Looking for outdoor adventure? It’s closer than you think. Check out these easy summer escapes, all within a short drive (or, heck, maybe even a cab ride) of major cities.
Rockclimber Lynn Hill ascending.
New York City: Climbing the Gunks
After a week of climbing the corporate ladder, who wants to be stuck at a bar, social climbing? Instead, drive 90 miles north to the Shawangunk Mountains, or Gunks, where there are more than 1,000 rock-climbing routes. They’re legit: Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and climbing pioneer Royal Robbins both have scrambled up these cliffs. Routes range from Beginner’s Delight, rated 5.3, to the 5.12 face-climb of To Be or Not to Be. Lovers of lower altitudes, meanwhile, can hike or bike 100 miles of trails beneath the walls at the 6,500-acre Mohonk Preserve, home to some top climbing routes. Access other spots on private land with a local guide, which you can find—along with harnesses, ropes and more—through the gear shop Rock and Snow (845-255-1311; www.rocksnow.com). At the end of a long day, stay at the Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian castle and spa, where you’ll have just one more bit of climbing: into a soft bed (800-772-6646; www.mohonk.com)
Boston: Surfing the Maine Coast
OK, so Maine doesn’t roll off the tongue like California, Hawaii and Indonesia in a discussion of surfing destinations. But in the time it takes to park at Logan Airport for a flight to the tropics, Bostonians can be hanging 10 on the bona fide waves off the coast of the Pine Tree State. The surf is especially up during the late summer and most of the fall, when storm swells surge at Higgins Beach, Wells Beach, Old Orchard Beach and Ogunquit, all strung along the shoreline around Portland. A bit farther north, six-mile-long Popham Beach has a slightly more private vibe. Check the forecast at Surfline (www.surfline.com) and book a room at the Portland Harbor Hotel (207-775-9090; www.portlandharborhotel.com), a 97-room charmer in the city’s Old Port district. Then head up Interstate 95 toward Liquid Dreams Surf Shop (www.liquiddreamssurf.com), which has locations in Ogunquit (207-641-2545) and York (207-351-2545). They’ll equip you with a board, a leash and a nice warm wetsuit.
Seattle: Kayaking the San Juans
With apologies to ferries, sailboats, bicycles and even a sturdy pair of legs, the best way to see the San Juan Islands is from a slim fiberglass hull with a paddle for a propeller. This archipelago of 700 islands and reefs—176 of them named—has been called the Super Bowl of sea kayaking, thanks to its championship conditions. The sun shines some 250 days a year; whales swim the waters while shorebirds fly overhead; and 408 miles of waterfront provide ideal put-ins and take-outs. The ticket: a daylong tour with Discovery Kayaks (866-461-2559;http://www.discoveryseakayak.com/), which takes paddlers through Haro Strait on the west side of San Juan Island to ogle orcas and gape at the Canadian Gulf Islands. (Get there on an 80-minute ferry ride from Anacortes:www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries has schedules and fares.) Hire a Discovery guide or just rent a kayak for longer trips that combine paddling with hiking, to help stretch those sea legs.
Las Vegas: Biking Red Rock Canyon
In about 20 minutes, you can trade slot machines in Vegas for slot canyons in the Mojave Desert—where spare tires from the buffets give way to fat tires. The 197,000-acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (part of the Mojave and just west of Las Vegas) was long a hidden side trip from the Strip; now it’s becoming a hot destination for mountain biking. One hundred miles of single-track spider through the desert, undulating through sagebrush, slipping between cliffs and tracing the paths of wild mustangs. The cacti and views seem unlimited, while coyotes lope through the lowlands and bighorn sheep prance up the hills. Las Vegas Cyclery (800-596-2953; www.lasvegascyclery.com) offers full-suspension mountain bike rentals—try a Cannondale Rush or a Santa Cruz Blur—and leads tours through Red Rock Canyon, turning Sin City into Spin City.
San Francisco: Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail
The trouble with most hikes is that to get to the view, you’ve got to stagger to the summit. Not so with the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 164-mile halo around the über-deep, über-blue lake. The loop trail, completed in 2001 and now open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders, darts in and out of deep green forests and dances along alpine ridgelines for near-continuous peeks at winking Lake Tahoe. It rolls just enough to stay refreshing, with no lung-busting slogs up steep slopes. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association Web site offers free, printable maps, route recommendations and camping suggestions (www.tahoerimtrail.com). For wildflowers, the best time for the Tahoe Rim is July. Hikers with a couple of weeks to spare can aim to through-hike the whole thing (trailheads are about a three-hour drive from San Francisco), while day trippers might consider the 12.4-mile journey from Spooner Summit to Snow Valley Peak for prime panoramas.
Portland: Kiteboarding Hood River
For the world’s greatest natural wind tunnel, drive 45 minutes east of Portland to Hood River, where the Columbia River Gorge churns with consistent 20- to 30-knot breezes. Long littered with windsurfing sails, today its waters are joined by pillowlike kites dipping and twirling in figure eights as kiteboarders skim the river and catch air. First-timers will want to sign up for a few lessons from Big Winds Kite School (888-509-4210; www.bigwinds.com). After learning how to control the kite—vital for safely harnessing the wind—you’ll spend a couple of hours on the water, getting the feel of speed beneath your feet as you twist and turn the kite. Rookies, meanwhile, can learn freestyle tricks in an advanced clinic from Hood River Waterplay (800-963-7873; www.hoodriverwaterplay.com) or simply head to one of dozens of sites, rated beginner to expert and provided by the chamber of commerce (800-366-3530; www.hoodriver.org).
Nashville: Whitewater Rafting the Ocoee
When you drive the three hours from Nashville to Ocoee, Tennessee, you shift into Eastern Time Zone—while the ground shifts into a topsy-turvy river. The Ocoee River hosted whitewater slalom events during the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, and has maintained all of that world-class froth. Tumbling through the Cherokee National Forest, it boasts rapids that are Class III (moderate, irregular waves requiring complex maneuvers, as defined by American Whitewater) and IV (intense, powerful and turbulent). With Nantahala Outdoor Center (888-905-7238;www.noc.com), the premier eastern river outfitter, paddlers can choose from two options: a five-mile, 90-minute trip on the Middle Ocoee, which rolls through such named rapids as Broken Nose and Double Trouble; or a four-hour, 10-mile Upper and Middle Combo, which thrashes rafters over ledge drops and through the Olympic Section. Dry out with a night in a lakefront cabin on Lake Ocoee (Ocoee Inn, 800-272-7238; www.ocoeeinn.com).
Austin: Cycling the Texas Hill Country
Ninety minutes west of Austin hides the town of Fredericksburg, where German bakeries meet Texas Jack’s, the Western wear emporium that outfitted Lonesome Dove and Gunsmoke. But increasingly this part of the Lone Star State is becoming known for its heart-pumping biking rather than its quirky heritage. Fuel up with fruit kolaches at Hill Country Donuts & Kolaches on Main Street (830-990-2424), and find cycling gear and maps at nearby Hill Country Bicycles (830-990-2609). Then hit the Willow City Loop, a 55-mile ride that climbs and falls through the surrounding rolling meadows, which are cooler and greener than much of the rest of Texas. For something shorter, consider the 37-mile Luckenbach Loop; for something longer, head toward the towns of Boerne and New Braunfels. Though wineries are sprouting up throughout the region, the best place to dismount is back in Fredericksburg, for live music at the Ausländer Biergarten (830-997-7714).