Trips to Take Before You Die
A bucket list without a destination is like a bucket without a handle—it just goes nowhere. Well, we've got a plan for you, and it culminates with these 30 perfect escapes.
Shred the Night Lights
We've searched the globe, and it's impossible to top Niseko, Japan, on the island of Hokkaido, for inbounds night skiing. The resort, which has a 3,000-foot vertical drop and averages 580 inches of snow per year, stays open until 9 p.m. and lights its slopes to the summit. What puts it over the top are the onsens, those mineral-rich hot springs that bubble up everywhere. Ki Niseko, a brand-new luxury boutique hotel steps from the Hirafu high-speed gondola, has rooms with panoramic views to Mount Yotei and gorgeous indoor onsens, both public and private. (Rooms from $900. One-day lift tickets for Niseko United, $63.)
Conquer the “King” of the Gran Fondos
Gear up for the mac daddy of all gran fondos on this eight-day Italian tour with 10,000 fellow cyclists that culminates with the Maratona d'les Dolomites, a 91-mile ride over eight mountain passes topping out at the 7,362-foot Passo Sella. Before the big ride, you'll spend the first five days warming up on passes like the 3,000-mile, 7.5 percent-gradient climb up Stelvio Pass, aka "the King," near the border of Switzerland and Italy. Stay in centuries-old hotels, like the Hotel Hanswirt in Rabland. June 30 to July 7, 2014; 2015 dates also available ($4,595).
Float the Upper Colorado
Number two on American Rivers' 2014 most-endangered list is the Upper Colorado. The river is a lifeline for 14 native fish species and other wildlife, yet 60 percent of the water is diverted for Front Range irrigation, agriculture, and municipal use. Float the Class II-IV stretch through Little Gore Canyon with Dvorak Expeditions, a company that has been running it since the 1970s. The alpine scenery, hot springs, and impressive history will inspire you to help save this river from its critical state. (One- to four-day trips available, from $100.)
Take Your Home on the Road
Gearheads will want to consider the lightweight aluminum trailers that have a ramp on the end, plus a bed, kitchen, bathroom, and space for an entire quiver of mountain bikes, skis, or surfboards. With this kind of rig, the world is your oyster. Camp at a facility with full-service electric hookups and pumping facilities, or find a solitary spot and dry-dock—camp at sites without electrical hookups. After your 30-day epic to Moab, down the coast of Baja, or across the Rocky Mountain West, unload the RV through a reputable dealer found through GoRVing.com.
Pamper Yourself Before Boston
Boston is expensive, but if you've qualified to run the marathon, it's time to splurge. Reserve a room by early August at the Four Seasons, two blocks from the finish chutes and overlooking Boston's soothing public garden. Take your mind off the marathon with one last mellow training run along the Charles River. On marathon eve, head to Boston's North End, the Italian section of the city, for maximum carb loading at one of more than 75 restaurants, like Villa Francesca and Mama Maria's. Celebrate post-race at Hamersley's Bistro on the South End with garlicky mashed potato cakes and whole roasted black sea bass. Marathon Tours can help with an itinerary and race logistics, and offers hotel discounts.
Bliss Out on a Private Island
Krakal Island, in Indonesia's Karimunjawa Archipelago, is a tiny spit of sand featuring only a luxurious one-bedroom beach shack. It's a 30-minute boat ride from its sister property, Kura Kura Resort. Krakal has no electricity, no wireless anything, and no staff. What it does have is sugar-white sand, palm trees, a hammock, food delivery in the form of a picnic hamper prepared at Kura Kura, or an optional butler to prepare the food. Sea kayak, snorkel among sea turtles, then laze the day away on the beach until the stars come out. The path to bed is lit only by torches. (Eleven-day trip from $5,439 per person, which includes overnight stays in Java and Ubud, Bali.)
