’re not into motorized sports, go to Talladega. Go because it’s the quickest way to understand southern hospitality, it’s a cultural spectacle, and, no matter how much of an uptight Yankee you are, it’s a damn good time. Some 100,000 fans gather to watch cars race four across at 200 miles per hour, but really the whole point is the party.
Camp next to multiple generations in tents and RVs festooned with banners, eat crawfish and shrimp, and play beer pong and corn hole. Post-race, detox on a section of the 335-mile Pinhoti Trail in Talladega National Forest, thick with woods and waterfalls. Surprised?
Race tickets at Talladega Superspeedway start at $49.
Alaska: Meet a Grizzly Gleb Tarro
It can be invigorating to scare the crap out of yourself every so often, and one place that offers many ways to do that is Alaska. Start with a backpacking trip in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, the country’s largest national park.
There’s nothing quite so beautifully unnerving as the receding sound of a bush plane after it has dropped you off on a high plateau seven days’ walk from the nearest dirt road. You’ll travel over unnamed passes and giant glaciers, by peaks that rise 9,000 feet from valley to summit, and through ice-melt rivers that could sweep you off your feet. This is a place that doesn’t care about you, which is, of course, its unique appeal.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot one of the park’s resident brown bears, who just may be as scared of you as you are of it.
Trek Alaska guides a range of backpacking trips in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, such as the eight-day Seven Pass Route ($2,295, including bush flight).
Arizona: Ride to Ancient Ruins Rolf_52
Canyon de Chelly’s sandstone towers and amphitheaters are impressive when seen from the rim, but they’re even more impressive when seen from below.
But the best part is what’s not immediately apparent: the ruins, petroglyphs, and artifacts of farmers and nomads who walked here up to 4,000 years ago. A Navajo guide is required, and we’d suggest one on horseback, the better to absorb the cool beauty of sandstone with little to disturb but the sound of hooves.
Tso Horse Tours runs horseback riding trips into Canyon de Chelly ($15 per person per hour and $15 for the guide per hour).
Arkansas: Fish the Buffalo Matt Jeppson
There is no better way to see the surprising beauty of the Ozarks than to float the Buffalo River, the first federally protected waterway and one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48. For 150 miles, box-like canyons, natural bridges, waterfalls, caves, and 500-foot-tall bluffs parade by.
If you don’t have that much time, the 25-mile stretch between Ponca and the Arkansas Highway 7 crossing is a stunner, with Class I and II rapids and world-class swimming holes. But the entire length is a prime repository for Smallmouth bass, which hang out in the river’s deep swift chutes.
The Buffalo River Float Service runs shuttles, rents canoes, and guides fishing trips on the Buffalo River.
California: Ski a Volcano Spirit of America
You might ski Mt. Shasta because you are learning to ski mountaineer, and Shasta, a giant volcano rearing out of northern California, is the perfect beginner peak. You might also do it simply because you want to ski a fourteener and one of the biggest ski descents in the continental United States: 7,000 screaming vertical feet down a sustained 35- or 45- degree slope from the 14,163-foot summit all the way down to the trailhead.
Shasta Mountain Guides runs three-day ski mountaineering courses for beginners on Mt. Shasta between late April and early June ($600 per person).
Colorado: Bike an Unsanctioned Race Mavrick
There is no registration booth at the Colorado Trail Race. There is no entry fee, no support crews, no wailing fans, and certainly no prize money. That’s because it’s an unsanctioned, informal competition that attracts a ragtag crew of unknown badasses who don’t care at all if anyone high fives them at the finish line. Which is exactly why you should do it. Yes, it’s 485 miles of singletrack and dirt roads between Durango and Denver and 70,000 feet of elevation gain, topping out at a lung-squeezing 13,200 feet. You might get hit with lightning bolts or golf-ball-sized hail or murderous rainstorms. But this sort of endurance test also has the power to transform in the most unexpected ways, often in the subtlest moments: beams of sun streaming from behind a thunderhead, a staring contest with a lynx, or the sound of wind through the trees in the middle of the night. There’s also the fact that the Colorado Trail is one of the country’s great, unsung long-distance trails, traversing high peaks, wild meadows, and pristine forests, which may, of course, be prize enough.
Connecticut: Kayak the Islands Allan Wood Photography
Depending on the tide and how you count, as many as 365 miniature islands crop out of the Long Island Sound off the shore of New Haven, Connecticut.
“It’s like a little piece of Maine that floated away—glaciated islands, giant boulders, funky little houses, and lots of wildlife,” says kayak guide Jerry Wylie. During the week, it’s one of the few places within two hours of New York where it’s possible to entirely forget you’re close to the country’s most populous city. Herons swoop overhead, osprey dive for fish, and if you’re lucky, a coyote might appear from the shade of dense forest.
