A list of the best outdoor adventures to fuel your spirit of exploration.

99 Best Outdoor Adventure Ideas for Your Next Trip Out West

If you are a nature lover or outdoor enthusiast looking for some great ideas for your next adventure, you’re in the right place!

I have compiled a list of over 99 outdoor adventure ideas throughout the American West that are sure to spark your imagination and inspire you to plan your next trip in the great outdoors.

This list includes some of my favorite hikes, backpacking trips, mountain biking adventures, scenic drives, campgrounds, and more.

I have guided trips in many of these areas, so you can be sure that you are getting the best recommendations based on my professional experience.

So grab your gear and get ready to explore some of the most amazing natural landscapes in the world!

What Are the Best Outdoor Adventure Ideas?

The American West is an enormous area rich with spectacular mountain ranges, vast deserts, and an abundance of wildlife.

Deciding where to go and how to plan your next outdoor adventure can be overwhelming as the options are seemingly endless.

To make it easier for you to plan your next trip, I have organized the following list by region and state.

Outdoor Adventure Ideas by Region

Best Adventures in Utah

1. Hike the Narrows in Zion Canyon

woman hiking through Zion Canyon
Photo: Frances Gunn

The Narrows hike is one of the best hikes in Zion National Park for those willing to get their feet wet.  As its name suggests, this hike takes you through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, a gorge carved by the Virgin River with walls a thousand feet tall and sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide. Be sure to wear waterproof hiking boots or river shoes, and bring hiking poles for greater stability while walking in the river. 

2. Bike the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park

This 100-mile off road loop takes around four days to complete and offers incredible views of the land surrounding Canyonlands National Park. It is a popular route for mountain biking, although it's also suitable for those who prefer hiking or driving an ATV.

3. Photograph Sunrise at Monument Valley 

Sunrise at Monument Valley in Utah
Photo: Justin Roy

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah/Arizona border is a must visit if you are in the southwest. Famous for its towering sandstone buttes, this remarkable landscapes is one of the most incredible places to photograph sunrises and sunsets in the world.

4. Mountain Bike Dead Horse Point State Park

The Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point State Park located outside of Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky district) is my all-time favorite place to mountain bike in the Moab area. Most of the trails in this area are easy to intermediate, and offer dramatic viewpoints of the expansive network of canyons formed by the Colorado River.

5. Hike Among the Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park
Photo: Drew Hays

For an otherworldly hike that you must experience in your lifetime, check out the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park. This 3 mile hike takes you down into the canyon on a journey among the hoodoos - towering spires of rock for which this park is famous for. 

6. Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park is home to unique rock formations and amazing views. There are beautiful trails winding through the colorful landscape of vibrant orange and red sandstone cliffs that lead to rewarding overlooks with panoramic vistas of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

7. Hike Fisher Towers

Fisher Towers in Utah
Photo: Dennis Buchner

Fisher Towers Trail is easily one of my favorite hikes in the Moab area. This hike takes you through a maze of red mudstone spires (up to 900 feet tall!) that have been eroded into unique and awe-inspiring shapes. 

8. Drive Scenic Byway 128

The start of this scenic drive starts just outside of Moab and takes you along a breathtaking 44 mile journey along the Colorado River.  Some of the most beautiful camping spots in the Moab area are located along this road.

9. Find Solitude in Grand Staircase National Monument

A top destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking to get off the grid, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is a vast and rugged landscape of scenic vistas, diverse wildlife habitat and cultural history that draws visitors from around the world. This is one of the best places in Utah where you can escape the crowds while seeing some of the best scenery that the Southwest has to offer.

10. Photograph the Mesa Arch at Sunrise

Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park
Photo: Michael Louie

Watching the sun as it rises over the Canyonlands and illuminates Mesa Arch is what I consider to be a spiritual experience that every nature lover must witness. This is an extremely popular spot in Canyonlands National Park for landscape photographers, so set up your tripod at least an hour before sunrise to get a good spot.