Tackle America's Toughest Ski Race
Find a compatible ski partner and sign up for the Gore-Tex Grand Traverse, the oldest skimo race in North America. Four hundred racers take on a 40-mile, 8,000-foot climb that starts at midnight at the base of Crested Butte Mountain Resort on the last Friday in March. The ungroomed course tops off at 12,303-foot Star Pass and ends at the base of Aspen Mountain. Be forewarned: This is a self-supported backcountry race. It's up to each team to pack a stove, a lightweight shelter, and a Spot Tracker. ($200 per entrant) Arrive in Crested Butte the Thursday before the race and stay at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square (from $189) at the base of the mountain so you can nap right up until midnight.
Ride the Southwest's Sweetest Century
The fastest recorded time—not that anyone is officially keeping track—at the Santa Fe Century is 4:20, so it might be an impossible challenge to shave 20 minutes off this hilly, often windy course. But it's an admirable goal. Plus, as the first century of the season in the Southwest, this event is the perfect way to blow out the winter cobwebs, with hilly, challenging 20-, 50-, and 100-mile rides all radiating from Santa Fe. The century passes the quirky old mining towns of Madrid and Golden; features a beast of a steep, short climb at mile 38, maxing out at the summit of 7,320-foot Heartbreak Hill; and coincides with Outside's own Bike & Brew Festival. ($30.)
Get Wet in a Paddler's Paradise
Master the roll from the masters at Otter Bar. In one seven-day course with a guide-to-student ratio of one to three, you'll start off in the warm-water ponds learning basic strokes, boat control, wet exits, and rescue techniques. Graduate to flat water on the nearby pool-drop Klamath River and, ultimately, paddle Class III whitewater on the Salmon with a bomber roll in your bag of tricks. A world-class roster of instructors is always close at hand. As good as the instruction is, the food is even better—think fresh spinach salad and blackened salmon, most grown or caught locally. Dinner is almost always served under the stars. ($2,090.)
Climb a Peak Worth Bragging About
At 14,308 feet, Uncompahgre Peak is the highest mountain in Colorado's San Juan Mountain Range and the sixth-highest peak in Colorado. At the epicenter of one of the most remote areas in the Lower 48, Uncompahgre's toughest challenge is the rutted 15.5-mile four-wheel-drive jeep road to the Nellie Creek trailhead. Once you're there, it's a relatively straightforward 7.25-mile, 3,000-foot climb to the summit. The payoff is wildflowers and stunning views to Wetterhorn (pictured here) and Handies Peaks, both fellow fourteeners. Telluride is only a 78-mile drive away. Book a room at the New Sheridan Hotel (from $223), and celebrate the summit with a Smoke Shack Porter at Telluride Brewing Company just down the road.
Defeat the Spartan Ultra Beast
Spartan Races take place around the globe in distances from a sprint to a marathon. Start with the three-mile, 15-obstacle sprint and slowly work up to the the Spartan Ultra Beast, an obstacle race from hell in Killington, Vermont, on September 21. As the Spartan website says, "There will be no map or details for the course. Don't bother asking because we will not tell you." We're guessing the marathon-length course might include jumping through fire, carrying backbreaking bags of sand uphill and down, and possibly having to memorize The Odyssey. (Registration fees start at $185 depending on when you sign up.)
Hunt Wild Boar the French Way
Experience a wild boar hunt in the most traditional French way—with chasseurs francais and hunting dogs in Corbières, near Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon. After the boar is shot and killed, it's brought back to camp and butchered at the abattoir, where guests are welcome to watch or even participate. The hunter who brought down the beast gets the best cuts, but the entire party eats the liver and filet, accompanied by pastis (anise-flavored liqueur) or wine. Later in the evening, guests feast on civet du sanglier, or wild boar stew. (Three-day packages with a stay in a luxurious private residence from $1,507.)