Connecticut Coastal Kayaking ($110) runs three-hour tours of the Thimble Islands launching from Branford, Connecticut.
Delaware: Launch a Pumpkin Michael Hrizuk/Flickr
The World Championship Punkin Chunkin started like many worthwhile contests: One man said he could throw an object farther than another. Nearly 30 years later, the contest attracts more than 70 pumpkin-throwing teams and some 20,000 spectators in a celebration of brute force and remedial engineering.
Over three days, contestants design giant mechanical apparatuses like cannons and catapults to jettison pumpkins as far as possible—the record: 4,483.51 feet—for a giant trophy. But really, it’s all just a post-Halloween excuse for Delawareans to listen to bands, drink beer, and watch gourds fly around a Delaware cornfield on a nice fall day.
Admission for visitors to the World Championship Punkin Chunkin is $10.
Florida: Drive and Dive the Keys Lawrence Cruciana
Florida has the third-largest reef system in the world, stretching 221 miles between Key Biscayne to the Dry Tortugas, and it just might be the world’s most easily accessible. Highway 1 threads 120 miles all the way down the Florida Keys, through towns dotted with dive shops like Islamorado, Tavernier, and Key Largo.
Almost always, the dive conditions are world-class: The water is about 80 degrees, and just offshore divers can spot rare elkhorn coral, reef fish like grouper and barracuda, large pelagics like sharks, and ships encrusted with coral.
NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary compiles a list of good dive operators in the Florida Keys.
Georgia: Live Like a King Stacy Funderburke
Even if it’s temporary, there is something intoxicating about living on a private island.
What to do first? At Little St. Simons Island, a 10,000-acre enclave complete with dripping primordial forests, marshes, and a seven-mile beach, it’s hard to decide: Go kayaking up a river in search of birds? Go hiking with a naturalist? Fish for seatrout in tidal waterways?
You’ll have it all to yourself and no more than 31 other guests, who stay in a clutch of cottages and disperse during the day. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you do. You’ll fall asleep with a belly full of roasted oysters and the satisfaction of knowing you are both very far from civilization and very well take care of.
Cottages at Little St. Simon’s Island start at $475. Private Islands of Georgia also arranges lodging on other private islands.
Hawaii: Do the Original Ironman Wikimedia Commons
The original Hawaii Ironman started as a contest to see what sport produced the best endurance athletes: swimmers, runners, or cyclists. A motley collection of 15 people showed up to the starting line in 1978. Now, some 60,000 people show up to 30 events across the globe every year.
Still, nothing quite compares to the experience of competing in what is now the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, which includes a 2.4-mile swim in sharky waters, a wind-battered 115-mile bike ride through lava fields, and a steambath of a marathon. Most competitors qualify through other Ironmans, but a few lucky lottery winners get to compete amongst 2,000 celebrities and some of the strongest endurance athletes on the planet, who are vying for the greatest prize of the triathlon world. It costs $40 to enter the lottery for the Ironman World Championship.
Contact Ironman for eligibility requirements.
Idaho: Raft the Salmon River Jason Meredith
The main reason the Middle Fork of the Salmon is widely considered one of the country’s top whitewater runs is simple: The river hits more than 100 Class III and IV rapids in about a 100-mile stretch.
There’s also the wild scenery—grasslands, unbroken forest, sheer granite cliffs, and mountains. But the real reason why some boaters come away changed is the less tangible experience that comes with living in deep wilderness for six days. You can find it in moments like this: fishing for cutthroat trout in the waning daylight; sitting in a wild riverside hot spring; checking out an ancient petroglyph; or falling asleep on a wide sandy beach sprayed with stars.
OARS runs six-day trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon between May and August beginning in Stanley, Idaho (from $1,982).
Illinois: Climb a Silo Courtesy of Upper Limits
The highest point in Illinois does not sound very impressive—Charles Mound at 1,235 feet—but the state’s lack of vertical relief inspires commendable creativity amongst residents.
Case in point: Upper Limits, one of the North America’s largest rock gyms, in Bloomington. Here, you can climb a 110-foot wall at night, rappel off an elevator shaft, and—our favorite—climb up the inside of one of three 65-foot-tall silos. It all adds up to about 20,000 square feet of climbing in the middle of the Great Plains.
Take that, Yosemite.
Upper Limits costs $15 per day.
