Today we’re putting every single one of them together in this comprehensive round up.
It’s easy to believe that the “search for adventure” is the exclusive pursuit of a very specific group of people. Namely, the sorts of explorers that the average person reads about online. They have taut, muscular legs for climbing and winning smiles — both gorgeously highlighted on the ‘Gram. They winter in Bali and summer in Iceland. Meanwhile, the rest of us trudge from work to home and punctuate the routine with errands and drinks with friends. But what our Uproxx GPS series has been trying to do is to show readers that it’s relatively easy to give in to wanderlust and break from tedium.
YOU could be that adventurer. Seriously. You.
Microadventures only ask that you spend time outdoors during the time that you aren’t at work. In some cases, they only run from the time you get off one shift to the time that you show up for the next. Between 5pm and 8am, there’s plenty of time to take a hike, set up camp, and sleep wild. Or, you can take a whole weekend and give yourself more time for caving, bouldering, or biking. The options don’t end once you actually start planning these trips. You’ll find the entire country is covered in natural beauty, and you’re welcome in a lot of it.
What follows is our list of the very most exciting microadventure locations in the country. It features diamond harvesting, wild horses, fireflies that blink in tandem, and former pirate caves. Be warned: Once you read through it, your inner adventurer is going to start calling out to you. Loudly. So be ready to hit the road.
Alabama: Cathedral Caverns State Park
Caves are so evocative. There are caves behind waterfalls. There are caves with dragons. There’s the Bat Cave. They incite the imagination and set a mood that is dripping with the essence of adventure — which is why every single one of the lists we’ve compiled includes caves and cavers, We love them. So, there was no doubt that we would push you to microadventure at Cathedral Caverns State Park.
Opened to the public in the 1950s by Jacob Gurley (who simply called it Bat Cave), Cathedral Caverns was purchased by the State of Alabama in 1987. But, it didn’t open as a State Park until the summer of 2000, making it one of the youngest locales in any of these entries. You know a cave that inspires a comparison to a cathedral offers a microadventure worth taking.
There is camping in the park, and it comes improved, primitive, and backcountry. What you choose depends on how much emphasis you want to put on the “rough” in roughing it. For $20 you can go improved with electricity and water hook-ups. For $13, you forgo water and electricity but enjoy a fire ring. And either option gives you access to bathhouses with hot showers.
If you want to get wild, pay $5 and trek 0.75 miles up a strenuous, uphill trail to a campground devoid of amenities, there’s backcountry camping. Obviously, this type of camping offers more seclusion and engagement with the nature around you. You have options, but why not Baby Bear it and get a little rough at an unimproved site?
When you get your camp all worked out, it is time to enter the cave. A tour is $18, and it’s well worth it. You walk about 1.5 miles over the course of 90 minutes. As soon as you enter the cave, you will be struck by the sheer size of its mouth. We are talking 25 feet high and 126 feet wide. It’s massive. Once inside, you’ll see things like Goliath, a 45-foot tall stalagmite with a 243-foot circumference. There are a stalagmite forest and a stone stalagmite that measures 27 feet.
The entire park is 493 acres, meaning there’s a lot more to do. So, when you’re done with the tour, you can hit the marked hiking trails or strike out on your own. There are four designated trails and they’re all 1.5 miles or less.
Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve
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In May I also took a trip to Alaska. What a beautiful state. Denali National Park and Preserve is beautiful views all around and wildlife a plenty. #denalinationalpark #alaska #outdoorwomen #exploringtheglobe #traveladdict #travelphoto #travelphotography #abmtravelbug #mytinyatlas #neverstopexploring #globetrotter #worldofwanderlust #natgeotravel #cntraveler
If you know that Denali (Mount McKinley) is the highest mountain in North America, then you probably know that the entire Denali National Park and Preserve are built around it. The park is more than six million acres and the preserve is 1.3 million, meaning you can have a great day trip here every day for a really long time without seeing the same sights twice. In 1906, conservationist Charles Alexander Shelton first contemplated how great it would be to preserve the Denali region, but he met with resistance until 1915, when he and others began going up the political ranks with the plan. Woodrow Wilson finally signed Mount McKinley National Park into legislation in 1917, and the boundaries were expanded in 1947.
Every campground at Denali is limited to summer use, except for Riley Creek Campground. So, if you are down to do some snow camping this is definitely where to stay. It’s located a little close to the entrance for you to fully feel like you are roughing it, but once you’ve built a snow wall around your tent to shield it from inclement weather, you will have also muffled the sounds of other campers and traffic on Highway 3. Also, there is a trail from the campground that leads to the visitor center, the central trailhead for the park. Extra bonus: camping here is free outside of summer (when it’s $15.00).
There are a number of trails you can hike, and any of them allow you to meet the goals of a microadventure, but we recommend taking the park’s free shuttle to the Savage River check station and hitting the Savage River Loop Trail. This gets you away from the entrance and the throngs of other visitors and into the true wilderness. It’s a tundra walk on a developed trail with minimal elevation, so it works for people of all levels.
The best part? Wildlife! You wanna feel like you left the city behind? Chill with some Dall sheep, caribou, and marmots. If you feel like leaving the trail and the other hikers behind, head north and look for hares, picas, and ground squirrels. And, be noisy af because there are also bears. Plus, it’s only gonna take you a couple hours to hike this, so you can spend the rest of the day exploring other areas of the huge park.
Arizona: Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area (The Wave)
You were thinking Grand Canyon, right? Or Sedona? Or Havasu Falls? There are a lot of great places to get adventurous in Arizona, but we opted for a locale that considerably fewer people know about. This way, you get both microadventure and hipster cred. Located on the Utah border, the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area is known for being some of the most beautiful landscape ever. We want to qualify the statement is some way, but literally, there are parts of the wilderness area whose beauty overwhelms viewers. If you are looking to make your Instagram followers jealous, bring a camera and grab shots of the Paria Canyon walls, which are splashed with desert lacquer. Or, go with hanging gardens, sandstone arches, red rock amphitheaters, and wooded terraces.
This is another one of those locations that is going to require some true roughing it. You can get a $5 overnight permit for the Paris Canyon area and set up camp in designated overnight areas. These permits are limited to 20 people per night, so you need to plan ahead for this trip. Sadly, no campfires are allowed so visit in temperate months or bring a metric ass ton of cold weather gear. While camping, you have to use provided human waste bags, so make sure you can get down like that before heading out for adventure.
Yes, the entire wilderness area is stunning, but one attraction dwarfs the others. The Wave can be found in Coyote Buttes North, and it is profoundly beautiful, like life-changingly so. Vast sandstone structures undulate through the canyon, making them look like nature’s taffy or a Dali painting. Sandstone dunes calcified both horizontally and vertically and hardened into the rocks that sit there now. Now, we said this was a bit of a hidden gem, but that doesn’t mean no one knows about it. It’s a renowned hiking destination among those in the know, so the Wilderness Area uses a lottery for permits. You can apply four months out for up to three possible dates, pay $5, and wait to receive an email on the first of the month indicating whether your number was drawn.
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Arkansas: Crater of Diamonds State Park
On these lists of microadventures, you will see multiple caves, caverns, and waterfalls. There will be hiking, biking, photographing, and wildlife viewing in abundance. But the Arkansas microadventure is literally one of a kind because Crater of Diamonds State Park is home to the world’s eighth largest diamond-bearing volcanic crater, and the world’s only diamond-bearing site open to the public. That’s right, this microadventure is all about digging for diamonds. It’s pretty touristy, but if you haven’t done it, you absolutely have to.
When John Huddleston found two unusual crystals on the surface of his farm in 1906, he became the first person outside of South Africa to find diamonds at their original source. The very next month, he and his wife sold an option on their 243 acres to a group of Little Rock investors who took to testing the property. Several subsequent efforts at commercial diamond mining failed to yield sufficient results. Only the original surface layer reliably produced diamonds. During World War II, the government took over the mine, and though diamonds were obtained, the cost of labor outweighed their value. Post-war, the property changed hands a number of times and took on various incarnations to attract tourists. And, in March 1972, the land was sold to the state for use as the centerpiece of the state park.
There is a campground in the state park with 47 Class AAA campsites (meaning they have water/electric/sewer hookups) and five walk-in tent sites. The campground offers two bathhouses with hot showers and one of them has a laundry. Plus, there is free wi-fi. It’s a pretty sweet set-up. Since you’re here to get outside and have an adventure, we are going to urge you to choose a tent site. They have a tent pad and a woods view, and you can use all the other amenities anyone else can. Plus, it’s only $13 a night.
The actual diamond hunting happens on a 37.5-acre plowed field, and it will be busy. A lot of people simply walk up and down the rows looking for diamonds on the surface, but you can also dig into the soil with your hands or use a trowel and stake your claim to an area for a bit. If you aren’t down with hauling along a bunch of excavating tools, there are a number of items you can rent from the park, like knee pads and screens for sifting soil.
If you get tired of harvesting gems, there are three easy walking trails in the park. Two of them are 1.2 miles and another is only .2, but it’s primarily for wildlife observation rather than really trekking through the woods.
California: Marin Headlands
In the 1960s, over 2,000 acres of beautiful property north of San Francisco in Marin County was sold to a private developer from Bridgeport, CT whose plan was to create a city called Marincello. It would be the perfect suburb, housing up to 30,000 people in apartment towers and swaths of tract homes. However, local conservancy groups weren’t having it, and the developer lost a lawsuit in 1970 over illegal zoning that left the project dead in the water. All of the land that had been set aside for development was then sold to The Nature Conservancy and transferred to the newly established Golden Gate National Recreational Area. And, you can be thankful for that because the Headlands are one of the most beautiful areas in California for adventuring.
While tourists and more conventional day trippers are busy hitting up attractions like the Marine Mammal Center and Nike Missile Site (which are both legit cool), you can set up camp and explore. All four camp sites in the area require reservations, which is a bit of bummer if you are spontaneous, but the camps are pretty small, and they need the advance notice to accommodate people. If you are already pretty hardcore outdoorsy, choose one of three spots at Hawkcamp and hike three-and-a-half miles through wildflower-covered Gerbode Valley. You might even spot deer or a bobcat. Or, you can wing it and just set up camp in the wild and hope no one notices.
Between early September and November, you can hike to the top of 920-foot Hawk Hill and watch hundreds of birds of prey crossing the Golden Gate channel. And, the rest of the year, the hiking trails give you views of the Pacific, the coastline, Mt Tamalpais and San Francisco. It’s catnip for the shutterbug set. There are also a lot of great twisty trails for cyclists. It’s hard to get better than pedaling through the chilly Bay Area breezes.
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"Witnessing Creation." . . . One more from a recent Marin shoot with amazing @vkvsnkv … 📷📷📷 "Valeria 7120" #portrait #portraits #portraiture #photoshoot #model #modeling #posinglikeapro #posing #fashion #fashionphotography #style #photography #beauty #face #naturallight #feminine #fineartportraiture #feminineportraiture #portraitmood #portraitpage #theportraitpr0ject #endlessfaces. #california #marinheadlands #sanfrancisco #marin #goldengate #pacific @vkvsnkv
Colorado: Angel of Shavano
If you live in or near Colorado and have never spent some time on The Colorado Trail, now is the time to get your ass on the famed 486-mile single track that crosses the state. For this microadventure, we chose a location smack dab on the trail. Nestled between two precipitous ridges in upper Arkansas Valley near the town of Salida, Angel of Shavano campground is the ideal home base from which to explore the Salida Ranger District, part of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. It’s 440,000 acres of public land with hiking, mountain biking, 4-wheeling, and horseback riding. Plus, the Arkansas River cuts through this valley, making it stellar for whitewater rafting.
