There are 14 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Make the most of every single minute.
Outsource the Planning
Sometimes you don't want to deal with logistics. The solution? Outfitted trips. Try one of these three new itineraries.
Ride. Temperate weather, cool ocean breezes, and astounding topography make Santa Barbara, California, prime road-biking territory. Trek Travel's new four-day tour includes shuttles, lodging, gourmet picnics, and plenty of wine tasting ($2,199). Ride beside the ocean, up into the Santa Ynez Mountains, and through vineyards before hitting the rooftop pool at Canary Hotel Santa Barbara, one of the most luxe places to stay downtown.
Hike. If you want a gourmet snack at the end of your trek, try the three-day trip that Whole Journeys, the travel arm of Whole Foods, launched in the Aspen, Colorado, area in 2012 ($995). Set up camp at the Limelight (from $139), then hike mountains like 14,279-foot Castle Peak and end your days with handmade cheeses at Avalanche Cheese Company or local spirits at Woody Creek Distillers.
Multisport. Lake Tahoe has the two things you most want out of a summer weekend: mountains and lakes. On a four-day trip with REI Adventures, you'll paddleboard ultra-clear waters, hike up the Pacific Crest Trail for views of granite peaks and gem-blue lakes, and camp in a secluded forest in Donner Memorial State Park ($895). S'mores included.
Find Empty Sand
Everyone wants their own stretch of beach in the summer. Try these spots to locate yours.
Go farther. Washington County, Maine, is as far east as you can get in the lower 48 and home to spectacularly empty beaches, many of which don't even have names. What they do have: clams, periwinkles, and nearby blueberry fields. The Inn on the Wharf is spartan but sits oceanside (from $100).
Put in the effort. A 5.5-mile hike on the Coast Trail or a seven-mile bike ride on the Stewart Trail gets you to Wildcat Beach on California's Point Reyes National Seashore (camping permit, $20 per night). There will be other campers at the bluff-top campground, but you'll find solitude on the beach.
Buy 'em out. Rent one of the one-to-four-bedroom houses, or all six of them, at the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, on the Georgia coast between Savannah and Jacksonville, and you and up to 31 guests will have the run of a seven-mile stretch of sand (from $450).
It's hard to stop checking e-mail when it keeps popping up on your phone. The way around that: go where there's no service or gadgets are outlawed. For the former, try the cabin known as the Hermitage, located on New Mexico's remote 135-acre Vallecitos Mountain Ranch ($100, including meals). It has access to alpine meadows, old-growth ponderosa forests, and aspen groves, and it's surrounded by mountains as far as you can see. Or head to Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, a set of 15 thatched-roof bungalows on a private plot in the Florida Keys. The resort has no televisions, clocks, or Wi-Fi—and there's a strict no-cell policy, even at the pool. Instead of streaming Netflix, guests kayak through mangroves, fish for wahoo, and lie in hammocks, savoring the time to completely space out (from $899).
Go on Tour
Long-distance bike routes are popping up all over the country; the Adventure Cycling Association has mapped more than 40,000 miles of designated trails and routes. If you're looking for a crowd-free experience, try the 174-mile Old West Scenic Bikeway, which winds through the remote high desert of eastern Oregon. In June, outfitter Bicycle Adventures launches a four-day lodge-to-lodge trip along the route, which slices through forests and bizarre geological formations that rival southern Utah (June 20-23, $2,095). For a full-blown party, sign up for a gran fondo, like the new 104-miler that starts in Hancock, Vermont, on June 14 ($100). Cyclists will climb 10,000 feet over four passes, including Lincoln Gap, which, with grades tilting up as much as 24 percent, features the steepest paved mile in the country. There are also 46- and 69-mile rides, which pack smaller doses of the same fine views of lakes, mossy New England forests, farms, and white-steepled churches. Middlebury's Swift House Inn is a good place to rest up afterward (from $145). There's bike storage, a sauna and steam room, and homemade pancakes.
Rent a Cabin
Some pointers: It should be close enough to a shore or mountain that you can reach beautiful places on foot. And you should be willing to spend enough to get the space you need—a porch or clearing for camp chairs, and plenty of room for Wiffle ball or watermelon-spitting contests—but affordable enough that you can return year after year. A prime example: the Mt. Moriah Cottage, a five-bedroom, cedar-shake bungalow in Gorham, New Hampshire, that has a porch overlooking its namesake mountain, nearby rafting on the Androscoggin River, and hiking trails within walking distance (from $420 for ten). Or try Arkansas's Lake Fort Smith State Park, which has ten new wood and stone cabins with fireplaces, lake views, and shady groves to explore (from $127).