Indiana: Enter a Pie-Eating Contest Courtesy of the Blueberry Festiv
Indiana has prime conditions for growing big, plump blueberries, and on Labor Day weekend, as many as 600,000 Hoosiers gather to eat them at the Marshall County Blueberry Festival. It’s a giant example of homespun Midwest fun, with every conceivable sports tournament—a tractor pull, horse show, pancake breakfast,and karaoke contest, not to mention plenty of blueberry donuts, bagels, malts, and cheesecake.
But the best part is the pie-eating contest. Here’s some good advice: Practice, take small bites, and learn to breathe well through your nose. The prizes are modest—local gift certificates and t-shirts—but the pie is good and the bragging rights are forever.
Entrance to the Marshall County Blueberry Festival is free.
Iowa: Ride the World's Longest Group Race Courtesy of RAGBRAI
RAGBRAI—the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa—is the oldest, longest, and largest bike-touring event on the planet. It is definitely good exercise, running an average of 468 miles from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, over more hills than one would expect.
But people do it because it’s a great time. And how could it not? About 8,500 bicyclists converge on this flyover state for seven days of riding through cornfields, eating home cooking from stands run by churches and boy scouts, and camping in schoolyards and county fairgrounds in a giant spandex-clad celebration of the universal joy of two-wheeled transportation.
RAGBRAI takes place in July every year and costs $150.
Kansas: See a Rodeo Shawn Hine
Kansas has a bunch of rodeos, but if you want to see the biggest, go to Phillipsburg on the first weekend in August. The events include bull riding, barrel racing, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, and bareback riding. We’re not sure exactly what some of those are either, but does it matter? The rodeo is a spectacle of good, old-fashioned country fun, with a parade, fireworks, a dance, a barbecue, and even free Coors in cans.
Tickets to Kansas’ Biggest Rodeo start at $18.
Kentucky: Get Stuck in a Cave Zack Frank
Kentucky is riddled with subterranean tunnels, and Mammoth Cave, with 400 miles of mapped passages, is the longest known system in the world. The way to see it is to bypass the cursory entrance jaunt and instead opt for the guide-led Wild Cave Tour. Walk, crawl and climb 5.5 miles through long, skinny tubes, giant rooms, a nine-inch slit, and geological oddities like stalactites, flow stone, and gypsum formations. You might spot a cave cricket or a bat here or there, but otherwise, it's just you in pure unblinking darkness.
The National Park Service runs the Wild Cave Tour at 9 am every morning in the summer ($48).
Louisiana: Catch Dinner in an Estuary Martha Marks
It’s pretty easy to find good seafood in southern Louisiana. What’s harder (and more fun) is to catch the ingredients yourself in the hundreds of miles of backwater swamps and channels that fan out from the Gulf, one of the country’s most abundant saltwater fisheries.
On a day-long charter from Lafitte, about 30 miles south of New Orleans, you’ll catch red fish, speckled trout, flounder, bass, and catfish, some bigger than a grown man’s thigh. The best way to eat them is simple: filleted on the grill with lemon and salt, accompanied by a cold beer, while watching the sun go down over the cypress trees.
Griffin Fishing Charters runs fishing trips every day ($500 for two people).
Maine: Kayak Between Islands Colin D. Young
Most of us don’t own an island off the coast of Maine, but there’s no harm in pretending. The Maine Island Trail Association stewards some 200 islands and mainland campsites—and offers members a guidebook and access privileges to all, including the privately owned islets. There’s a lifetime of summer weekends in that guidebook, but here’s just one: Start in Boothbay, where you can rent a kayak from Tidal Transit Kayak Company, then paddle over to Ram, Little Ram, or Powderhorn. In the afternoons, look for wild blueberries and build a campfire. Come morning, you’ll wake up to the sound of gulls or, perhaps, a lobsterman pulling up his traps. It costs $45 to join the Maine Island Trail Association.
Tidal Transit Kayak Company rents single kayaks from $40 per day.
Maryland: Go Crabbing Lone Wolf Photos
Blue crabs get huge in the Chesapeake Bay, and they’re not that hard to catch. The first thing you need is bait. Chicken necks work great. Then find a pier like the one at Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park, hang your net off the dock, and wait for a crab to wander by. Pay attention. When he’s right in the middle of the net, pull up, grab him with tongs, watch your fingers, and stick him in a bucket or cooler. Repeat. If you don’t have the time and patience, boating with a trotline or traps is expensive but far more efficient. Captain Russell Dize runs crabbing charters from Tilghman Island, Maryland into the coves and shallows of the Chesapeake. As for eating, the labor of cracking the legs and mining the meat is hands down worth the delicate buttery flavor of ultra-fresh crab.