Between May and late September, Angel of Shavano Campground is open to visitors. There are only 20 sites available, which may be why this is considered one of the best-kept secrets in the area. The campground is named for the image of an angel that manifests on Shavano Mountain when snow falls. The site is set at 9,200 feet and is thick with pine and aspen trees. There are also beaver ponds that punctuate the landscape at the base of the mountain. You can choose a site along the river or opt for one in a nearby open, grassy meadow. It’s $18 to camp overnight.
You can totally kick it at your camp for your entire adventure if you want. No one is gonna hate on you for chilling with a beer by the fire. But, the area does have a lot of recreational activities. If you fish, hit the river for rainbow and brook trout. You can also fish the beaver ponds. Or, take a chest-constricting hike up Mount Shavano or Mount Tabegauche. This area is known as the “Banana Belt of Colorado,” so you can expect generally mild temps and sunny days.
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Filtering water from the stream under the Milky Way. · · · #landscapelovers #adventurephotography #astrophotography #milkyway #optoutside #rei #pixel_ig #getlost #agameoftones #visualsoflife #justgoshoot #earthpix #discoverearth #colorado #starphotography #milkywaychasers #williamhager #picoftheday #photooftheday #dailypic #nightphotography #longexposure
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#DixietheVetExDog on top of Mt. Shavano #CO this weekend. While we trained #mountaineering skills on the #angelofshavano, Dixie was practicing her sledding skills, having lots of fun, and entertaining us all. Dixie is becoming a very talented mountain climber motivating the rest of us to keep up. #mondaymotivation #14er #climb
Connecticut: Devil’s Hopyard State Park
It’s a bit frustrating to make list like these because you have to find the coolest areas and campsites that are conveniently located to them. We think everyone should take a trip to see Enders Falls in Granby, but there isn’t any camping in Enders State Forest. So make that a day trip, if you can, and do an over-nighter at Devil’s Hopyard State Park (and not just because the name is fantastic). It is a beautiful state park in a valley, and it features its own great falls as well as interesting rock formations known as Scotland Schist.
So … about that name. There isn’t a single explanation that can be offered up and verified. One of the more popular legends has it that a man named Dibble owned a garden for growing hops in the area and through years of usage, the phrase “Dibble’s Hopyard” became “Devil’s Hopyard.” Alas, exhaustive searches have never yielded a farmer Dibble who owned a hopyard in the area. Another tale centers on the potholes near the falls (some of the finest examples of pothole stone formation in the country.) Early settlers, unsure of the science behind the formation of the holes, attempted to explain them with the supernatural. The devil, they said, passed by the falls and accidentally wet his tail, sending him into a rage. As he bounded away from the water, his hooves left holes in the stones.
There are 21 wooded campsites near a scenic waterfall. Stream fishing is encouraged, but swimming can be quite dangerous, and it is, therefore, prohibited. The sites are available from mid-April through September 30th, and each includes a pedestal cooking grill and picnic table. Outhouses are available onsite, but there are no hookups or showers. Connecticut residents pay $14 a night to camp, while those from out-of-state have to pony up $24.
In East Haddam (where the State Park is located) you find Chapman Falls, a picture-perfect example with a good amount of water cascading down a stepped ledge. This is where you are going to see the famous potholes — caused by rocks being trapped in the flowing water. To get to it, get on the Devil’s Hopyard Orange Trail Loop, a 2.1-mile walk that is good for people of all skill levels, though there are places where the incline challenges the out-of-shape. Be prepared for mixed responses. Fit people will think it was too easy and couch potatoes will sweat their asses off. If you fall in the middle, this is a great hike for you.
You can also follow the Millington Trail and see falls. In both cases, wear good shoes because the trail is usually muddy.
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Delaware: Cape Henlopen State Park
Has geocaching been around long enough to circle back to being cool again, or are we total dorks for getting excited about hunting down trinkets left by strangers? If that’s the case, then this microadventure is going to roll a little dorky; though, we will go to our graves insisting it is dope AF. Delaware has a geocaching trail that is made up of 69 nice geocache locations. If you get the code words from at least 24 of them, the state awards you with a commemorative coin emblazoned with a sky-blue map of the state, and if this trip marks your first cache, you could find yourself down the road planning microadventures just to nab more codes. Get started on your journey at Cape Henlopen State Park, which has a cache or two as well as a glorious designated swimming beach. It’s a bit crowded on the beach when the weather is good, but there is so much more to do in the park that you will soon find a little tranquility to call your own.
The campgrounds have been recently renovated, and there are 50s of them with 100 amp electric hookups, new fire rings, water, showers, flush toilets, a camp store, laundry facilities, dump stations, and overflow parking. There is also a nature center, a store, a bait and tackle shop, and food concessions. You will not want for anything. We recommend the walk-in tent sites because they afford more privacy. During the renovation, they added more sites and this cut the space down — so privacy is at a premium. Rates are dependent on the season and whether you are staying on the weekend or during the week.
Cape Henlopen State Park has many, many trails. Hiking is allowed on all of them, but some also do double duty by accommodating horseback riders or mountain bikers. If you just aren’t up to a strenuous trek, we love the Seaside Nature trail, a 0.6-mile walk along flat, sandy surfaces. You get to see some coastal pine forest, as well as peep the Delaware Bay, the fishing pier, Inner Breakwater, and the Henlopen Lighthouse (you knew there would be at least one lighthouse in this list). The park also runs a bike rental program, so consider snapping one up and hitting the Bike Loop Trail, a three-mile paved trail that circles around a lot of the major locations in the park — like the Nature Center, the kayak rental, and the observation tower.
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I spent the last 4 days talking to visitors at the Pittsburgh RV Show and telling them how awesome Delaware is. Many people had never been to Delaware, or had just driven through. Some even seemed incredulous, like Delaware couldn't possibly be such an interesting place. I've only lived here for about a year and a half, but this state has blown my mind. I could talk about Delaware all day, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of telling people how amazing it is. Of course, I could probably talk about just Cape Henlopen for an entire day. 😁
Florida: Withlacoochee State Forest
There are a lot of cool microadventures that were in contention for Florida, but Irma did a number on many of them, and we felt it would be cruel to tell you how great a place used to be the before all the campgrounds closed and the trees were uprooted by hurricane winds. Instead, we headed to Withlacoochee State Forest — the third largest state forest in Florida and one of the coolest places you have never been in North America, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Best of all, it’s no more than two hours drive from big cities like Orlando and Cape Canaveral.
Between 1936 and 1939, the federal government gathered up private land under the provisions of the U.S. Land Resettlement Administration. The U.S. Forest Service was in charge, until the Florida Board of Forestry received the land in a lease-purchase agreement in 1958. Now, it has miles of trails for bicycling, hiking, and horseback riding.
There are multiple campgrounds in the State Forest, and our pick is Hog Island Recreation Area — which offer campsites with picnic tables, drinking water, toilets, showers, and fire rings with a grate or grill. There aren’t any hookups, so this is semi-primitive. The sites sit on the eastern bank of the Withlacoochee River and sit next to the Hog Island Nature Trail. Every site is screened from one another with natural understory vegetation, so you will have your privacy and the isolation you need to really feel like you’re having an exciting escapade.
You should absolutely hit the Hog Island Nature Trail because it is so close to where you will set-up camp, and the two-mile loop leads you through scrub oak and longleaf pine hills, live oak thickets, and hardwood hammocks interspersed with cypress ponds and creek bottoms. There are some great abandoned rock mines and ravines as well. If you have the fever for a cave that lets you explore independently, seek out the Dames Caves and Lizzie Heart Sink Loop Trail — a moderate hike to Dame and Vandal Caves. If you plan on caving, be prepared to belly crawl through mud, duck your head, slink between tight walls and generally spelunk.
Georgia: Sweetwater State Park
We don’t think abandoned buildings and ruins ever get old. As a group, we feel the pull of these sites begging us to bend the law and risk our safety to go exploring. So, we really wanted to include a microadventure with a gutted historical building in this roundup, but many of the state and national parks with ruins don’t have approved campsites nearby. Luckily, Sweetwater State Park just outside of Atlanta offers verdant, lush scenery and the New Manchester Mill Ruins secreted in the forest next to a meandering creek. The 2,549-acre park is named for the Sweetwater Creek and became an officially designated State Park in 1972 thanks to tireless efforts by the Georgia conservancy — an environmental organization formed during a meeting at that very creek during 1967.
The park only offers tent camping, so you won’t be surrounded by RVs. And, there are only five tent sites, so you won’t deal with much noise at all. The sites each have access to water, bathrooms, electricity and a fire ring. It’s pretty basic, but the views are amazing, and it definitely gets you outside and adventuring. Be warned that the proximity to Atlanta means you hear muffled interstate noise, but otherwise you are truly nestled in nature.
Clearly, you need to spend time following the wooded trail that leads to the textile mill burned to a ruin during the Civil War. But, after you explore like the intrepid outdoors person you are, keep going and follow the trail to rocky bluffs overlooking the rushing rapids. There are actually three designated trails. The Red Trail is the easy one and you can do it in a couple of hours. If you want a challenge, hit the White Trail, a 5.2-mile loop, and see the park’s diverse wildlife and plant communities. The Yellow Trail is a three-mile loop and it takes you through hardwood forests and down into the ravine. You will travel through the area where all the bricks from the mill were made. In the winter, you can see the excavation pits from the trail.
If you aren’t out of steam or you want to skip hiking, rent a kayak and spend time on the 215-acre lake.
Hawaii: Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
If you watched King Kong, Lost, Jurassic Park, or Raiders of the Lost Ark and thought, “I would love to go there,” you sort of can because they were all partially filmed on Kaua’I, the home of Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Compared to some of the other state parks in the nation, this 6,175-acre park is rather tiny, but it has plenty of beauty and adventure to compensate for any perceived lack of size. To access the coastline, you have to take the Kalalau trail — originally built in the 1860s by the Hawaiian Government to help develop commerce and transportation for residents dwelling in remote valleys. Both local labor and the very effective dynamite were deployed to craft a trail that could accommodate pack animals loaded down with goods. Now, it just has to support hikers excited to see native plants and animals, waterfalls, beaches, and ancient Hawaiian agricultural terraces.
If you plan to make this more than a two-mile hike in from the trailhead, you have to get a camping permit (even if you only plan on spending the day there). Two authorized spots in Kalalau and Hanakoa are equipped for overnight stays with rain shelters and composting toilets. But, there’s no water and no trash service, so this is a pack it in, pack it out situation. Kalalau sits at the end of the 11-mile trail, but you only need to hike six to hit Hanakoa. Both are in high demand, so you will need to plan this microadventure ahead of time.
The Kalalau trail gives you access to the best views in Hawaii; however, it doesn’t give them up easy. It can be muddy and strenuous. But, you will be treated to a freaking spectacular 300-foot waterfall early on that will make you an Instagram legend. If you make it to the highest point of the trail, you pass through the Hono’o Napali Natural Area Reserve, home to the 500-foot Hanakoa Falls. At this point, you can choose to kick it at the Hanakoa campsite. If you choose to go on, you continue for another five miles, past Pu’ukulua, or the Red Hill, and Kalalau Stream before a steep decline onto Kalalau Beach and the final campsite. In essence, the trail lets you choose the length of your trek and your stay.
Idaho: City of Rocks National Reserve
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City of Rocks National Reserve (@cityofrocksnps) is an extraordinary encirclement of granite rising out of the gently rolling sagebrush country in south-central #Idaho. This backcountry byway attracts rock climbers, campers, hikers, hunters and those with the spirit of adventure. There's inspirational scenery, exceptional opportunities for geologic study and remnants of the Old West awaiting your discovery. Photo by #NationalPark Service. #findyourpark #usinterior
Also known as the Silent City of Rocks, City of Rocks National Reserve sits on the south-central Idaho border (it’s almost in Utah). The large rock spires for which it is named are largely composed of granite, and make for beautiful photos and stellar rock climbing. On a cool historical note, in 1849, an emigrant party encamped at the site and signatures in axle grease can still be made out on rock faces to this very day on what is now called Register Rock. Other rocks have wagon wheel ruts, from the many travelers who followed that route.