Best Adventures in Arizona

1. Explore the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

View from the top of the Grand Canyon North Rim
Photo: Stephen Walker

​​This part of the park has fewer crowds than the South Rim, better view points, and cooler temperatures. The best outdoor activities include hiking and camping along trails such as the Widforss Trail (an easier hike along the rim) and the North Kaibob Trail (a harder hike that descends into the canyon). Definitely include a scenic drive to Cape Royal and Point Imperial for some otherworldly views. For more hardcore adventurers, you can backpack or trail run to the South Rim, but make sure you get permits get permits well in advance before attempting this. 

2. Travel Back in Time at Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest is known for its fossilized trees and diverse assemblage of vertebrates that lived in the Late Triassic Period (225 million years ago). Travel back in time to hiking trails such as the Crystal Forest or Giant Logs trail where you can get up close to massive fossilized trees that once made up an ancient forest. You should also take a sunset scenic drive through the park to the Rainbow Forest Museum, where you will get to take in unbelievable views of the rainbow-hued Painted Desert. 

3. Get Lost in the Vermillion Cliffs

Swirling sandstone at the wave in the vermillion cliffs arizona
Photo: Steve Arrington

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is home to an incredible landscape of vibrant colors, towering cliffs and deep slot canyons. While you are there, I recommend backpacking for a few days into the Paria Canyon and searching for California Condors at the Condor Viewing Site. Landscape photographers will especially love "The Wave," an area of cross-bedded sandstone famous for its colorful swirling patterns. 

4. Climb the Highest Peak in Arizona

If you didn’t think you could bag peaks in Arizona, think again. For a challenging yet extremely rewarding adventure, hike to the top of Mount Humphrey, a 12,633 foot mountain right outside of Flagstaff. On a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of the rim of the Grand Canyon from the summit.

5. Mountain Bike the Red Rocks of Sedona

Home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the country, Sedona should be a bucket list destination for any mtb rider. Check out the Mescal and Slim Shady trails for some of the best that the Sedona area has to offer.

6. Photograph Horseshoe Bend

Colorado river at horseshoe bend
Photo: Alan Liu

This horseshoe-shaped bend (technically, an entrenched meander) of the Colorado River carved into red sandstone cliffs is one of the most iconic sites in Arizona. The best way to photograph this geologic wonder is by taking a 1.5 mile hike down into the canyon where you will have better views and fewer crowds. 

Best Adventures in Texas

1. Float the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park

Person canoeing down the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park
Photo: Mick Haupt

Though it’s harder to get to than many other parks, Big Bend National Park should be at the top of every hiker’s, backpacker’s, and landscape photographer’s list of destinations to explore.  One of the best adventures you can take in this park is a rafting or canoeing trip down the Rio Grande where you will get to experience miles of canyons up to 1,500 feet deep.

2. Stargaze in the Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is an outstanding place to camp because it's one of the best places in the country to stargaze. Located in the Chihuahuan Desert east of El Paso, this remote park is the largest wilderness area in Texas and boasts the highest summit in the state at 8,751 feet. It also contains one of the best-preserved Permian fossil reefs in the world, so be sure to check out the Permian Reef Trail if you are a geology nerd like me. 

3. Explore America’s Second Largest Canyon

Located just outside of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon is a hidden gem in the Texas Panhandle and is a place that anyone who loves the outdoors must see. Most people may be surprised to learn that this canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States after the Grand Canyon (but don't tell Texans that!). Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, campgrounds, wildlife viewing, and scenic driving opportunities in a stunning landscape without the crowds of the national parks.

4. Canoe Through the Cypress Forests of Caddo Lake

Person canoeing on Caddo Lake in Texas
Photo: Bearded Texan Travels

Caddo Lake State Park, located in the piney woods of eastern Texas, contains the largest cypress forest in the world. Canoe your way through Caddo Lake, a one-of-a-kind environment where you will be amazed by the forest of bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss that rise from the placid, boggy waters.

5. See Bison at Caprock Canyon

Another scenic treasure buried in the Texas Panhandle is Caprock Canyon, a scenic landscape of rugged pink and orange sandstone canyons, valleys and grasslands. Explore over 90 miles of hiking and biking trails, or set up a tent and sleep under the dark Texas sky. This park is also home to the official Texas State Bison Herd, so take some time to marvel at these incredible animals roaming the plains.