Crabbing season runs between April and December in Maryland. Get a license through the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources ($5 to $15) Captain Russell Dize charges $450 for a four-person charter and guarantees at least a bushel of crabs.
Massachusetts: Live in a Shack by the Sea Christian Delbert
When I was 19, four friends and I decided it would be a good idea to rent a cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, an island about seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, for the summer. The friend in charge of renting the cottage picked out a grey-shingled two-bedroom shack in Oak Bluff, which was one bed short of the number of people we had. No problem. Whoever went to bed last slept on the lawn. As it turned out, some of us slept on the lawn anyway. We spent the entire summer barefoot and in bikinis, sleeping in weeds, and letting the salt from the ocean cake our skin. We biked everywhere and went to the beach every day and stayed up far too late. I realized that it doesn’t so much matter if you have a mansion or a shack—or a bed—as long as you are within earshot of the shore. All you need to keep in mind is this: Go barefoot more than shoed, cool off in the ocean every day, and don’t, under any circumstances, plan more than a few hours in advance.
Find cottages to rent on Martha’s Vineyard through MV Vacation Rentals.
Michigan: Meet Some Wolves AJ Gagnon
Wolves once roamed much of the northern Midwest. Now, not so much. But one place you might, if you are very lucky, be able to spot them, is at Isle Royale National Park, a 45-mile-long island in the biggest freshwater lake in the world, that is essentially a preserved slice of long-gone America. Both wolves and moose roam here, along with fox, hare, loons, and otters. They’re hard to spot but that doesn’t diminish the beauty of hiking along rugged shorelines under spruce and fir trees draped with old man’s beard in search of them.
Get to Isle Royale National Park by ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota or Copper Harbor or Houghton, Michigan. Campsites are reserved at the visitor’s center on a first come first served basis.
Minnesota: Dogsled the Boundary Waters Ventdusud
Even though nearly 200,000 screaming children, harried parents, and pokey senior citizens venture into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in summer, it’s still remarkably easy to find solitude in this 1.09-million-acre network of lakes and boreal forests. Now imagine if you go in winter. The way to go is by dogsled, which can get you out into the middle of nowhere. (On that note, we’d recommend a guide. Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge offers lessons and camping trips.)
This is a place that is not only wild but also big and empty. In a giant blank landscape where moose, bear, and wolves outnumber people by a long shot, silence rings in the ears, and the spray of stars is undiminished by even the suggestion of city lights, that’s when you might begin to understand solitude.
Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge’s five-night guided dogsled expeditions in the Boundary Waters include two nights in the lodge, three nights camping, equipment, guides, and meals (from $1,075)
Mississippi: Bike the Natchez Trace Spirit of America
The Natchez Trace Parkway, once a trading route for Mississippi boatmen and three American Indian tribes, runs 444 miles through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, and has become a rite of passage for regional cyclists. But it’s also a terrific way for other cyclists to immerse themselves in the unchanged landscapes, thick air, and tiny towns of the deep south. Go for the exercise, for the traffic-free ribbon of blacktop, and for the bike-only campgrounds, but mostly go for what you’ll see along the way: forests of live oaks draped with Spanish moss, remote farms, the foothills of the Appalachians, and the remnants of some 10,000 years of human history.
The National Park Service’s Natchez Trace Visitor’s Center offers information and maps for cyclists.
Missouri: Huck-Finn the Jacks River Brian Lasenby
Missourians know how to float a river: The main thing to keep in mind is not to rush. Rent a canoe, pack it with your fishing rod, camping gear, and a cooler of beer, and then take as many days as possible to float downstream. Among the two rivers of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the least crowded is the Jacks Fork River, a serene Class I and II stream that meanders about 46 miles before it puts into the Current River. The lack of put-ins weeds out the drunk college kids, and you’ll often have the giant bluffs, caves, and empty gravel bars all to yourself—not to mention some of the finest Smallmouth bass fishing in the region.
Jacks Fork Canoe Rental and Campground rents canoes and will drop you off and pick you up (from $42 per day).
Montana: Horsepack the Absarokas Jeffrey T. Kreulen
It's pretty easy to forget what day it is in the Absarokas, a mountain range tucked in the shadow of Yellowstone in southwest Montana. It's also pretty easy to forget the century, since not much has apparently changed in millennia. This sort of forgetfulness is a tonic, and one good way to savor it is on the back of a horse, which can negotiate the ragged granite and alpine meadows better than you. Like the elk, deer, moose, and bighorn sheep, wander amidst the peaks, lakes, and empty meadows by day. Come evening, after a bath in a frigid alpine lake, let your mind empty and the idle footfall of horses lull you to sleep.