If you decide to microadventure here, you may feel cheered to know there are more than 60 spots to camp out. The sites are spread around the rocks and include both drive-in and walk-in options. But, the area is mad popular, so you want to make a reservation in advance. And, in the summer, when the sun is beating down relentlessly on the landscape, you want to pick a spot that sits in the shade of one of the large rocks. The campsite fee is $12.72, and reservations are $10.60. Whatever you do, pack tons of water.
The whole draw of this area is rock climbing, so if terms like “large jug holds” and “small crimpy bits” make sense, you’ll be happy to know you get both. The rocks service a lot of climbing styles, so people at a variety of skill levels can get their climb on. The large boulders don’t need protection or climbing ropes, so you can just tap into your inner goat and gambol about. But, there are also traditional routes and sport lines, even some scenic multi-pitch options. There are legit more than 1,000 traditional and bolt-protected climb routes, some of which were the most difficult in the nation in the 1980s.
Alternately, you can skip the climbing, make camp under the glorious rocks, and enjoy the 22 miles of hiking in the area, or even do some mountain biking or horseback riding.
Illinois: Cave-In Rock State Park
There are a lot of truly outstanding state parks in Illinois, but we went with a bit of a micro park for this microadventure. The Ohio River flows majestically along the south-eastern border of the state, and over the course of centuries, it carved and shaped the limestone bluffs that line the shores of the gorgeous Shawnee area. Among the many attractions thus shaped is the historic cavern for which Cave-In Rock State Park is named. And, it’s not just some hole that you can squeeze into. This is a big ass cave that is 55-feet wide, 50-feet tall, and 120-feet deep. And — wait for it — it was home to sea pirates. Sea. Pirates. First mapped in 1739, by M. de Lery of France, who called it “caverne dans Le Roc,” the cave reached the height of its notoriety in the early 1800s when it housed bandits, fugitives, pirates, and murderers. But, since 1929, it has simply been the primary attractions at a tiny state park.
Cave-In Rock State Park has 34 class A camping sites, which means they are equipped with electricity and close to the showers, But, you are better off with a Class B/S tent site, where you won’t be surrounded by RVs or next to a playground. Plus, these sites are only 10 bucks a night. Regardless of which you choose, you will have access to restrooms, showers, grills, and dumping stations.
Obviously, we don’t expect you to spend all your time in the cave. You should make time to take one or both of the two established trails: Pirate’s Bluff Nature Trail and Hickory Ridge Trail. These moderate trails wind along the Ohio River and you may spot raccoon, opossum, deer, and bald eagle. Then, hit the cave and allow your inner pirate to take over. As long as you don’t force people to walk off the cliff above the cave to their deaths, you should remain in good standing with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Indiana: Turkey Run State Park
We have been trying to go with smaller, slightly less popular locales so that you get a microadventure that truly allows you to get your nature on. It can be really hard to do that in outdoor areas designed to resemble villages or theme parks. But, sometimes, things are popular because they are really freaking cool, and Turkey Run State Park is the coolest. Located in the west-central part of the state, this 2,382-acre park was the second established in Indiana. People surmise wild turkeys used to hang out in the gorges (or runs) and early settlers would lead them to dead-ends where they could be easily hunted. Luckily, you aren’t a wild turkey, so you get to explore a seriously otherworldly landscape unscathed. It’s some straight Lord of the Rings Middle Earth looking stuff.
There is a curious camping situation at the park. If you want to go primitive, you have to be in a scouting group and under 21 (or an adult leader), so forget about those. This time, you have our full approval to enjoy one of 213 Class A campsites with electrical hookups, picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, modern showers, and restrooms. The bummer is that these spots run $30-40, depending on the days you plan on adventuring. But you would pay those same rates for a comparable site at any state park in Indiana, and Turkey Run is totally worth visiting.
Okay, you are going to want to wander around, and the park provides 11 established trails to help you do just that. They range in difficulty from easy to very rugged. We don’t think that you need to necessarily pick one and be done with it. You will probably have time to walk quite a few of them. Consider the very rugged #3, which includes some steep ladders and the Punch Bowl, a pothole carved out by glacial erratics caught in the eddying backlash. If it gets too difficult at any point, turn back and try one of the many other trails. One of the best parts of walking around Turkey Run State Park are the many historical features, like the 200-foot long suspension bridge that spans Sugar Creek; it was built in 1919. There is also a Log Church that was originally constructed in 1871 and the Narrows Covered Bridge, built in 1882.
This is seriously one of those parks you will come back to over and over.
We know that you have read this far and are becoming pensive about the lack of waterfalls. Based on the other lists, we are big falls fans, so why hasn’t there been one yet? We were waiting for Iowa. This is also a little bit of an urban entry, as all of your trail walkings will be around the perimeter of the city of Decorah. Now, the city’s population is only 8,109, so it’s hardly NYC. But, it’s worth noting.
The Upper Iowa River runs along the eastern and northern borders of the city feeding into some stunning falls. That’s right, more than one waterfall. This trip gives you the opportunity to cruise three of the best in the state: Dunnings Springs, Siewers Springs, and Malanaphy Spring Falls.
Because you won’t be adventuring in a state or national park, it might feel harder to find a campsite, but Decorah Parks and Recreation runs Pulpit Rock Campground. In truth, Pulpit can get a little noisy if your neighbors are rowdy, and RVs tend to make things louder and brighter than you want for a night under the stars. We recommend staking out a tent site along the river at the Twin Springs side of the grounds. If you opt to do tent camping without electricity, it’s $15 per tent per night. If you go with electricity, it bumps up to $18 for the first tent per night and $15 for every additional tent.
You can walk out of the campsite and along the river until you connect up with the Trout Run Trail, which will take you right to Dunnings Springs Park where you can check out your first falls. At this point, you are really close to Decorah Ice Cave State Preserve as well, so take some time to see one of the largest caverns containing ice in the Midwest. Formed in 450-million-year-old dolomite and limestone, the cave maintains ice deposits until well into the summer and it’s pretty freaking chill (see what we did there?). Stay on the trail and you will arrive at a spillway in Siewers Springs Park. Relax and take in the energy of the rushing water, or kick it to the nearby fish hatchery and/or bald eagle nest in the park. A further hike will lead you right to Malanaphy Spring Falls — the most attractive of the three and the perfect conclusion of your microadventure.
Kansas: Clinton State Park
Can you design an entire microadventure around a sunset? Damn skippy. Clinton State Park has a lot to recommend it. Clearly, the lake points to swimming, boating, and fishing. But, people often overlook how spectacular the reflection of a sky streaked with oranges and purples looks reflecting off of the water of an evening. But, not you. After a long day hiking, you will settle into camp with a full belly and the bevvy of your choice and watch the sky come alive with vibrant color.
Plus, the 1,500-acre state park is home to a lot of wildlife and sunrises (also stunning) are backed by numerous species of songbirds. You might even see wild turkey, white-tailed deer, waterfowl, and bald eagles. Between the wildlife and the sun rises and sets, your Instagram will be lit.
The park maintains 383 camping sites, and 169 are our favorite kind: primitive. If you want water and electricity at your site, it’s totally an option. But, why not go for something a little more adventurous. If you get overwhelmed, you still get to walk to the showers at other campsites, so it’s not like you are stranded in the backcountry. Seriously, campground #3 has frost-free hydrants, heated shower houses, and laundry facilities, so a short hike could be all that stands between you and convenience if you are overcome with outdoor panic. A primitive spot will run you $13 a night, which isn’t bad.
One of the coolest things about Clinton State Park is that it is set up to work year-round. In the summer, you can go to the beach and use the changing stalls to slip into your suit before splashing about. In the winter, you can pull on your skis and cross-country ski on the five-mile ski trail. During any season, you can opt for the Prairieview Nature Trail or Northshore Trail. The latter is divided into three parts and geared toward mountain bikers, as well as hikers, so there’s yet another activity for you to get up to. And, if all of these sweaty endeavors call for too much exertion, hit the disc golf course. Just be sure to be ready for the sunset when it drops.
Kentucky: Daniel Boone National Forest
Daniel Boone National Forest is huge. Seriously, it is 708,000 acres of federal land within a 2,100,000-acres proclamation bounty — so don’t expect to hike the park in a couple days and be done with it. You can come here every weekend for a year and still discover that you missed something. Plus, with opportunities to picnic, rock climb, fish, hunt, target shoot, bike, boat, raft, and swim, you will always have something to do.
The Koomer Ridge Campground is one of the best in the state. Perched on the perimeter of the Red River Gorge Geological Area, the campground is set among more natural arches than you’ll find anywhere else in the East, and there are 60 miles of foot trails that will allow you to access many of them. The tent sites offer excellent privacy and are quite spacious with a fully equipped bathhouse; though, the flush toilets and showers are not available in winter despite the campsite remaining open year-round. The campground is kept immaculate, and institutes quiet hours from 10 pm to 6 am. There is but a single potential drawback: you can hear cars driving the nearby Bert Combs Mountain Parkway from the campground. But, everything else is so perfect, that it’s not hard to overlook. Tent sites are $20 a night.
This is a great area for hiking, but we really suggest that you bring innertubes and hit one of the many rivers and lakes in the park for some lazy afternoon tubing. There are campgrounds walking distance to tubing spots like Cave Run Lake and Laurel River Lake, but they tend to be packed and full of noisy RV groups and families. It’s better to hang in a quiet, private place for the night and venture farther into the park for tubing after you have a nice long hike along the Red River Gorge. The park is large, and it is actually quite nice to drive from the Gorge Area up to the Cumberland District, where more of the water is. That way, you get to see a wider variety of the park’s plant and wildlife.
If you aren’t down to take in that much of the park and you canoe, the Red River is located in the gorge and offers a 9.1-mile segment of designated Kentucky Wild River that is stellar recreation.
Louisiana: Fontainebleau State Park
One of the major themes that state and national parks have is their tie to history, and Fontainebleau State Park is a great example. You get 2,800 acres of natural beauty with a foundation of local history — as this land used to be a sugar plantation and brickyard run by Bernard de Marigny and later by his offspring Antoine James de Marigny. Bernard lived from 1785 to 1868, during which time he founded Mandeville, which is west of the park. In 1929, he built the sugar mill and he named his large holding Fontainebleau, after the wonderful forest near Paris, France. The plantation operated until 1852. In 1938, it was converted to one of Louisiana’s first state parks, at which time it was called Tchefuncte State Park after a nearby river. In 1943, the name was changed to the current one.
There is some superb camping at the park. You have the option of going for an improved site with electricity, water, a tent pad, a picnic table, and a grill and/or fire ring or for an unimproved site that offers no utilities. Of course, we’re gonna push for the unimproved experience because we think it smacks of more outdoorsy adventure, but either way people who camp here gush about the accommodations. Things like free washing machines and dryers that give you 35 minutes for a buck make people swoon. Plus, they have clean showers with shelves and hooks to keep your gear off of the ground, and flush toilets. It’s between $25 and $33 a night for an improved site and between $20 and $28 for an unimproved one.
There are only a couple of trails — a 4.8-mile hike and a 1.2-mile jag that is a nature trail with a boardwalk into the marsh. There are 400 different species that live in the park, and the nature trail gives you a good chance of seeing a lot of them, especially if your cruise it early in the morning or in the late evening. It’s really cool to take the elevated trail because it ends with benches and a telescope, which lets you spy on birds and alligators and deer. You should also spend time at the lake. You will get to walk on one of the only white sand beaches on Lake Pontchartrain, and it’s so clean. You can also walk into the water pretty far, as it remains relatively shallow. You will need to go about 100-feet to get waist deep.
