10 Adventures to Take in the U.S. This SummerPublished on 05/15/2023 · 18 min readCovering everything from the Northwest to the Southeast, Camping & Hiking Expert Kate Wilson breaks down the 10 best adventures to take this summer.
Photo by Dino Reichmuth
With temperatures soaring, gas prices wavering, and summer quickly passing by, you may be wondering how to make the most out of the season before it’s gone. From road trips and theme parks to backcountry adventures and beach getaways, we’ve got you covered!
1. Coastal Trails, Surfing, and Glacier Hikes in Anchorage, AK
Arriving at the Ted Stevens International airport in Anchorage, AK, I had no idea what would unfold on the trip. In fact, I didn’t really care much about anything other than the concert I was flying in to see (yes, Lord Huron, it was you). My Airbnb host kindly picked me up, showed me around the city, and then he and his wife made us all dinner before turning in early. Little did I know this was about to be one of the best summer trips in my life, and if you’re down to do something a little out of the norm, it will be one of yours, too.
I spent the first two days exploring the area without a car. An Uber driver delivered me safely to the concert, where I met some incredibly friendly locals and we danced all night at the after-party—where Lord Huron doubled as a DJ and turned the place upside down. Yes, Anchorage is that kind of town.
The next day, I rented a bike and rode the full Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which meanders 11 miles along the coast from downtown to Kincaid Park. This was where I experienced my first-ever moose sighting, and my iPhone could barely hold all the photos I took that day. Incredible scenery, crisp, cool weather, and a frothy beer at the end made for a perfect first solo day in Alaska.
That night, I met my friends from the night before at Simon and Seaforts for some fresh local seafood and was told I had to rent a car and drive down to Seward. Not one to ignore local advice, I did just that.
To say the drive south from Anchorage to Seward is breathtaking is an understatement. On your left are stunning mountains and the occasional waterfall spraying onto the highway; on your right is the Cook Inlet which links Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska. I had been told to look out for the Bore Tide, which are waves that can rush along at speeds up to 24 miles per hour and can be up to six feet tall! Surfing in Alaska? Who knew?
Pulling into the quaint little town of Seward was another experience altogether. Snow-capped mountains set the backdrop to a deep blue, sailboat-filled harbor. Colorful houses and restaurants dotted the streets, and signs inviting you to whale watch in the Kenai Fjords or Dog Sled at Godwin Glacier tempt you to extend your visit. I opted for a hike up the Exit Glacier, where my guide foraged for wild mushrooms and talked about the glacier that has been rapidly melting 162 feet per year since 2010.
We also chatted about the charming, possibly haunted Anchorage Hotel, the Eagle River Nature Center’s hiking trails and yurt rentals, and the Prince William Sound, where you can take a boat tour to see more glaciers, whales, and all of the fantastic wildlife you’d expect to see in Alaska. I was mentally planning my next trip before the hike was over.
That wrapped up my first trip up north, and although short, Alaska was filled with much more beautiful scenery and pure outdoor fun than expected. The endless 24-hour sun added to the wonderment, and it’s still my top recommendation to anyone looking for an unforgettable summer trip.
2. Family Road Trip Through the Central California Coast
At last check, gas prices are coming down and airfare is still pricey, so a road trip still might be your best bet. If you live in CA, explore your own backyard this summer and maybe even find some hidden gems!
If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles, start your trip off with a little (okay, a lot) of adrenaline! Six Flags Magic Mountain just opened its twentieth roller coaster, further securing its spot as having the most roller coasters of any theme park in the world! Their newest ride, the Wonder Woman Flight of Courage, is the tallest and longest single-rail coaster on the planet at over 13 stories high and tearing up to 58 miles per hour.
After a day or two at the park, you will have sufficiently worn out the kiddos and can drive in peace about an hour north to Carpinteria, a sleepy little coastal town with “World’s Safest Beach” as its slogan. Start your morning off at Lucky Llama Coffee House, a pet and family-friendly cafe with a rustic vibe and outdoor patio. Spend the day surfing mellow waves at the beach or exploring asphalt lakes in Tar Pits Park before ending at the Bluffs Nature Preserve, where you can hike up to scenic overlooks of a beautiful sunset and harbor seals below.