Absaroka Outfitters offers five-day pack trips in the Absarokas for $2,200 per person.
Nebraska: Watch a Massive Bird Migration Jo Crebbin
Nebraska may not be a prime destination for tourists, but it is for birds. Every spring, millions of them—including 80% of the world’s population of sandhill cranes—arrive in central Nebraska’s Platte River Valley, which is rich in food and safe resting spots, on their way north. It is easily one of the great spectacles of wildlife on the continent. Birdwatcher or not, there is something undeniably awe-inspiring about seeing thousands of birds darken the sky and shroud the plains with noise like they once did across the continent.
The Nebraska Crane Festival takes place in March. Check out Nebraska Fly Away for more information about viewing the birds.
Nevada: Win at Blackjack Andrew Zarivny
You don’t need to stay in the dimly lit cavern of a casino very long to win a hand at blackjack. You also don’t need to stay very long to lose.These four basic tips from Ken Einiger, the 2005 World Blackjack Champion, may help you keep your lunch money.
1. Go to one of the top hotels like the Wynn, Bellagio, or the MGM. The rules are usually fair. When you go to some of the smaller hotels, a lot of times, the casinos change the rules a little bit to be more in favor of the house—even though it’s always in the favor of the house.
2. Don’t get drunk.
3. Basic strategy is the key to playing blackjack. When you go into these casinos, they sell basic strategy cards that you’re allowed to bring to the blackjack table. Look at them to know when you should take a card, when not to take a card.
4. You don’t want to gamble more than you can afford to lose. How much are you going to be happy to win? You can’t win $5,000 with $100, so set a little goal before you go in. The big word is discipline. You need to be able to get up and say, that’s it, I’m done. Most people can’t do that.
New Hampshire: Watch Leaves Richard Cavalleri
From anywhere else in the country, the northeast can seem like a cluttered mess of people and cities. Then you get into the White Mountains. The only alpine areas in the Northeast, these mountains harbor unique endemic species, wild ridgelines, healthy forests, and some of the worst weather in the world. They also see one of the greatest shows of natural brilliance around: fall foliage. The best way to see it is to hike the 56 miles between eight Appalachian Mountain Club-run huts, the oldest hut system in the U.S. Along the way, you’ll pass through tunnels of color in maple, birch, and beech stands, then top out on summits like Madison, where you can survey it all from above.
A night’s lodging at a hut, each accessible by a one-day walk from a road, includes a bunk, blankets, pillows, meals and naturalist talks (about $100 per person per night).
New Jersey: Hike the East's Largest Protected Area gary718
The biggest open space between Richmond and Boston lies in—surprise—New Jersey. Pinelands National Reserve, encompassing some 1.1 million acres of forests, wetlands, and suburban communities, is worth a look, if for no other reason but curiosity. An even better reason: the Batona Trail, a 50-mile ribbon of singletrack that stretches from Ong to Lake Absegami. Hikers pass through pine forests, stands of Atlantic white cedar, and cranberry bogs that harbor many of the state’s endangered creatures—without a Snooki lookalike in sight.
Contact the Bass River, Wharton and Brendan T. Bryne state forests or the New Jersey Pinelands Commission for information on the Batona Trail and securing permits to camp.
New Mexico: Truth or Consequences Wikimedia Commons
There is something about New Mexico—maybe the empty deserts, the scant people, or the live-and-let-live attitude—that seems to attract quirkiness. This is a state where no one bats an eyelash when an entire town renames itself after a game show. It’s been over 50 years since Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences, and now the dusty old 1950s storefronts are occupied by artists, hippies, and health foodies, making it a rather typical New Mexican town. T or C is worth a stop for more than its own eccentric charm, however. Hot springs bubble up all over town, and a number of lodges will draw you a mineral bath on tap. T or C, as locals call it, is also the gateway to Richard Branson’s developing Spaceport and one of the state’s most spectacular landscapes: White Sands National Monument, a 275-square-mile field of rare white gypsum sand dunes rimmed by peaks. Hike into the dunes, search for endemic species—all white—or buy a saucer at the visitors’ center and sled down giant hills of sand.
Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa is in downtown Truth or Consequences and offers one hand-drawn hot springs bath in a private pool with each stay (from $99).
New York: Bike the Wineries Olga Bogatyrenko
Ideally, to bike between wineries, you need a few things: traffic-free roads, pretty good weather, nice scenery, and decent wines. In summer, New York’s Keuka Lake has all of that—within reasonable biking distance. Visit some seven wineries around the lake and taste world-class rieslings at tasting rooms like Heron Hill and Ravines. Come afternoon, a good way to cool off and sober up is a swim at the beach at Keuka Lake State Park.
