That mental list you keep of all the fun things you want to experience before it’s too late? We wrote it down. Then we came up with a plan for making it all happen—in the next 365 days.
Outside | November 2015
By Kate Siber
Click here to read a PDF of This Is How You Do It—recommended.
This is a packed list, and yes, we know you probably have a day job. But check even a couple of these off and you’ll find the year very well spent. The goal: Get out of your comfort zone, see another corner of the world, and do at least one crazy thing like swimming naked in an Idaho hot spring or chasing the world’s biggest fish. With Outside‘s know-how on your side, you’ll find it’s not so hard.
Play John Muir
Blue River, Oregon; June–September; $400
Muir famously spent hours atop a tree during a winter windstorm in the Sierra Nevada, calling it one of his most exhilarating experiences in the wild. You can have an adventure that’s just as powerful, but much more enjoyable, by spending a night in one. Guides from the Blue River–based Pacific Tree Climbing Institute will instruct you on how to ascend a rope into the upper branches of an old-growth Douglas fir in the Western Cascades. Your bed is a canvas hammock strung between branches, where you’ll drift off to the hooting of owls.
Drive as Fast as You Can
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah; September; $210
Just once, stomp on the gas pedal and hold it there. The World of Speed event, held every September on the Bonneville Salt Flats, a 46-square-mile expanse of featureless salt crust on the western edge of Utah’s Great Salt Lake Basin, invites regular people in regular vehicles to let ’em rip alongside tricked-out racing cars. You get one mile to go as fast as you possibly can. “There’s no reference point, and above 100 miles per hour, speedometers aren’t very accurate,” says Dennis Sullivan, president of Utah Salt Flats Racing Association. “But you can feel how fast you’re going.” Chicken out on your first go? No worries—you get five more tries.
Float Your Boat
Maine, Utah, or Oregon; June–September; $125 per day
The number-one reason to put the energy into a DIY river trip instead of opting for an outfitter? “You get to control who you go with,” says Mark Singleton, executive director of American Whitewater. A great river to start with is the Allagash, in northern Maine. The section between Chamberlain Lake and Allagash Village winds 60 miles, with Class II rapids, tree-crammed banks, and an abundance of moose. Nicatou Outfitters will rent you a canoe and supply meals for five days for $625. Two more challenging DIY options we like: the Grand Ronde, a Class II–III river in Washington and Oregon that slides through basalt cliffs and evergreen forest (raft rentals, $125 per day), and the Class III Desolation Gray section of Utah’s Green River, for classic high-desert canyons (raft rentals plus shuttle service, from $65).
Land a Lunker
Central Oregon; August–November; $550 per day
Steelhead are like trout on amphetamines. These famously clever, hard-fighting fish are extraordinarily difficult—and a hell of a lot of fun—to catch. The Columbia River watershed is a mecca for steelhead fishermen when the fish make their way up rivers to spawn in the winter months. The best way to boost your odds is to hire a local guide. “We have fish that are so aggressive, they’ll chase a fly for 60 or 80 feet,” says Jeff Perin, owner of Fly Fisher’s Place, an outfitter that runs float trips on the Lower Deschutes River. Once you hook a fish, it’ll take everything you’ve got to land it. An eight-pound steelhead could easily feel like a 15-pounder as it twists out of the water.
Throw an Off-the-Grid Rager
New Belgium Brewery, in Fort Collins, Colorado, knows a thing or two about producing outrageous outdoor parties. We asked Jesse Claeys, one of the company’s event planners, to share his party-planning tips:
Location is Everything: The ideal spot is bike friendly with a gorgeous view.
Get Ahead of the Weather: We look at average rainfall as well as sunset and sunrise times for certain dates, then plug those into a spreadsheet to find ideal party times.
Accessorize: Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore is amazing for cheap furniture and decorations.
Don’t Overdo the Playlist: You just want classic songs that create good background ambience—Budos Band, Sam Cooke, Jimmy Cliff.
Add a Surprise: We do something called “portaoke”—a karaoke booth among the Porta-Johns. Those kind of strange, unexpected, and interactive moments are what people talk about when it’s all over.
Sled Like an Olympian
Lake Placid, New York; November–April; $85 per run
Lolo Jones, the Olympic hurdler turned bobsledder, has described careening down the icy track as similar to being kicked off Mount Everest in a trash can. That’s only a slightly hyperbolic way to describe what it’s like to rocket through 12 banked turns going 55 miles per hour at up to four G’s. The Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, where American sled teams captured two gold medals, a silver, and a bronze in 1932, is our favorite venue to get a taste of the action, with veteran athletes up front steering while you hold on really, really tight. “A lot of people scream,” says Joey Allen, one of the track’s regular drivers.