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Maine: Cutler Coast Public Lands
We love headlands and really promontories of all types, which is why they keep popping up in these lists. Steep sea cliffs; rocky shores; high, breaking waves and tide pools delight us. The Cutler Coast Public Lands includes 4.5 miles of headlands broken up by beaches and pocket coves, plus blueberry barrens, heaths, and woodlands. It’s a 12,234-acre stretch of land that includes 10 miles of trails and some of the best views in the state.
European explorers first arrived around 1605, and settlers followed in 1785, but an archeological expedition in 1984 revealed fire-cracked rocks and stone tools — indicating the area was used by native people for centuries. Cutler Coast lived a number of previous lives as a sawmill, a dairy farm, and a cheese factory, before being heavily harvested for spruce and fir pulp. Maine acquired the central part of the existing public lands in 1989, and in 1997, a generous donation from The Conservation Fund/Richard King Mellon Foundation and Maine Coast Heritage Trust quadrupled the size of the preserve.
The State of Maine reports three primitive campsites at Fairy Head (though some people feel like there are at least a couple more established spots) that are operated on a first come, first served with no reservations. Truth be told, you have to get a little lucky to snag a spot during the loveliest times of the year. The camps have a pit toilet, but otherwise, you haul in everything that you need. Open fires are prohibited, and you have to take your trash out with you. Though this is certainly roughing it, you’ll enjoy almost total privacy and an absolutely phenomenal setting. This place is legit.
Once you set up camp bright and early, you have the rest of the day to do some exploring. Definitely spend time exploring tide pools. Then, do some hiking. Be sure to pack sturdy shoes because the terrain is rough and can be quite slippery the closer you get to boardwalks and cliffs’ edges. We really like The Black Point Brook Loop, which comes in at a 5.5 -mile round trip. It’s all wooded trails and rocky cliffside hikes for the initial part, and the return is more mellow.
Maryland: Assateague Island National Seashore
Wild Horses. No, we’re not talking the Rolling Stones song, the cover by the Sundays, or the scene with Mark Wahlberg groping Reese Witherspoon in Fear. We are referencing the very literal wild horses that roam Assateague Island National Seashore — the site of your Maryland microadventure. Located on Assateague Island (a barrier island bordered on the west by Sinepuxent Bay and on the east by the Atlantic), the seashore is part of Maryland’s only oceanfront state park, and it offers visitors activities like swimming, sunbathing, fishing, surfing, and feral horse watching. If you aren’t excited by one of these (horses!), we are prepared to register our concern.
It took a while for the state park to be established, as state planners suggested it in both 1940 and 1952 without action being taken. It wasn’t put into motion until 1956, when Ocean Beach, Incorporated donated 540 acres from North Ocean Beach to the state. The national seashore was created in 1965. Before that, the island was slated to become a private resort community — but a nor’easter swooped down and destroyed what few buildings had been erected and ripped the roads asunder. The island simply wasn’t sufficiently stable to serve as a foundation for a resort. It’s perfect for camping and feral horses, though.
The state park maintains 148 campsites for people using tents and for those with RVs. Campers get to choose between an oceanside parcel or a bayside one. If you go for the ocean, you have the advantage of being right on the beach. But, on the bayside, you have great views of the marshes where the horses feed, and that can make for some great pictures and memories. The facilities include drinking water, cold showers, and chemical toilets. You also get a picnic table and a fire ring at your site. Campers pay $30 a night to reserve a site. It’s a pretty basic, no-frills arrangement.
Sure, you can hike here. There are three rather short trails (none of them are over a mile). There is a dunes trail over the sand, a forest trail shaded by woodlands, and a marsh trail on an elevated boardwalk. But, we want to indulge our inner seven-year-old girl and focus on horsies. The Chincoteague ponies are, according to legend, the descendants of animals that survived a shipwreck off the coast. But, it’s more likely that they date back to settlers opting to keep the horses on an island rather than build paddocks and pay fence taxes. And, because the horses live on saltmarsh grasses, they have developed round little bellies and short stature; many are under 4’8”.
Be warned, these suckers will kick and bite because they are wild, so this is all about being among them and observing. No feeding or petting allowed.
Massachusetts: Savoy Mountain State Forest
Located primarily in the towns of Savoy and Florida, Savoy Mountain State Forest is fairly remote. It’s situated on the Hoosac Mountain Range (an extension of the Green Mountains of Vermont) and boasts four ponds, plus seven hill and mountain summits. And, there are two pretty spectacular waterfalls. If you can, reserve a campground in early autumn to bask in the glory of the famous New England fall foliage.
In 1918, the State of Massachusetts purchased 100 acres of abandoned farmland and created the Savoy Mountain State Forest. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps reforested the bulk of the area with Norway and Blue Spruce and built concrete dams to replace older ones. Now, there are 120 acres of old growth forest located nearby and the trees include red spruce, eastern hemlock, yellow, birch, and sugar maple. If you’re interested in exploring trees that range in age from 150 to 400-years-old, you will love hiking here.
The State Forest features 45 campsites in a former apple orchard; some of them are more remote, so try reserving one of those — the others are a bit close together. Each site has its own picnic table, food storage locker, and fire ring. The food storage locker is a big deal because this is Black Bear country, and it is vital that you limit any temptation for bears to come calling at your camp. During the main camping season, campers have access to showers, flush toilets, and a dumping station. During the off-season, campers are limited to composting toilets; the showers are turned off, and potable water is only available at the headquarters building.
There are 50 miles of wooded trails that are tremendous fun to hike year-round and most cross the trailheads at the campground. Use Busby Trail to climb Spruce Hill, which offers near 360-degree views from its summit. This is particularly cool during hawk migration. Or, try the Bog Pond Trail — a series of floating peat-moss islands set against dark tannic water channels. There may be moose, bobcat, coyote, fox, and bear sightings. You should also make a point to see Tannery Falls and Parker Brook Falls, which sit where Ross Brook travels through a deep crevasse and then drops into a calm, clear pool.
Michigan: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
If you live in Michigan and haven’t been to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the time has come. Hugging the Lake Superior shoreline for more than 40 miles, Pictured Rocks is home to forest, beaches, sandstone cliffs, sand dunes, and waterfalls. The Anishinaabe or Ojibwa people who have lived in the area for thousands of years assign great spiritual significance to these rocks, and they also feature prominently in Longfellow’s 1855 Song of Hiawatha, an epic poem about an Ojibwe warrior and his love of a Dakota woman. Since the 1940s, the coastline has been the subject of boat tours, though the area did not fall under the governing eye of the National Park Service until 1966, when it was designated the first national lakeshore.
If the weather is sublime, you are going to want to arrive early to grab a campsite because they are first-come, first-serve, and you can’t make any reservations. Every campsite offers a fire ring with grate, picnic table, and tent pad. Vault toilets are generally in full effect, and water is provided by solar-powered wells. There are three campgrounds, but we recommend you try to get into Little Beaver Lake Campground if possible. It hosts eight tent sites along a beautiful inland lake and one is accessible to disabled adventurers. The sites themselves are clean and level, with incredible views.
If you want to take a leisurely stroll, White Pine Trail is a super easy .7 -mile loop along Little Beaver Lake Campground, but we really want to hype kayaking the shore and exploring the caves along the pictured rocks. Three different companies offer kayak tour along the lakeshore and any one of them will help you experience the otherworldly rock formations along the coast. Most skill levels can be accommodated, and you get to see falls and sea caves (this is the coolest part) and gorgeously stained rock walls. Different tours highlight different landmarks along the shore, but they all load you up with information about the history and geology of the area.
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My favorite photos from 2017 – Quite cold in the mitten so thought I’d post this favorite of Maddog Lynch ice climbing the Dryer Hose @picturedrocksnps in the UP last Feb. Hope to go again this winter, maybe climb. * * * * #iceclimbing #iceclimber #ice #winter #snow #frozen #frozenwaterfalls #picturedrocks #nps #findyourpark #michiganicefest #sandstone #puremichigan #puremittigan #naturalmichigan #michiganders #bestoftheday #bestiftheyear #bestof2017 #favoritephotos #getoutside #weeklyFstopFrozen #frozen #fstoppers @michiganicefest @puremichigan @puremidwest @mountainhardwear
Minnesota: Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
In 1854, a group of settlers were taken aback to discover an oasis of trees dead in the middle of the vast oak savanna prairie. That island of sugar maple, basswood, oak, aspen, hickory, ash, elm, and ironwood trees is now Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. It’s also home to 200 varieties of wildflowers, making it absolutely gorgeous in spring. Plus, there is a small waterfall and plentiful wildlife: fox, raccoon, deer, red and hoary woodland bats, red-bellied garter snakes, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and seven species of woodpeckers. But, because the state park doesn’t back up onto water or have a major historical site, people don’t go there with the frequency seen at other parks. This is great for you because it will allow you the space you need to really get away from it all.
Nerstrand has plenty of camping options (as most state parks do). But, the walk-in ones are the most fun. The farthest site is 200 yards from a parking area and they are all an easy walk, so don’t be intimidated. Be excited. There are four walk-in rustic camps, and they all are near drinking water and primitive toilet facilities; plus, they have fire rings and picnic tables. For $15-$19 a night, you can get the complete outdoorsperson experience.
The walk-in campsites are on the White Oak Trail, which you can easily hike. We suggest you take it a third of a mile east to the Hidden Falls Trail, a loop that traverses a hardwood forest ecoregion. You will travel over a boardwalk constructed to protect the endangered Minnesota dwarf trout lily, which grows here, and see the “hidden” falls for which the trail is named. Though the 20-foot falls aren’t exactly hidden, they are graceful and perfect for photos.
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Mississippi: Homochitto National Forest
Homochitto National Forest isn’t about RVs and water parks (although that kind of adventure can be a damn good time). Nope. This is about getting into the woods and getting dirty. If you really want to enjoy yourself here, we recommend bringing your mountain bike for some time on the Richardson Creek Trail — a ten mile trail that winds through some gorgeous and varied Mississippi terrain. And, when you get all filthy, you can use the bicycle shower located at the trailhead of Tally’s Trail. Did we pick a spot just because it has a cool bicycle shower? Not really, but we think it exemplifies how well designed the space is and how ideal it is for activities.
On this adventure, you’ll stay at Clear Springs Campground adjacent to 10-acre Clear Springs Lake, where you can fish for largemouth bass, bream and channel catfish. There are two loops, one along the ridge above the lake and one right on the lakeside. Some of them are terraced and most of them have spectacular views. All of them are well manicured and picturesque, but we lean toward the more wooded sites on the ridge. If you opt for electricity and water hookups, expect to pay $20 a night. For a tent space without hookups, it’s only $7 a night. Half of the sites have tables and grills, so ask about that if it’s important to you when you register. The bathrooms throughout have hot showers and flush toilets.
Consider striking out on the Clear Springs Trail, which some consider a hidden Mississippi gem. It’s totally well maintained, and you’ll find a lot of awesome places to hang in the water, as you trek through sprawling forests. It’s a little tough going at the start, so if you want to do all 11.1 miles, you’re gonna need some stamina. Trail markers are a little more sparse than one might like (read: you might feel lost), so reading up on it before jumping into the woods is a good plan.
If you can, consider going during the fall or early spring, when the brush is either less dense of you can comfortably wear pants. You know Mississippi can get hella buggy, and your legs will get eaten up if you aren’t slathered in repellant.
Missouri: Jacob’s Cave
There are pirate caves and then there is the Ozark’s largest and most scenic cave. People come from all over the world to experience Jacob’s Cave, so we know it’s not exactly a hidden gem, but it is a stunning natural beauty and that’s cool af. A visit will show you why the cave is famous for its reflective pools, depth illusion, ceiling sponge-work, and prehistoric bones. Who doesn’t want to see mastodon, bear, and peccary bones? Plus, they have the world’s largest geode. If you are a cave junkie, you can expect to see every possible type of cave formation. You won’t go in jonesing for helectites and leave unsatisfied.