The Black Sheep Inn offers three-night packages with bike rentals for $425, including breakfast. The Kekua Lake Wine Trail offers maps of wineries.
North Carolina: Dive a German U-Boat tubuceo
Every boat that sails along the east coast must go around the shallow, turbulent, current-streaked waters of Cape Hatteras, which sticks into the Atlantic like a nose. A lot of them haven’t made it, which is good news for divers. More than 1,500 wrecks dot the coast, including four German u-boats shot down in World War II.
Diving them usually requires advanced skills, so you have to have your wits about you. At the U-701, a German submarine shot down in 1942 about ten miles off the coast, you could find four-foot seas and 3.5-knot currents. But the boat itself, dark and looming in about 100 feet of water, is undeniably cool. Swim under the keel, spot the torpedo tube doors, and bow anchor and inspect the old periscope. Near these old wrecks, it’s not uncommon to also see schools of amberjack, ten-foot manta rays, and sand tiger sharks up to 12 feet long.
A full-day charter with Diver Hatteras includes two dives and costs about $165 per person.
North Dakota: Camp in the Big Empty outdoorsman
The badlands of North Dakota changed Theodore Roosevelt’s life, inspiring him to become a conservationist. The promise of even a suggestion of that kind of inspiration is worth a trip this far out of your way, into the remote western swath of this flyover state. Walk as far out into the wilderness as you can on a trail like Jones Creek, which connects with a 23.4-mile loop. Then set up your tent. You might see some bison, which still roam these parts, but mostly, plan to do little but contemplate the openness of the landscape, marvel at the striped hills, and watch as the shadows of the buttes slowly meld with dusk.
You must obtain a permit at the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Visitor’s Center to camp in the backcountry.
Ohio: Snorkel Shipwrecks Joanne Weston
Snorkel shipwrecks in the Lake Erie Islands Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, which is unlucky for ships—and very lucky for divers and snorkelers. Its bottom is strewn with the carcasses of hundreds of vessels, from schooners and steamers to freighters and three-mast ships. A good place to start is the Lake Erie Islands of Ohio, which are pleasant little slivers of forest and beach to linger on anyway. Kelleys Island in particular has a trove of some 50 wrecks, some easily accessible even by snorkelers. In no more than 10 feet of water, find two schooners, the Hanna and the Adventure, sunk in 1886 and 1903 respectively, with limestone blocks, antique machinery, a propellor and burned timbers. You'll also have company, like smallmouth bass, sunfish, and freshwater sponges. Welcome to Ohio.
The Ohio Sea Grant Program has information on shipwrecks in Lake Erie.
Oklahoma: Catch a Catfish Barehanded Kletr
First of all, you’re going to want to get into your swim trunks. Then find a river and a hole where a catfish might be hanging out—an underwater log, a muddy bank, or maybe under a rock—and get some buddies to stand nearby so he doesn’t escape. You might want to take a stick and poke the hole to see if it’s snake, a snapping turtle, or a fish you’re dealing with. (This takes practice. Hope for the best.) If you think it’s a fish, then take a deep breath, dive under the surface, and stick your hand into the hole. If you’re lucky, a catfish will swim out and bite your arm. Before he starts spinning and sandpapering your arm with his small teeth, bring him to the surface and fling him into your boat. Another option is also to watch other people noodle these ugly fish—which can grow to 50 pounds or more—out of the water at the Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, which, conveniently, has the best fried catfish around. (First prize: $1,500.)
Entry fee for the Okie Noodling Tournament, held in June, is $45.
Oregon: Run Lodge-to-Lodge on the Rogue River Hank Shiffman
Which would you rather do: run 42 miles over three days on a trail through a storied Oregon wilderness area, or 26.2 miles on a bunch of smoggy pavement with a few thousand other people? If the former, consider doing the Rogue River National Scenic Trail. Orange Torpedo Trips has a nifty arrangement in which a raft shuttles your stuff while you run alongside a craggy gorge packed with dripping forests. Each night, a trailside wilderness lodge awaits with meals, showers, and beds. The best advice: Bring lots of water, wear good shoes, and don’t run too fast. You don’t want to miss the curious detritus of old miners, fern-coated forests, old-growth douglas firs, and waterfalls.
Orange Torpedo Trips offers three-day raft-supported trail-running trips on the Rogue River National Scenic Trail ($899).
