Winter sports are winding down, but the weather is getting to be just right for spending more time outdoors. Make the most of this spring and summer by planning some adventures for your weekends and even day trips. It’s all too easy to settle into a routine of spending your free time playing video games or going out to a bar, but then at the end of the season, you’ll be kicking yourself when you get a case of the “should’a dones,” so pick your favorite activities now, and make plans to go with friends so you’ll be committed to making it happen. Here are some ideas to whet your appetite.
Hiking in the mountains is fantastic exercise, and the best way to experience nature. While it lacks the technical challenge of mountain biking, the slower pace lets you see more of what’s around you, and you have more freedom to maneuver off the trail for some quiet time or to check out something that catches your interest. You can see a lot more wildlife on foot, and it makes for a memorable day—of course, you need to check out the hazards ahead of time and be prepared. Flash floods and encountering large animals are both rare, but can happen, so research the area and know what to do in case of emergency. For many animals, it’s as simple as waving your arms or sticks up high and making a lot of noise, but the knowledge that you have researched the area you are in and know what to expect can be the difference between a bold adventure and a panic situation.
Another great thing about hiking is that it is easy to find something to match the abilities of anyone you are with, and you aren’t likely to end up at the top of a trail that’s too steep because you have to get yourself there in the first place. Hiking is a great way for families to spend time together, and even an easy trail is a great adventure for the little ones.
Take advantage of the milder weather to have some extended stays outdoors. There’s something special about waking up at a campsite and starting the day outdoors. It not only gives you more time in the mountains, but an entire day and night of nature’s pace instead of cars and microwaves will soothe your entire system—body, mind, and spirit. Camping is a fun way to break out of any habits of taking the lazy way out, since you have to do everything for yourself, from setting up your shelter to making a fire and cooking your meals. (Of course, if you really don’t want a domestic challenge, you can always survive on granola and premade sandwiches for a couple of days.)
There’s nothing wrong with car-camping, and if you are doing any gear-intensive activities while you are in the mountains, you’ll need the vehicle to store your stuff, besides just getting you to the campsite. However, if you aren’t biking and don’t need too much gear, consider…
If getting away from it all is your idea of a good time, backpacking could be ideal for you. You’ll need some good hiking boots and a decent pack, but otherwise lightweight camping gear is all it takes to get started backpacking. Backpacking lets you get away from crowds and you are guaranteed to be RV-free when you set up camp at night. You’ll need to be able to read maps, navigate, and have a handle on basic survival skills if you are heading into the wilderness, but there are also backpacking trails that are popular enough that you won’t get lost, and other hikers will be around.
Mountains have rivers and a lot of them are deep and wide enough for rafting. You’ll need a guide, so if you don’t have friends who are experienced rafters, sign up with a professional rafting company. Rafting can be pretty physical when you are in the rapids, but on most rivers there’s also a lot of time when you get to just relax. Since rivers carve canyons, you’ll float through amazing geologic formations, and the sedimentary layers that formed millions of years ago. The time of the season determines what kind of experience you’ll have, so keep that in mind when planning. Spring snowmelt causes rushing water that’s exciting to raft in, but it also increases the demands and dangers for rafters. Beginners may be better off to go later in the year. Rafting can also be a great activity with kids. It’s fun for them, but they can’t get out of your sight!
Other Water Sports
Depending on where you are going, chances are there’s a river or lake nearby where you can canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or tube. Mountain towns usually have a guide service that will rent you the equipment you’ll need for a day, and shuttle you to and from the water, so all you have to do is get there; they’ll take care of the logistics for you.
Anywhere you have access to hills, you have a great place to go mountain biking. Many of the ski slopes open their trails for biking in the off season, and some even use the ski lift to take adventurous riders to the top. Make sure to check out the slopes in advance and make sure that there is a way down that is appropriate for your riding level. Getting out of the hard work of pedaling uphill may sound tempting, but you don’t want to risk getting hurt, and walking a bike down steep terrain is no fun either.
Many private and public parks have trails designated for biking, so check out the trail maps before you head out. It’s a lot more fun to ride when you aren’t having to constantly stop for hikers, and it’s safer too. There are even speed and skill ratings for trails in some parks, and if you are a more aggressive rider this is a real joy, since you can hit the harder trails and not have to worry about a little kid being in the middle of the trail every time you carve a turn.
Again, beginners need to get started with an experienced friend or hire a guide, but rock climbing is a fun and affordable outdoor adventure. You need to be moderately fit, but the terrain determines the difficulty level, and you will be amazed at what you can do, even if you aren’t in top athletic form. Something that looks impossibly steep may be very doable if the surface offers enough hand and footholds. You can plan to climb for an hour or two at a time, or you can spend an entire weekend climbing and you won’t believe how strong you’ll get after just a couple of days!
All too often the main activity becomes the only thing you do on a weekend trip, but there’s no reason not to plan to stop at a trailhead on the drive to your destination and do some hiking or biking for an hour or so. It’s a great way to get in an extra day’s activity if you are heading out on Friday afternoon and planning to just eat dinner and hang out when you get to the mountains. If you are on a longer trip, it’s a blast to spend a day playing in the river or hiking between biking adventures, and nothing feels better than sinking into hot springs (or even a hot tub) after a couple of days of playing hard.
What’s your favorite summertime mountain activity? We’d love to hear about any special spots you can recommend!