A few hours north is Morro Bay and Cayucos, another pet and family-friendly beach area with surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Bore your kids with a visit to the Remember When antique shop, then let them talk you into a visit to the Brown Butter Cookie Company. Lines form outside the building for fresh Lemon Sugar Cookies, Honey Cookies, and famous Everything Cookies, which are only available at the Cayucos location!
Round out your big summer road trip by camping a few nights at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, CA. With 189 RV and tent sites, you’re sure to find a nice spot near the river, although you will need to reserve one well in advance. Home to 300-foot redwood trees that are over 2,500 years old, this park also features a short hike to McWay Falls. These picturesque falls drop over a cliff of 80 feet into the Pacific Ocean. Get there early for the exceptional lighting if you’re a photographer!
3. Visit Vineyards, Festivals, and Turquoise Beaches in Traverse City, MI
Have limited time and looking for a quick three to four-day getaway? If you’re anywhere near Michigan, plan a visit to the main inland port of the Grand Traverse Bay area.
Boasting over 50 wineries, stunning beaches, and an impressive cycling network, it’s the perfect place to spend a long weekend this summer.
For a taste of the local culture, be sure to head downtown where you’ll find refurbished historical buildings, performances at the Old Town Playhouse, an annual film and cherry festival, a bustling farmers market, art galleries, and more.
A short twenty-minute drive north lands you at Suttons Bay, an inlet of Lake Michigan with Caribbeanesque turquoise water. This family-friendly beach is great for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding, and plenty of hiking trails surround the area, too! You can even rent a bike if you’d like to explore the local orchards and vineyards.
Another must-see spot is about 45 minutes from Traverse City—Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Take your time wandering through lush forests, dune formations, a historic farm district, and even an 1800s lighthouse and three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard stations.
The list is long of things to do in this quaint little spot in the northern U.S. Be sure to check out ice cream or wine-tasting sailing experiences on Grand Traverse Bay and hot air balloon tours, complete with a champagne ceremony at the end!
4. Bike, Hike, and Paddle in Northern Washington
Travel a few hours north of Seattle to Bellingham, WA where you’ll find endless 80-degree days filled with hiking, world-class cycling, and lounging around some of the area’s less populated lakes.
First, get acquainted with the town by visiting historic Fairhaven. Start the day off at Flux Yoga, a studio with big beautiful windows that open up to fresh sea air and the sound of coastal birds throughout your practice. Take the boardwalk to Woods Coffee on the water, and turn the kids loose on the waterfront playground. If you're lucky enough to be there on a Saturday, venture further into Bellingham to the incredible open-air farmers market for produce, ‘grow your own’ mushroom kits, and occasional live music. It’s definitely one of the best markets I’ve been to in the PNW, and if you walk from Fairhaven, you’ll be rewarded with seasonal wild blackberries the whole way.
Next, take a very short drive over to Lake Padden Park. This 745-acre park features both paved and dirt paths for hiking/running or biking through Jurassic Park-style terrain. Wild ferns cover the forest floor as trails dip in and out of secluded off-trail hikes and then back to more populated trails where you catch the occasional lake view. Speaking of which, it’s a non-motor boat lake that quietly accommodates small fishing boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. Plenty of picnic tables with grills are available on the east side of the lake, where you can also find a dog park, boat launch, and even a tennis court and golf course. All of these amenities may sound like a typical busy lake destination, but after spending all summer in Bellingham, I can confirm that you’ll always find a parking spot and a quiet, relaxed vibe in the air.
If you’re looking for something a little less tame, rent a mountain bike from Transition Bikes and hit the Galbraith Mountain trails. Enjoy rides for every skill level and an amazing community of people that will help out if you get turned around in the 65 miles of trails that wind through 3,000 acres. Pro tip: download the MTB Project app before you go, then head back to Transition to grab a beer post-ride to catch up with some of the riders you undoubtedly saw on your ride. But shhh…don’t tell anyone else about this absolutely pristine gem you found. Deal?
5. Raft, Hang Glide, and Explore Caves in Chattanooga, TN
Nestled between two beautiful mountains along the Tennessee River, Chattanooga is a recreation paradise in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Within thirty minutes of downtown you’ll find rock climbing, hiking, hang gliding, and mountain biking—the whole crew will find something to enjoy in this popular outdoor destination.
