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April 2003

The Wild List: A Guide To The Best Outdoor Spots

A definitive guide to the hottest, sweetest, looniest, and most colorful spots in the great outdoors.

Most Idyllic Waterfall

Havasu Falls, AZ

They say there’s no going back to Eden, but we beg to differ. Just park at Hualapai Hilltop in the western Grand Canyon, hike 10 miles through gaudy red-rock terrain, pitch a tent in the spray zone of Havasu Falls, and strip down to your fig leaf for a dip in the perfectly turquoise water. Between sessions lounging in the surreal bath and snapping 12,000 photos of the star cascade, there are more falls to explore (with a hair-raising downclimb to Mooney), a 4-mile trek to the Colorado River, and a trip to the village of Supai, where members of the Havasupai tribe have been living for about 700 years. In this paradise, avoid the temptation of a summertime visit (great for swimming, bad for hiking, worse for crowds). Go in spring or fall, and dress better than Adam and Eve.

Looniest Place in America

Boundary Waters, MN

The Boundary Waters are the Ur of loondom, summer home to more than 12,000 diving divas. For proof, rent a canoe from an outfitter in the northern Minnesota town of Ely. Schlepp through five portages to Knife Lake. Paddle well past Dorothy’s Island, pitch your tent, and, as evening falls, attend the aria of the Northwoods. Sit through the whole repertoire–the wail, the tremolo, the soft and intimate hoot. Skip dinner: This is the original soul food.

Best Place to See a UFO

White Sands National Monument, NM

Maybe it’s the moonscape of shifting white dunes that glow in the starlight. Or the proximity to the alleged 1947 Roswell Incident UFO crash site. Or all the secret “missile testing” exercises going on at Holloman Air Force Base right next door. Whatever it is, when camped in this remote stretch of New Mexico desert, you’ll get a distinct, otherworldly feeling that you could be visited at any moment by cosmic travelers. And we’re not talking about tourists from California.

Highest Campsite

Mauna Loa, HI

Beaches, snorkeling, tropical drinks. All good, but don’t leave the Aloha State without climbing to the lip of Mauna Loa’s vast, still steaming, sometimes snowy crater. Lay your bag amid the Seusslike lava surrounding the 13,250-foot summit cabin; it’s a catbird seat for the next eruption, the rare chance to fall asleep atop a living, breathing volcano.

Lowest Campsite

Death Valley, CA

Furnace Creek may well be a vision of Hell–mind-blowing heat, sunburned beer bellies, and a sea of clattering Winnebagos–but it’s your only opportunity to camp so far below sea level (196 feet, to be precise). And look on the bright side: If your tarp melts, you can always chill out at the local ice cream parlor.

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