Trip Out on the Northern Lights
A cycle of more intense solar activity has caused the aurora borealis to be at its peak for the past few years, and this winter offers another ideal chance to catch it. Still, you’ll need a lot of darkness in a far-north locale—plus a little bit of luck—to witness the spectacle. One of the best spots is Iceland, where Icelandair is offering northern-lights viewing packages that include nonstop flights from nine North American cities, four nights’ lodging, a visit to the mineral-rich Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal baths, and a nighttime boat tour, so you can check out the lights from the North Atlantic.
Go It Alone
“A solo camping trip is wonderfully peaceful, and it’s one of those opportunities we so rarely have to confront our thoughts and anxieties. If it’s your first time, pick somewhere that isn’t super far off the beaten track. You want trails that are easy to follow, and better signed, so it’s harder to get into trouble. Before you set off, seek out people who have some experience, ask them questions, talk through your plans, and make sure you’re leaving a detailed itinerary with somebody, so they know if you’re overdue. There’s a big temptation to do high miles, to bring guidebooks, to identify wild-flowers and get into other fun and distracting projects, but personal reflection comes when you’re just sitting with nothing to do.”—Jack Haskel, information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association
Face Your Greatest Fear
It doesn’t get scarier than a slackline over a 400-foot-deep chasm. During Thanksgiving week, a group of Utah highliners and BASE jumpers host an event known as Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah, in Mineral Bottom Canyon, near Moab. Warm up on a line close to the ground, then don a harness and inch your way across the canyon.
The trick is putting yourself at the controls. Kitty Hawk Kites, a school in Nags Head, North Carolina, offers demo flights in hang gliders over the dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where newbies soar 15 feet off the ground. $99
South Dakota’s Jewel Cave National Monument, the third-longest cave in the world, is a trove of geological formations. On a ranger-led spelunking tour, crawl through passages scarcely wider than a basketball.
The great white sharks that gather in the Farallon Islands, off San Francisco, are up to 20 feet long, thanks to a diet of 5,000-pound elephant seals. See them in their element on a day-long cage-diving trip. $775
Enter the Ultimate Race
These are the most talked-about events in their respective sports for a reason.
Grand Traverse; Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado; March 25–26; $400 per team
Teams of two set off at midnight on a 40-plus-mile backcountry route that climbs over 7,800 vertical feet and ends with a 3,200-vertical- foot groomer.
Death Ride; Sierra Nevada, California; July 9; $135
Roughly two-thirds of the 3,500 riders who set out to do the Death Ride every July finish the 129-mile route, which climbs 15,000 feet over five passes. $135
Trans Tahoe Relay; Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California; July 16; $600 per team
Some 1,400 racers compete in teams of six in this ten-mile crossing of 60-degree-plus Lake Tahoe (no wetsuits allowed), which has become one of the world’s largest open-water swims. $600 per team
New York City Triathlon; NYC; July 24; $310
Swim in the Hudson, bike up and down the West Side Highway, and run through Central Park in the most urbanized tri in the country. $310
Cranmore Hill Climb; North Conway, New Hampshire; July 10; $25
Compete with elites at a race that often serves as the U.S. Mountain Running Championships but is open to athletes of all abilities. The course changes every year, but you can expect more than 2,000 vertical feet over about eight miles. $25
Leadville 100; Leadville, Colorado; August 13; $345
This infamous endurance event follows 100 miles of mixed trails and tops out at 12,400 feet. Too much? Consider the new three-day stage race, which follows the same course at a saner pace. $345
World’s Toughest Mudder; ;Las Vegas; November; $554
In the rolling desert outside Sin City, Mudders have 24 hours to make their way through as many laps of the five-mile course as possible, stumbling up wall climbs, off cliff jumps, and through fire lines in pursuit of $160,000 in prizes.
Ski with the Birds
Silverton, Colorado; December–April; $179 per flight
The epicenter of heli-skiing is British Columbia, where a weeklong trip easily costs $7,000. But you can get a single glory run at Silverton, in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, for less than the price of a couple of lift tickets at Vail. A chopper offers rides to the top of the area’s 3,000-foot lines, where a guide leads four skiers down. When you’re done, lap Silverton Mountain’s double chair ($139 guided), which accesses secluded hike-to chutes, bowls, and glades that hold powder for weeks after a storm.
Own the Grand Canyon
Arizona; April–May, September–October; $74 for a four-night permit
In the spring and fall, when the hiking highways on the South Rim are mobbed with tourists, the trails on the relatively undeveloped North Rim are blissfully empty. Temperatures in the shoulder seasons hover in the mid seventies, making your lonely descent to the Colorado River even more pleasant. Apply for a backcountry camping permit up to four months in advance for the 11-mile (each way) Nankoweap Trail. It traverses a ledge along a thousand-foot cliff, down steep rock bands, into a canyon, and finally to an ancient granary in an amphitheater on the riverbank.