Start your day in a trolley on the world’s steepest ride up to Lookout Mountain. Pack a lunch and spend the afternoon hiking around to different viewpoints of the river, city, and surrounding mountains.
From up above to down below—be sure to also journey through an old cave 1,120 feet under the earth to view Ruby Falls, the largest and deepest falls in the U.S open to the public.
Travel just a bit out of town and jump on a guided whitewater rafting adventure! From short five-mile trips to all-day excursions, paddling the Ocoee River is not to be missed while you’re in the area.
Chattanooga is also just two hours from Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Knoxville, all with their own claims to outdoor excursions. If you’re into NASA, drive a few hours southeast to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Or, maybe you’ve had your fill of adventure this time around, in which case you should head downtown and visit local whiskey distilleries, microbreweries, and fantastic restaurants with an artsy vibe.
6. Backpack into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
If you’re looking to camp somewhere less crowded this summer, grab your backpack and hike down to the river at the bottom of the Black Canyon near Montrose, CO. Although the hike is short, it’s incredibly steep—especially if you take the Warner Route, which descends down 2,722 feet in just under three miles. At the bottom, you will be rewarded with five (official) campsites near the river and about a mile of access to fish from. We did find a few other campsites dotted throughout the immediate area, and there is at least one vault toilet.
In our three-day/four-night trip, we came across five other people total, which you can definitely attribute to the difficulty in getting down the ‘wilderness routes’ which are sometimes unmarked. If you don’t mind a few more people on the trail and are looking for an easier way down, the Gunnison Route is recommended. Dropping 1,800 feet in 1.5 miles, it’s still recommended for those attempting their first hike in this area.
There are a handful of other ways to get down, but all require a permit and some knowledge of what to expect. With loose rocks, full sun exposure, and cliffside trails, this adventure is not for the faint of heart. Still, it should be on your list if you’re up for a challenge and seeking a serene, riverside backcountry adventure with wildflowers, pristine water, and award-winning trout!
7. Bikepack the Erie Canal Trail
If long-distance biking is your thing, join the masses that cycle from Buffalo to Albany, NY on the 350+ mile Erie Canal Trail. This path winds through bustling cities, picturesque farmlands, and old villages for an adventure that is truly like no other.
Though mostly flat, there are some inclines that may prove challenging since you’re carrying all of your gear on the bike. The path is also not fully paved, in fact, you will mostly be riding on gravel, so make sure you’re riding an appropriate touring bike built for long trail riding and one that has panniers.
Riders typically take about eight days to ride the full trail and camp along the way in Medina, Fairport, Seneca Falls, Syracuse, Rome, Canajoharie, and Schenectady in vibrant tent cities. Of course, national hotel chains and Airbnb accommodations are also dotted along the way.
Many people have friends from New York meet them along the way and ride sections of the trail together—a great way to catch up and get outside at the same time. The Erie Canal Trail is not fast-paced but rather a scenic ride through some of upstate New York's finest landscapes.
You can resupply along the way, and even sign up to the Warm Showers organization, a collection of fellow enthusiasts who offer up their yards for camping and even hot showers in their home!
8. Fly Fish, Mountain Bike, and River Raft near Salt Lake City, UT
Utah is one of those states with so many things to do that you have to visit more than once (which is why it makes this list twice). Downtown Salt Lake is home to some of the best restaurants, dive bars and breweries, live music, and farmers’ markets, and frankly, you could spend your entire vacation in the city alone. It would be a shame to miss the recreational opportunities surrounding the area though, and below are some of the best.
If you're into cycling, there are numerous places to rent a bike, and even more trails to hit once you’ve done so. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail is an ongoing project that will someday stretch over 280 miles heading south from the Idaho border. For now, you can ride for miles along the eastern side of the city with awesome views and various skill levels to choose from. Looking for downhill? Head to Park City where Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain, and Woodward offer world-class riding for you adrenaline junkies. After your ride, be sure to visit Main Street for some window shopping and a well-deserved meal.
As you can imagine, there are more hiking spots than you could visit in one trip, but check out the trail to Lake Catherine, Lake Mary, and Lake Martha—a favorite of the locals just outside of town. The late summer wildflowers are worth the trip alone, but I’ve spotted moose on the trail which is an unexpected surprise and definitely adds to the experience! Tie your hammock to a tree by the lake and spend the afternoon planning your evening after you come down from the mountain.
