From the continent’s highest peaks to its lowest deserts, the American West was made for outdoor adventure
When it comes to geographic diversity, few countries can shake a stick what the United States has going on. And because of that diversity—including just about every flavor of mountain, water body, and landscape imaginable—America also happens to be one of the best places in the world for outdoor adventures. You can surf in the heartland on ocean-size freshwater lakes, ski in the summer on volcanic glaciers, and follow trails through geologic time. Bottom line: there are adventures to be had in every corner of every state.
But it’s the West that embodies America’s adventurous spirit more than any other region. It’s got public lands galore, which protect all manner of landscapes, from the high plains to the Rocky Mountains, the desert Southwest to the rainforested Northwest. You’ve heard of the Grand Canyon, the Grand Teton, and the other iconic national parks west of the Mississippi. But what about the lesser-known gems? Here are our top adventure picks in America’s wildest country.
Best Natural Waterslide: Slide Rock State Park, Arizona
Probably the world’s coolest swimming hole, Oak Creek Canyon’s Slide Rock is a natural Slip ’N Slide courtesy of the creek’s cold, clear flow over the natural algae that coats hundreds of yards of smooth sandstone flumes and pools. Your mission is simple: Submit to the current, butt down, hands up, let fly, repeat.
Best Mountain Biking: Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte’s claim as the Mountain Bike Capital of the U.S. may be self-designated, but who’s to argue with 700 miles of singletrack slicing through gloriously green meadows and aspen groves, all beneath jagged 12,000-foot peaks?
Best Rafting: Rogue River, Oregon
The Rogue is one of the country’s eight original Wild and Scenic Rivers, and it’s as wild and scenic as ever, roaring down out of the Cascades near Crater Lake and offering 40 miles of raftable whitewater, plus the parallel 40-mile Rogue River National Recreation Trail for landlubbers.
Best Desert: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
You’ve heard of Death Valley and Joshua Tree, but Anza-Borrego is the desert destination for anyone who really wants to put high clearance and a sense of adventure to good use. The park encompasses more than 600,000 acres, with 500 miles of paved and jeep roads traversing canyons, badlands, and mud caves and leading to pitch-perfect palm oases.
Looking for adventures closer to home or in another part of the country? We’ve got you covered. Check out the United States of Adventure interactive map, which features our favorite state parks, lakeshores, national forests, and more in every state.