Remember that sinking feeling last Labor Day when you realized you hardly managed to get out of town? Lucky for you, we mapped out 15 radically adventurous and wildly relaxing quick trips.
You'll get in the water, on singletrack, and all over some of the best trails and rock faces the country has to offer. Later you'll kick back with some excellent brews and local fare, you'll see some of our favorite live music acts (inner tube optional), and when the sun goes down you'll likely find yourself under the stars, next to a campfire.
The best part? We've done all the work for you—scouted the best places to stay, play, and refuel, and filled every weekend of the season with only the finest. Start planning now.
Head to Asheville and Drink It In
Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. There are 30 in and around this western North Carolina city of 88,000. Asheville Beer Week, a string of tastings, seminars, and new releases, kicks off with the Asheville Beer Festival, held the Saturday before Memorial Day ($45). Scores of local breweries and a few national standouts crowd the city’s Roger McGuire Green, pouring unlimited samples to happy crowds bobbing to live music. The festival is big but not too big, the weather warm but not too warm. Ease in with a Rocket Girl lager from Asheville Brewing Co. and go from there.
Lose Yourself in Oregon's Owyhee Mountains
Oregon’s Owyhee Mountains—2.5 million acres of sagebrush high desert near the Idaho border—is so far removed from the bustle of Portland that the state still classifies it as frontier. Its jewel is the Owyhee Canyonlands, carved deep into volcanic rock by patient rivers. Experienced off-trail travelers should tackle it with a 32-mile pack-rafting trip. Starting from the Three Forks Trailhead, outside Rome, the route heads up the Middle Fork of the Owyhee River through sagebrush country, then enters a slot canyon, green with moss and ferns. At North Cross Canyon, ascend to the desert’s table, reckon your way to South Cross Canyon, and scramble down to the Owyhee River. Inflate your pack raft for a 16-mile float back to your car—a mellow cruise past 800-foot walls and 80-degree springs that perch like infinity pools above the river. Rent a raft from Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Packraft via FedEx ($30 per day plus shipping).
Do the Kentucky Biathlon
Mountain biking and bluegrass, that is. For more than 40 years, miners pulled limestone from a hole in the ground within sight of downtown Louisville. They scooped out a 100-acre cavern of echoing, 58-degree bigness. Today, the Louisville Mega Cavern has plenty of room for the world’s largest indoor bike park ($24 for four hours). Ride your 29er over the berms, bumps, and banked singletrack of the 320,000-square-foot playground—there are 17 miles of trails in all. Then drive 78 miles east to the Festival of the Bluegrass, held at the Kentucky Horse Park just north of Lexington ($100 for a four-day pass). Now in its 43rd year, the festival showcases stalwarts like the Seldom Scene. But “the best part of the festival isn’t what happens on the stage,” says organizer Roy Cornett. It’s the whiskey-fueled campfire sessions where old and new friends play until dawn.
Bug Out in Twin Bridges, Montana
Twin Bridges, in southwest Montana, is way off the Yellowstone tourist map. But within a 50-mile radius, there are hundreds of miles of blue-ribbon water—like the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers—that later merge to form the mighty Missouri. Early summer’s salmon fly hatches are the stuff of legend. The orange-bodied insects, which can grow nearly as long as your index finger, start to appear around the middle of June—great clouds of them. And it drives the trout crazy. To chuck a No. 6 Chubby Chernobyl to a voracious and gullible brown may be one of the happiest moments an angler can have. That’s why 15 years ago, Dan “Rooster” Leavens bought a roadside motel and applied vision and elbow grease to turn it into the Stonefly Inn and Outfitters, a six-cabin lodge ($2,195 for three nights, all-inclusive; day trips from $575). The routine here is simple: Get up early. Float and fish all day. Head back at nightfall for a slab of Montana steer around a table set for 20. Then it’s up early to slay ’em again.
