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Weekend Getaways: The Big Thaw
Twelve ways to spring into your weekend, coast-to-coast and close to home,
with hiking, paddling, spring skiing, climbing, and more.

Text by Robert Earle Howells

Map: United States

Find an out-the-backdoor weekend escape near you.

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Find the Wild Things, California
Point Reyes goes Animal Planet in March. Offshore, gray whales breach en masse; see them from Chimney Rock or Point Reyes Lighthouse. On the beaches 5,000-pound (2,268-kilogram) elephant seals loll about; it's less than a quarter mile (less than a half kilometer) walk to a viewing area from Chimney Rock. And in the air, more than 200 species of birds take wing; view showy types like ruddy turnstones from Tomales Bay or Drakes Estero. Base yourself at the suitably wild Blackthorne Inn ($225;, which offers tree-house rooms near the shore.
Easy Ride in the Desert, California
This month Death Valley's notoriously sizzling pavement is better suited for road biking than egg-frying. From the Furnace Creek Campground ($18; pedal 18 miles (29 kilometers) past patches of wildflowers to Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere; add another nine miles (14 kilometers) on the way back by chugging up the one-way road to Artist's Drive. Furnace Creek is conveniently central. Got a few extra days? Sign up with Berkeley-based Backroads for its five-day Death Valley Multisport ($1,998; and get shuttled through the desert in bloom.
Pray for Rain, Washington
You'll get wet in March on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, but that's precisely the point—temperate rain forests are the hallmark of soggy Olympic National Park. At night dry out on Olympic's western slopes in one of Kalaloch Lodge's 44 log cabins ($119; The oceanfront rooms offer VIP seating for thunderous Pacific storms and instant access to seven beaches stretching nine miles. The heart of the park, the mossy, ferny, old-growth Hoh Rain Forest is just 20 miles (32 kilometers) away.
Watch Talladega Nights, Alabama
Dugger Mountain Wilderness, in Talladega National Forest (+1 256 463 2272), occupies the most remote, lovely, and rugged corner of the state, and the 120-mile (193-kilometer), shelter-dotted Pinhoti Trail crosses right through it. For a weekend-size chunk, pick up the trail at the Highway 278 trailhead seven miles (eleven kilometers) east of Piedmont and hike south. The path climbs to ridgetops and drops to streams in a forest of mixed pine, chestnut oaks, hickory, and maple. The first shelter is on Oakey Mountain (8.7 miles [14 kilometers]); the Dugger shelter is seven miles farther. Watch for pinhoti (what the Creek Indians called wild turkeys) and abundant spring wildflowers, including orchids and hepaticas.
Paddle the Blueway, Florida 
Lost is a state of mind, not a rescue emergency, for paddlers on the well-marked, hundred-mile (161-kilometer) Great Calusa Blueway near Fort Myers. Crystal clear waterways trace estuaries, islands, and forests of chocolate mangrove. Expect to see manatees and dolphins; hope for sea turtles and stingrays. The Tropic Star ferry (a craft originally built for Walt Disney World) departs from Pineland on Pine Island and will drop you and your boat off on the white sand of the Cayo Costa State Park campground ($45 a day for kayak rental and ferry service;, an ideal departure point for a daylong paddle.
Kayak Down, Ride Up, North Carolina 
What paddler hasn't dreamed of riding a motorized boat lift back to the put-in? That's the drill at the new U.S. National Whitewater Center ( just outside Charlotte: Run a mile (two kilometers) of concentrated Class II-IV rapids in man-made channels beside the Catawba River, paddle over to a conveyer belt, ride up, and do it all again. Skilled paddlers can access the kayak lift for $25 a day. Beginners can get a two-hour lesson in the instruction channel ($70).
Canoe the Backwoods, Louisiana
Cool off on a sultry spring weekend by dipping a paddle—and whatever else—into the brisk, clear, spring-fed waters of the Ouiska Chitto River in southwestern Louisiana, a state-designated Natural and Scenic River. Put in near the town of Mittie—Campbell's Canoe Rental ($35 a day; +1 337 328 7121) will provide you with a boat, drop you off, and pick you up—and paddle for ten leisurely miles (16 kilometers) along the slow-moving waterway. Forests of pine, oak, beech, and hickory rise above the soft sand beaches, while wild honeysuckle, azalea, magnolia, and wisteria scent the spring air.
Ski Down Waterfalls, Minnesota 
When the rivers bound for Lake Superior freeze over, they transform into mini ski slopes for guests of Lutsen Resort & Sea Villas ($99; A lodge-provided shuttle drops skiers off to cruise the frozen, gentle-gradient cascades on the likes of the Onion or Devil Track River. Nearby, 124 miles (200 kilometers) of groomed trails run amid frozen lakes, bogs, and spruce forests where moose and bobcats roam. Lutsen is a century-old lodge overlooking Lake Superior, with a huge stone fireplace in the lobby, weekend folk music, and a dining room that serves a mean walleye.
Climb OK Granite, Oklahoma 
Sooner climbers venerate Quartz Mountain as if El Cap itself were magically transplanted to the arid Midwest. The dome rises from the Wichita Mountains 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Altus, surrounded by mesquite and cedar forests. "Quartz has a mystique," says local climber Marion Hutchinson. "It's like climbing used to be. There are some routes with only two bolts on a 150-foot (45-meter) climb." The Wichita Mountain Climbers Coalition Web site ( has a great climbers' forum, and the lakeside Quartz Mountain Resort ($94; sits less than a mile from the rock.
Spot Jurassic Birds, Arizona
It's one thing to see a 200-million-year-old species of bird with a nine-foot (three-meter) wingspan soar in an empty sky. It's another to see it above the swirling Vermilion Cliffs. Tempe-based Detours ($980; lets clients mix with biologists from the Peregrine Fund, the masterminds behind the area's condor recovery program. The four-day trip includes a float on the Colorado River through Marble Canyon, a hike to the condor release site, and off-road drives to little-seen parts of the Grand Canyon.
Get to Know Corn, Colorado
Corn: The crusty stuff that forms after the snow has melted and refrozen into a perfectly smooth layer. It's forgiving, a blast to ski, and found in abundance near Steamboat Springs come March. Guides at Vista Verde Guest Ranch ($1,100 for three nights, including meals and gear;, a 500-acre (202-hectare) spread at 7,800 feet (2,377 meters) in the Elk River Valley, lead daily X-C outings over corn-covered hay meadows abutting Routt National Forest and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
Ski Lift Free, Idaho
Brundage Mountain Resort, near McCall, claims the best snow in Idaho, which makes boarding a snowcat to take on its 19,000 acres (7,689 hectares) of Payette National Forest backcountry a bit like leaving paradise for nirvana. It's not uncommon for skiers and boarders to score 20,000 vertical feet (6,096 vertical meters) a day on Brundage's Overnight Cat Adventure ($599;, which includes a stay in a toasty yurt atop 8,478-foot (2,584-meter) Granite Mountain, plus hot soups, snacks, and a hearty pasta dinner. 

Cover: Adventure magazine

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