6. Climb Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock in Texas at sunset
Photo: J. Amill Santiago

Nestled in the Texas Hill Country is Enchanted Rock, a 425 foot tall dome of pink granite that is a top destination in central Texas for rock climbing. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area also has several short hiking trails and prides itself in being one of the best spots for stargazing in the region.

Best Adventures in New Mexico

1. Explore White Sands

Dunes of white sand at White Sands National Park in New Mexico
Photo: Raychel Sanner

White Sands National Park protects the world’s largest gypsum dunefield - 275 square miles to be exact - and is a natural wonder that you must explore in your lifetime. Landscape photographers will be amazed by how the light and wind continuously change the colors and patterns on the dunes throughout the day. Spend a night camping on top of the soft, sandy white dunes at a place that can’t be compared to anywhere else on earth. 

2. Hike around the Caldera of a Volcano

The Capulin Volcano is an extinct volcano that last erupted about 56,000 to 62,000 years ago. Nerd out on geology as you take a hike along the rim of the crater and descend down the Crater Vent Trail trail to the bottom of Capulin's crater.

3. Get Up Close to the Tent Rocks

Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico
Photo: Dave Vickery

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a place of geologic beauty that protects bizarre cone-shaped rock formations. Composed mostly of pumice, ash or tuff deposits from volcanic eruptions that happened 6–7 million years ago, these rock formations are like nothing you have ever seen. There are a few short hiking trails in the Monument for hiking and observing the incredible geology.

4. Spelunk in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Cave with stalactites and stalagmites
Photo: Robert Thiemann

Entering Carlsbad Caverns is like stepping into another world, with its 100+ caves formed into limestone to create a network of different sized caverns. You'll be fascinated by everything from stalactites hanging upside-down above your head to the unique wildlife as you explore the deep underground chambers (like Big Room). Another notable place to stop while visiting this park is Rattlesnake Springs - a desert wetland that is a top place for bird watching.

5. Relax in the San Antonio Hot Springs

Relax and unwind in the crystal clear water of the San Antonia Hot Springs, a remote yet stunning natural spring near Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The springs are nestled into a mountainside and consist of three primitive pools that flow into each other. To get there, you will need to take a 4x4 vehicle down a dirt road and hike about a half a mile through hot springs is about a half mile hike through the Santa Fe National Forest.

6. Climb the Highest Peak in New Mexico

Just outside of the beautiful ski town of Taos is Wheeler Peak, part of the Sange De Cristo Mountains and the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,167 feet. The summit offers views across the Taos Plateau and Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Colorado's Rocky Mountain Front Range.

View of the mountains around Taos New Mexico from Wheeler Peak
Photo: Raisa Nastukova

7. Drive the Jémez Mountain National Scenic Byway

Located near Albuquerque, this 132 mile loop will take you on a journey through river valleys, mountains, and impressive volcanic features. This loops includes a number of natural and cultural landmarks that highlight New Mexico's rich human history and turbulent geologic past, including the Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

8. Get Lost in the Bisti Badlands

Unusual rock formations at the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico
Photo: John Fowler

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness attracts photographers, hikers, and explorers from all around the world to see some of the most unusual scenery on the planet. This area encompasses about 60 square miles of badlands filled with hoodoos, spires of rock, natural arches, and fossils. There are no hiking trails in the Bisti Badlands, but you can roam freely in this truly unique wilderness by foot and spend the night backcountry camping.

Best Adventures in Colorado

1. Hike or Drive to the Top of Mt. Evans

View from the drive to the top of Mount Evans in Colorado
Photo: Sarah Vombrack

If you are looking for a scenic drive that will quite literally take your breath away, check out the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. This is the highest paved road in North America and will take you to Mount Evans’ 14,265 foot summit. More adventurous, physically fit folks can hike to the top of this summit, too. 

2. Sandsled Down the Dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park

The sand dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park are the tallest in North America, with the tallest (the Star Dune) reaching up to 755 feet in height. For some serious fun while exploring this park, you can climb to the top of these massive sand dunes and ride a sandsled down to the bottom. 

