Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Yosemite, Michael Melford
Gauley River, Pat & Chuck Blakely
Ski French Canada
Parc de la Gaspésie, Quebec
Humpbacked northern-Appalachian peaks with steep glade skiing. A dozen rustic huts from 4 to 10 miles apart (that cost just $24CDN per bed per night). North America’s southernmost caribou herd. Some 250 inches of snow each winter—powder that dumps more, and earlier, than it does in the eastern U.S. The best part? You can arrange to have someone from the park service, Sepaq, haul in extra supplies (more Maker’s, anyone?). Watch 2008’s first sunrise from the most easterly shelter in the park, La Grive (it sleeps 8), then hut-hop your way back home. sepaq.com
Ouray Ice Festival
Escape the Cold
Big Bend National Park
The Marufo Vega is a classic, creosote-covered 14-mile route—but temps are often cruel (think 110°F). Around MLK Day, they average a comfy 61°F. From the trailhead near Boquillas Canyon Overlook, hike past the Dead Horse Mountains; camp on the Rio Grande. Next day, loop back along the river. nps.gov/bibe
Get Avy Savvy
If you ski out of bounds, you better know snow safety, and that means going to class. Pronto. Silverton Avalanche School is the oldest in the country—and it only offers two introductory, Level I courses each winter. silvertonavalancheschool.com
Snowshoe with Giants
Yosemite National Park, CA
The Loop Road through Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of massive sequoias is choked with traffic in spring, summer, and fall. Come February, the crowds are gone–and the snow has piled up. Best of all, the concrete is transformed into an 8-mile ski or snowshoe circuit past the California Tunnel Tree and Wawona Point–where red bark blazes against a white landscape. Make it a weekend: The Victorian-style Wawona Hotel, built in 1879, is just 10 minutes from the trailhead ($119-$123). nps.gov/yose
J-Trees in Flower
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
When there’s a cold winter, these gangly yuccas sprout 10-inch towers of creamy white flowers right around now. Perfect long weekend: The California Riding and Hiking Trail cuts through Covington Flat, the park’s best corner for the display; from Black Rock Canyon, hike east to the trail’s terminus through 35 miles of petals. nps.gov/jotr
Total Lunar Eclipse
Bahia Honda State Park, FL
Miss this year’s eclipse, and you’ll have to wait till 2010 to see another. This time, eastern states–especially Florida, with crystal-clear winter skies–have the best view. Nab a beachfront campsite at Sandspur Campground on the Gulf of Mexico and settle in for an unobstructed view of the show. floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda
American Birkebeiner ski race
Leap year hits on a Friday, you get an extra three-day weekend. Spend it outside.
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.
Run the Dipsea trail race
Mill Valley, CA
When snow melts, wilderness cascades roar. These classic falls peak in June.
Vernal and Nevada Falls, Yosemite, CA
Follow the Mist Trail to thundering Vernal, which humidifies hikers on the 1.5-mile approach. Continue 2 miles to Nevada. nps.gov/yose
Mina Sauk Falls, MO
Missouri’s tallest waterfall tumbles 132 feet over a series of rocky ledges. mostateparks.com/taumsauk.htm
Multnomah Falls, OR
Of all the cascades of the Columbia Gorge, 620-foot Multnomah is the tallest; a 1.2-mile trail climbs up to blown-open gorge views. fs.fed.us/r6/columbia
Rocky Mountain Blooms
Crested Butte, CO
CB’s annual flower fest (crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com) celebrates the best of Colorado’s most glorious posies, and it’s the perfect time to head to the Maroon Bells/Snowmass trailhead on Schofield Pass Road and hike 4 miles (one way) on the West Maroon Pass Trail, which follows the East Fork of the Crystal River upstream to an alpine basin painted with kaleidoscopic blooms.
