Our Favorite Quick-and-Cheap Adventures
'Outside' staffers know a thing or two about maximizing our microadventures. Steal our tips for getting after it in the early morning, late at night, during lunchtime, and on short weekends.
It’s hard to beat a week (or two) of total off-the-grid goodness. Alas, most of us don’t have unlimited vacation days or vacation funds. Until we do, Outside staffers get a thrill out of squeezing in mini adventures from our home base of Santa Fe, New Mexico, even when it’s a workday. Here are our favorite ways to do it.
Time: One to two hours, not including driving
Cost: $5 entrance fee, $5 per pint of raspberries, $1.50 per pound of apples, about $10 for gas
When my family lived in Italy, we’d scout out mushrooms and pine nuts in the fall, dive for purple sea urchins, pluck capers from low-lying bushes, or climb trees for figs on early summer mornings before it got too hot (or until I reached too high and pulled a back muscle). Since moving to New Mexico, we’ve taken last-minute trips to U-pick farms for organic raspberries (a very muddy experience) and apples, and I’m already looking into how to go clamming and musseling for a trip to the Northern California coast. You can always find someplace to forage for food, anywhere in the world. There are few better or easier ways to connect with nature, and often you can do the research quickly online or network locally with someone who knows their stuff. It might not always be the outing you expected—my climb into the fig branches laid me up for five days—but that’s the adventure.
—Tasha Zemke, copy editor
Finding Secret Campsites
Cost: Starting around $15
I’ve never been a fan of designated campgrounds—the crowds, the noisy generators, the inept online reservation systems. Instead, I prefer to seek out BLM and national forest lands, nearly all of which allow dispersed camping wherever you want to go. The best way to take advantage? Delorme Atlas and Gazetteers. These perfectly drawn maps, all laid out on GPS grids, make it easy to find established forest roads into rarely explored swaths of public land. Thanks to my well-worn New Mexico edition, I’ve discovered a stunning campsite on a remote stretch of the Pecos River, explored a box canyon and ancient ruins near the town of Galisteo, and found the gorgeous and empty meadow off the high road to Taos where I proposed to my wife—all within an hour of Santa Fe.
—Chris Keyes, editor
Time: One to two hours
Cost: Optional $179 for bat detector
Batting (like birding, but for bats) is an intensely pleasant way to unwind and enjoy the heck out of a warm evening. Wildlife Acoustics’ Echo Meter Touch 2 bat detector is a bit of an investment, but the entertainment factor is exceptionally high.
—Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor
Time: Two hours
Cost: About $5 for gas
This weekend, my boyfriend and I hiked out on an unnamed, unmarked trail up the ski basin road to find a waterfall we read about online. We were scouting it for ice climbing this winter, but we didn’t know exactly where it was or even if it really existed. The trail was sort of faint, and there was a bit of off-trail wandering, but we eventually found the thing, and it was way sweeter than hiking out to a touristy waterfall. Turns out the waterfall is well shaded, which means it will probably freeze when temps drop. A 20-minute drive from town (followed by a 30-minute hike) puts it well within pre-work dawn-patrol distance. We plan to head back out there with our ice tools as soon as the mercury dips below 30 degrees.
—Ariella Gintzler, assistant editor
Time: Five minutes of setup
I’m always looking for excuses to test new gear, but it’s hard to go on an overnight backpacking or camping trip every weekend, so I’ve been taking advantage of sleeping in my backyard. Sometimes I pitch a tent, other times I just lay out a tarp on the ground. It’s a great way to get first impressions on tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and pillows. It’s barely an adventure, but it’s amazing how good I feel after a night outside—even if it’s only a few feet from my front door.
—Ben Fox, associate reviews editor
One thing I do a lot is go on hikes that don’t involve getting in my car at all. I just walk out the front door, do a ramble through various parts of town, and then head up toward the foothills. A typical loop: my house up to the St. John’s campus, up to the top of Picacho Peak, down the backside to Canyon Road, then down Canyon Road and back to my house.