Unlike a lot of independent tourist cave operations, Jacob’s Cave has great camping on site. They let you camp at the lakeside and enjoy the scenic acreage. There are water and electric hookups, shower houses, and a dumping station. And, you are welcome to use the lake for fishing, swimming, and boating. And, if you want to go primitive, there are 60 wooded acres and 90 of meadowland. You can literally take a sleeping bag and throw down for the night.
When you are done taking in the sights on the vast property, hit the caves for a tour. It’s $18, takes an hour, and is an accessible, easy walk. This is a great microadventure for people with limited mobility, who often aren’t accommodated by outdoor adventures. You will see evidence of six ice ages and three earthquakes, which is astounding. And, it’s a constant 53 degrees down there, so though it’s a little chilly, it’s warmer than the weather in winter and cooler than the weather in summer. That’s awesome when you are sweltering or freezing outside. And, your pictures will be unmatched by your homebody friends.
Montana: Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
Located in southeastern Montana, the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is Montana’s best-known state park. So, this microadventure is going to be one that a lot of people go on — but it’s magical just the same. Native Americans were the first people familiar with the namesake caverns, but they came to be “discovered” again and again by white men throughout the 1800s. It wasn’t until 1900 that they were officially developed for tours. In 1908, they were established as the Lewis and Clark National Monument, and in 1911, President Taft declared a 160-acre area including the caverns a national park. The park was disbanded in 1937 and transferred to the state, who declared it their first state park in 1941.
Because this is such a popular area, you have a lot of options when it comes to camping. The adventure is really best with the caverns included, but they are only open May1-September 30. However, you can camp here year-round and enjoy all that the area has to offer, like mountain biking and trail hiking. There is a large campground, some cabins, and a freaking tipi to choose from. Plus, there are showers, flush toilets, and drinking water, which aren’t available at most of the sites on our list. Tent sites are $15 a night when the caverns are touring and $13 a night the rest of the year. Cabins are roughly three times that.
Okay, the caverns are the whole point of this deal. It’s great to camp and to be outside and to breathe fresh air, but none of those are as cool as spelunking. We are talking stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helictites. It’s unreal. You can opt for a guided tour in the electrified, guardrail part of the caverns, and that’s cool. But, we suggest you do the Wild Cave Tour. This challenging alternative is an introduction to caving with only headlamps to guide you. It’s a ton of bending and crawling and duck waddling, but it’s so worth it. This living cave system gives you an opportunity to see bushytail rats, big-eared bats, springtails and harvestmen, and blind and albino spiders.
Nebraska: Long Pine State Recreation Area
Microadventures can lack a sense of completion when you stay in a giant park or put too many things on the itinerary, so we kept this one completely doable. Long Pine State Recreation Area is only 153-acres of Pine Ridge land that straddles Pine Creek. It is most well-known for the trout fishing in the area, but hiking, archery, and hunting are also options.
The recreation area is close to the city of Long Pine, which now has a dwindling population of less than 300, but it used to be one of the coolest towns in the state. In the 1880s, the city’s position as a railroad hub drew people to it, but it was the opening of the resort Nebraska’s Hidden Paradise in 1912 that cemented it as a must-visit. Sadly, the resort shuttered. Then, in 1992, the railroad stopped service. Still the tallest bridge in the state remains as a souvenir of better times. You might want to drive through on your way to or from your microadventure or take the Cowboy Hike Bike Trail from the recreation area to the town.
Long Pine State Recreation Area offers primitive camping. There are only eight camping pads with electricity and 21 non-pad sites without any juice. While there are no showers, there are pit toilets. The area is beautiful, and going a couple days without a shower won’t undermine that or challenge your standing as an attractive person. The pads are $9 and the sites without are a mere $7. And that’s a real deal when you consider the deep sense of escape the recreation area’s isolation will foster in you.
There is a one-mile scenic hiking trail that you can access from your camp, but you can also just wander around on your own, provided you are cautious and don’t have a wounded bumblebee’s sense of direction. If the weather is nice, bring an innertube and join people in floating lazily down the river. If you haven’t been tubing, you must. It is absolutely the most fun you can have on a river without having to exert yourself in any way. And, if you are a fishing enthusiast, hook some trout and cook them over the fire as part of your adventure. Also, there is an archery range in the northern section of the recreation area, so consider going full Robin Hood.
Nevada: Great Basin National Park (Lehman Caves)
Nevada is full of genuine natural wonders, most of which are aboveground. But, for this microadventure, you will be heading miles underground to appreciate startling chambers that make you feel like you are in a cathedral. First seen by Europeans in the late 1880s, Lehman Caves show evidence of having previously been used as a burial location by Native Americans in the area. For a period, the caves were quite the popular locale for parties and weddings, and graffiti from the fetes remains. A space known as the Inscription Room is full of signatures and messages scrawled in charcoal and carved into the stone walls. Now, the caves are protected as part of the National Park and open for guided tours.
When it comes to where you lie your sleeping bag, you have choices. If you are a seasoned adventurer, go for the primitive digs. You have to put your tent within 30 feet of the area’s picnic tables and fire ring, but otherwise, set up where you please. If you want something a bit more regulated, you have your pick of seven sites with a first-come policy and a $12 fee per night. We recommend the Grey Cliffs Campground because there are only 16 sites (two of which are wheelchair accessible) and it is only 1.5 miles from the visitor center; you can walk there when you need to.
Within Great Basin National Park, there are more than 40 known caves. They fall into four distinct groups” Lehman Hill Caves, Baker Creek Caves, Snake Creek Caves, and Alpine Caves. You get to tour the Lehman Caves. You can choose from among three tours: the Grand Palace, the Lodge Room, and the Gothic Palace (which is wheelchair accessible). Provided your mobility is not an issue, we suggest paying $10 and enjoying the hour and a half long Grand Palace tour. You get to see more than on any other tour, and that’s what you are there for, right? When you aren’t spelunking like a GD champ, hike around and be sure to appreciate the sky at night. Great Basin is a designated International Dark Sky Park, so you can see stars and planets you couldn’t think to view elsewhere.
New Hampshire: Umbagog Lake State Park
Umbagog Lake State Park is one of the best kayaking venues in this entire region. The lake, which is also part of the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, is 7,850 acres, making it the largest lake on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. It’s also infinitely beautiful, providing visitors with all the wilderness and solitude they can handle without veering into a Friday the 13th kind of scenario. The area is logistically a bit of a pain to access, so it’s generally quiet and peaceful. And, it’s one of the more recently acquired parks in the system. The Division only started managing it in 1998 — which means it doesn’t have the notoriety that parks dating back to the 1930s have.
The park’s campground has 27 sites with electrical and water hookups and 35 remote sites, which are so cool. You can literally claim a lone site on a mini-island all to yourself. Don’t worry about not having the necessary boat, kayak, or canoe to make it out to your camp; these are all available for rental. Each of the remote sites has a pit toilet, fire pit, and picnic table. There isn’t any water, but you can fill up at the main campground and haul it out to the island with the rest of your gear. You have to purchase all of your firewood at the camp store to limit danger to the trees in the area. There aren’t any trash cans, so be prepared to haul out as well as haul in.
Insider’s tip: We think campsites 14, 28, 29, and 32 are the real jewels. Reserve them if you can.
Umbagog Lake State Park is all about the lake (shocking!). This is a great place to swim, paddle, and fish. But, there are also a lot of interesting areas to gawk at and explore. In Tyler Cove, there is a pebble beach, and if you follow a small trail for 0.2-miles, you come to a natural spring. A little more adventure in the area will lead you to the remains of an abandoned golf course that dates back decades. And, Harper’s Meadow, designated a Floating Island National Natural Landmark is a floating bog that is home to many different species of wild beasties.
Check out eagles, osprey, and loons. There is waterfowl aplenty, but there is also moose. Moose!
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"What stays at Umbagog, stays at Umbagog." ……….…………………………………………. down near the waters edge we all perched atop mossy boulders, pink-blue light threatening to throw off what little beer-induced balance we had left whilst it slipped below the horizon. standing on damp rocks is hard when you're balancing a bottle of wild turkey in one hand and a sam adams in the other. right about now the moon began its slow descent behind the silhouetted backdrop of the white mountains, glowing an eery orange against the pitch black sky. "there it goes!" we all hollered in unison, laughing at the redundancy of our exclamations. now half-hidden behind the line of trees across the lake, its crescent shape painting a thin shadow across the ripples on the water. smoke surrounded all of us, pot, tobacco, fog rolling in, it was all the same; we breathed deeply and reveled in the way the air hung on our skin and in our lungs, light as the moon being pulled so easily out of sight to make room for the stars. "hand me that blunt" i heard from behind me, blindly throwing my arm back so i wouldn't miss a moment of the last seconds of the moon, fighting to stay above the horizon, glowing just the slightest bit brighter than it had thus far. smoke mingled in my nose again as i heard "What stays at Umbagog, stays at Umbagog." We giggled, and giggled, and giggled some more. one of us finally managed to ask "Dunkin did you mean..?" "Of course i did, what stays at Umbagog, stays at Umbagog" and with a few solemn nods of acceptance, we turned our gazes to the sky, watching silently as the milky way danced and shimmered above us in a light show all our own.
New Jersey: High Point State Park
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Three guesses why this is the name of the park. If one of your answers was that the park sits on the top of the state’s tallest mountain, you are correct. At 1,803 feet above sea level, the view is a spectacular panorama of lush valleys, verdant farmland, rich forest, and rolling hills in three states. Donated by Colonel Anthony R. and Susie Dryden Kuser, the land for High Point State Park became a dedicated park in 1923. The park was actually designed by the Olmstead Brothers of Boston, who were the sons of prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer behind Central Park. Their prowess shows in the present park, which includes a monument to honor all war veterans. Completed in 1930, the 220-foot structure allows observers to access the best view in the state.
One of the cool things about overnighting here is that the campground isn’t smushed up against the day trippers. Instead of placing it next to the contact station by Lake Marcia (where people swim and hang out), it’s farther north. There are 50 tent sites (no trailers) along Sawmill Lake and they each have a picnic table and fire ring. Campers are walking distance to flush toilets. The spaces are good sized and provide enough of a buffer between guests that you may see your neighbors, but they won’t be close enough to force conversation. Residents pay $20 for the night and out-of-staters pony up $25.
High Point State Park has over 50 miles of trails, so you have options year-round. Some are multi-use, which means you can opt to use them for mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, dogsledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. You can stick to a short jaunt on a .5-mile trail or go full out for 18.
We think the Monument Trail Loop is a can’t miss. It’s a moderately difficult 3.5-mile loop that takes about two to three hours. This is a great way to access the monument and the views. It gets a fair amount of traffic, so you likely won’t be cruising this alone, unless you hit it in the winter and brave the snow (which is so fun!). Also, fun is the White Cedar Swamp Trail– a 2.6 mile trail that gets you close to wildlife.
New Mexico: Blue Hole of Santa Rosa
New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment for a reason; it’s fucking gorgeous. And every one of their natural wonders was on our list at one point. But, we finally decided on the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa, kinda because that is just the finest name ever but mostly because the idea that some of the best scuba diving in the nation is happening in arid New Mexico makes us so happy.
The Blue Hole is an 80-foot wide artesian spring, fed from an underwater aquifer that lived a former life as a fish hatchery (back in 1932) but is now open to swimmers and divers. In the seventies, the lake became the Blue Hole Recreation Area and recently expanded into the Blue Hole Dive and Conference Center. The stunning water is, in fact, bright blue and has a constant temperature of 64 degrees, making it refreshing on hot days.
After some time swimming or sitting in the sun watching divers, you will want to move on (and maybe set up camp) but you can’t do it at the Blue Hole. You are going to have to drive a few miles to Santa Rosa Lake State Park, where you can choose more traditional campsites with water and showers or the more primitive backcountry ones.
