When you think of wilderness experiences in the United States, iconic national parks like Yosemite and Denali might come to mind. However, there are plenty of under-the-radar hidden outdoor gems and adventure capitals scattered across the country, offering thrilling outdoor activities near major cities, thanks to this detailed list from Travel + Leisure. From rock climbing in Tennessee to biking through dinosaur-rich terrain in Colorado, these experiences are closer than you think, providing you with an unforgettable adventure.
For hikers seeking stunning views, Bellingham, Washington, awaits. Nestled between North Cascades National Park and the Pacific coast, this scenic city offers trails catering to all skill levels, from easy waterfront routes to strenuous ascents ending at ice-blue glaciers. For a glimpse of the San Juan Islands, embark on an easy trail at Larrabee State Park.
For those seeking a more challenging hike, the 5.5-mile round-trip Heliotrope Ridge Trail offers breathtaking views of Mount Baker. When you’re ready to unwind, the Heliotrope Hotel, an updated 1950s motel, serves as a perfect base camp with a Pacific Northwest aesthetic. The outdoor hangout area boasts a fire pit, cornhole set, and bike-washing station. After a day of hiking, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in lemon-poppyseed ice cream from Selkie Scoopor enjoy post-hike tamales at El Sueñito Brewing Co.
In Grand Junction, Colorado, cycling enthusiasts will find their paradise. Though not as famous as Moab, Utah, Grand Junction offers challenging biking routes along red rock canyons with hidden petroglyphs and fossils. For an unforgettable biking experience, join Boneshaker Adventures, offering private and group mountain biking lessons and programs for kids. While there, make sure to stay at Camp Eddy, a riverside retreat with Airstreams, cabins, and RV sites available for rent. When it’s time to dine, head to Bin 707 Foodbar and indulge in blue-corn hush puppies and trout rillettes crafted by James Beard Foundation semifinalist, Chef Josh Niernberg.
If you’re a stargazing enthusiast, the hidden outdoor gem of Flagstaff, Arizona, beckons with its Dark Sky Community status. As one of the best places to view the cosmos in the country, Flagstaff offers low levels of light pollution for a remarkable night sky experience. Spread a blanket at Buffalo Park within the city limits and watch the stars come alive. For a more in-depth scientific encounter, visit the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Your stay at High Country Motor Lodge, situated along the iconic Route 66, will offer a vintage ambiance with cottages, rooms, and a central pool area.
Additionally, enjoy lawn games, outdoor movie nights, and a Nordic spa on-site. When hunger strikes, Proper Meats & Provisions awaits, offering a variety of whole-animal butcher shop delights, or try the “relleno burger” at Shift Kitchen & Bar, made with roasted poblano peppers, queso asadero, chipotle aioli, and house chips.
Last but not least of our hidden outdoor gems, for water sports enthusiasts will find their paradise in Duluth, Minnesota, nestled on the shores of Lake Superior. Kayak Superior’s northern shore with Day Tripper of Duluth for a mesmerizing experience gliding through blue-green waters and past soaring cliffs with a view of the majestic Split Rock Lighthouse. Furthermore, Duluth is a short drive away from the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, offering an escape to one of the most remote places in the country. For a comfortable stay, Solglimt, a charming five-room B&B, grants you direct access to Lake Superior’s beach. The waterfront Fitger’s Inn is also a favorite among visitors.
From coast to coast, the United States is brimming with adventure, and these five experiences are just a taste of what awaits. So, lace up your boots, gear up your bike, or set sail in a kayak and explore the wilderness wonders of America!
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