The Best Travel Stories We’ve Ever Told
From SUP'ing down the Colorado to hiking the AT solo, these features explore and revel in the adventures our country has to offer
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Full disclosure: This is neither an exhaustive nor an objective list of Outside's best U.S. travel features. We didn't pull any traffic data or social stats or engagement minutes. Instead, we informally asked editors to think back on the archive and come up with the adventure features they found most impactful. There were dozens of picks (after all, this category is kind of our bread-and-butter), but these 10 stood out for their narrative storytelling, their humor, and their ability to tackle issues bigger than the settings in which they took place. We hope you enjoy the reading material—and maybe even find some inspiration to pack your bags and hit the road.
“No Amount of Traffic or Instagrammers or Drunks Can Take the Magic Out of (Semi-)Wilderness”
In which Wells Tower braves the rain, smog, and peak-weekend hordes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to give his three-month-old son a first taste of nature’s sweetness.
“Going It Alone”
What happens when an African American woman decides to solo-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine during a summer of bitter political upheaval? Everything you can imagine, from scary moments of racism to new friendships to soaring epiphanies about the timeless value of America’s most storied trekking route.
“The Last Bastion of Outdoor Outlaws”
Fed up with tight National Park regulations—no BASE-jumping, no slacklining, no fun!—adventurers are getting cozy with a surprising new advocate: the Bureau of Land Management. Nowhere are the agency's lenient recreation policies on better display than Moab, Utah.
“The Daytona 500 of Ice Fishing”
At the planet's biggest ice-fishing tournament, held every January in Brainerd, Minnesota, 10,000 contestants battle 20-below temperatures for a $150,000 purse. Ian Frazier slips and slides among wily fish, cheese curds, and some of the greatest nearly frozen anglers he's ever seen.
“The Wildest Party on Earth”
The craziest rock-climbing event in the world happens annually in the Ozarks of Arkansas, in a u-shaped canyon with enough routes for 24 straight hours of nonstop ascents. They call it Horseshoe Hell, but don't be fooled: for outdoor athletes who love physical challenges with some partying thrown in, it's heaven.
“57 Feet and Rising”
During the Great Flood of 2011, the Mississippi was an unleashed monster, with deadly currents and a flow rate that could fill the Superdome in less than a minute. Defying government orders, Delta native W. Hodding Carter and two wet-ass pals canoed 300 miles from Memphis to Vicksburg—surfing the crest, watching wildlife cope with the rising tide and assessing 75 years of levee building.
“Lake Superior Is Our Most Overlooked Playground”
Famously cold, Lake Superior contains 10 percent of the world's surface freshwater, holds the remains of 6,000 shipwrecks, and offers a lifetime of adventure. Stephanie Pearson sets out to circumnavigate the frighteningly massive body of water.
“Calamity at Every Turn”
To travel the Pony Express, riders had to brave apocalyptic storms, raging rivers, snow-choked mountain passes, and some of the most desolate, beautiful country on earth. To honor the sun-dried memory of those foolhardy horsemen, we dispatched Will Grant and a 16-year-old cowboy prodigy to ride 350 miles in a hurry.
The volcanic remains at the heart of Aniakchak National Monument—the least visited site in the national park system—are a trippy mishmash of postapocalyptic cinder cones, hardened lava, and flame-colored walls. The only catch? Doing it right involves days of trekking and rafting through some of the planet’s toughest, most bear-heavy terrain.
“The Day We Set the Colorado River Free”
It's been more than 50 years since the Colorado River regularly reached the sea. But this spring, the U.S. and Mexico let the water storm through its natural delta for a grand experiment in ecological restoration. As the dam gates opened, a small band of river rats caught a once-in-a-lifetime ride.