3. Camp in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

View from the rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Photo: Ryan Milrad

The views of 2,000-foot sheer black vertical cliffs from the rim of the Black Canyon are some of my favorite in Colorado. Set up your basecamp at the East Portal Campground if you plan on spending a day or two exploring above the rim, or take the more adventurous (and much more arduous) backpacking trek down into the canyon and camp on the canyon floor. 

4. Take a Scenic Drive Along Trail Ridge Road

Take a drive above treeline and across the Continental Divide on one of the highest roads in Colorado. This drive will give you incredible panoramic views of the Rockies and some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Colorado.

5. Thru Hike the Colorado Trail 

Women backpacking the Colorado Trail
Photo: Lukas Allspach

The Colorado Trail is one of the premier long-distance trails in the United States that will lead you through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Colorado Rockies. This trail offers something for every type of hiker, whether you want to thru-hike the entire 567 mile trail from from Denver to Durango, backpack a section, or day-hike a few miles.

6. Go Leaf Peeping in Along the Million Dollar Highway

The Million Dollar Highway stretches for about 25 miles through the San Juan Mountains between the towns of Silverton and Ouray. It is easily one of the most beautiful roads in the country, but it becomes exceptionally stunning in the fall when the leaves of the Aspen trees that line the highway turn from green to gold. 

7. Snowshoe Up to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Woman snowshoeing up a mountain in Colorado

The hike up to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park should be a bucket list adventure for everyone. Since this hike gets extremely crowded in the summer, the best way to see it is to snowshoe to the lake in the winter time when it is much quieter.

Best Adventures in Wyoming

1. Go on a Nature Safari in Yellowstone National Park

Pronghorn antelope in Wyoming
Photo: David Thielen

Yellowstone is special for so many reasons, including that it is teeming with wildlife. Take a drive through the park and it likely won’t be long before you see bison, pronghorn, eagles, bighorn sheep, or even a grizzly bear or wolf. Take your drive at dusk or dawn and spend your time in the Lamar Valley if you want to see wolves and avoid the crowds. 

2. Hike the Cascade Canyon Trail in Grand Teton National Park

The Cascade Canyon Trail is one of my all-time favorite hikes. There are really no words to describe how stunning it is. This hike starts near Jenny Lake and can be extremely crowded, but once you pass Inspiration Point the crowds will significantly thin out. Adventurous hikers should hike all the way up to Lake Solitude (19 miles round trip) for the most rewarding views in the entire park. 

3. Climb Devils Tower

Devils Tower in Wyoming
Photo: Jeff Finley

Tucked away in the Black Hills of Wyoming is Devils Tower, a remarkable geologic feature that rises from the surrounding grasslands. Hundreds of parallel cracks in the walls of this monolithic rock called columnar joints make it one of the best places to rock climb in the country.

4. Explore the Bighorn National Forest

Located in the Bighorn National Forest southwest of Sheridan, the Cloud Peak Wilderness preserves many jagged peaks, alpine lakes, and glacier-carved valleys. Check out Lost Twin Lakes for one of the top places to hike or backpack while visiting this area.

5. Backpack into the Wind River Range

Scenic view of the Wind River Range in Wyoming
Photo: Dillon Groves

The Wind River Range in the Bridger Wilderness is home to some of Wyoming's highest mountains (including Fremont Peak at 13,745 and Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet) and hundreds of miles of trails. One of the best ways to see this area is by taking a few days to backpack into the heart of these stunning mountains. A few must-see locations to backpack include Titcomb Basin and Cirque of the Towers.

6. Climb to the Top of the Snowy Range

The Snowy Range is a scenic mountain range just west of Laramie in the Medicine Bow Mountains. Take a day hike to the top of  Medicine Bow Peak, the highest peak in these mountains at 12,018 feet, and you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the whole Snowy Range.

7. Photograph Grand Teton from the Snake River Overlook

Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park
Photo: Karthik Sreenivas

The Snake River Overlook, a viewpoint made famous by Ansel Adams, is one of the most iconic views in Grand Teton National Park. This is the perfect place to photograph the Snake River meandering through the picturesque Jackson Hole valley on its way to the Tetons in the distance.