Live on the Edge
Telluride, Colorado; June–September; From $150 for a guided trip
Via ferratas—climbing routes with metal rungs and cables, first developed by Allied forces in World War I—enable nonclimbers to safely access steep, exposed peaks. Arguably the best one in the U.S. is the via ferrata in Telluride. Hire a guide from Mountain Trip to show you the way. Or bring your own harness and quickdraws, drive up the Black Bear Pass road from town one switchback past Bridalveil Falls, and locate the well-worn path on the west side of Ajax Peak. The mile-and-a-quarter route leads across airy expanses of rock that in some spots plunge over 400-foot cliffs. Below, a verdant valley dotted with tiny Victorians unfolds, flanked by waterfalls and some of the most rugged peaks you’ll find anywhere in the lower 48.
Take Over an Island
Three gems you can have all to yourself.
Spruce Island, Maine
The ultimate New England escape: an 80-acre island, 20 minutes by motorboat from the bustling lobster harbor of Stonington, featuring two stone homes that sleep 18 people and include kayaks, horseshoe pits, beach campfires, and, of course, lobster pots. From $416
Eagle Island, Georgia
Tucked into a marshy coastline, this ten-acre homestead feels remote, but you’ll hardly be roughing it. The three-bedroom main lodge has a king-size loft, an outdoor shower and fireplace, and a hot tub. Fill your days touring the marsh by kayak and catching blue crabs off the dock. $600 per night
Deepwater Island, Ontario
A three-bedroom luxury home with a huge deck, a gas grill, a kayak, and two canoes, located on a three-quarter-acre speck of granite in the ultra-clear Georgian Bay, surrounded by the Massassauga Provincial Park. In a word: perfection. $2,500 per week
Catch a Buzz in the Back of Beyond
It tastes better when you earn it.
Phantom Ranch Canteen: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Take a 7.8-mile, knee-busting hike down 2,546 vertical feet on the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, a collection of 1920s stone and wood cabins. The Canteen sells snacks, first-aid supplies, and, most important, ice-cold Tecate. Warning: last call is at 3:30 P.M.
Ebenezer’s Pub and Restaurant: Lovell, Maine
Lovell isn’t on the way to anything except a few White Mountain trailheads, but beer connoisseurs make the pilgrimage to this northern outpost, about 90 minutes by car from Portland, to sample the selection of 35 drafts and 90 bottles, including rare Belgian brews.
Golden Saloon: McCarthy, Alaska
After a week in the bear-thick wilds of Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve, this watering hole in end-of-the-road McCarthy serving hard-living locals and hard-charging backpackers can seem downright civilized.
Roll Through the Backcountry
Colorado and Utah; June–October; From $670
Supported hut-to-hut mountain biking gets you into serious wilderness on sensational trails—without the burden of packing all your supplies. The best route in the U.S. is the 215 miles between Durango, Colorado, and Moab, Utah. By day, travel light with only your clothes, snacks, water, and repair kit, choosing between intermediate fire roads and expert singletrack. There are plenty of challenges, from stream crossings to 12,000-foot passes to steep slickrock. Evening brings you to a hut stocked with water, beer, food, sleeping gear, and unobstructed views of snow-covered peaks. “There’s a lot of long-distance riding in the U.S., but this is the only time I felt this level of remoteness,” says Sandra Musgrave, a former pro racer from Austin, Texas. The final leg features one of the most celebrated stretches of trail riding in the country—the Whole Enchilada, a forearm-pumping, 7,000-foot technical descent from the top of the La Sal Mountains, down over requisite slickrock, to the Colorado River.
Shut the Hell Up
Barre, Massachusetts; Year-Round; From $210
Meditation has become so hip recently that the incessant hype has drowned out the simple fact that learning to sit in calm silence is a transformative skill. Skip the apps and get trained with a crew that’s been at it for 40 years. The Insight Meditation Society runs one of the oldest and best centers in the country on a wooded property in central Massachusetts. Retreats range from two nights to three months,with fees on a sliding scale.