If you scuba, then this is your chance to strap on the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (yes, scuba is an acronym) and do your thing. There’s a dive shop, where you can get gear, as well as changing rooms and showers. But, if you aren’t trained and you aren’t taking classes, you have the option of splashing about like a deranged seal. You can dive into the water from a nearby rock platform or perfect your backflip from atop a cement ledge. Regardless of the activity, you will be blown away by the clear, clean water. Visibility is really good here, making it a perfect place for free diving.
New York: Hither Hills State Park
If you’re an ocean person, you can spend hours sitting in the sand watching the waves rush toward you and recede while your mind travels calmly through a series of thoughts and the sound of the water soothes you. And, there are a lot of ways to get your ocean groove back when you live in New York, a state the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared has 2,625 miles of coastline. We suggest heading to the eastern end of the South Fork of Long Island, near Montauk. Hither Hills State Park is a little busier that we generally like for microadventures, but it is also absolutely beautiful beach with campsites set along the shore. We can’t fight that draw.
This 1,755-acre state park was slated for private development at one point. It almost became a recreational complex with all the stereotypical trappings of the upper crust, including a yacht basin and polo field. But, the Long Island State Park Commission blocked that plan and a portion of the private holdings was sold to New York State, who designated it a park in August of 1924. Take that, rich people.
There is a 190-site campground on the ocean. You may literally be sleeping only a few feet from the lapping waves. Each site has a concrete slab with a picnic table. If you fear rain or oppressive sun, bring a canopy because the sites don’t offer any cover from the weather. You aren’t allowed to have open fires; so if you’re cooking, bring a grill. There are bathhouses with flush toilets and showers, and everything is kept clean. Plus, because it is a popular locale, there are police patrols at night — so you don’t need to worry about your neighbors going out of control and keeping you up. It’s really as accommodating and comfortable as a tent site can get without being full on glamping. Sites are $31 per night and $217 per week.
The ocean is a clear must. Get out there and fish, swim, or splash. Even sitting on the beach for hours will help get you back in touch with your inner adventurer. But, be sure to also make time to explore and hike on the Hither Hills Overlook woodland trail, an eight mile, highly trafficked loop. The difficulty is moderate, but a person who isn’t down to walk that far in the sun may struggle in the summer. The eastern boundary of the park boasts the unique “walking dunes” of Napeague Harbor, and a 2.7-mile trail loops you through them.
North Carolina: Nantahala National Forest
The largest of North Carolina’s four National Forests, Nantahala National Forest spans 531,148-acres. Plus, elevations range from 5,800-feet at Lone Bald in Jackson County down to 1,200-feet in Cherokee County along the Hiwassee River. That change in elevation means there are areas, like Nantahala Gorge, where the sun only touches the valley floor when it is at its highest point. It’s no surprise that the park’s name means “land of the new day sun” in Cherokee. In 1920, under the authority of the 1911 Weeks Act, the National Forest was established. Now, there are over 600 miles of trails, and mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders have room to roam. And, the river means swimmers, splashers, and white water rafters also have an outlet for their escapades. For this microadventure, we have centered things on Secret Falls, a 50-foot waterfall on Big Creek.
Secret Falls is in the Nantahala Ranger District part of the park, along with a number of other falls. If you aren’t interested in a falls just because it is a bit down low, you can opt to visit Whitewater Falls, the highest east of the Rocky Mountains, instead. You have options. For campgrounds in this part of the park, we suggest camping at Van Hook Glade Campground, the least popular campground in this region of the park. It’s open from April 1st to late October and offers drinking water, flush toilets, and showers. Plus, it’s close to Cliffside Lake, which you can use for fishing and swimming. There are primitive campsites in the area as well, but this campground does a great job of making sites secluded. They are set back in mature forest and rhododendron groves. Sites are $12 a night.
You will need to walk the Big Shoals Trail to find Secret Falls — it’s clearly marked with blue metal triangles nailed to trees. The trail is moderately difficult (there are a couple short steep sections), and the forest service has done an amazing job of keeping it well maintained. A relatively large stream spills over a nearly vertical hillside into a large, deep pool before pouring into some smaller cascades and settling in a rocky, dark cove. In the summer, people who are in the know come here to swim in the pool and play on the sandy beach, so you won’t be the only person exploring this beautiful falls, but it likely won’t be overrun.
North Dakota: Maah Daah Hey Trail
Maah Daah Hey Trail is often called North Dakota’s best-kept secret, but as it is also called the longest and most grueling single-track mountain biking route in the country. Point being: It may not be so much secrecy keeping the crowds at bay but fear. If you are new to microadventuring, you likely aren’t looking to mountain bike the 96-mile trail over a weekend, and believe me we totally empathize. That’s not what we are suggesting. We want you out along the trail just long enough to tell people you biked or hiked through the badlands. That’s class A bragging rights.
Unlike a lot of our suggestions, Maah Daah Hey Trail doesn’t date back to the early 1900s. It’s a relatively recent addition to North Dakota’s parks and recreation scene. Construction was instituted in 1995 and was completed in four years, thanks to help from the United States Forest Service, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The name comes from the Mandan Indian language for “grandfather.”
With a trail this long, there are bound to be multiple camping sites (there are eleven total), but we are partial to the Magpie Campground — and not just because of the fun name. It has a lot going for it. With only 11 sites, it’s not going to be overrun with tons of people. Plus, in addition to being only a single short, scenic walk away from Maah Daah Hey Trail, it’s also on the Ice Caves Trail, which takes you to a series of cliffs and caves that remain icy and snowy into July. So, should the biking not work out, you have a solid natural backup plan. The campground is only $6 a night.
When you’re making your way down Maah Daah Hey Trail, you’re sure to see spectacular plateaus, jagged peaks, low valleys, huge swaths of rolling prairies, and a series of rivers. Fair warning: Seventy percent of the activity on the trail is made up of mountain biking, with 25 percent horseback riding and five percent hiking. Be prepared to be outnumbered if you are walking the trail.
Given the opportunities for wildlife photography and bird watching, if you do opt to bike, give yourself permission to stop pedaling and take in the sights. It’s a shame to zoom right past them.
Ohio: Kelleys Island State Park
We recognize that a few islands on a list of 12 states might feel like island overload, but we also think it’s important/rad to challenge the assumption that the Midwest is a bunch of flat prairies. There are shorelines here, yo. For people in Ohio (and those in northeast Indiana and southeast Michigan), a drive to Kelleys Island State Park for some camping and hiking is totally worth it. Before the 19th century, the island was primarily occupied by Ottawa and Huron (Wyandot) Indian tribes with occasional visits from European settlers. But, there are prehistoric mounds and earthworks that serve as evidence that ancient civilizations inhabited the area. And, petroglyphs carved into a boulder of limestone known as Inscription Rock date back to the 1600s or earlier. The island was not declared a state park until 1956 after it changed hands and purposes a large number of times.
The island offers a range of camping possibilities. There are 43 non-electric sites, 46 electric, and 35 that have both electricity and water. We suggest (and you won’t be surprised by this) that you go without electricity in order to get a site right on the shore of Lake Erie. You will still have access to flush toilets, showers, and fire rings.
Because the park is on an island, you do have to ferry over, so be prepared. But, once you arrive and settle in, it’s time to explore. There are private vendors who rent both bicycles and kayaks, so keep those options in mind if hiking and nature watching aren’t enough to keep you busy. There are only three established trails: North Pond Nature Reserve, North Shore/Alvar Loop, and East Quarry Trail. The third option is the one that will give you the most time in the wilderness, as it is a five-mile network of both hiking and biking trails that twist around the abandoned limestone quarry. The quarry offers the best fossil hunting on the island, and if the idea of finding fossilized cephalopods, brachiopods, corals, and more isn’t exciting, we don’t know what to tell you.
Oklahoma: Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area
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View from our hike along #elkmountain #trail a few weeks ago. Check out the website for details on how the hike was! This trail was #dogfriendly 🐾#charonsgarden #elkmountaintrail #wichitamountains #lawton #lawtonoklahoma #altus #altusok #altusoklahoma #lifeinaltus #swok #swoklahoma #swoklife #oklahoma #oklahomaphotography #oklahomaskies #hiking #hikingadventures #altusafb #altusairforcebase
We’re gonna keep the backcountry vibe going with our pick for Oklahoma. Southwest Oklahoma is home to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which was designated the nation’s first “Game Preserve” to save dwindling American bison populations. Now, it helps species facing extinction and restores species that formerly lived in the area. Animals reintroduced include wild turkey, elk, bison, prairie dog, river otter, and burrowing owls. The refuge is nearly 60,000 acres and has 50 mammal species, as well as 64 reptile and amphibian, 240 bird, 806 plant, and 36 fish. You will encounter wildlife here.
The reserve as a whole is rad af, but our pick for microadventuring is Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, a 5,000-acre area reserved for day hiking and limited backcountry camping. If you want to truly rough it, a permit will allow you to camp from Friday to Sunday or Monday through Wednesday. The interesting thing is that they only release ten permits for any three-day span, so you likely will not see another person once you set up camp. If the refuge sounds good, but you aren’t down with this primitive shit, there are other campgrounds, so don’t cross this one off your list.
Charon’s Garden is mountainous, covered in granite formations that can be traced back over 500 million years to lava flows that covered most of the area. But, there are also pockets of post oak tree thickets and low-lying areas with grassy, marshy areas with small, seasonal streams. If you visit in spring, you can expect a riot of colorful wildflowers as well as wildlife. Specifically, visitors in this part of the refuge see white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, elk, bison, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and white eagles. Be prepared.
When you go hiking, be ready for trails to climb up and down over the mountains. It is strenuous, but doable if you take your time. Signage on trails can be less than satisfactory, meaning you should keep track of where you are going and how to get back.
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Fall mornings at Elk Mountain got me like 😍. Who wants to go wander with us? #elkmountain #wichitamountains #charongardens #fall #autumn #mountains #oklahoma #myoklahoma #travelok #medicinepark #desert #clouds #cloudporn #sky #gopro #goprooftheday #goprophotography #peoplewhodofunstuff #hike #hiking #vans #travel #wander #wanderlust #optoutside #reiproject1440 #sunrise
Oregon: Peter Skene Ogden Trail
The Deschutes National Forest is a name you might recognize because of the Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, OR. In fact, both are named after the Deschutes river, which was so-called by early 19th century French-Canadian trappers. The national forest was initially established in 1908, though it underwent a number of adjustments as time passed. At this point, it’s 18 million acres of wild good times, with more than 250 known caves, 348,100 acres of old growth, the Newberry National Volcanic Forest (containing lava tubes, lava flows, and cinder cones), five wilderness areas, and six National Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Hitting up this park means a chance to mountain bike, wildlife watch, hike, boat, whitewater raft, and fish.
Located 21 miles south of Bend, the Peter Skene Ogden Trail features forest, lakes, and incredible views of both the Three Sisters and Broken Top mountains. There are a lot of camps in the area, but your best bet is to hike out from McKay Crossing campground, which is right on the trail. There’s no need for reservations and it’s only $10 for the first vehicle. Because this isn’t as frequented as other parts of the park, the campground and the trail are pretty tranquil and secluded.
The Peter Skene Ogden Trail is an eight-mile round trip that works well for beginners (you can also take routes that make it more difficult, like the mountain biking loop that goes seven miles uphill right off the bat). If you are new to microadventuring, this is easy peasy and totally worth it because there are … waterfalls! The first, McKay Falls, is just 500 meters from the campgrounds. But, trekking along the trail brings you to even more. And, it’s not just a chance to view nature in all its glory or snap a few pics, you gotta get in there. In the summer months, you can slide down the smooth stone of rock waterslides or swim in the pools directly under the falling water. After a long day of hiking or biking or sliding, it’s time to warm up in Paulina hot springs. There are four pools: one hot, one warm, and two lukewarm.
