Your 2017 Adventure Bucket List
Resolutions don’t always have to mean dusting off your gym membership or waking up before dawn to run hill repeats. Ringing in a new year can also be a chance to make plans for another 12 months’ worth of adventures. Get out your calendar and start planning your 2017 adventure bucket list with some of these experiences.
1. Find the Highest Peak Around and Go to the Top
High points in the United States range from 345 feet (Florida) to 20,247 feet (Alaska) and everything in between. Many states’ tallest points are easily hikeable with no need for technical mountaineering equipment, and in most cases, all you’ll need is a daypack filled with the essentials and good baseline fitness. For a real challenge, try to hit the high points in all 50 states (or all 48 contiguous) in 2017.
Alternatively, it can be just as fun to explore the highest point near you. It’s pretty amazing how different your favorite places look when you’ve got a bird’s eye view.
2. Go on a Solo Camping Trip
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being truly self-sustainable without counting on anyone else, and what better way than to go on a solo camping trip? Your trip can range from completely roughing it in the backcountry to making it a little easier by booking a yurt (like those scattered all over Oregon’s state parks). Some yurts and cabins even have heat and electricity to keep the place cozy during your stay, while others, like many of Colorado’s Tenth Mountain Division Huts, have wood-burning stoves. Either way, spending a couple days alone, immersed in nature, will melt away the stress of everyday life and surely rejuvenate your soul.
3. See the Northern Lights
You don’t have to go all the way to Iceland or Scandinavia to see the famous Aurora Borealis—there are several good spots in North America (even a few in the United States if you get lucky!). You can get great views of the lights in Northern Canada, and Alaska is your best option in the United States. Denali National Park in particular is a great spot for seeing the Northern Lights dance across the sky. If you can’t make it to Alaska, you’ll still have to get close to the Canadian border in states like Idaho, Minnesota, and Maine, but sometimes you can even see the lights as far south as Colorado if conditions are just right.
4. Challenge Your Limits on the Slopes
A bucket list is all about pushing your limits, right? This year, challenge yourself to a more difficult trail on the slopes. If you usually ski the blues all season, pick a black diamond at your favorite resort to work towards. Take a class with an instructor, work on the skills you’ll need, and once you are prepared, go for it. Of course it might be a little scary at first, but if you work hard to build your confidence and skills, you’ll definitely be able to check one that off your list before the season ends.
5. Explore a Slot Canyon
Ready to ramp up your hiking game? Check out a slot canyon. These narrow canyons (hence the name) don’t require technical canyoneering skills, but there is still some serious preparation and planning involved. Think tight spaces, potential for standing water (and, in case of rain, possible flash flooding), and solid navigational skills. If you’re adding this trip to your bucket list, consider heading to Southern Utah, where you’ll find slot canyons galore. No matter where you kick off your slot canyoneering career, plan to hit some less technical routes before navigating, say, standing water or super long, remote canyons.
6. Learn to Boulder (or Rock Climb)
Ever found yourself wishing you could learn to rock climb, then remembering your fear of heights? See what all the fuss around bouldering is all about in 2017. You need very little gear (no ropes, harnesses, or helmets): just a pair of rock shoes, a chalk bag, and a crash pad, plus a willing spotter to help if you fall. Tons of climbing gyms nationwide have bouldering walls, where you’re sure to meet pals who want to spot you, and it’s a great way to transition into outdoor climbing. Best of all, regardless of where you make your home, you’re sure to be within a few hours of some outdoor bouldering.
If you prefer to climb with a rope, many indoor climbing gyms also offer classes on the basics of climbing, belaying, and can even give you tips on your technique and where to go outside for the first time. There are also outfitters that offer day trips to popular climbing areas, so you can have an experienced guide helping you out and keeping you as safe as possible.
7. Cross-Country Ski to a Backcountry Hut
For a winter adventurer, it doesn’t get much better than propelling yourself out to a backcountry hut or cabin on your cross-country skis and just hanging out with your buddies for a weekend (or longer). And you don’t even have to be an expert skier, either, if you find a cabin with an easier route. You will, however, still need some basic survival/camping skills—be prepared to melt snow for water, find your own wood for fires, and bring out/cook your own food. You should also be prepared to assess for avalanche danger.
But once you’re out there, it’s skiing all day and sitting by the fire all night. Most of the time, you won’t be anywhere near cell reception, either. Some of the most popular spots to find backcountry huts are in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho, the Tetons in Wyoming, and British Columbia in Canada. Many require reservations in advance.
8. Get Out on the Water
When we say "get out on the water", do you immediately think of white water rafting in Colorado or through the Grand Canyon? Well, yes, that counts (and would be an epic adventure), but there are other ways to explore the country’s waterways that are just as fun. The 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, for example, has only been completed by 87 paddlers route since its inception in 2006. It’s not hard to see why: this is a beast of a paddling trip. To complete it, you’ll have to maneuver your way through a dozen watersheds, including 22 rivers and 58 lakes, all in an incredibly remote backcountry setting.
If you don’t have the vacation time to take on a trip like the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, rent a paddleboard and go out on a local lake or bay. Get a kayak and explore the creek or calm river that is an hour away. Even if you live in a landlocked state in the Midwest, there is likely to be a lake worth exploring within a few hours’ drive.