Become an Alaskan Powder Hero
For 20 years, the veterans at Chugach Powder Guides have been skiing the same 120-mile swath between the northern Chugach Range and the Gulf of Alaska. Annual snowfall here is 650 inches, and the choices are endless, from steep couloirs to mild powder bowls to 4,000-foot vertical runs with views to Turnagain Arm. Gather a group of eight to 12 like-minded skiers and you'll have an AStar heli at your disposal. On snowbound days when the bird can't fly, there's always the cat. And there's no risk of cabin fever: Guests stay at Alyeska Resort, which has access to mountaintop fine dining, an Asian bistro, and American bar food. (Seven-day packages from $7,900.)
Spin in the Country's Best Bike Towns
Portland and Minneapolis duke it out every year over which city is more commuter savvy. After the Arctic winter that Minnesota suffered, we give props to Minneapolis. Including its 5.5-mile Midtown Greenway, a car- and pedestrian-free bike highway that's kept plowed and open 24/7, Minneapolis bike routes radiate for miles in every direction. Along the Midtown Greenway itself are restaurants and shops like Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, which offers coveted showers. Log on to Pedal Minnesota to plan a cycle tour of the Twin Cities. We recommend visiting in summer.
Swim With— and Save—the Sharks
The Four Seasons Resort Seychelles on Mahe Island partners with Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCCS) to study and preserve whale sharks. When the whales arrive in September or October, MCCS sends up a microlight fixed-wing aircraft to spot them in the morning. If sharks are sighted, guests can tag along with marine biologists on a three-hour boat ride to snorkel with the sharks. The $172 cost goes straight to MCCS to fund its work.
Lose Weight on the Haute Route
Lug a heavy backpack and camp along the Haute Route, but keep in mind that you'll be crossing moraines, climbing ladders bolted into the cliffs, and summiting a series of high passes. Lighten the load on Wilderness Travel's 12-day trip. You'll still carry a daypack, but instead of camping you'll stroll straight out of the hotel and onto the trail. Each trip has three leaders, one of whom manhandles the luggage. All you have to do is show up, hike, eat spectacular Swiss cheese, drink French wines, and sleep in comfortable to luxurious hostels and inns with endless views. (From $5,695.)
Run Through History
Put the history of ultrarunning into perspective by signing up for the 250K Greek Spartathlon, which follows the ancient route of Pheidippides, a messenger who was sent in 490 BC from Athens to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. The starting line is at the Acropolis, and the course passes the Temple of Apollo in Corinth and the 3,150-foot Sangas Pass in the Artemssion Range, and finishes in the Spartan capital of Laconia. Registration for 2014 is full, but there's always next year. Enjoy a post-race vacation at the Grace (from $521), an exclusive boutique hotel perched on a cliff on the northwest end of Santorini in Imerovigli, the perfect vantage point from which to heal blisters and watch the sun set over the Cyclades.
Drink Pisco in Lima
Pisco originated in 1553, when Spanish conquistadores imported grapes from the Canary Islands to Peru to make wine. The unwanted fermented grapes were distilled to make the powerful brandy-like liquor, pisco, which packs a 38 to 48 percent alcohol content. Both Chile and Peru lay claim to the famous Pisco Sour, but the original recipe—allegedly concocted by Victor Vaughen Morris, an American who opened Morris' Bar in Lima in the early 1920s—is still at the Gran Hotel Bolivar in central Lima. Start there, and then weave your way to Lima's many exquisite eating and drinking establishments, such as Central, Ayahuasca, and Huaringas Bar, to taste test the Pisco Sour's multiple incarnations. Finally, head south to Paracas, near the aptly named town of Pisco, to taste and tour the best pisco producers in the world. Culture Xplorers can custom-design a Peruvian pisco tour.
