EAST | CENTRAL | ROCKY MOUNTAINS | PACIFIC COAST
Cast for Thousands, Florida
Kayaks arouse considerable interest among the locals at Cedar Key in Florida's Big Bend. "Schools of redfish and spotted sea trout will follow you around," says Tom Liebert, owner of Kayak Cedar Keys (www.kayakcedarkeys.com). "The water's so shallow, their tails poke out in the air." After gobbling a shrimp-baited hook, however, the fish put up one heckuva fight. Stealthy and shallow-drafted, kayaks are the perfect vessels for navigating around Cedar Key, where the nutrient-rich Suwannee River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Liebert's experienced guides will set you up with a kayak rigged for fishing ($135 a day) or take you on a day-long trip to an Indian shell mound, with stopovers at white-sand beaches ($60).
Escape From Suburbia, New Jersey
Although it's mere miles from Tony Soprano's New Jersey, the Mohican Outdoor Center feels worlds away. Everything about MOC—from the stone-and-shingle lodge to its setting in a wooded valley within sprawling Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area—suggests North Woods, not Newark. Guests sleep and eat in rustic cabins heated by wood-burning stoves ($17; www.mohicanoutdoorcenter.com) and hike or snowshoe the Appalachian Trail, which runs right past the cabin doors. The 12-mile (19-kilometer) round-trip to Sunfish Pond along the spine of 1,803-foot (550-meter) Kittatinny Mountain yields great views. At night the lodge becomes a dining hall and social club where staff and guests jam on acoustic guitars and banjos.
Upgrade to a Yurt, North Carolina
Falling Waters Adventure Resort has tricked out the humble yurt ($81; www.fallingwatersresort.com). No spartan bunks and picnic tables here—each of eight yurts dotting a small, forested valley at the lip of Nantahala Gorge comes complete with a queen-size bed, a deck, and a mini-fridge. Yurts 7 and 8 look out on placid Fontana Lake and the purple Great Smoky Mountains. Down the road beckon some of the East's best white water and mountain biking. Paddlers run Class III rapids through Nantahala Gorge with Nantahala Outdoor Center ($35; www.noc.com). Pedalers ride through popular Tsali Recreation Area, ten miles (sixteen kilometers) to the northeast, where 39 miles (63 kilometers) of technical trails earn the hype.
Bike a New Epic, Arkansas
Crews were still cutting trail when the International Mountain Bicycling Association dubbed the brand-new, 50-mile (80-kilometer) Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail an IMBA Epic Ride, a status bestowed on only 37 trails nationwide. What sets the Syllamo apart is that it was built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. Five interconnected loops fully exploit the hilly Ozark terrain, challenging riders with tight switchbacks and narrow passages through blocks of limestone and rewarding them with fast descents on wide, smooth track. Blanchard Springs Campground ($10; www.fs.fed.us) offers bike-in, bike-out accessibility and creekside sites.
Climb Corn Country, Illinois
"Draper's Bluff is a glorified solar collector," says climbing guide Eric Ulner of the arcing 110-foot-tall (34-meter-tall) escarpment in southern Illinois. Though nearby Jackson Falls claims the most routes (300-plus), Draper is taller, and its greater height and southern exposure help ward off the chill on early spring days. Ulner's guiding company, Vertical Heartland, owns the crag and instructs small groups on routes such as Bloody Nose (5.6), which features an exposed traverse at 90 feet (27 meter) ($45 per person for a group of up to 35; www.verticalheartland.com).
Paddle the Bayou, Mississippi
Cross a beaver by choosing the wrong campsite along the Black Creek and it will seek revenge. "It'll slap its tail against the water in the middle of the night. It sounds like a large boulder being dropped," says Brandon Pierce, owner of Black Creek Canoe Rental, in Brooklyn ($50 for boat rental and shuttle; www.blackcreekcanoe.com). Black Creek flows through De Soto National Forest in the southeast corner of the state. Signs of human intrusion are few, but the wrath of last year's Hurricane Katrina is evident in the stands of downed longleaf pine trees.
Extend Winter Indefinitely, Idaho
The only thing that beats a day of skiing Idaho's famous light, dry powder is two days of skiing it. On the first leg of an overnight "cat adventure" in the rugged peaks behind Brundage Mountain Resort ($550, including ski rental; www.brundage.com), skiers are carted 12 miles (19 kilometers) into the backcountry to tune up on gentle ego-boosters. After lunch at a yurt camp on the shoulder of Granite Peak, things become more challenging on gems like Zim's Plunge, a 38-degree run with 2,800 feet (853 meters) of vertical. "It's like skiing Sun Valley from top to bottom in powder with no crowds," says guide Niki LeClair. After dining on salmon or filet mignon and sleeping soundly in a heated yurt, get first tracks at first light, then nap during the ride back to Brundage.
Scale a Frozen Waterfall, Montana
Conditions in early spring are ideal for learning to ice climb: The ice is still thick, and warmer temperatures give picks more bite. During the day-long Ice 1 session with Beartooth Mountain Guides ($225; www.beartoothmountainguides.com), newcomers learn how to climb safely on 80-foot-tall (24-meter-tall) Hellroaring Creek Falls while brandishing, in the words of co-owner Charlie Manfredi, "the tools of an assassin." Spend the night at luxe Rock Creek Resort ($98; www.rockcreekresort.com), then cap the weekend with a day of skiing at nearby Red Lodge Mountain Resort ($42; www.redlodgemountain.com).
Ride the Sky, California
Winter and summer collide when you vault 6,000 vertical feet (1,829 meters) from the desert floor near Palm Springs to the 10,800-foot (3,292 meter) peak of Mount San Jacinto. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes sunbathers to the snowbelt ($22; www.pstramway.com), where the Adventure Center rents ski equipment ($21 a day) and snowshoes ($18 a day) on weekends during the snow season. Wellman Divide, 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometers) away, at the midpoint between the tram and the summit, makes a worthy destination, although strong XC skiers can attempt the 11-mile (18-kilometer) round-trip to the peak itself. Down in Palm Springs, spend a night at the Rat Pack-era Desert Hills Resort Hotel ($109; www.deserthillspalmsprings.com).
Explore the Coast, California
Bustling San Francisco (population 776,733) is just over a single mountain pass to the south, but at Steep Ravine Environmental Campground, atop Rocky Point in Mount Tamalpais State Park, you'd never know it. The campground's
nine wooden cabins define "rough comfort." You bring all of the basic necessities: firewood, a light source, bedding, kitchen gear, and plenty of water
($60; www.mttam.net). Hike the seven-mile (eleven-kilometer) Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Trail loop, which travels through a lush ravine shaded by enormous redwoods and passes waterfalls and sweeping coastline views.
Take a Powder, Oregon
Two good reasons to savor the view from 9,702-foot (2,957-meter) Mount Aneroid: You get there under your own power, and then you get to ski down. On a three-day, two-night backcountry ski adventure ($400; www.wallowahuts.com) into the Eagle Cap Wilderness of northeast Oregon, the guides from Wallowa Alpine Huts show you where the powder is. But with more than 300 inches (762 centimeters) falling here each winter and spring and not another soul in sight, you won't have to range far to find it. After floating on the fluffy stuff all day, slip into the wood-fired sauna, then feast on roast chicken and the house specialty: vanilla yurt-scream.
EAST | CENTRAL | ROCKY MOUNTAINS | PACIFIC COAST
Pick up the March 2006 issue for more secrets of the Southwest, nine Caribbean adventures, the best gear for runners, and our World Class outfitter trips.