Pennsylvania: Win a Food Fight Facebook/Pittston Tomato Festival
For those who never experienced a cafeteria-wide food fight in high school, there is the Pittston Tomato Festival in Pittston, Pennsylvania. Over 50,000 people come to the four-day festival, which includes a parade, tomato-growing contest, a marinara-sauce cook-off, a lot of good food, and a 5k run, but only 150 get to participate in the tomato fight. $5 gets you unlimited boxes of rotten tomatoes, a pair of protective goggles, and free rein to pummel the other team. Remember: ducking is just as important as throwing.
The Pittston Tomato Festival is held in mid-August every year.
Rhode Island: Live on a Sailboat Leightonoc
There are two sure things you need for a week of great sailing: consistent ocean breezes and interesting spots to weigh anchor. Rhode Island has both, which is why Newport is the center of sailing in the Northeast. Bareboat Sailing Charters offers weeklong sailboat charters, captain included.
The first thing you’ll notice is how much more accessible the seaboard seems without traffic. Your options are dizzying: Dock at Block Island and go for a swim, eat a lobster in Greenport, stop to surf at Montauk, or circumnavigate Shelter Island.
Bareboat Sailing Charters rents 42-foot boats starting at $1,500 per weekend or $3,500 for a week, plus $200 per day for a captain.
South Carolina: Float the Edisto River Jadimages
Floating the Edisto River is, quite literally, floating straight through the set of Deliverance—just without the scary hillbillies. Think remote swamps, moss-draped cypress trees, tupelos, and a simple, dawdling watercourse through it all. You could float the entire 220 miles, or bite off a 23-mile section of river near Walterboro, stopping to stay in a remote riverside treehouse, only accessible by canoe, which has a two-mile hiking trail, grills, a fire pit, tiki torches and a classic sandy swimming hole. Fall asleep to winking of fireflies, the hum of insects, and the occasional hoot of the resident owls.
Carolina Heritage Outfitters rents canoes and offers self-guided two day trips on the Edisto River with one night at a wilderness treehouse ($125-$150).
South Dakota: Road Trip to the Black Hills Tom Reichner
The most memorable parts of any road trip are usually the surprises. In South Dakota, a state that is almost entirely flat and farmy, the Black Hills are one giant road-trip-worthy surprise. This southwestern corner of the state hides an array of astonishing landscapes: native prairie studded with bighorn sheep and bison; the sheer granite teeth of Custer State Park; the striped canyons of Badlands National Park; and one of the world’s longest caves at Wind Cave National Park. While you’re at it, you also might as well see Mt. Rushmore.
Tennessee: See a Natural Light Show Dave Allen Photography
For about two weeks in late May and early June, synchronized fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains make a feverish effort to find mates in their three-week life span—with spectacular results. Whole swaths of forest light up with the glowing yellow-green butts of these beetles, which often alight in synchrony and, occasionally, in great coordinated waves.
See the fireflies at lower elevations of Great Smoky Mountains National Park around the hub of Elkmont, then take your time to absorb the rest of the park at LeConte Lodge, which, on top of the eponymous mountain, is only accessible by a steep 5.5-mile uphill huff. They have all you need: hand-hewn log cabins, kerosene lanterns, a porch with two rocking chairs, and plenty of darkness.
LeConte Lodge is located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tennessee ($126 per person, including meals).
Texas: Try Kiteboarding Zai Aragon
Learning to kiteboard comes with some inconveniences—like getting slammed into the surface of the sea, or a brain full of water up your nose—but they’re a small price to pay for the chance to feel what it’s like to fly. One of the best places in the world to learn is the shallow bays near Padre Island, the longest barrier island on the planet, on the southern Gulf Coast of Texas. It has consistent wind all year round, particularly in spring, and, most importantly, few obstacles to hit.
Islander Kiteboarding in Corpus Christi offers introductory kiteboarding lessons for $120.
Utah: Get Stuck Between Rocks AdStock RF
Southern Utah is a jackpot of spectacular rock formations, and it’s definitely worth your while to stop in and visit the crown jewels of the National Park System, Zion and Bryce. It’s also worthwhile to get down into the capillaries of the Southwest where there aren’t any signs or trails or—most importantly—people. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a good place to do that, with nearly 1.9 million acres of desert and canyons. Find a guide in Escalante, who can lead to canyons where canyoneers rappel into pools, shimmy down pourovers, and suck in their guts to slip past some of the tightest slots in the Southwest.
Excursions of Escalante runs guided one-day and multi-day canyoneering trips based out of Escalante, Utah ($150 per day).
