“A microadventure,” says Alastair Humphreys, the 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and founder of a global movement, “is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.”
Sounds good, right? More importantly, it sounds do-able.
Microadventures, Humphreys argues, should fit in the 5:00 pm to 9:00 am window after each workday. Should you have a weekend free, they can also take a few days. They may involve wandering into the woods and setting up a camp or even having a slumber party in your backyard.
As part of Uproxx GPS, we decided to identify the best places to take a microadventure in all 50 states. Because Humphreys is adamant that a microadventure must include an overnight stay under the stars, we included campsite information with every entry. If you’re relatively new to spending the night out of doors, check out the camping info. If you’re a hardened vagabond, skip it and do things your own way.
Creating this list was punishing. When you actually sit down and start listing all the rad outdoor areas in a state, the magnitude of natural beauty in every corner of the country is made abundantly clear. How do you choose between the redwood forests, deserts, and coastal locales of California? How do you name the best place to adventure outdoors in Hawaii of all gorgeous freaking places? Clearly, we made it happen and we stand behind our picks… but it hurt. It also made us want to throw our computers out the window and go full wanderlust beastie.
Read through these adventures in the westernmost states in the United States and you too will want to get outside. Like, today.
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.
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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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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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.
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.
Wyoming: Sinks Canyon State Park
Like the rest of the locales on the list, Sinks Canyon has been a hub of human activity for thousands of years. When shit is awesome, people recognize, regardless of historical context. Archaeological digs have found tools here that date back to the last ice age. In more recent times, the area has housed a sawmill, a hydroelectric dam, a power plant, and a ski area. In 1939 and 1953, huge areas of the canyon were snapped up and put aside to protect the fishery and wildlife. And, in 1970, officials with both the city and the state worked with citizens and the state legislature to create the state park; it was the first signed in under the Wyoming Recreation Committee.
There are three campgrounds located in Sinks Canyon. To really get the full microadventure experience, grab a walk-in site at Popo Agie Campground. It’s nestled between the river on one side and limestone cliffs on the other, plus you are really close to some of the coolest parts of the park. There are tons of trails, so it’s relatively simple to hike around for the day and get back to camp in the afternoon or evening to chill by the fire with a beer.
The Sinks Canyon is located at the base of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, and it’s named for this super cool geological formation. Near the mouth of the canyon, the middle fork of the Popo Agie River drops into a freaking awesome Class V whitewater canyon before it goes into a cave and disappears underground. Then, a quarter mile downstream, it reappears at this completely placid pool called the Rise, where you can spot and fish for some immensely chunky little trout. If you want an easy hike, you can walk a half mile between the Sinks and the Rise on a paved, handicap accessible trail. Along the way are interpretive signs that let you know about the geology, ecology, and history of the area. It’s a great way to see the park’s soaring sandstone cliffs, walk through some sagebrush meadows, and learn about the geology and history.
Or, arrange for a spelunking tour and follow the river underground with some local outfitters.
Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve
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 is 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.
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.