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Willow has been consuming all of my time! I wanna be outside playing!!! 😭 . . This Waterfall is One of Many That Are Littered Along my Fave Hike!!! My Pot of Gold At The End Of The Trail 😍👌🏽 . #FlashBackFriday #GirlsJustWannaHaveFun #PeterSkeneOgdenTrail #GoOutSideAndPlay #TakeAHike #WomenWhoHike #AdventureGirls #OptOutside #GetOutStayOut #BeWild #HerPNW #PNW #PNWonderland #PNWlife #BendLife #BendBackYard #OregonLife #ChasingWaterfalls #Wander #Adventure #Explore #PNWdiscovered #Oregon #TheBestOfOregon #TheBestOfBend #BackYardBend
Pennsylvania: Ohiopyle State Park
A lot of campgrounds across the country now feature waterslide parks, which we think is kinda cool (waterslides can never be fully bereft of cool) but not what you need to be doing to get back to nature. A microadventure with natural waterslides is perfect because it gives you the all of rush associated with sliding along rushing water on your ass and keeps you connected to the wilderness. Ohiopyle State Park, located on the southern end of Laurel Ridge is 20,500-acres of wild beauty centered on the rushing waters of the Youghiogheny River Gorge, home to some of the best whitewater boating in the east and to two pretty wicked natural waterslides. As the park is open year-round, you also have the option to do some cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding when the weather isn’t right for sliding.
Shortly after European colonists hit this part of the nation, Native American tribes from across the east coast were either exterminated or fled to escape such a fate. Many of them ended up in the Ohiopyle area during the 18th century. In fact, the name “Ohiopyle” comes from a Lenape phrase meaning “it turns very white,” a reference not to the shift in the area’s population but to the froth of local waterfalls. The region went through periods of use by farmers, trappers, hunters, and lumberjacks before the railroads also made it a destination of choice for tourists. When the automobile became popular, all of the resort buildings in the area were demolished, and the forest reclaimed the land before being purchased by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to become the first and largest park acquired under the Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act in 1964. The public was permitted entrance in 1965, and the park was dedicated in 1971.
For this outing, you’ll be staying at the KentuckCampground — which has 200 campsites, 27 of which are walk-ins. We love them because they generally afford more privacy, but lugging your stuff can be a pain, so go with the type of site that feels best to you. All of the sites include a fire ring, picnic table, and parking space. There is access to flush toilets, showers with hot water, sanitary dumping stations, and some electric hookups. This is bear country, so you’ll need to keep your food in your car for safety.
If you’re all about paddling, the Youghiogheny River is going to get you hyped — it’s the busiest section of whitewater east of the Mississippi for a reason. If you are down with a kayak, closed-top canoe, or rubber raft, you can even run the falls once a year. It’s transcendent. But, for simple microadventuring, the waterslides may be all the river action that you need. Slip into the cool, clear water of the Meadow Run Natural Waterslide and get in touch with your inner child. The long, fast chute sends you twisting and dropping through sheets of bedrock while whitewater sprays mark your trail. You land comfortably in a shallow pool and will want to race right back to the top and start again.
Rhode Island: George Washington Management and Camp Area
The 4,000-acre George Washington Management Area is home to multiple state forests, as well as the George Washington Memorial Camping Area. So, if you’re really into woodland camping, this spot is going to do the most for you. Among the management area is George Washington Memorial State Forest, founded in 1932 as Rhode Island’s first state forest. Adventuring in the area allows you to hike among old growth and watch sunsets over the lake. There isn’t a waterfall or cave or arch or some specific natural wonder to draw you to the area. Instead, you get a classic experience in a really beautiful part of the state.
The campground is generally dope, but try to get into sites A1-A7. These sites are secluded 12’x12’ platforms along Angell Loop — a 1.5-mile trail that meanders over small hills and winds along the gorgeous southern shore of Bowdish Reservoir. These sites are hike in/hike out ones, so be prepared, but you only have to walk .6 miles to get to them. If you aren’t down with having to haul your stuff to camp, there are 38 other spaces to choose from. In the past, there were only pit toilets and outhouses; there were no showers. Now, there is a new bathhouse with showers and flush toilets. And, water is delivered via shared spigots throughout the campsite. Campsites are $14 a night or $98 for a week.
A forest comes with an extensive habitat and you have access to fox, coyote, raccoon, snowshoe hare, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed deer, and grey squirrel within the Management Area. If you’re interested in bird watching, the Pulaski Marsh attracts a ton of waterfowl, including black duck, wood duck, and mallards. Then, there are the gamebirds: wild turkey, ruffled grouse, and woodcock. And the general forest cover makes a hospitable environment for warblers, thrushes, owls and hawks. On a hike through the area, you can see a lot of wildlife, so bring your phone or a camera to document it. A good trail to follow is the North South and Center Trail to Bowdish Reservoir. It’s an 8.6-mile loop that takes you past the lake. The trail often intersects with gravel roads, so bring good shoes and keep your pack light.
South Carolina: Jones Gap State Park
If we’re sticking with The Carolinas, why not stick with some sweet waterfalls too, but this time let’s go for a state park: Jones Gap State Park. Between the years 1840 and 1848, A self-taught mountain road builder named Solomon Jones took it upon himself to cut a toll road from Caesars Head, South Carolina to Cedar Mountain, North Carolina, and legend holds he did it with a hatchet while following the lead of a sow, as one does. This was called the Jones Gap Road. In the 1950s, Henry Ware, who had actually been down the road by wagon in his youth, pushed for his cousin to buy 2,000 acres of land in the area and the two men sold and donated their holdings to the state for use as a park in 1976, as encroaching real estate and motorized vehicle travel down the road threatened the natural beauty they had come to treasure. At this same time, a Greenville attorney named Thomas Wyche was organizing the Naturaland Trust to secure and protect nearly 10,000-acres in the area. The state began to acquire that property in 1978, and the park officially opened in January of 1989. Both Naturaland Trust and The Nature Conservancy continued buying smaller tracts of the land into the 21st century.
The Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area is a great place for camping inside the State Park. There are 19 trailside camping sites that sit along the Middle Saluda River, and some of them are on hike-in spurs — quite separate from the others, giving you a sense of isolation without thrusting you into backcountry camping. There are no drive up campsites, so be prepared to carry your gear to your site and pack accordingly. The area also includes a ranger station, comfort station, showers, tent pads, fire rings, and a telephone. Neither water, electricity, or wifi are available here. It’s $12 a night to stay and $84 for a full week.
One of the coolest things about the park is that it contains the Eastern Continental Divide, which means rain falling on one side runs into streams that carry it to the Atlantic Ocean, eventually; while rain falling on the other side is diverted to streams which ultimately run into the Gulf of Mexico. But, you won’t be tracking rain on your microadventure — you’re more likely to be impressed by Falls Creek Falls, Jones Gap Falls, Rainbow Falls, Dargans Cascades and Silver Steps Falls. If you plan right, you can see all these falls during a two-day trip and spend your time splashing about and sunning yourself on rocks when you aren’t being awed by the majesty of the rushing waters. If you aren’t a falls enthusiast, consider doing some bouldering and/or hiking. There are eight trails, which range from the relatively short 0.9-mile John Sloan Trail to the 5.4-mile Jones Gap Falls Trail.
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Went up to Jones Gap State Park today and Hiked up to Rainbow Falls. The Middle Saluda on the way up is strewn with boulders and the elevation change creates smaller Falls all the way down. One of my favorite places in South Carolina. Sony A7II – Sony 28mm F2 – .6 sec – f22 iso 100
South Dakota: Custer State Park
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It is illegal to come within 75 feet of a bison, even if the bison approaches you. #themoreyouknow #bisonburgers #bison #dinner #custerstatepark #visitwyoming #Wyoming #buffalo #discoverwyoming #explorewyoming #wyomingstateparks #statepark #generalcuster #wildlifephotography #wildlife_seekers #animalsofinstagram #animalcollective #ig_northAmerica #ig_wildlife #animalsofig #ig_unitedstates #usaprimeshot #uscitiestrip #wildlife #wildlifephoto
If you’ve been reading along with this series, you’ll note that we have mad love for wildlife sightings. Nature and game preserves get us pumped. For South Dakota, we are going with Custer State Park — which was established as a game preserve in 1913. Then-governor Peter Norbeck had a dream to establish a large area in the Black Hills that would act as an optimal environment for supporting the reintroduction of many of the species eliminated by early gold seekers. Today, that means 1,300 bison, bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats, and pronghorn antelope. And, that number doesn’t even include all the mule and white-tail deer or prairie dogs kicking it in the state park.
Because this is a state park, you have the option of really modern campsites with flush toilets and showers. In fact, electric hookups are available in most campgrounds. But, we would like to suggest committing fully to outdoor living and setting up camp in French Creek Natural Area, a primitive campsite. The area is a 12-mile backcountry hiking trail established to both protect the natural resources of the area and invite people in to experience the pristine exquisiteness of the French Creek Gorge. You can camp anywhere in the canyon bottom, but you have to be at least 50 feet from the stream and you can’t have a campfire. It’s true primitive camping, so you have to pack your water in and your trash out. But, that will seem like a small cost when you spot your first bighorn sheep scaling the cliffs.
If you camp at French Creek, you can spend the day wandering around without having to hike out and find a specific trail. If you are the sort of person who gets impatient listening to a docent at a museum and finds crowds oppressive, skip all that trail nonsense and make your own way by following in the wake of other travelers or follow the creek.
If you opt not to rough it fully, we urge you to try the Prairie Trail, which is a sweet little 3-mile lollipop that works for people of any skill level. It’s accessible year-round and takes you through some of the areas favored by bison, deer, and pronghorn — thanks to all the tasty grasses and plants in the area. In the summer, this is also a great way to see landscapes blanketed in wildflowers.
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Custer State Park was the hidden gem of our South Dakota road trip. The rock formations were crazy and a short hike got us to the top of Little Devil’s Tower rewarded us with these amazing views. A MUST visit if you find yourself in South Dakota! 😎 #SouthDakota #OutdoorCubicle #NatureAtWork . . . . . . . . . #SoDak #womenwhohike #southdakota #southdakotagram #statepark #custerstatepark #stateparks #nationalpark #findyourpark #roadscape #roadtripusa #roadtrippin #adventuretravel #naturepic #instanature #campingtrip #exploresouthdakota #outdoorwomen #wearetravelgirls #thegreatoutdoors #greatoutdoors #exploreusa #girlswhohike #visitsouthdakota #hikemore
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If you live in Tennessee and you haven’t gone to the Great Smoky Mountains to see fireflies, what the hell are you waiting for? We don’t want to be too harsh, but this is such a unique experience. You are so lucky to be close to it. So lucky. There are at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the synchronous ones are the big draw. They are the lone species in the country that can synchronize their flashing light patterns. People flock to the park in late May/early June for a grand display of bioluminescence. The otherworldly mating performance is a hell of a lot cooler than the human version: Getting drunk in a bar and hooking up in a bathroom (although that’s fun sometimes, too).
The park shuttles people to the fireflies from the Elkmont Campground — so that’s where we recommend that you stay. It’s both the largest and the busiest campground in the park, which we want to resist, but it’s a legit place to stay and we can’t fight that. Both Little River and James Creek run through the campground, meaning that you can definitely get some fishing or splashing in during firefly season. Plus, the trailheads for James Creek Trail, Little River Trail, and Elmont Nature Trail are all located there. There are 200 tent and RV sites with picnic tables, fire rings, gravel tent pads and paved driveways. And, there are 20 walk-in tent sites, which we love. The bathrooms have flush toilets, sinks, and cold water, so you aren’t deprived of some comforts.