Vermont: Bike and Eat Good Food Denise LeBlanc
The headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot, and Magic Hat Brewery are based in Vermont, it’s ground zero for maple syrup production, and the state has the highest number of artisanal cheese makers per capita. In other words, Vermonters were the original locavores, which means that if you’re a foodie—which you probably are—you need to visit at least once.
The Vermont Farm & Food Trail in Bennington, Windham, and Windsor counties is a good place to start touring by taste bud. Rent a bike from Brattleboro Bicycle Shop in Brattleboro, then choose from some eight farmer’s markets, more than half a dozen farms and orchards, and a handful of cheese makers (who offer tastings, naturally) within biking distance.If you’re not satiated by evening, stop by the Old Tavern at the Grafton Inn for a three-course zinger of a dinner made entirely of local ingredients.
Brattleboro Bicycle Shop rents bikes for $25 per day. Find maps of farmers markets, farms, orchards, and local restaurants on the Vermont Farm and Food Trail.
Virginia: Bike a Brand New Trail Mary Terriberry
In 2011, a small group of Virginia's top mountain bikers quietly went off on a 12-day trip linking eight major trail systems and some of the best singletrack in the state. Their vision was to create an epic long-distance trail for mountain bikers, like the Appalachian Trail, starting with Virginia. The result is the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail. So far, few people have done it, and who knows whether it will ever have the huts and signs that the original riders envisioned.
What we do know is this: This 480-mile trail, climbing some 65,000 vertical feet from Strasburg to Damascus, compiles some of the East Coast's most spectacular biking: tunnels of mountain laurel, ridge-skimming singletrack, stream crossings, technical rock gardens, and screaming downhills through thick forests. And you could be one of the first to do the entire thing.
Chris Scott, of Shenandoah Mountain Touring, pioneered the trail and guides parts of it (from $600 per person for six days).
Washington: Forage For Dinner by Kayak EdBob/Flickr
Washington’s Lummi Island has two things that are easy to love: serene waters for kayaking and free food. Troll the shore with a foraging guide from Elakah Expeditions to gather dinner: edible seaweeds, land vegetables, berries, and summer mushrooms. Pick up some oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms and reef-net-caught salmon from the locals, then, with a few home-brought ingredients, cook up your finds on a rocky beach. On the menu: items like barbecue salmon in a kelp seaweed wrap, nettle-smoked cheese, and douglas fir tip and licorice fern sorbet.
Elakah Expeditions runs custom foraging and kayaking trips around the San Juan Islands and Lummi Island (from $120 per day).
West Virginia: Climb the New River Gorge Tim Mainiero
The New River Gorge is a holy site for climbers, who make their pilgrimage for the 1,400-plus bolted routes, mostly between 5.10 and 5.12, that dot the area’s hard, featured sandstone. But they linger because the living is simple and easy. The weather is perfect in spring and fall, mature forests offer shade, a flock of inexpensive local campgrounds host climbers, and the beer and pizza flow at local joints like Pies and Pints.
New River Mountain Guides offers guided climbs from $160 per person per day.
Wisconsin: Race the Birkenbeiner Bob Wartman/Flickr
There are few places where you can debate the merits of various ski waxes, talk smack—and be taken seriously—while in spandex, and race next to some of the world’s elite skiers. The Birkenbeiner is one of them. This fabled northern Wisconsin ski race is not only a competition but a cultural phenomenon. Racing in the feature events—a 50-kilometer skate-ski race and a 54-kilometer classic cross-country ski race—requires large lungs, good luck, and sharp elbows (some 6,000 people compete).
But a lack of fitness needn’t deter you from going simply to witness the spectacle of it all. One example: the Giant Ski, in which teams of six people, mounted on 24-foot wooden skis, race each other down Main Street.
The entry fee at the Birkebeiner runs about $100.
Wyoming: Backpack the Wind River Range Steve Price
One of the nice things about Wyoming is the citizenry’s commitment to having as few rules as possible. (One example: They were one of the last states to institute an open-container law.) A better example: the Wind River Range. Consider it the Alaska of the continental U.S. Outside of the Cirque of the Towers, a classic backcountry climbing area, there are few people or signs, pretty much no one to enforce any rules, and it’s generally perfectly ok to roam off-trail into the open alpine areas. In other words, you’re on your own.
Choose an area like Elkhart Park, near Pinedale, and plan enough days to roam alpine meadows, high granite peaks, pine forests, and mirrored lakes perfect for trout fishing. You’re almost guaranteed to see moose, sheep, fox, and bear. Shoshone National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest administer the Wind River Range.
Jackson Hole Mountain Guides offers four- to fourteen-day guided treks in the Wind River Range (from $250 per person per day).