Release Your Chilean Powder Hound
Chase Chilean powder on this supercharged six-day epic that starts with a day of skiing at Portillo, Chile's most iconic resort, which opened in 1948. On day two, you'll set out in a snowcat to ski more than 13,000 vertical feet in Valle el Arpa, with views to 22,841-foot Aconcagua and the Pacific Ocean. Then head to Valle Nevado, a resort that sits at 12,040 feet and has 7,000 acres of terrain—1,711 more than Vail. On day four, give the legs a rest and sip cabernet sauvignon and carmenere in the luscious Maipo Valley at Santa Rita Winery, founded in 1880. Top off the trip by heli-skiing in the "Powder Capital of Chile." The slopes radiating off the five-star Puma Lodge receive an average of 3.2 feet of powder per storm. ($3,695 per person.)
Do What It Takes to Get Into Leadville
The hardest part for many would-be Leadville 100 racers is winning the lottery to participate. This year's lottery, which cost $15 to enter, has long since closed, but it's not too late for 2015. If your lucky number is chosen next March, or if you earn a spot through the qualifying races, be smart about your race strategy. Veteran racer Steve Yore recommends staying at the Inn of the Line in Leadville (from $110). "There is nothing better than getting out of bed, hopping on your bike, and rolling to the start line, and after finishing, jumping in the shower and returning to the finish to watch racers come in," says Yore. Don't miss the espresso and pastries at City on a Hill Coffee and Espresso.
Paddle-Surf with Demi-Gods
Master all the skills you need before signing up for Molokai2Oahu by attending Kalama Kamp, with locations in Hood River, Oregon, the Turks and Caicos, and Namotu, Fiji. Kalama himself, along with world-class instructors John Denney and Brody Welte, will school you in the essentials of SUP through drills, downwind paddles, and time to put it all together in the water. (One-day Hood River Camp, $575 per person; seven-day Turks and Caicos camp from $4,175; seven-day Fiji camp from $4,800.)
Sneak Off to a Swedish Hut
No secret here: If you know where you want to go, the best place to find an interesting, out-of-the-way place to stay is Airbnb.com. Search for yourself, but we recommend the cozy log house with a wood-burning stove in West Sweden ($141 per night). Why? Scandinavia has a centuries-old cottage culture and Sweden's West Coast is a summer haven with placid bays for kayaking; enough fresh crayfish, oysters, mussels, crab, and prawns to feed an army; and endless summer nights to make laps from the sauna to the sea. Find paradise in four easy steps: Book the cabin on Airbnb, book a flight to Gothenburg, rent a Volvo, and drive 2.5 hours north on the E6 to Grebbestad.
Nab a PR at the XTERRA World Championships
The XTERRA World Championship will be held October 26 on Maui. Eight hundred athletes from 30 countries and more than 40 U.S. states will gather for a tropical roller coaster that traverses Maui Land & Pineapple Company’s private 22,000-acres on Maui’s northwest coast. The race kicks off with a 1.5 kilometer swim on D.T. Fleming Beach in front of the Ritz Carlton, followed by a 30-kilometer mountain bike with 3,100 feet of climbing in the West Maui mountains on muddy, bumpy, rocky, rutted trails, and finishes with a 10k trail run through oleander forests that circumnavigates a 700-foot mountain lake and ends with a 250-meter sprint through the sand. Earn a slot by qualifying as one of the top finishers in their age group at a previous XTERRA Championship race. Chill out before and after the race at yoga retreat Lumeria, which just opened its Crystal Spa, with private ocean-view massage cottages. Premium courtyard rooms from $329.
Enlist in a Whole-Body Boot Camp
"We're more of a boot camp than a cleanse," says Jay Anthony, assistant to the director of the Ashram, the Malibu, California-based detox center to the stars that also offers a program at a dreamy oceanfront finca in Mallorca, Spain, from April through June. Though you won't be juicing, you will be doing strenuous daily hikes of up to 14 miles, two yoga classes per day, TRX workouts, kayaking, and meditating. The diet? Vegan, sourced from the resident garden and restricted to between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day. Favorite dishes include vegetarian paella and coca de trampo. "It's more of a healthy reconnection and immersion in nutrition and fitness than a total cleanse," says Anthony. ($5,000 per week for a shared room in the finca.)
