CENTRAL | ROCKY MOUNTAINS | PACIFIC COAST | EAST
Backpack the Best, Missouri
Hercules Glades Wilderness, in Mark Twain National Forest, contains the state's most diverse ecology (from dogwoods and turkeys to cactuses and roadrunners) and, in our view, its best backpacking. Park the car at Hercules Tower trailhead off of State Route 125, then enter the wilderness on Northern Knobs Trail. Spur paths allow for loops of up to 20 miles (32 kilometers). The most satisfying routes encompass steep and rocky Lower and Upper Pilot Knob, as well as prime camping spots alongside the pools, and large sycamores near Long Creek. Contact Ava Ranger District (+1 417 683 4428) for trail info.
Bike Till You Bonk, Ohio
We can all learn a lesson from the professional racer who bonked, then withdrew from last year's Mohican MTB 100—an off-road endurance race held in north-central Ohio: Don't underestimate Mohican Country's punishingly good mountain biking. Hit the prime riding at Mohican State Park (www.ohiodnr.com), where a 20-mile (32-kilometer) trail system rolls over the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. After the ride, pitch a tent ten miles (16 kilometers) south at Mohican Wilderness Campground ($19) or reserve a two-bedroom cabin within the park ($100; www.ohio.reserveworld.com).
Wrangle an Iron Steed, Texas
They're still herding at the Bar-H Mountain Bike Ranch, 90 minutes north of Dallas, only now it is mountain bikers, not cattle, roaming this 1,200-acre (486-hectare) spread. Built by Billy Hutson and his daughter Tia, the Breaks at Bar-H boasts a 27-mile (43-kilometer) trail system on the lip of the Red River Valley ($6 trail pass; www.barhbreaks.com). Experts knock themselves silly on Devil's Backbone, which climbs a combined 2,500 feet (762 meters) in just four and a half miles (7 kilometers). Beginners cruise on converted dirt roads. Everyone camps by the old ranch house ($5), where they find hot showers and a beautiful meadow.
Ride a Salt River, Arizona
When rafters enter the Salt River Canyon, east of Phoenix, they drop off the map. For the next three days and 41 miles (66 kilometers), they're immersed in a deep, rocky canyon surrounded by wilderness. Go this month with outfitter Wilderness Aware ($499; www.inaraft.com) to take advantage of optimal flow and idyllic spring days. But neither the Class IV white water nor the daytime temps in the 70s can outshine the setting: saguaro-filled desert and sculpted, 1,500-foot-deep (457-meter-deep) granite canyons. "The trip is an expedition through inhospitable wilderness with none of the normal hardships," says guide Joe Greiner.
Find Yurt Sweet Yurt, Colorado
Springtime at the Hidden Treasure Yurts on New York Mountain can bring anything from raging snowstorms to perfect spring corn. Either way, backcountry skiers win. At 11,200 feet (3,414 meters), the two comfortable yurts ($175 each, sleeps eight; 800 444 2813) share the same elevation as many ski resort summits. Just 300 feet (91 meters) above the encampment, tree line gives way to bowls and gullies suited to intermediate skiers. Glade runs, such as Devil's Den and Gold Mine, deposit you breathless and exhilarated back at the yurts.
Discover Powell's Quiet Side, Utah-Arizona
April gives paddlers the rare upper hand over the houseboaters and Jet Ski riders on Lake Powell. Days are warm, but the water is still cold enough to repel the motorheads. On two- and three-night kayaking tours of the lake ($395 and $595, respectively; www.kayakpowell.com), guide Kyle Walker leads groups to one of his three favorite canyons—West, Labyrinth, and Face. Our pick: Labyrinth, which winds for three miles (five kilometers) at barely two kayaks wide. And where the paddling ends, the footpath begins, threading an 18-inch-wide (46-centimeter-wide) slot. Base camp is a primitive site overlooking the lake and the distant Kaiparowits Plateau.
Drift the High Desert, Oregon
The John Day River can't compete with the nearby Upper McKenzie for nonstop white-water thrills. Its high-desert charms are of the understated variety, told in the geologic upheaval that created bizarre basalt formations inside a 2,000-foot-deep (610-meter-deep) canyon. Rafters don't run the John Day through central Oregon; they float it. This month, otherwise sere hillsides are dappled in blue phlox and red Indian paintbrush. "The John Day is a perfect family river with excellent campsites, just enough Class II rapids, and a calmness that comes from its seclusion," says David Loos, owner and guide of Oregon Whitewater Adventures. His company leads three-day trips down the 47-mile (76-kilometer)
section of the river between Service Creek and Clarno ($345; www.oregonwhitewater.com). Persuade your guide to tow along an inflatable kayak to bump up the fun factor during the rapids.
Climb to the Sun, Washington
Trade the murk in Seattle for the warm, sunny granite crags around the neo-Bavarian enclave of Leavenworth. Here, in the rain shadow of the Cascades, rock climbing season starts early. Instructors from the American Alpine Institute will meet you in town to tailor a weekend itinerary around your abilities and interests ($225 a day; www.mtnguide.com). If you hope to improve technique, expect to drill down low on Castle Rock, a spaceship-shaped rock beside rollicking Tumwater River. If you're up for a challenge, follow your guide up Outer Space, a seven-pitch, 5.9 classic. "The last 300 feet [91 meters] have a perfect hand crack that splits the headwall. The wall itself is covered with chickenheads, which are like the handholds in a climbing gym," says guide Andy Bourne. Toast your success at Gustav's, in town, with the three B's: brats, burgers, and microbrewed beer.
Swing From the Treetops, Georgia
Spend a night high in a white oak and a certain nursery rhyme involving boughs breaking and babies falling will likely spring to mind. But don't fret: Your cradle—a big-wall climber's canvas port-a-ledge—may rock, but it won't fall. From her base, northeast of Atlanta, Genevieve Summers, owner of Dancing With Trees, coaches her clients on the basics of roped tree climbing then guides them upward into the leafy reaches of Tonya, a spreading oak ($235; www.dancingwithtrees.com). For the next 18 hours they'll remain aloft, yielding plenty of time to stargaze through the sturdy boughs.
Tap a White-Water Bounty, Massachusetts
When the maple sap flows, the snow-fed rivers of western Massachusetts surge. One of the finest and shortest-lived white-water rafting runs in the region is Millers River, a powerful torrent with no time to waste. Millers charges through a nearly unbroken train of Class III rapids spiked by "The Funnel," a Class IV soaker. "Some days the big waves build to ten feet (19 meters); hitting them head-on is tremendous," says Kevin McMillan, a guide for Zoar Outdoor. Zoar offers one-day outings on the Millers ($49; www.zoaroutdoor.com), saving Sunday for a visit to Blue Heron Farm (www.blueheronfarm.com), a working farm and sugar shack outside Charlemont.
Escape the Beltway, Virginia
Before there was Shenandoah National Park, there was Skyland Resort ($99; www.visitshenandoah.com), a rustic retreat perched at 3,680 feet (1,122 meters)on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 92 miles (148 kilometers) from Washington, D.C. Though crowded in summer, the lodge makes a peaceful outpost for long day hikes in spring. Worth the short drive are six-mile (ten-kilometer) Buck Ridge-Buck Hollow loop, where big oaks and hemlocks line a pretty stream, and ten-mile (sixteen-kilometer) Hazel Mountain Loop, which is long on Blue Ridge views and short on company.
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