Get Intimate with a Grizzly
Admiralty Island, Alaska; July–August; $475 for flight, $35 for cabin
Any number of Alaskan outfitters offer day trips to sandbars to watch bears fishing. But you’ll have a more memorable experience if you get two friends to go in on a floatplane charter with Ward Air from Juneau to Admiralty Island, which harbors one of the state’s greatest concentrations of brown bears. The six-bunk Admiralty Cove Cabin, one of many simple shelters in the region operated by the U.S. Forest Service, is near a creek overlooking a huge tidal meadow. Bears pack the estuary to gorge on salmon, so they’re easy to spot—and decidedly carefree about your presence. $475 for flight, $35 for cabin
Take an Unplanned Road Trip
“You need to give it enough time—at least a week. Use your phone only as a camera and music source. I always have a print atlas and the Gazetteers for whichever states I’ll be in. And when you pack your clothes, cut the pile in half—extra stuff complicates things. Ignore websites and just get on the road and talk to people. You’re going to meet a guy in a convenience store who tells you to go to the coolest place, and that’ll change your trip. Say yes to absolutely everything. This is about wandering. It’s about sitting in the front seat and talking with your best friend—or just staring out the window and doing some thinking. It’s about getting a sense of the scale of the country and creating the mental space that you don’t have at any other time in your life.”–Brendan Leonard, author of The New American Road Trip Mixtape
Go All In
Sometimes blowing your savings or vacation days (or both) is worth it.
Lock Eyes with a Mountain Gorilla
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is easy to access and home to more groups of habituated mountain gorillas than anywhere else on earth. Africa Adventure Consultants leads four-day trips out of Kigali. $1,880
Circle New Zealand’s South Island
A sparse population, alpine peaks, world-class whitewater, paddle-perfect fjords, stunning cycling, and a “freedom camping” ethos that allows you to park your luxury RV rental almost anywhere makes the South Island the premier road-trip destination on the planet. $1,500 for a two-week camper-van rental
Cross the Ocean
The right way to do it: as part of a sailing crew. Online hubs list openings for sailors on boats making crossings. Many captains don’t require extensive experience, and they’re happy to offer passage if you’re willing to work hard for it. Free; oceancrewlink.com and floatplan.com
This French mountain town has long been the proving ground for the world’s best skiers and mountaineers. Get the most out of it by hiring a guide from the exclusive Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. From $394 for up to six people
Get Lost in the Amazon
It takes a flight from Cusco, Peru, over the Andes to Puerto Maldonado, followed by eight to ten hours in a motorized canoe, to get to the Tambopata Research Station, a spartan 18-bedroom lodge that houses both travelers and scientists. The payoff: outside your door is a vast, uninhabited stretch of forest teeming with macaws, capybaras, caimans, and monkeys. From $788 for four days
Brave the turbulent Southern Ocean on a ship bound for the planet’s most remote continent to see spectacular mountain ranges, bizarre ice formations, thousands of seals and penguins, and a landscape legendary for its mesmerizing white enormity. From $7,050 for a ten-day voyage
Soak in Solitude
Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho; July–September; Free
A general rule about hot springs: the harder it is to get to them, the fewer sketchy naked dudes you’ll encounter in the water once you get there. Idaho has an abundance of both geothermal activity and remote wilderness, resulting in unsullied spotslike Shower Bath Hot Springs in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. To find them, you’ll first need to negotiate the four-wheel-drive-only Sleeping Deer Road, northwest of Challis, then hike 4.5 miles on the steep, occasionally washed-out Mahoney Trail, past the 1910 ranger station, and up a canyon that narrows to the width of a hallway. Stumble through the fast-moving, thigh-high waters of Warm Springs Creek until you arrive at the hallowed place where it rockets out of the hillside and over the canyon lip, creating hot, deep, clear pools of varying temperatures. Chances are, the only sketchy naked dude around will be you.
Swim with a Monster
Baja, Mexico; August–October; $200 boat charter
There’s a reason that swimming with whale sharks is on every scuba nerd’s bucket list: it’s the easiest, safest way to get up close and personal with a creature the size of a school bus. Divers seek out the docile leviathans in tropical waters worldwide, but one of the best spots to see them is Bahia de Los Angeles, just 300 miles south of San Diego down the Baja peninsula. (Schedule two days for the drive—this is Mexico.) Stay at one of the handful of basic inns or managed campgrounds in town. In the morning, when the water is glassy, hire a local fisherman to bring you and up to seven friends out in a skiff, spot the sharks, and tell you when to jump in.
Climb a Random Mountain
“This is not a trophy summit that you can brag about at a cocktail party. You’re not getting a feather in your cap. This is the essence of climbing—you’re doing it because you love the process. It starts with a search for a beautiful mountain that’s going to call out to you. You don’t always find these things on the Internet. Sometimes it’s a little mention in a climbing publication that catches your interest. You go, Oh wow, look at this place that no one goes to. Once I pick a mountain, I do initial research on Google Earth, then figure out how much time I’ll need and make a detailed trip plan. Don’t let anyone tell you the golden age of exploration is over. There’s still a huge supply of peaks that are rarely climbed or have never been climbed.”—Mark Synnott, professional climber and owner of Synnott Mountain Guides