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Elle Ossello | 06.01.2017

Summer is definitively on the scene: Trailheads are emerging from under a winter blanket of snow, rivers are rising, and the country is awash in bright greens while trees don fresh perky leaves. In short, we're ecstatic with the warmer weather and love the endless opportunities to get outside and explore new places!

But, if you're like us, you arrived at Memorial Day weekend with a summer calendar that somehow filled up before it even began—amid barbecues, weddings, permits pulled, summer traditions, and the like, we're lucky if we've been able to hoard a few summer weekends with which to do whatever we please. That's where this list comes in. So cruise through, build out your bucket list, and claim your rightful stake to your coveted weekends!

Always remember to practice the principles of Leave No Trace—some of the out-of-the-ordinary adventures that immediately enticed us like University Falls near Sacramento, California, didn't make the list because it's closed indefinitely due to excessive trash and belligerent, violent behavior of visitors. Sadly, this is no extreme outlier. 

 

1. Explore Kennecott Copper Mines 

Historic Site | St. Elias National Park, AK

In its heyday, the Kennecott Copper Mine was the world’s largest of its kind. The site provides a raw, compelling insight into the world’s appetite for resources at the turn of the century. Throughout it all, what’s most inspiring and undeniable is the pure grit and perseverance of the men who overcame hordes of obstacles to harvest and transport copper to the continental United States and beyond. Also, Alaska is amazing in the summertime. 

 

2. Raft the Green River, Labyrinth Canyon

Scenic, Lazy River | La Sal Mountains, UT

Moving at a river's pace is something that every last person deserves to experience. The silty, meandering Green River is a perfect introduction to overnight river camping, and who could pass up the opportunity to spend three days in a canyon rimmed with towering spires and colorful sandstone walls. Note that self-sufficiency and significant planning is required to pull this off.

 

3. Camp in the Alvord Desert

Remote Desert | Steens Mountains, OR

Looking for solitude? Meet the Alvord Desert. Situated in Southwest Oregon, this swath of desert is the driest and some of the most geologically fascinating in Oregon. Sound like a less-than-ideal summer destination? While the days can get hot, it'll always cool off at night, and both Borax Lake and Mann Lake offer a welcome respite. Pro tip: stay up late to have your mind blown by the clear, starry night sky.

 

4. Bikepack through Capitol Reef National Park

Underrated National Park | Grand Staircase Area, UT

Spending a night or two in the wilderness with your bike is indescribably awesome. Especially in the most remote corners of one of the most overlooked national parks in the country. Score. While there are a number of excellent routes to take, we recommend Cathedral Valley. Be sure to swing by the visitor center to purchase the inexpensive guide and come prepared with many extra tubes. Trust us, the logistics will be well worth it when you're sitting under a blanket of stars miles from the next human soul.

 

5. Hike the Amargosa Big Dune

Sand Dunes | Southern Las Vegas, NV

Early birds only! Getting up before the sun to beat the heat is imperative here. These exceptionally large sand dunes are set 100 miles south of Vegas and demand extremely slow traversing, effectively ensuring that no visit to the site comes without putting in some effort. But the rewards can be ethereal. Referred to as a migrating dune field, the shape of the dunes—occupying about 5 square miles—continues to move and change, with the tallest of the dunes standing generally between 300 and 500 feet.

 

6. Bike Yosemite Valley

National Park | Central Sierra, CA

True, there's hardly anything unique about planning a visit to Yosemite in the summertime, but leaving a car behind and taking the park on with a two-wheeled steed is a whole new feat. First bonus, you'll have an endless supply of bike parking (you can pull off just about anywhere). Plus, experiencing the open-air freedom to take in the scenery while cruising adds a whole new layer of magnificence to the towering granite and expansive meadows.

 

7. Visit the Painted Hills

Geological Marvel | John Day Fossil Beds, OR

If we were to vote on the most underrated yet spectacular sites in Oregon, the Painted Hills would top our list. Bands of bright golden, deep red, and heavy black give the hills their name, illustrating a complex and fascinating geological history. Fossils dot the region, telling the story of the 40-million-year-old wetland that used to occupy the area along with the rhinoceroses, early horses, and camels that used to call it home. For a discerning eye, there's an engrossing sight to behold around every corner.

 

8. Get a Thrill in the Ape Caves

Oversized Underground Lava Tubes | Mount St. Helens, WA

Hot day? Cool off…underground. The Ape Caves are an exhilarating experience and offer an up-close glimpse at the tumultuous geology and wild remains of one of the Pacific Northwest's most violent volcanoes. The 2-mile round-trip trek earns access into the deepest navigable part of the cave—and it's not for the faint of heart. Be sure to bring thick-soled shoes, a good headlamp and extra layers.

 

9. Peer Over the Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Small Park, Sweeping Canyon | Elk Mountains, CO

It's incredibly challenging to find a quiet corner of Colorado these days. But the Black Canyon of the Gunnison's minimal infrastructure and remote location protects it from hordes of visitors. “Several western canyons exceed the Black Canyon in overall size,” wrote USGS geologist Wallace R. Hansen. “Some are longer; some are deeper; some are narrower; and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North American [sic] combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon.”

 

10. Hike to the Whistler Train Wreck

Historic Site, Old Bike Park | Squamish, BC

Towering trees, quiet woods, and mangled metal train cars covered in art. Though it's far from a pure nature experience, it's fascinating to see the massive hunks of metal in the middle of a forest—it seems like they fell out of the sky! Some of the high-quality artwork is courtesy of local hero Chili Thom and graffiti artist Kris Kupskay, and the mountain bike features that traverse and drop off of the cars are downright scary, albeit somewhat dilapidated at the moment.

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No east coast adventures?? ☹️
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