Craving a grand adventure, one that won’t make you pay $100 + just to get in, only to be surrounded by thousands of other sweaty people, all spending half of the day waiting in long lines (I’m talking about you, Disneyland)? That doesn’t seem like much of an escape, or any adventure I’d want to partake in. So why not take the road less frequented, head outside of town, and immerse yourself in an unfamiliar wilderness. The western United States is wild and full of rare beauty that should be witnessed. Below are a few of my top destinations for that adventurous spirit of yours.
California: Lost Coast
Black beaches, spectacular ocean vistas, alpine forests, redwoods, and sweeping grasslands make up this rich 80 mile stretch of coastal wilderness. The Lost Coast is tucked away in an unusually quiet, undeveloped corner of California. Highway 1 had to be constructed around this area because it was too rough, leaving this area peaceful, pristine, and secluded. There are only four roads that will lead to this coastline, two of them being one-lane dirt roads; all of them are steep and winding. But it is certainly well worth the tough trek out there.
Arizona: Painted Desert
On the outskirts of the Grand Canyon and just north of the Petrified Forest is the colorful mingling of badlands, buttes, and plateaus that seemingly extend forever – the Painted Desert. It is aptly named after the richly colored land of lavender, pink, white, gray, yellow, orange, and red and stunningly set against the blue sky backdrop. Travel a bit further from the peripheral to bask in the solitude and remarkable beauty. The vibrant color and otherworldly features must be seen and if you stay up late it is one of the finest places to stargaze in the country.
South Dakota: Wind Cave
Underneath South Dakota is one of the world’s longest caves with more than 130 miles of passageways home to many unusual and stunning mineral formations. And as you may have guessed by its name… it is windy down there. Don’t take forget to take in the scenery on your way to the caves – the above ground ecosystem is just as remarkable. The park is host to a myriad of species, miles of grassland surrounded by dense forest. I recommend going late spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and plentiful and the summer vacation season hasn’t yet begun.
Washington: North Cascades Backcountry
Just three hours from Seattle is an intricate mix of rugged glacier topped peaks, countless streaming waterfalls, deep and densely forested valleys, and richly populated meadows. The two sides of the mountain couldn’t be different – dry on the east, damp on the west – making the Cascades a uniquely complex and varied ecosystem. Its home to a number of different habitats and hosts more plant species than any other park. Make a trip late summer, the snow on the higher trails is still quite ample at the start of summer.
Alaska: Gates of the Arctic
Most people fly in… the only other option is to walk. And that isn’t really recommended. You can, but it is a tough route to the interior. Bush pilots say the real Alaska begins where the road ends. The land is harsh, the wilderness is vast, and the weather is unpredictable. Definitely go in the summer, you don’t want to be stuck up there in the winter – it is entirely north of the Arctic Circle after all. Even in the summer, with its never-ending days and relatively mild temperature, rain and snow are not uncommon. They see few people up there (it’s for the truly adventurous), but visitor numbers have been increasing.