Get Far, Far Away
It's amazing how remote you can go in a weekend. A three-hour flight from Ottawa puts you in a place that feels like the edge of the world—Iqaluit, a city of 6,700 hardy residents on the edge of Nunavut's Baffin Island, just a few degrees shy of the Arctic Circle. On a three-day weekend trip with Arctic Kingdom, you'll arrive with plenty of time to cash in on the town's extra daylight by hiking past arctic willows to waterfalls in Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, fishing for two-foot arctic char on the Sylvia Grinnell River, or kayaking at the edge of an ice floe, where, if you're lucky, you might spot a beluga whale or a polar bear (from $1,461, including flight from Ottawa and accommodations).
Try Something New
Studies suggest that learning a skill is good for brain health. Here are a few places to start.
Catch a barrel. Adventure International has new long-weekend, learn-to-surf packages in Los Angeles that include two nights at Santa Monica's Shore Hotel and two three-hour surf lessons on Santa Monica State Beach ($800 for two).
Put your back into it. At the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in northern Vermont, expert instructors will teach you to scull (and what to do if you flip over) on serene Great Hosmer Pond, a two-mile-long glacial lake ($621 for three days, all-inclusive).
Go foraging. The new Denver-based company Hunt and Gather runs custom day and weekend mushroom-hunting clinics right outside the city in some of the country's best porcini habitat (from $300 for two).
Get close to your food. In Everett, Pennsylvania, aspiring butchers and bacon aficionados can visit Black Valley Farm for a new workshop on small-scale pig farming and hog butchery (June 7, from $25).
Get your line wet. Most guides offer only half- or full-day fly-fishing lessons. Breckenridge Outfitters lets you sign up for two-hour lessons on the Blue or South Platte Rivers (from $85). You can get a taste and still have time to hike, raft, or refuel at the Briar Rose Chophouse and Saloon.
Blow the Bank
One good way to screw the books is a weekend at the newly renovated Shore Lodge in McCall, Idaho, two hours north of Boise in the Payette National Forest. The 77 lodge rooms are nice, but the three-suite cottage, with a lakeside hot tub and private deck, is even better (from $1,000). Invite friends and spend all day mountain biking on the lodge's rental Treks ($55), sailing on Payette Lake, or savoring the view from your own private stretch of beach. Another favorite: Colorado's Ranch at Emerald Valley, which opened last summer just outside Colorado Springs. On the south end of Pike National Forest, it has easy access to great fishing, hiking, and horseback riding (from $1,000 for two nights). Don't have quite that much cash but still want a taste of the good life? Aim for Moab Under Canvas, a luxury tented camp that opened in April, four miles outside Utah's Arches National Park. The collection of 40 tents includes 14 rustic tepees with cots, but the two secluded campaign-tent suites are worth the extra cost. You'll have your own king bed and wood-burning stove, but the best part is the deck, with civilization-free views of the park (from $89 for a tent; $395 for a campaign tent).
Float. Camp. Drink beer. Repeat. River trips are the ultimate escape, and a weekend is all you need to see these classic American waterways.
Snake River. The easiest way to take in the impressive peaks of Grand Teton National Park is from a boat. On Oars' three-day trip, you'll kayak Jackson Lake and raft the Class II Snake past the Tetons' famed profiles (from $539). Star-soaked wilderness dinners and front-row views of the mountains included.
Connecticut River. In recent years, a consortium of New England nonprofits secured public access to campsites along a 280-mile stretch of the Connecticut through New Hampshire and Vermont and published a map with access points and portages. The best weekend route: start in Hartford, Vermont, with a canoe from North Star Canoe Rentals, and float 18 miles past nesting bald eagles, a waterfall, a historic covered bridge, and four river islands with perfect camping sites ($80 per person, including shuttle).
San Juan River. The 26-mile stretch of the San Juan between Bluff and Mexican Hat in Utah passes Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, sandstone canyons, beachy campsites, and one family-friendly Class II-III rapid. To DIY, reserve a permit from the Bureau of Land Management's Monticello office in February ($10 per person), or take a guided three-day trip this summer with Wild Rivers Expeditions (from $711).