The city of Santa Fe is a good place to do this. There’s a lot to look at, and there are restaurants everywhere for a reward once the hiking is mostly done. The mountains are close enough (two miles from my front door) that you can work them in as well.
—Alex Heard, editorial director
Dawn Patrol: Trail Version
Time: One hour
Cost: $5 for gas
A few times in the past month I’ve strapped on my headlamp and caught the sunrise at a lookout on the Dale Ball Trails right outside of town. I normally run around three miles on the loops. The first mile or so to the lookout is straight uphill—it’s definitely a workout. But then you’re rewarded with an awesome view of the city and surrounding mountains. The drive there takes less than ten minutes from our office, so it’s a workout and excursion that I can fit in before work or dinner. It’s totally free (except the cost of gas to get there, which is miniscule), the trails are safe and well marked, and there’s a big parking lot at the trailheads.
—Jeremy Rellosa, Buyer’s Guide assistant managing editor
Dawn Patrol: Snow Version
Time: Three hours from when the alarm rings to when I’m at my desk
Cost: $5 for gas, $11 for a breakfast burrito and coffee*
Throughout winter, many of my colleagues and I skin up the local ski hill before sunrise. It’s an invigorating if brutal wake-up, as well as a good way to get a run in during the middle of the week. I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., hustle to reach the top of the mountain by 7:30, then I’m at the office—post-coffee stop—at 8:30.
—Axie Navas, digital editorial director
Bike Commute Adventures
My number one microadventure is bike commuting. When I lived in New York, it could feel like a full-blown adventure—biking across the Williamsburg Bridge, dodging pedestrians in the East Village, racking up 25 or 30 miles just getting around. In Santa Fe, my rides are less eventful: just a couple miles, usually in cool morning sunshine. But it pulls me out of my morning fog and makes me feel a little more awake, alive, and ready for the day. Even better with a little speaker playing whatever I can’t get enough of at the moment. Plus, I’ve gotten really good at biking in heels.
—Abbie Barronian, assistant editor
Time: Two days
For my birthday this year, my boyfriend and I took a completely impromptu, totally unplanned road trip to Moab. It was a great two-day escape. We saw a good portion of it in one day and then did a sunrise hike before heading off. We stayed at an awesome campsite at Sand Flats Recreation Area with magical sunset views, though there’s also free camping on BLM land nearby. We took the scenic route back to Boulder and stopped to swim in the Colorado River. Overall, between gas, park fees, camping, and food, it probably cost us less than $150 total.
—Kaelyn Lynch, editorial fellow
Time: Two days
For my birthday weekend this year, my girlfriend booked two nights in an Earthship on New Mexico’s Taos Mesa. What’s an Earthship? Think a Hobbit shire with a Burning Man makeover composed of off-the-grid, solar-powered, water-efficient homes. The inside of these structures are charming as can be, complete with indoor flower beds and showers that use reclaimed rainwater. We spent the weekend hiking, eating ice cream, and soaking in hot springs, then returned home to Santa Fe in time for dinner on Sunday evening.
—Luke Whelan, research editor
Choose Your Own
When I was in college, I spent 15 bucks on a book called Side Walks: A Journal for Exploring Your City. It was exactly that: a scripted diary that prompted you with tasks and things to see and observe and look for to get to know your backyard better. While the book may be intended for a younger target audience, as a young adult I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of flipping it open to a random page and documenting my daily scavenger hunts through my college town. Today, my methodology for microadventures is a little simpler, but the delight yielded is the same: I keep a physical statewide bucket list of places I want to go, food I want to try, and events I want to attend, and I simply cross them off as I do them. Often these are informed by colleagues and friends talking about their amazing weekends and the hole-in-the-wall enchilada place they discovered. My goal is usually to hit one of these every week I’m in town, and the best part is most of them are free. I’ve found this especially helpful being relatively new to New Mexico—things like getting a local library card or finding the best secret sculpture garden became totally free, totally fun microadventures.
—Jenny Earnest, social media manager
*Does not include the not-inconsiderable price of gear.