Grand Targhee, WY
Spy Shooting Stars
August’s two-week-long Perseid meteor shower is the best such show in North America, peaking at some 60 streaking stars per hour. Camp in Utah’s Natural Bridges–the world’s first International Dark-Sky Park–for the best and brightest. nps.gov/nabr
All You Can Eat Blueberries
Bald Mountain, ME
The rocky hills surrounding the central Maine town of Weld are carpeted with blueberries this time of year. Scarf down the state’s most celebrated bounty. (207) 585-2347
Lyons Folk Festival
Hummingbirds Take Wing
Coronado National Forest, AZ
Hike Madera Canyon in southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains to witness the peak of the southbound hummingbird migration, when 16 of the country’s 22 hummingbird species buzz through. The Super Trail wanders through the highest concentration of birds; hike upcanyon for 4 miles to Sprung Spring for the buzz. fs.fed.us/r3/coronado
Gauley River, WV
After Labor Day weekend, the Gauley delivers some of the nation’s premier whitewater–but only for six weekends. That’s when Summersville Dam releases 2,800 cubic feet per second into the Gauley River Gorge. The first rapid–a V+ called Initiation–serves as your rite of passage, and the next 15 miles churn up plenty more Class IV and V. Be there the first Saturday. nps.gov/gari
Rainier Mountain Festival
Haleakala National Park, HI
Daytime temps around 65°F. Precip less than 2 inches a month. An enormous eroding crater with vivid spatter cones and trippy lava tubes. To experience Maui’s most exotic natural features, take the Sliding Sands Trail down to cabins and campsites at Paliku, then head back toward Holua on the Halemauu Trail. nps.gov/hale
Fall Foliage Float
St. Croix River, ME
You can canoe this easy Northwoods waterway–the eastern border between Maine and Canada–from May to October, but high time is when the trees turn red and gold. Go it alone (check mainerivers.org for info) or book with allagashguide.com.
On a Larch
Banff National Park, Alberta
For most of the year, larch trees (one of only two deciduous conifers in North America) look like any other evergreen. But in fall, their needles turn golden yellow, like aspens–then drop to the ground. For the ultimate photo op, hike 2.6 miles from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley. pc.gc.ca/banff
Hike the Narrows
Zion National Park, UT
Slot canyons like the 16-mile Zion Narrows are way cool–but flash floods are not. Hit this sandstone passage now, when clear skies signal that flood danger is past, and the Virgin River still holds a bit of summer’s warmth. nps.gov/zion
Elk, In a Rut
Rocky Mountain National Park
For elk, autumn is the season of love–when males show off by bugling and butting heads. Watch the reality show from the Cub Lake Trail, a 4.6-mile out-and-back past open meadows and changing leaves. nps.gov/romo
St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, FL
Waves of monarch butterflies migrating south to Mexico take a rest stop here before circling past the Gulf of Mexico, and the half-mile Levee Trail boasts the refuge’s thickest concentration: Butterflies are drawn to the cedar trees lining the trail, where they roost overnight. Come mid-morning, they sip from saltbush along the coast side of the trail. fws.gov/saintmarks
Black Diamond Gear Swap
Salt Lake City, UT
Turning Leaves Loop
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI
The Porkies, at 60,000 acres, contain one of the biggest virgin hardwood forests east of the Rockies, and 100-plus species of trees (maple, oak, sycamore–and more). Loop 20 miles around Big and Little Carp River Trails–which have lots of tent sites and even backcountry yurts–and, while you’re at it, wet a line for native brookies. michigan.gov/dnr
Raft the Big Ditch
Grand Canyon National Park
The Colorado River sees the most traffic from June through August–but with 110°F temps, it isn’t actually the ideal time to put in. October is your plum month: Not only do daytime highs hover in the 80’s, but September 15 is the last launch date for motorized boats. Goodbye ripping engines, hello sweet silence. oars.com/grandcanyon
Hike Through Clear Skies
Great Smoky Mountains, NC
Hot, humid air stagnates over GSMNP in summer, fogging the mountains’ primo views. For the best shot at clear air, hike here now. According to Jim Renfro, the park’s Air Quality Specialist, October’s cool breezes blow both clouds and pollutants off the high peaks–and promise the year’s best panoramas. From 6,642-foot Clingman’s Dome, strike out on a 25-mile loop with the park’s best vistas: Hike clockwise on the Forney Ridge Trail to Goshen Prong, and bed down at Camp Rock. Day 2: Head to Three Forks. Day 3: Follow Rough Creek and Sugarland Mountain for views all the way to Tennessee. nps.gov/grsm
Banff Film Festival
Watch Bighorns Butt Heads
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA
This is the largest state park in California, and while it’s mostly desert, there are 8,000-foot mountains, too. And here, mountains actually mean bighorns (borego is the Spanish name for bighorn). And with bighorns, this time of year means fighting over females. In summer, Coyote Creek is too damn hot–but in winter, you can follow it to find sheep. parks.ca.gov
Tramp in New Zealand
Mt. Aspiring National Park
Parts of this area get 200 inches of rain a year, but starting early in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, the precip tapers off. Unfortunately, crowds increase: The most famous trail on the South Island, the 24-mile-long Routeburn Track–stunning scenery, blankets of buttercups–sees 10,000 trekkers a year. A better bet: the weeklong Five Pass loop, from the head of Lake Wakatipu through grassy river valleys and up over snowy saddles. Along the way, you’ll bump into maybe two Kiwis (and their bottle of whisky). Even better: The park is full of rustic huts. Best: You can get an all-you-can-stay hut pass for about 70 bucks (doc.govt.nz).
