Photo by Micky Wiswedel/Stocksy/Erik Mace/Yahoo
By Diana Gerstacker
Whether your final stop is in some obscure corner of the Earth or right in your own state, outdoor adventurers know to keep their eye out for destinations that are lesser-known and therefore less crowded. On top of beating those crowds, underrated places might offer lower prices, could be less developed, and give you the thrill of going somewhere undiscovered.
Your boots won’t be the first to come through these areas this summer, but you’ll be one of the few to truly enjoy the best of what these adventure destinations have to offer.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
This natural beauty in northern Michigan includes 1,700 miles of shoreline on three Great Lakes, and that’s just the beginning of its outdoor offerings. On top of all the water sports you could enjoy on lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, the UP also has expansive forests, mountains, lakes, streams, waterfalls, beaches, bluffs, and islands nearby. Visit the remote Isle Royal National Park, where moose and wolves usually outnumber humans or seek out shipwrecks in Lake Superior. Simply stated, the Upper Peninsula, with its incredible preserved land and friendly locals, is one of the very best (and oft-overlooked) outdoor adventure destinations in the U.S.
Taos, New Mexico
This far-out mountain town is unlike any other place on Earth — and that’s the appeal. Bordered on three sides by the towering red peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is one of the few places that retains its native culture, thriving art scene, and connection to the great outdoors. If you’re feeling adventurous, climb the tallest mountain in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak, or if you’re a skilled paddler, take on the Taos box section of the Rio Grande.
Photo: Diana Gerstacker
Once “the heart of the industrial revolution,” Cleveland is in the midst of a major comeback. The city once dominated by factories and pressured by economic issues has flourished into a city of independent craft beer breweries, citywide celebrations, and passionate cyclists—an all-around amazing place to visit. With its proximity to Cuyahoga National Park (just a 30-minute drive), up-and-coming bike-share program, and the incredible Cleveland Metroparks in the city outdoor enthusiasts can easily find their niche.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
While 4.7 million people will make their way to the Grand Canyon this year, many of them in the peak summer months, you should ditch the crowd and take in the indescribable rugged beauty of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. No, it’s not the same as the Grand Canyon, but in a lot of ways it’s better. The 2,000-foot-deep canyon sees a mere fraction of the foot traffic (just 175, 852 visitors in all of 2013) and extreme outdoor adventure is just waiting. Intense rock climbing, extraordinary canyoneering and whitewater paddling are just a small sampling of the many things that will get your heart pumping in this epic Colorado park.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Beautiful and naturally wild, Block Island is an understated destination with tons to offer. Lush green hills meet towering coastal bluffs and 17 miles of beach meet the Block Island Sound on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Great bike culture and 30 miles of hiking trails draw adventurers inland while all kinds of water sports pull visitors into the water. The island is so naturally spectacular that The Nature Conservancy called it one of the “last great places in the Western Hemisphere.”
Tillamook County, Oregon
If you’ve heard of Tillamook County, you know it’s affectionately called the “land of cheese, trees, and ocean breeze,” and maybe you’ve heard that the cows outnumber people, but that’s far from the whole picture. Perched on the breathtaking Oregon coast, this county is the perfect low-key setting for outdoor adventurers. Explore the Tillamook State Forest, watch whales breaching at Cape Lookout and climb dunes at Cape Kiwanda—there’s no shortage of things to do. Don’t miss your chance to paddle the coast and be sure to go crabbing, it’s a local treat.
With more green space per capita than any other city in the U.S., Birmingham is an unlikely outdoor recreation spot just waiting to be discovered. Hiking, biking, golfing, and fishing top the list of popular outdoor activities, while nearby parks and preserves are just waiting to be explored. Check out the zip lines in Red Mountain Park, fish in what has been called “the bass capital of the world” and tee off on the third longest golf course on earth—those are just some of the adventures waiting in Birmingham.
The Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Regularly called the best-kept secret in the northeast by those in-the-know, the Northeast Kingdom (or NEK) is set between the Green Mountains and the Connecticut River in northern Vermont, making for perfect scenery and plenty of adventures. See the area by kayak, bike, or on foot—the NEK has 40,000 acres of water for paddling, hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails and 75,000 acres of public forest park lands just waiting to be explored.
The best outdoor adventure destination you’ve never heard of, Chattanooga is a hub with access to some of the best rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and hang gliding in the country. Hardcore thrill-seekers will find themselves right at home skydiving, climbing in Coolidge Park, and hang gliding at the most successful school and resort in the U.S., Lookout Mountain Flight Park. Those looking for a relaxing hike or bike ride can find that too; Chattanooga has it all.
Breathing in the fresh mountain air in Flagstaff is a big part of what makes outdoor adventure so enjoyable. The city, set at the base of the San Francisco Peaks and bounded by national forests, has an extensive array of outdoor activities. Mountain bikers, hikers and campers will find this a summer haven with plenty to do. Explore an ancient underground tunnel at the Lava River Cave, access tons of mountain bike trails at Shultz Pass trailhead and camp out in the Coconino National Forest this summer in Flagstaff.
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