Float On and Explore Arkansas's Buffalo River
Arkansas’s Buffalo River was declared our first national river in 1972—“and it didn’t get that way because it’s not special,” declares Mike Mills, founder of outfitter Buffalo Outdoor Center. This Ozarks river flows undammed for its entire 153 miles, often beneath 500-foot limestone bluffs. Take Mills’s advice and canoe it (rentals, $65 per day; shuttles from $21). To outsmart the day-tripping crowds, put in first thing in the morning and take your time on the ten miles from Baker Ford to Gilbert. Swim in the warmth of the afternoon. Pitch camp on a gravel bar. Cast for smallmouth. Sleep late; you’re on the overnight plan.
Declare Your Independence in Silverton
Colorado’s tiny Silverton throws the best Fourth of July party in the Rockies, so celebrate America in high-country style. Hike three and a half stupid-steep miles up above 12,000 feet to Ice Lake, where the streams will be pulsing with snowmelt and wildflowers will be blooming psychedelically. Back in town, climb some fun 5.10’s at the Stripe, a mellow sport crag. On the Fourth, head downtown to catch the best fireworks for hundreds of miles. But don’t try to beat a retreat via Molas Pass right after the show—the road looks like something out of Mad Max. Instead amble over to Avalanche Brewing, then crash at the stylish Benson Lodge (from $100). —Chris Cohen
Get Beached on Pawleys Island
Forty-five minutes south of hectic Myrtle Beach lies Pawleys Island, a place of salt marshes and beach homes that have been described, approvingly, as arrogantly shabby. In short, a great place to unwind. Before the heat rises, toss a few casts to redfish tailing in the Debordieu marshes from guide Jay Nelson’s single-pole flats skiff ($400 for a half-day). Or have Pawleys Kayaks deliver a boat for a tour of the Pawleys Creek saltmarsh (from $30). After, grab a cold beer and a pimento cheese sandwich at local hangout Pawleys Island Tavern. Most houses are one-week rentals, but you can book a weekend cottage at the old-school Sea View Inn (from $155).
Listen Up at Northern Nights
“Northern Nights kind of prides itself on a lineup that nobody knows now but they’ll know next year,” says Andrew Blap, a cofounder of the California music festival. Now in its fourth year, Northern Nights is held in lush redwood country, a three-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco. Word to the wise: bring a tube and float down the Eel for a view of the River Stage, one of the festival’s four venues (passes from $169).
Circumnavigate Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe practically demands a road trip. First stop: Lover’s Leap, a crag on Highway 50 as it approaches the water from Sacramento, for some of Northern California’s best trad climbing. The 600-foot granite faces are sliced by horizontal ridges, which means “you can climb steep walls at relatively easy grades,” says Marc Pietrolungo, owner of Lover’s Leap Guides (trips from $160). Tie into the classic Surrealistic Pillar, a three-pitch 5.7 that offers corners, cracks, and traverses. Then head to the lake’s eastern shore to mountain-bike a different kind of Tahoe classic: the 14-mile Flume Trail. After a granny-gear climb through aspens and pines, it flows for miles, offering Instagram-gold views. The ride is best done one-way, so hire a shuttle from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes (from $15, plus a $2 parking fee).
Spin Your Wheels in Idaho
Bring the whole brood and bike quiver, because the scenic and historical riding in the Idaho panhandle’s Bitterroot Range is for everyone. First check out the Route of the Hiawatha, which traces miles of the Old Milwaukee Road rail route west from the Montana border into Idaho on packed gravel. The draw here are the ten tunnels, one nearly 1.7 miles long (bring lights!), and seven trestles, one of them 230 feet high (trail pass $10; optional shuttle $9). The next day, roll down the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a 72-mile asphalt path that follows a native trading route from the Montana border nearly to Washington. It travels through a necklace of historic mining towns in Idaho’s Silver Valley, where an old settlement every five miles or so offers plenty of burger stops, then heads out a quieter region of chain lakes with thousands of waterfowl and the odd moose, skirts right along the shoreline of Lake Coeur d’Alene, and continues toward rolling wheat country. The best part? All of it is plenty doable if you’ve got fit teens and one long day.