Explore a City
On summer weekends, urbanites flee their environs, but there are plenty of reasons to reverse the migration: summer festivals, outdoor cafés, nightlife, and, increasingly, great ways to get outside.
Denver. Stand-up-paddle down the Platte River with a rental from Confluence Kayaks ($40), then stay at the 112-room railroad-inspired Crawford Hotel (from $300), which will open in the city's historic train station in July.
Memphis, Tennessee. The BBQ town is currently constructing a new crowdfunded park and urban bike path called the Hampline, which will be finished by the end of the summer. Stay at the River Inn of Harbortown (from $257), close to the riverside Mississippi Greenbelt Park, and rent a ride at Midtown Bike Company, which is near the trail (from $10 per hour)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Kayak Company opened last year and will rent you a craft to paddle through the historic Third Ward District ($25 for four hours). Crash at the new steampunk Brewhouse Inn and Suites, a hotel housed in—what else?—an old Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery (from $189).
Take an American Safari
In eastern Montana, there is a 273,000-acre swath of wild grassland that has never been plowed or disturbed and where bison, antelope, and elk still roam. This summer, the nonprofit American Prairie Reserve lets you enjoy it all for the first time from Kestrel Camp, a series of five luxury yurts with decks, hot showers, and fluffy beds (from $1,200). Guests spend days with a naturalist spotting wildlife on foot, horse, or mountain bike, then watch the sunset over a nightcap or two. Observing a sage grouse mating dance or a prairie dog convention is impressive, but what's most mind-boggling is the experience of solitude in a place that has changed little since Lewis and Clark came through more than 200 years ago. Even better, your money supports conserving the area you visit.
Join the Party
Want to be surrounded by hundreds of mildly inebriated new friends? They're easy to find at major music festivals (Delaware's Firefly is a good one) or food bashes (like Taste of Chicago). But for sheer novelty, try an under-the-radar gathering instead. Wanderlust is a rapidly expanding festival series with a new event in Snowmass, Colorado (July 3-6, from $100 per day). It may be a bit New Agey (classes include The Secret Art of Letting Go), but it's also a lot of fun, with SUP yoga clinics, TED-like lectures, slackline tutorials, and live music. If that's not zany enough, check out the World Land Sailing Championships (July 12-19, free), which will be the biggest land-yachting event in the U.S. in 14 years. On a windy, 6,000-foot-high playa near Austin, Nevada, spectators watch racers hit speeds of more than 90 miles per hour. Post-race, you can even ask to take a yacht for a (milder) test drive. Find a more classic adventure in Saluda, North Carolina, at the Green River Games (September 5-7, $40-$75), a celebration of two of our favorite things: beer and outdoor sports. The games have competitions in everything from cyclocross to trail running, but the marquee event is the Silverback: kayaking a Class V stretch of river, mountain-biking for 13 miles, and running lush Green River Gorge trails.
Land a Trophy
The Atlantic salmon is one of the most difficult fish to catch on a fly: they're choosy eaters, and there are very few places to try your hand at it. New Brunswick's Restigouche River has one of the best populations in North America, but most of the river has been under lease by private clubs for more than a century. Last year, the Glen Eden Lodge opened with access to a mile of it. The 1920s-style camp has hot showers, a fieldstone fireplace, and free-flowing Scotch in the evening. By day, you'll cast from 26-foot spear canoes for the "fish of a thousand casts." Your luck will be good, thanks to dense sheets of fish and well-seasoned guides (from $450).
Head to Sea
The greatest freedom? Cruising the open ocean. Here are two motorless ways to get out there.
Sail. Blue Pacific Boating, in Los Angeles, rents 34-to-46-foot sailboats with skippers for weekend charters (from $2,200). Leave Marina del Rey in the morning and reach Catalina Island by afternoon, where you can swim, hike, barbecue, and rock to sleep moored in Two Harbors.
Paddle. This month, Florida's Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council releases a new map showing paddling routes, hiking trails, and campgrounds in seven southeast Florida counties. Our suggestion is the 29-mile section of the Florida Circumnavigational Paddling Trail between Lake Worth and Jonathan Dickinson State Park, near Palm Beach. Rent a rig from Kayak Lake Worth (from $35) and paddle through thick, shady mangroves, inspect tidal flats and oyster bars for sea turtles, and pitch a tent on the shore at MacArthur Beach and Jonathan Dickinson State Parks.