Ring in 2009
Cape Mendocino, CA
This is the westernmost spot–and last sun-kissed coastline–in the continental U.S. The best camping is at 14-site Mattole Beach, 11 miles south. Settle in as the sun dips below the Pacific and closes the book on 2008 ($8; 707-825-2300).
Life List: Baja
Sea kayak the coast of Baja
Step 1: January
Las Lecciones Españolas
It’s already a week into 2008. You’re leaving for Baja in 119 days (and, if you’re doing Torres, 340). And you can’t live off Taco Bell spanglish. At least not where you’re going. ¿Entienda? Sign up for a local language course–or go DIY with a comprehensive audio class from pimsleur.com (from $25).
Step 2: February
Build Paddling Strength
Start with 10 pushups a day, and build up to 50. Ask if your gym has a kayak erg–it’s like a rowing machine, but specific to paddling. (A rowing machine still works, as does an arm bike.) If you don’t train, says NOLS guru Heather Scurman, “you’re going to spend the first couple of days physically challenged.”
Step 3: April
Go to Sea-Kayak Boot Camp
Rescues and strokes. Reading wind and waves. Predicting tides. Open-water navigation. With Kayak Academy, you’ll learn your basics–all in the midst of Washington’s classic San Juan Islands (kayakacademy.com). Check paddling.net/schools for classes closer to home.
The scenery, both above and below water, is outrageous. A wild coastline with sheer cliffs, deserted islands, protected coves, sea caves, and white-sand beaches makes the Sea of Cortez off of southern Baja one of the world’s premier sea-kayaking destinations. Pack snorkel, mask–and plenty of limes to make ceviche with super-fresh shrimp (local fishermen might be about the only other folks you’ll see).
Challenging “norte” winds die down by late spring, making for mellower paddling–especially across open water. Still, be prepared for 80- to 90-degree temps, sometimes as high as triple digits. Get the day’s paddling done early.
Put in near the town of Agua Verde (warning: the road is burly), then paddle south. First night: Camp at Punta Puerte Prieta, a tucked-away, nook. Second night: Crash on the beach near Los Burros, a tiny fishing village (read: a couple shacks and a panga). Get up early and paddle 3 miles out to Isla San Jose, then spend three days exploring inlets (be sure to snorkel on the greener, angel-fishier east side). Make your way 25 miles back to Agua Verde over the next few days. Camp wherever you find secluded beaches, and bring all your own drinking water.
Fly into Loreto, about 35 miles north of the put-in, or La Paz (60 miles away)–where you can rent boats and gear and get permits for Isla San Jose at Mar y Aventuras (kayakbaja.com). They also do guided trips.
Life List: Yukon
Traverse the Yukon Territory’s Tombstone Range
Step 1: Practice Winter Mountaineering
Up in the Yukon, passes often stay icy until the end of July, which means you’ll need to bring an ice axe and crampons–and know how to use them. Brush up on your snow skills with the American Alpine Institute (mtnguide.com). Choose from six 4-day courses ($790) in the Sierra Nevada and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains from January to March.
Step 2: Navigation Know-How
Buy a GPS. Figure out how to use it. Go to backpacker.trimbleoutdoors.com/backpacker/usinggps.aspx for reviews, FAQs, and jargon.
Step 3: Learn Wilderness First Aid
If you need help in the Yukon, you better be able to help yourself. You’ll be off-trail in truly wild country much of the time. Take a three-day, advanced wilderness first-aid class before heading out. nols.edu/wmi, soloschools.com, or wildmed.com
Step 4: Late May – Scale Mt. Shasta
Everyone needs a starter peak, and this 14,162-foot summit is one of the best, thanks to the steep, beginner-friendly route up Avalanche Gulch (allow two days). Climb it after winter storms have subsided–but before the snowpack melts to expose unstable scree. Get weather and avy info at shastaavalanche.org.