Best Adventures in Montana

1. Get lost in Big Sky

Ousel Falls waterfall in Montana
Photo: Meredith Fontana

Located in the southwestern corner of the state and surrounded by Yellowstone National Park's Gallatin Mountain Range on three sides, this resort town has become known as one of America's top ski destinations. During summer months when snow melts away,  you find some of the best mountain trails, rivers and lakes in the country. I recommend hiking the Ousel Falls Trail which will take you along the South and West Forks of the Gallatin River and up to a stunning waterfall. 

2. Explore Hyalite Canyon Recreation Area

Hyalite Canyon is a gorgeous canyon just south of Boezeman in the Gallatin National Forest that offers something for everyone. It's an extraordinary place to hike, bike or even try your hand at ice climbing during winter months.

3. Hike to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park

Iceberg lake in Glacier National Park
Photo: Ruben van Wijngaarden

Glacier National Park is full of amazing sights and hiking trails that will take your breath away, and this 10 mile hike is one of the best. The views from this area are spectacular as they look out over a pristine lake with majestic mountains towering around it.

4. Swim in Yellowstone’s Boiling River

Near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park is a natural hot tub where you can soak and take in the views. Thanks to geothermal activity within the park, the water temperature of the Boiling River is warm year-round and can vary from approximately 100 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a designated swimming area (the only safe and legal place to swim in this river) located near Mammoth Hot Springs where the Boiling River flows into the Gardner River.

5. Hike among the dinosaurs at Makoshika State Park

Makoshika State Park is home to some of the best dinosaur fossils in North America, making this park an ideal destination for anyone interested in paleontology. This park offers a variety of scenic drives, nature trails, campgrounds where you can enjoy the beauty of the area's juniper studded badlands. Be sure to check out the visitors center with geology and fossil displays.

6. Float on Bighorn Lake

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has a diversity of landscapes, from forests to mountains, deep canyons and broad valleys - there are endless opportunities for adventure in this vast wilderness.  With over 120,000 acres to explore there is something for everyone, from hiking and backpacking to boating and camping. Spend the day kayaking on Bighorn Lake along the towering canyon walls that are up to a thousand feet high.

Best Adventures in Idaho

1. Hike or kayak to Shoshone Falls

Shoshone Falls in Idaho
Photo: Garrett Sawyers

Shoshone Falls is an impressive cascade on the Snake River in Eastern Idaho, dropping 212 feet (which is 45 feet higher than Niagra Falls!). One of the largest natural waterfalls in the United States, you can kayak to the base of the falls or explore one of the many trails in Shoshone Falls Park.

2. Stargaze at Bruneau Dunes State Park

Bruneau Dunes State Park is located in southwestern Idaho and contains some of the tallest sand dunes in North America. The Bruneau River runs through the park, creating a dramatic contrast between desert landscape and lush vegetation that is perfect for hikers and landscape photographers. One hour before sunset, visit the Bruneau Dunes Observatory for a chance to view the heavens through the observatory’s collection of telescopes.

3. Explore the Deepest River Gorge in North America

On the border of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho lies Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, a remote area of vast beauty and endless opportunities for adventure. Hell's Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, and the area around it is a paradise for hikers and adrenaline seeking white-water rafters. Because the area is so expansive, going on a multi-day backpacking trip is one of the best ways to explore it.

4. Photograph Wildlife in Harriman State Park

Harriman State Park in Idaho
Photo: Olga Subach

Nestled within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Harriman State Park is a 16,000-acre wildlife refuge that is home to elk, moose, grizzly bears, bald eagles and more. This is a great option if you want a taste of what Yellowstone National Park has to offer without the crowds. 

5. Hike or Climb in the City of Rocks

The City of Rocks National Reserve offers hikers, mountain bikers, climbers, and campers the chance to explore more than 22 square miles of land filled with massive rock formations that have been carved by erosion into spectacular shapes. Prepare to be inspired by the pinnacles, fins, and domes of granite that make this particular area of Idaho so unique.

