Tofino, B.C.: Pacific Rim Whale Festival pacificrimwhalefestival.com
Raft the Salt River
Sierra Ancha Mountains, AZ
Dropping at about 26 feet per mile through quartzite and sandstone canyons, the Upper Salt–a 53-mile stretch in south-central Arizona–is only navigable for two months a year, when rapids range from II to IV. Bonus: The riverbank camping is killer. Get the 411 on permits from the Tonto National Forest, fs.fed.us/r3/tonto or book a 1- to 5-day trip with Wilderness Aware (inaraft.com).
The northern lights shine here 240 days a year, but March is when they’re brightest–thanks to the position of the Earth’s orbit in relation to solar activity (try “maximum heliographic latitude” for a pickup line). Stay warm in Chena Hot Springs (907-451-8104), 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, and crash their Moose Lodge–which offers aurora wake-up calls.
Right now, you’ll wish you were a bee. Here are a few places to catch the fireworks.
Antelope Valley, CA
Trip through golden, Wizard of Oz-style fields at this poppy preserve, an 1,800-acre park with 7-plus miles of trails. Go poppy-spotting on sunny mornings; flowers close up in late afternoon and under windy, cloudy skies. Bloom report: (661) 724-1180. parks.ca.gov
Ouachita National Forest, AR
Dogwoods in the southeast blossom thick as sorghum syrup–and, on the Vista Trail, they hang like luminous white lights. From the Mountain Harbor Road trailhead, head west past Lake Ouachita for an 11-mile ramble. fs.fed.us/r8/ouachita
Lilies, Lupines, Larkspur:
Death Valley NP, CA
After a wet winter, this is wildflower ground zero, with patches of flowers spread across 1,500 square miles. You can hike for hours and never outpace the spectacle, especially in south-end Greenwater Valley, where rain clouds tend to settle (there are no established trails here, so go cross-country–or hike on the little-used Gold Valley 4WD road). For a quick dose, take the 1.5-mile Natural Bridge Trail: From Furnace Creek Ranch, hike up the gravelly wash through scads of desert sunflowers. nps.gov/deva
Photograph a Moonbow
Yosemite National Park, CA
Cousin to the rainbow, the moonbow is a rare phenomenon: It needs bright moonlight, fine waterfall spray, dark skies, and–according to Texas State University researchers, who recently developed a computer program to predict them–”correct rainbow geometry” in order to form. Last year, that happened some dozen times from April to June at Lower Yosemite Falls. This year, check predictions at uweb.txstate.edu/~do01.
Land a Lunker
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN
Three reasons to put in here, now.
1) When the ice melts off northwoods lakes, fish are hungry–making it a great time to cast a fly.
2) It’s especially prime time for lake trout, since uniform water temps draw trout to the shorelines; later in the season they swim the depths, making them tough to catch.
3) There’s a comfort bonus: no bugs (yet). Put in at Poplar Lake and paddle through Rush, Banadad, and a few smaller lakes to Long Island Lake for a week’s worth of action. bwcaw.org
Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch
Yellowstone River, MT
There are famous hatches, there are famous May hatches, and then there’s the mother of all hatches: Millions of flies rise from the water and drive German and rainbow trout absolutely buggy. Check yellowstoneangler.com for updates–and what to tie.
Chow on Fresh Morels
Mackinaw State Forest, MI
When the Morel Mushroom Festival hits Boyne City (morelfest.com), so do hundreds of the country’s best fungus finders. Beat them to prime shrooming: the 5-mile leg of the North Country Trail from Springvale Rd. south to C48.