You’d have to commit a serious crime to find more solitude. At times, you’ll be sure–in a good way!–that it’s just you and the grizzlies. Tombstone Park is a transition zone between boreal forest and Arctic tundra, where you’ll find a huge variety of plants and animals. Plus, it almost out-Patagonias Patagonia: think granite pinnacles and and hanging valleys, not to mention pingos (dome-shaped hills pushed up by freezing groundwater) and palsas (oval depressions with ice lenses).
Snow is mostly melted by July (though it can dump any time of year). In late June, wildflowers start to peak down low, where you’ll see dozens–if not hundreds–of different flowers. Passes may be icy, so bring an axe and crampons just in case.
The classic trip begins at kilometer 58 on the Dempster Highway. Take the steep, marked trail 7 miles to Grizzly Lake. Side trips from here include Perilous Pass (about 1.5 miles one way). Then hike over Glissade Pass to Divide Lake, crossing tundra–there’s no maintained trail. Continue three more miles over Tombstone Pass to Talus Lake. Camp here; spend the next day hiking to the base of Tombstone Mountain (few climb it; it’s steep, with brittle rock). Backtrack to Divide Lake to camp. Hike out via the North Klondike Valley, an 8.7-mile trip to the Tombstone Campground with a half-dozen creek crossings en route.
Nuts and Bolts
Fly into Whitehorse (330 miles from the park) or Dawson City (68 miles). Free camping permits are required to stay at Grizzly, Divide, and Talus Lakes; reserve them at email@example.com. Bear canisters are a must.
Life List: Torres
Trek Patagonia’s Torres del Paine
Step 1: Patagonia Fund
T-minus-9 months until you fly south. That’s at least 4 grand for two people. Save at least $500 a month, Rockefeller.
Step 2: Renew Your Passport
You don’t need a visa if you’re coming from the U.S., but you need at least 6 months left on your little blue book when you depart.
Step 3: Get Wet (But Not Too Wet)
Quinault River Valley, WA
In winter, parts of Olympic National Park can get 18-plus inches of rain a month. Come July, the precip drops to less than 3 inches–but the rainforests stay lush and the moss still beards the old-growth trees. There’s also enough precip left to prepare you for the healthy drizzles of Torres (2.5 inches in December). Hike the East Fork Quinault River Trail to Enchanted Valley (13 miles each way). nps.gov/olym
Step 4: September
The classic Torres del Paine route gains suprisingly little elevation over its 65 miles, but has one major ass-kicking pass and steep descents. Start climbing stairs with a pack, do squats and lunges, incorporate dumbbell step-ups and step-downs into your routine, and go on dayhikes a few weekends a month.
Simply put, hike here before you die: Chiseled, 8,000-foot pink granite peaks soar over blue glaciers and golden grasslands. The place is lousy with condors, Chilean flamingos, and llama-like guanacos; some animals, like the Magellanic woodpecker, are unique to Patagonia. If you camp–rather than stay in refugios–you’ll actually find solitude. And a 7- to 10-day loop encircles the whole kingdom.
The mildest months here are December through February, when trails are snow-free, temps top out at 64°F, and daylight stretches for 16 hours. Need more motivation? In the (very) big picture, the park’s glaciers are retreating some 56 feet a year. Bump El Circuito to the top of your list.
Start from Laguna Armaga on the loop’s east end and hike counterclockwise, which puts off the ass-kicking scree-scramble over John Gardner Pass till the end. Hike past the park’s iconic rock towers and wind-rippled glacial lakes, through broadleaf Magellanic forest, and over rivers spanned by suspended plank bridges. Skirt the edge of Grey Glacier, a massive arm of jagged blue ice extending off the Patagonia Ice Cap (guided tours: $60).
Nuts and Bolts
Prep and pack all the meals you’ll need: December crowds pillage the freeze-dried meals sold in Puerto Natales; most park shops stock little more than candy bars. For the flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, check the LAN website (lan.com) for a middle-of-the-night option. In P.A., get your canisters of white gas (bencina blanca–you’ve been practicing, right?). Bus it 3 hours north to Puerto Natales, the park’s gateway town. There, grab the Torres del Paine Trekking Map. chileaustral.com