6. Swim in the Sawtooth Mountains

Beautiful lake in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho
Photo: Perry Kibler

Sawtooth National Recreation Area has hundreds of miles of trails and is a paradise of jagged snow capped peaks, pristine alpine lakes, lush forests, waterfalls and flowing snowmelt streams. One of the best hikes in this area is to emerald-colored Goat Lake (via the Iron Creek and Alpine Way Trails) where those brave souls who don’t mind cold water can jump in in the summer months.

7. Spot Mountain Goats on Scotchman’s Peak

This challenging yet rewarding hike in the Cabinet Mountains reaches 7,009 feet and offers incredible views of Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River Valley from the top. The best part of this hike is that a family of mountain goats can often be seen or heard from the summit.

Best Adventures in Washington

1. Climb Trappers Peak in North Cascades National Park

Mountains and a lake in North Cascades National Park in Washington
Photo Rich Martello

This is a very challenging 10.6 mile day hike for more advanced adventurers (you will ascend 3,300 ft in elevation), but if you  make it to the summit, you will be rewarded with 360 degree mind-blowing views of the surrounding North Cascades. If you want to turn this hike into an overnight backpacking trip, try to snag a permit to camp at the pristine Thornton Lakes.

2. Walk through Lava Tubes at the Guler Ice Caves

The Guler Ice Caves, which were created by a basaltic lava flow 12,000 to 18,000 years ago, are part of an extensive network of lava tubes and glacier caves in the Indian Heaven Volcanic Field between Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens. Inside this incredible geologic wonder you will see beautiful ice sculptures including ice stalactites, stalagmites, and curtains that last almost year-round. 

3. See the Enchantment Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

The hike to Enchantment Lakes will take you through a granite and alpine lake paradise that showcases some of the best scenery in the Pacific Northwest. At about 14 miles, this makes for a long day hike unless you are lucky enough to get a  permit (through a lottery system) and spend the night.

4. Go Sea Kayaking around the San Juan Islands

Sea kayakers kayaking around islands in Washington

The San Juan Islands are an idyllic archipelago of 172 islands in northwestern Washington that offer endless opportunities for kayaking, hiking, camping, cycling and wildlife viewing. The islands are a world-famous location to spot Orcas, so be sure to take a whale watching tour while you are there.

5. Hike to Spirit Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

Spirit Falls is a lesser known natural gem on the Little White Salmon River that is a popular spot for kayakers and one of the most photogenic waterfalls in the state. Take the short hike up to the falls to see turquoise-colored water cascade 33 feet down into an effervescent pool.

6. Cliff Jump Off of “The Big Rock”

Lake Cushman is located in Olympic National Forest, north of Lake Cushman and offers one of the state's best cliff jumping opportunities. The massive boulder on the northwestern shore of the lake known as “The Big Rock” is a popular destination for jumping into the water. While you are in the area, take some time to explore the rocky summits of the nearby Olympic Mountains. 

7. Get Up Close to an Active Volcano at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount St. Helens sunset
Photo: Jaser Cervantes

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is arguably the most geologically fascinating destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Once the site of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that occurred in 1980, this monument is now an active research area that protects the volcano’s history, geology, and wildlife. While you are there, check out Ape Cave,  the longest continuous lava tube in the continental U.S.

Best Adventures in Oregon

1. Hike the Old Growth Forests of Mount Hood

Old growth forest in Oregon
Photo: Dan Meyers

Mount Hood, a dormant volcano carved by glaciers, is home to some of Oregon’s best hiking, biking, and ski slopes. Check out the Old Salmon River Trail near the base of Mount Hood, which is one of the area’s most accessible trails through old-growth forests.  This hike will take you along the beautiful Salmon River and  the day underneath a canopy of giant trees draped in vibrant green moss.

2. Drive Around the Rim of a Volcano’s Caldera

Scenic view of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
Photo: Greg Jenkins

The southern Oregon is home to Crater Lake National Park, the state’s only national park but one of the country’s coolest places to see. Crater Lake is a natural body of water within the caldera of Mount Mazama,  a volcano that last erupted 7,700 years ago. Take a scenic drive along the 33-mile Rim Drive, which encircles Crater Lake and offers 30 overlooks with incredible views of the caldera's rim.