9. Sleep Under the Stars
Everyone gets psyched about supermoons and solar eclipses, but what about good old-fashioned stargazing? North America is home to no less than 18 places recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association as phenomenal spots to set up your telescope, and among the best places to see stars is Big Bend National Park. With 800,000 acres in west Texas (including a big chunk of the Chihuahuan Desert), Big Bend is an ideal destination for both amateur and professional astronomers. The list also includes a few hidden gems, like north-central Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park and North Cascades National Park. There’s also Green Bank, West Virginia, a designated National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) and home to the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank telescope. The small town holds an annual Star Party every July for the true stargazing fanatic, including clinics, keynote speakers, and (of course) stargazing.
If you have kids, or just don’t want to leave the comforts of home too far behind, pitch a tent in your backyard and look for the constellations that you might be able see right in your own neighborhood.
10. Try Snowshoeing
If you like hiking in the summer, you’ll love snowshoeing on your favorite trails in the winter. Snowshoeing is a great workout with a short learning curve, and gives you a different perspective on your warm weather stomping grounds. Put on a pair of snowshoes and you’ll glide over the snow, accessing areas that would have you postholing for hours to get to otherwise. Even if you aren’t trekking into the backcountry, snowshoes are just as fun for stomping around open spaces or trails near your home. Most outdoor stores will rent snowshoes for a set day rate, so you can try it out before you commit.
11. Travel Somewhere New (Added Challenge: Go International!)
Traveling can be really exciting. Exploring a new place, meeting new people, visiting iconic historic sites, and breaking out of your comfort zone will give you a greater appreciation for what our world has to offer. A trip can be packing up the car and heading to the next state, or finally getting that passport to head to another country—whatever you have to do to take advantage of the millions of hours of vacation time that Americans leave unused each year, do it. Need some ideas to start dreaming about? How about hiking to Machu Picchu, exploring Channel Islands National Park (known as the Galapagos of North America), or tracking wolves in Canada?
Getting out of town might be the best decision you make all year.
12. Relax in a Mountain Hot Spring
What could be more relaxing after a long day of winter adventure than sitting in the warm waters of a steamy hot spring? Soothe your sore muscles in the rejuvenating mineral waters in the Western United States—there are hot springs in Colorado, Idaho, California, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, and Washington (to name a few). And there’s truly a spring for every style, running the gamut from the remote, with nothing more than a ring of rocks surrounding a pool of stream fed water, to an actual in-ground pool at a resort. But it’s not just the water that is relaxing—it’s the mountain setting, the fresh air, and it’s even better if there is snow falling around you. It’s an experience that doesn’t take much effort, but you won’t soon forget.
13. Take a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip
If you like both hiking and camping, then step up your game with a multi-day backpacking trip. Even if it’s just for a couple nights, backpacking is an opportunity to get even farther out into the wilderness to see some of the more remote spots that you just can’t get to in a single day hike. Some backcountry trails have primitive camping sites nearby, but for the most part camping in the backcountry means popping up your tent wherever you like, whenever you like. You’ll carry everything on your back, so there’s the added challenge of fitting everything you need into one pack. It will be a little more work, but the payoff is a big one, especially if you decide to embark on this journey alone (see #2).
Some people may not want to be out there completely alone, even if hiking with a companion. If that sounds like you, plan a backpacking trip on one of the country’s long distance trails—the Appalachian Trail, the Colorado Trail, or the Pacific Crest Trail—for a more defined route and the possibility of seeing another human or two along the way.
14. Try Three Sports in a Single Day
In some states, participating in three different sports in a single day can be easier than others. Take California, for example, where you can fairly easily surf, hike, and ski in a day. It’s a little more difficult in other states, but think of it as an opportunity to get creative with your athletic pursuits. In states with snow, go for the winter trifecta—snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. In other states that might not get snow, try paddling (or swimming!), trail running, and cycling for a true triathlon experience. Getting three sports in a single day can be tricky, but that’s why it’s on the bucket list. We didn’t say it would be easy, but it will be rewarding!
15. Run Your Longest Race Ever
If you’ve done a half marathon, train for a full. If you’ve got a handful of full marathons under your belt, go for an ultramarathon (any distance over 26.2 miles, from a 50K to 100 miles or more). And if you’ve never run a race in your life, set a goal to run your first 3.1-mile race, a 5K. There are thousands of race across the United States (and beyond) every year, with tons of options for each month, so there is a high possibility of a race somewhere near you in the time frame you are looking for. If accountability or motivation is an issue, find a buddy or running group with similar goals and you’ll be crossing that finish line in no time.
16. Take an Outdoor Education Class
If you spend most of your spare time outdoors (or would like to), and outdoor education class is one of the best ways to expand your knowledge and learn new skills. These classes are typically offered by outdoor stores or organizations, and topics range from the basics of a sport, like snowshoeing or trail running, to wilderness first aid to avalanche safety. No matter what your experience level, there will be a suitable outdoor ed. class for learning something new. And the more you know, the more you can enjoy the outdoor activities that you love.
17. Get Completely Off the Grid for 24 Hours (or more!)
As a society, we’ve become quite used to having access to our phones or computers 24/7. Everything we need is (almost) always at our fingertips. But studies have shown that getting away from technology and into nature can make you more focused when you do go back to work, not to mention put you in a better mood, lower your heart rate, and improve your short-term memory.
Whether you take a trip to the backcountry, or visit Green Bank, West Virginia (cell phones and Wi-Fi aren’t even allowed due to potential interference with the radio telescope), spend some time disconnecting from your phone and reconnecting with nature. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
Featured image provided by Andrés Nieto Porras