Cross-Country Ski in America's Nordic Mecca
Washington's Methow Valley has more than 120 miles of trails, all of which are immaculately groomed by the Methow Valley Sports Trails Association (trail passes, $22 per day). Make your base at the luxurious Sun Mountain Lodge (rooms from $165), featuring world-class instructors, a rental shop full of performance skis, and rooms with views to the Cascade Range. By the end of the week, you'll be ready to tackle the valley's legendary 30K route, which begins with double espressos at the famous Mazama Store and ends a few hours later with a recovery feast in the Wild West town of Winthrop.
Freeride in British Columbia
British Columbia is a mecca for mountain bikers. Hand-built singletrack snakes through rooty, rocky, steep, and technical terrain. On Big Mountain Bike Adventures' seven-day Sea to Sky tour, you'll start with a day of coaching at Whistler Bike Park, with more than 250 kilometers of trails. Then you'll practice those skills on the singletrack at Squamish and Pemberton before spending the night at a private chalet, where you'll load up the next morning to take a floatplane into the Chilcotin Mountains for a six-hour traverse and descent among bighorn sheep and grizzlies. State-of-the-art enduro bikes, with five to six inches of travel, are available for rental. ($2,295.)
Raft and Swim Naked in Alaska
The 240-mile Alsek flows from the Yukon Territory into Alaska through the largest contiguously protected area in the world—Kluane National Park Reserve, Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park, and Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. What the Class II-III Alsek lacks in continuous whitewater, it makes up for in giant mountain scenery, calving glaciers, grizzly sightings, and one very intense helicopter portage around Class V-VI Turnback Canyon. You might not be stripping naked every night to swim in the glacier-fed water, but you will get your kicks watching the aurora borealis. (Trips run June through August, from $3,995.)
Spend a Week at Colorado's Opus Hut
The Opus Hut between Telluride and Silverton on Ophir Pass in the San Juan Mountains averages somewhere between 350 and 600 inches of snow annually. But who's counting? Unlike many huts accessible only by a helicopter, the Ophir is a three-mile hike in from Colorado 550 and sits right at treeline at 11,700 feet on a south-facing slope, which means ample sunshine. It has everything you need for comfort, including running water, blankets, pillows, and a wood-fired sauna. The staff cooks breakfast and dinner, so all you need are ski clothes, lunch fixings, and enough leg strength to last you five days of skiing. ($80 per night for breakfast, dinner, and bed; $150 per person for full-day guiding a group of four.)
Run a Beer Mile with the Best
Of course the beer mile originated in Australia. Train with the fastest beer milers in the world, members of Melbourne's Parkville Beer Miler's Club, established in 1973. Many of the club's races are on school tracks where drinking is illegal, so events are often spontaneous. The good news, however, is that there's rarely an entry fee. And it's always BYOB. Stay at the Cullen Hotel (from $195) in Melbourne's bohemian district of Prahan. Then test the brews at the Prince Public Bar and Bandroom, a raucous Aussie pub in nearby St. Kilda with an impressive, always rotating international roster of live music.
Eradication by Mastication
If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. That's the philosophy behind the Institute for Applied Ecology's annual Invasive Species Cook-Off, "Eradication by Mastication." On September 28, at Zenith Vineyard in Salem, Oregon, internationally renown chef Philippe Parola from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, will turn giant Asian carp and the evil rodent nutria into a sampler delicacy, followed by an invasive species feast of wild boar, wild turkey, bullfrog legs, Japanese knotweed, sheep sorrel, dandelion greens, and wild Himalayan blackberries, accompanied by Zenith Vineyard wines and local craft beer. The real fun begins with the evening's cook-off, where Pacific Northwest chefs are bestowed with a basket of mystery invasive greens, meat, and fruit, and have 45 minutes to create a delicious dish for the judges. (Tickets from $65.)