3. Climb the South Sister Peak

The South Sister is a spectacular peak in the Deschutes National Forest that offers stunning views of Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and the Cascade Range. This is a more challenging hike so be prepared for a steep trek over rugged terrain and harsh mountain weather that changes rapidly. When snow is present, you will need an ice axe and know how to use it. 

4. See Oregon’s Tallest Waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

A beautiful waterfall Multnomah Falls in Oregon
Photo: Chris Briggs

The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon that is up to 4,000 feet deep and stretches for over 80 miles through the Cascade Mountains. This stunning landscape carved by the Columbia River is home to the highest concentration of waterfalls in the country. The tallest waterfall is Multnomah Falls, a 620 foot, two-tier waterfall that is a must-see natural feature if you are in the area.

5. Backpack the Wallowas

The Wallowas Mountains are a remote range in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of northeast Oregon that are one of the top places to explore in Oregon. Because the trails to the best parts of this range are rather long, it is better for backpacking than day hiking. For an unforgettable trip, hike to Ice Lake via the West Fork Path and spend the night along the mirror-like waters of this hidden treasure. 

6. Photograph the Painted Hills 

Painted hills of John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon
Photo: Pam Riches

The Painted Hills, a unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, are famous for their technicolored layers of yellows, golds, blacks and reds. This area is not only a great place to capture some amazing landscape photographs, but it is also a world-class paleontological site that geology buffs will love. One of the best ways to see John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is by driving the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, which stretches 286 miles through north central to eastern Oregon.

I hope this list of adventures gets you excited to explore the amazing landscapes of the American West.

Whether it’s a remote hike through a pristine forest or a scenic drive through the dessert that gets you excited, this extensive list should serve as a starting starting point for you to plan your next trip.

As a reminder, always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on your safety skills before heading out into nature.

Best Adventures in California

1. Practice Astrophotography at Glacier Point

View of stars from Glacier Point at sunset in Yosemite National Park
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park is a famous viewing spot that is miles from the nearest city lights, making it an amazing place to photograph the stars. Watching the sunset over half dome before the night sky puts on a show is a magical experience. 

2. Watch Rocks Race Each Other in Death Valley National Park

If you have a high clearance 4x4 vehicle, one of the coolest things to see in Death Valley National Park is the Racetrack. Take the 26 mile dirt road that begins near Ubehebe Crater to the Racetrack playa where erosional forces have caused rocks deposited from the surrounding mountains to “race” across the sediments of a dry lakebed.  

3. Climb to the Highest Point in the Contiguous USA

Mount Whitney the tallest mountain in the contiguous united states
Photo: Ross Stone

Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,495 feet. Climbing to the top of this peak is not an easy hike, so this adventure is only recommended for more advanced climbers with backcountry skills and prior experience climbing 14ers. If you can snag a permit and have the chops to complete this grueling 11 mile hike that has 6,000 feet of vertical gain, you will be rewarded with some of the most incredible views on earth. 

4. Hike or Kayak the Channel Islands

Channel Islands in California
Photo: Priya Karkare

The Channel Islands National Park consists of five islands off the coast of California known for their biodiversity and rugged beauty. This beautiful destination was established to preserve the unique flora and fauna that has evolved on the islands due to isolation from the mainland. This park has something for everyone who loves the outdoors, whether you're looking to relax on the beach, kayak around the islands, or go hiking through lush forests.

5. Stand in Awe Underneath the Largest Tree in the World 

The General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest living tree on Earth (by trunk volume). The giant sequoia has a height of 275 feet, an average diameter at its trunk base of 36 feet, and is estimated to be 2,300 to 2,700 years old. A short hike will take you through the Giant Forest sequoia grove and right up to the base of this incredible giant. 

6. Photograph the Alabama Hills Natural Arch

Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills in California
Photo: Stephen Leonardi

If you are a landscape photographer, you will fall in love with the Alabama Hills, an area full of dramatic rock formations and breathtaking views. The Mobius Arch is a must-see geological feature that creates a natural frame around Mount Whitney in the distance.

Best Adventures in Nevada

1. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

View of red rocks in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada
Photo: Carl Hunley Jr

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located just 17 miles west of Las Vegas in Nevada’s Mojave Desert. Its geological features alone make this place worth visiting, like towering red sandstone peaks and Keystone Thrust Fault. This is also a great location to see  Native American petroglyphs. This beautiful area offers a 13-mile scenic drive, miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, road cycling, rock climbing, and more. 