As with The Wave in our guide to the best microadventures in the Southwest, this is another one that requires a lottery system to actually see the main event. There isn’t a fee to enter the lottery, but if you win, you have to pay a $2.75 reservation fee in exchange for a parking pass. And, the number of people who get in is based on the parking lot capacity. But, you can bypass all of this by staying at the Elkmont campground. So, reserve a space way ahead of time and spend the evening with the fireflies.
When you aren’t having a life-changing, insect-bonding good time, you have the whole park to explore. It is glorious.
Texas: Big Thicket National Preserve
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Known previously by names like the Bear Hunter’s Happy Hunting Ground and the Biological Crossroads of North America, Big Thicket National Preserve is a thickly forested area in Southeast Texas. It’s over 100,000 acres and features 40 miles of dope hiking trails.
This is one of the most biodiverse areas outside of the tropics. The preserve was actually established in 1974 to protect the area’s plant and animal species. It later became one of the first national preserves in the United States National Park System. It’s also designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Serious pedigree, serious adventure.
Now, there isn’t a single developed campground or designated campsite in the preserve, which we think is exciting. This is your chance to do some serious Alastair Humphrey OG microadventuring. Grab a permit, hit the backcountry and throw down a tent (or simply a bedroll if you roll hard). You have to stay 200 feet from the roads and trails, other than that, game on!
Yes, the hiking in Big Thicket is first-rate, but the ultimate microadventure should include paddling. the preserve is lousy with water. You have bayous, creeks, and a river, which means it’s kayaking and canoeing time! If you’re nervous about exploring independently, there are two official Texas Paddling Trails: Village Creek Paddling Trail and Cooks Lake to Scatterman Paddling Trail. They are each clearly marked and easy to follow. Think of moving smoothly through the water while surrounded by bald cypress, river birches, and other shade trees along the bank. Take a break and stop for a snack on one of the beautiful white-sand beaches. Check with local outfitters if you need a kayak or canoe.
Utah: Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky)
Located near Moab, Canyonlands National Park has been shaped by the Colorado River and the Green River (as well as their tributaries). The water worked with gravity to sculpt layers of rock into mesas, canyons, fins, buttes, spires, and arches. The rivers also serve as dividers within the park. Canyonlands is split into quadrants: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and Horseshoe Canyon Unit. Traveling between them can take hours because there aren’t a lot of places to traverse the rivers, so you need to pick one for your microadventure. We recommend Island in the Sky as it is the most accessible, has a ton of awesome views from overlooks along the scenic drive and includes a variety of hikes. And, that’s where the best campsite is.
Most of the people that hit up Island in the Sky do some day hiking or four-wheeling and hit the road for Moab and beyond when the sun goes down. But, you, our intrepid adventurer, will be sleeping under the stars at Willow Flat — the only drive-in campsite in the area. Don’t worry that this is some overcrowded nightmare, there are only 12 spaces and they are first come, first served. You do need to bring your own water, and it’s $15 a night.
Island in the Sky is well named, as it is a mesa that sits atop sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the landscape that surrounds it. On your way in, take time to pull in to the scenic overlooks and appreciate the sheer beauty around you. Once you’re settled into your camp, get out on the park’s trails. There are some short hikes that stick to the top of the mesa and have little if any elevation increase. Or, you can get a bit more strenuous and climb a sandstone feature or head part way down a canyon. Some of the trails descend via switchbacks to the White Rim beach or farther to one of the rivers.
The joy here is the variation: you can spend a half an hour, or you can really get your hike on and do a strenuous 8-hour trek.
Vermont: Allis State Park
You may have noticed that we include the occasional tourist locale, but lean more heavily toward those areas that are off-the-beaten-track. If the point of a microadventure is to connect with nature, you need some seclusion, some isolation. Allis State Park offers this. Many people actually consider it one of central Vermont’s best-kept secrets. It’s hilltop setting and small campground allow it to remain tranquil. Plus, it’s just off one of the only remaining gravel highways in the state. Typically, it’s all about day trips, picnicking, and horseshoes. But, you can do some camping, light hiking, and nature watching at Allis too.
The park is named for Wallace Allis — who willed his Bear Mountain State Farm to Vermont for the purpose of being developed into a recreational area and campground. This allowed it to be the second state park when it was established in 1928. The park was developed starting in 1932 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who built all the access roads and constructed the picnic and campgrounds, as well as the picnic pavilion.
The campground features 18 tent/RV sites and 8 lean-tos. Campers have access to flush toilets, hot and cold running water, and showers (though they are coin-op). There aren’t any hookups, but there is a sanitary dump station, and there are tables, grills, and fireplaces. Sites do vary, so check out descriptions and photos before choosing one. If you don’t have that chance, it’s still likely you will find yourself in a spacious, private site. If you end up close to neighboring campers, you will be glad to know that the campground observes quiet hours. The group site is some way from the other sites, so any late night partying shouldn’t bother you. Hell, you might even consider joining in.
Be sure to hike the Bear Hill Trail — a moderate 0.5-mile backtrail with a ton of wildflowers and great birding. And everyone has to take the time to climb the lookout tower that was erected for spotting forest fires. On a clear day, you can look south and see Killington, Pico, and Mt Ascutney peaks; look to the north and see Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield; look west and see Abraham, Lincoln, and Ellen; and look east and see the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Lastly, if you get the chance, viewing the sunrise from the top of the tower is transformative.
Virginia: False Cape State Park
If you’re going to get away from your daily life by basking in the outdoors, we think you get the most wanderlust satisfaction by going places that aren’t overrun with cars and other campers. That’s not always possible, and there are plenty of places that are crowded but still allow for pockets of isolation. However, when it is possible to get a little elbow room, you have to leap at the chance. False Cape State Park is that chance.
False Cape was so named because sailors often mistook it for Cape Henry — which sits farther north at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. This led boats and ships bound for Cape Henry to run aground in shallow waters. In the 16th or early 17th century, the community of Wash Woods was developed by survivors of just such a shipwreck, and they built structures using wood that washed ashore from a wreck.
The present 4,321-acre area is one of the few undeveloped regions that remains on the Atlantic Coast, meaning it offers a unique experience you can’t find in the rest of Virginia. Plus, the park is only accessible via foot, bicycle, tram, beach transporter (the Terra-Gator), or boat. This helps to preserve the nine miles of hiking and biking trails, 12 primitive campsites, and six miles of pristine beaches.
This is primitive camping. Again. We keep pushing for it, but that’s because it is so fun. Imagine camping on some of the most gorgeous Atlantic beach without being overrun by RVs (which can be awesome) or scouting troops (which can also be fun… when you’re 11). There are only 12 sites in the camp and most of them only allow a maximum of four people. There are pit toilets and three locations with drinking water, so it’s not completely without amenities.
When you aren’t hanging at camp, you should hit the trails. Although there are none designated specifically for biking alone, many serve a dual purpose, hosting both hikers and bikers. A trail leads through the park with offshoots to the beach. Certain trails will be the easiest walk you have ever taken at low tide, only to become impossible at high tide — which is certainly something to keep in mind. Also, many of the trails are over difficult sandy surfaces, so be prepared for your thighs to burn.
Washington: Hoh Rainforest
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It’s hard to say what people outside of the Pacific Northwest think of when they think “Washington” — but it’s likely either Seattle, coffee, or weed. Well, in your face people-who-aren’t-familiar-with-the-state: WA has a rainforest. It’s the locally adored, Olympic National Park.
Located on the Olympic Peninsula (the westernmost part of the state), the national park has four regions: The dramatic coastline, all the alpine areas, the forests on the east side, and the temperate rainforest on the west side. This means the park has three completely separate ecosystems, which is rad (and rare). In 1909 Teddy Roosevelt created Mount Olympus National Monument; it became a national park 19 years later, under FDR. In the late 70s, UNESCO named it an International Biosphere Reserve, and the area received World Heritage Site certification in 1981.
So… the credentials are in place.
Coming in at roughly 922 thousand acres, Olympic NP hosts nearly three and a half million guests a year. Many of them are there for the Hoh Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the nation. The 50-mile long Hoh River travels from its starting point on lofty Mount Olympus to the Pacific Ocean, descending 7,000 feet as it travels. The Hoh campground features 88 sites along the river, allowing you to sleep among the moss and ancient trees. It’s year-round and first come, first served. There are actual flush toilets, which is its own special luxury, and a handicap accessible site. It’s a popular site, so this won’t just be you sleeping alone in the wilderness, but there is enough rainforest for you to spend the day exploring without crowds surrounding you.
There are a lot of areas to explore in the Hoh rainforest, so your choice of trail will depend on what you’re interested in and your hiking ability. A good starting point is to hit the Hoh Ranger Station Visitor Center and ask the experts about what’s going on. A ranger can even tell you when elk were last spotted. Yep. Elk.
If you’re looking for a short trek, try the Hall of Mosses Trail, which clocks in at a little over a mile. While you walk, take in the moss-filled streams, giant logs, and maple, cedar, and fir trees. If you’re up for more, you can go on to the Spruce Nature Trail next, where you can stand on the banks of the river and spot eagles and salmon.
The most popular microadventure is the Hoh River Trail, which extends about five miles from the visitor center to 5 Mile Island. The trail is both flat and flat-out gorgeous — perfect for people who want excitement and beauty but aren’t ready to walk up inclines and switchbacks.
West Virginia: Audra State Park
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“People think that being alone makes you lonely, but I don’t think that true. Being surrounded by the wrong people is the loneliest thing in the world.” One of the best days of 2017 Audra State Park! #tbt #gotowv #almostheaven #getoutside #itsamazingoutthere #optoutside #girlswhohike #girlswhowander #girlswhoexplore #peoplewhoadventure #hiking #hikingviews #wanderlust #keepitwild #staywild #ourplanetdaily #fifty_shades_of_nature #pocket_trees #pocket_allnature #nature #naturefix #naturetherapy #naturephotography #nature_brilliance #ig_nature #ig_captures #mothernature #goexplore #exploremore
This microadventure is all about the view and the Instagram cred you will get on a specific hike, but Audra State Park, as a whole, is freaking gorgeous, and there is a lot to for you to do outside of your gawking and photo sesh. The park is only 355-acres, which is big but pales in comparison to the size of some of the locales we’ve listed in the past. It was established around the remains of a turn-of-the-century gristmill and the community it served, Audra. If you check out the Middle Fork River, you can still spy a gristmill spillway. That river runs through the center of the park, bisecting it and creating the deep pools, flat rocks, and riverside beaches that make trekking and camping in the park an absolute blast. If you kayak, the park is the put-in point for a 6.6-mile kayak run, giving you even more adventuring options.
There are 67 campsites sitting among the woods along the river, and they are open between April and October. You may wish to grab one of the thirteen with electricity. Either way, you will have access to bathhouses with modern facilities. There are even coin-operated washers and dryers and a campground store where you can snag ice, firewood, snacks, souvenirs, and assorted camping supplies. It’s pretty established, which makes it comfortable for people who aren’t ready to hike into the backcountry. For people who prefer more primitive camping, making a reservation for one of the more secluded sites will help you feel less crowded.
This adventure really hinges on getting out on the Alum Creek and Cave Trail. The first section of the trail takes you to Arch Rock, and the grade is pretty gentle. In the early summer the rosebay rhododendron that choke this part of the trail create a gorgeous swath of blooms. Arch Rock was formed via freezing and thawing that caused the softer rock to erode from the harder rock. You actually get to walk under the arch and climb a set of carved stairs before exiting. Then, you start climbing toward Alum Cave, which isn’t really a cave; it’s a concaved bluff that’s 80-feet high and 500-feet long. In the winter, you may find yourself dodging falling icicles in the “cave.” Along the trail, you will see wonderful views of the Eye of the Needle (a hole near the top of a rock in Little Duck Hawk Ridge), Myrtle Point, and Anakeesta Ridge. These are some of the best views in the state, and you really must see them (and photograph them) if you have a chance.