Swimmers race during the Trans Tahoe Relay.
Swimmers race during the Trans Tahoe Relay. (Photo: Megan Michelson)

6 Bucket List Trips in the U.S.

And how to pull them off

Swimmers race during the Trans Tahoe Relay.
Megan Michelson

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There are some things you just need to do at least once in your life—paddle that iconic stretch of river, ski that couloir you can see from the tram, mountain bike off the Continental Divide. Don’t let the logistics of getting there, hiring a guide, or figuring out when or how to pull it off stop you from checking these must-do missions off your list. We’ve done the planning homework for you.

Swim Across Lake Tahoe

Nevada and California

Getting across Lake Tahoe is not easy. The lake is roughly 12 miles wide and 22 miles long. The water is cold (around 55 degrees in midsummer) and deep (more than 1,500 feet at its deepest point). It’s possible to swim the whole thing yourself, but that’s a huge challenge, even for dedicated open-water swimmers. If you’re not quite ready to go whole hog, sign up for the Trans Tahoe Relay, held each July, in which teams of six take turns swimming without wetsuits from Nevada’s Sand Harbor Beach to California’s Skylandia Beach. You can still say you swam across Lake Tahoe, even though you had a little help along the way. Registration is $600 per team.

Climb Half Dome

Yosemite National Park, California

Climbing routes up Half Dome—the famed 8,800-foot-high granite landmark of Yosemite National Park—are not for newbie climbers, but they’re relatively doable compared to Yosemite’s other big-wall objectives. The easiest route is an eight-pitch, 5.7 route called Snake Dike. Yosemite Mountaineering School is the only place that offers guided climbing up Half Dome; they’ll take experienced climbers up Snake Dike in a day for $380 per person.

Not a climber? You can hike to the top of Half Dome via the popular 16-mile round-trip Half Dome Trail. To hike it, you’ll need to secure a permit through the Park Service—there’s a preseason lottery and a daily lottery, and only 300 hikers are allowed each day. Can’t get a permit? Sign up for a guided day hike with Lasting Adventures for $200 per person, and they’ll snag the permit for you.

Ski Corbet’s Couloir

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Dropping into Corbet’s Couloir is the tough part. Arguably the country’s most notorious inbounds run, it requires a mandatory air entrance into a pocket-sized landing before making a rapid turn to avoid a granite wall. Once you’re in, the rest feels relatively easy, as you make careful turns down 500 vertical feet of 45-degree steeps. (You can watch video of pro skiers like Griffin Post and Matt Phillipi drop into the chute for inspiration.) Sign up for one of Jackson Hole’s Steep and Deep Camps. By the end of the four-day camp, held four times each winter, experienced skiers will have gained the skills and confidence to drop into Corbet’s. Spaces are $1,525 per person.

Ride the Monarch Crest Trail

Poncha Springs, Colorado

Colorado is home to a number of classic mountain bike rides, but none quite rival the Monarch Crest Trail. Starting atop the Continental Divide, the trail includes 2,280 feet of climbing and a whopping 6,100 feet of downhill riding. It’s best done as a one-way ride. Ditch your car off Highway 285 in the little town of Poncha Springs, and book a shuttle with High Valley Bike Shuttle. For $20 per person, they’ll give you and your bike a lift to the top of Monarch Pass. You’ll ride 34 miles of high-elevation singletrack with stunning views off the divide. Need a full-suspension bike? Rent one for as low as $60 at SubCulture Cyclery in nearby Salida.

Backpack the Wonderland Trail

Mount Rainier, Washington

Sure, summiting the 14,441-foot Mount Rainier is a life-list goal. But backpacking the 93-mile Wonderland Trail—which runs through the glacial valleys and steep embankments around the fringes of Washington’s highest peak—is also a must-do. You’ll want more than a week to thru-hike the whole thing. Buy a guidebook—Hiking the Wonderland Trail is a good one—and get a wilderness permit for backcountry camping in Mount Rainier National Park.

If you’d prefer a guided trip, book a six-day backpacking trip with American Alpine Institute to explore sections of the Wonderland Trail. Trips start at $1,175 per person. If trail running is more your thing, Adventure Running Company leads a five-day, not-for-the-faint-of-heart run of the entire trail, logging 20-plus miles a day, for $995 per person.

Paddle the Middle Fork

Salmon River, Idaho

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of those multiday river trips that everyone needs to do, whether or not you’re a rafter or kayaker. Getting a permit from the Forest Service for a do-it-yourself trip can be tough, but if you’re lucky enough to lock in a permit through the lottery system—and you’re an experienced paddler—Blackadar Boating in Salmon, Idaho, offers raft rentals starting at $125. If you’d rather have professional guides navigate the rapids and cook dinner at camp, sign up for a commercial trip with Western River Expeditions. You’ll paddle 100 miles through Class III and IV rapids over the course of the five- or six-day trip as you tumble through the rugged and mountainous Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, the largest contiguous wilderness zone in the lower 48. Service starts at $1,715 per person.

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