2. Hike the White Rock Canyon in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area

America’s first and largest national recreation area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area encompasses 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes (Lake Mead and Mojave). Hike, cycle, camp, or boat in this vast landscape of the eastern Mojave Desert. For some of the best hiking in the area, check out the White Rock Canyon trail and the Arizona Hot Springs trail which can be combined to form a loop. 

3. Photograph the Spires at Cathedral Gorge State Park

Photographer taking pictures of the Cathedral Gorge spires in Nevada
Photo: John Fowler

Cathedral Gorge State Park is an incredible place for hikers and photographers as it has some of Nevada's most dramatic rock formations. Hike one of the park's many trails that will lead you along cliffs, through rock spires, and around other unique shapes that have been carved into bentonite clay over millions of years.

4. Escape the Heat in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park

Get out of the desert and into an alpine oasis surrounding Spooner Lake in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The Spooner Backcountry encompasses 12,000 acres of forested open space with over 50 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and off-roading. For some truly spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, hike the winding and somewhat technical Marlette Flume Trail. 

5. Explore Ancient Sand Dunes in the Valley of Fire

Red rocks and ancient sand dunes in the Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
Photo: Stin-Niels Musche

One of the most awe-inspiring state parks in Nevada, Valley of Fire State Park is home to brilliant red sandstone formations formed from shifting sand dunes that existed 150 million years ago. This park is famous for its petrified trees and petroglyphs, but is one of the best spots in Nevada for hiking, camping, and landscape photography.

6. See the World's Oldest Trees in Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a treasure in the Great Basin -the mountainous, dry region that lies between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains. This park is most famous for its bristlecone pines, which are the oldest known nonclonal living organisms on earth. Another notable part of the park are the Lehman Caves, an incredible cave system that first started forming around 550 million years ago (you can take a tour of the caves through the National Park System). To see the bristlecone pines and some of the best sights in the park, hike the Alpine Lakes Loop trail which will take you to the shores of stunning Lake Stella.

Best Adventures in Alaska

1. Photograph the Northern Lights

Green and pink northern lights at night in Alaska
Photo: Austin Human

Experience the unforgettable sight of green, blue, and pink glowing waves dancing across the night sky. Fairbanks is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Plan your visit during aurora season which runs from August to April.

2. Hike the Goat Trail in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

The Goat Trail is one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures you will ever experience. This roughly 40 mile out-and-back trail through the Alaskan backcountry is an epic bucket list adventure that will have you in awe of our planet's immense beauty.

3. Get Up Close to a Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park

Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska
Photo: Izzy Majcher

Take a 2.5 hour scenic drive north of Anchorage to Exit Glacier, one of the most accessible active glaciers in the U.S. Explore the network of trails that will take you right up to the edge of the glacier and get a sense of how glaciers shape the landscape. Exit Glacier is receding at an average rate of about 125 feet a year - an alarming reality caused by climate change. 

4. Sleep Under the Stars at Chugach State Park

Eklutna Lake Campground is the perfect place to spend a few nights in an oasis of natural beauty. Hike, bike, or kayak around the vast ocean beaches, lakes, glaciers, and icefields that make this park so special.

5. See America’s Tallest Mountain

Denali mountain in Denali National Park in Alaska
Photo: Patrick Federi

Denali National Park is home to Denali, the country’s tallest mountain, and encompasses a vast wilderness full of incredible wildlife and endless opportunities for every type of outdoor adventurer. The Thorofare Ridge Trail is a short but difficult trail that is recommended for those who wish to capture some of the best views of Denali. Alternatively, check out the Mountain Vista Trail for an easier hike that will give you views of the mountain on a clear day. 

6. Kayak Glacier Bay

Some of the most beautiful kayaking in the world is in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park, which protects 3.3 million acres of temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and hundreds of glaciers. You can rent or bring your own kayak to explore the park, or you can take a guided sea kayak trip with one of the park’s authorized guiding companies.

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