Also, take any chance you get to go fly fishing or tubing on the Provo River. The fish are feisty, the people are friendly and the views are worth the trip alone. Some of my best memories of Utah are on this river!
9. Explore the Mighty Five in Southern Utah
After your time in the big city, head south to the desert and hit the ‘Big Five’ - Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Park.
Ideally, you’ll have at least two days to spend in each of these iconic destinations to get the full experience. Where to start?
From Salt Lake, make your way about four hours south to Dead Horse Point State Park. Set up camp or rent a yurt as this is the perfect base camp for your adventures in the area. You will also find hiking, mountain bike trails, and photo ops that are hard to beat, even in the National Parks themselves. It’s situated about 2,000 feet above the Colorado River and looks into the jaw-dropping Canyonlands National Park, which, as luck would have it, is less than twenty minutes away.
Carved out by the Colorado River, this park is known for its Native American paintings within Horseshoe Canyon. The Island in the Sky district is filled with hikes of various difficulty levels and the views are not to be missed, which is why it’s the most visited section of the Park. Seek out Druid Arch and Chesler Park which are typically less populated.
Next up, drive 30 minutes back to Arches National Park in Moab, UT. Grab a map and hit one of the 45+ trails to see sandstone arches, rock fins, balanced rocks, and jaw-dropping, sweeping views of the southern Utah desert. My favorite hike in the area is the Devil's Garden trail, which takes you to Landscape Arch and on to Double O Arch, with a gorgeous return on the Primitive Trail that makes the hike a little longer and way more fun!
After a day of hiking, rent a bike for the epic Slickrock trail, grab some gear for the various levels of rock climbing down Potash Road, or hop on a cruise down the Colorado River. End your time in Moab at Pasta Jays for some of the best Italian food you’ll find in the desert!
A few hours southwest of Arches is Capitol Reef National Park, full of even more (you guessed it!) cliffs, canyons, and rock formations. Learn how the Chimney Rock Pillar and Waterpocket Fold (‘Wrinkle on the Earth’) were formed as you make your way through yet another geological wonderland in the desert.
Continuing further south is Bryce Canyon. This national park is on the list of nature lovers worldwide for its largest collection of hoodoo rock formations, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls—not to mention the magnificent contrast of green pine trees against the red and pink rock backdrop in every direction. If you’ve had your fill of hiking, book an ATV or horseback riding tour into the canyon, or simply relax at camp and take in the insane stars on clear nights.
Just another hour and a half southwest is Zion, the first national park in Utah! You’ve no doubt heard of the spectacular Narrows and Angels Landing hikes, Emerald Pools, and slot canyons, but spend some time with the locals and learn about secret arches, waterfalls, and the best places to take the kiddos while you’re there, too. The options are endless at this national gem, and recreation opportunities abound just outside of the area too. There are several state parks to explore or camp at, or you can rent a scenic yurt at Gooseberry Mesa and hit some mountain bike trails right out your front door!
10. Bike Tours, Observatories, and River Trips in Northern Arizona
Arizona in the summer? Stay north and you’ll find cooler temps and plenty of things to do!
The Lowell Observatory is where Pluto was discovered and even the first detection of the expanding nature of the universe! If that’s not a big enough draw, there are workshops, powerful telescopes, and artifacts that will impress even the most diehard sky watchers in your group.
Hop on an eBike tour of the Flagstaff Urban Trail system for a 10+ mile adventure out in the sun, or jump on a river float trip that departs from town! You’ll be rewarded with views of the Glen Canyon, enjoy lunch at a riverside beach, and hunt for petroglyphs along the way.
If the temps happen to dip, definitely make the 50-minute trip into Sedona and hike the Devil’s Bridge or West Fork Oak Creek trail, or visit some of the popular vortex sites. People travel from far and wide for this experience!
There you have it—ten ways to explore the U.S. this summer that will wear you out, feed your soul, and get you motivated to start planning for next year! Get in touch with one of our Outdoor Recreation Experts and let us know which of the adventures you’re going on so we can help you with the gear you’ll need for your journey!