Welcome to the USA. One of the largest and most diverse countries on the planet, America is known for incredible outdoor recreation. It is, after all, the country that invented the national park.

American adventure destinations are often iconic. Places like the Grand Canyon, the Oregon Coast, the Rocky Mountains, Volcanoes National Park... but there are scores of lesser-known and more surprising locales, many of which we’ll detail here.

We aim to inspire; to stoke the fire for adventure. And we’re sure that after reading this article, you’ll be outdoors and getting sweaty in no time.

So let’s continue through America’s Great Outdoors, with the amazing South:



Float the Illinois River

Difficulty: Beginner-Intermediate

It doesn’t matter if you put a kayak, canoe or raft into the 60-plus miles of scenic Illinois River that winds through Oklahoma’s Cookson Hills. It just matters that you do it—this gentle float can lift a year’s worth of stress from your shoulders. Look up—bald eagles. Look to the shore—foxes and deer. Look all around you—white oak, dogwood and redbud trees. Make it easy by hiring an outfitter; they’ll handle the logistics of drop-off and return shuttle, as well as providing the boat and local knowledge. And accommodation in this region ranges from resorts to campgrounds—pick your pleasure and relax.

Learn More: travelok.com/article_page/illinois-river-float-and-camp-trips



Roam Big Bend

Difficulty: Beginner & Up

Welcome to one of the true gems of the USNPS—Big Bend, located in western Texas along the Mexican border. This is the land of limestone canyons, flocks of migrating birds, oddball cactus and sun-bleached desert environs. There are more than 150 miles of marked hikes, from day strolls to challenging multiday objectives. Some climb elevations up to 7,832 feet; others meander along the Rio Grande River. Cycling on both paved and unpaved roads remains popular—look to an easy paved ride at Panther Junction or a challenging adventure ride on the Old Ore Road. And river trips on the Rio Grande lead through 1,500-foot-deep canyons as they impress with rapids and scenery. Adventure is endless in this staggering 800,000-acre wilderness.

Learn More: nps.gov/bibe/index.htm



Search for Southern Cascades

Difficulty: Beginner & Up

Less of a specific destination and more of a state-wide wonder, the waterfalls of Arkansas are a true delight. Often set amongst dense forest, pouring off limestone and baked by the southern sun, the cascades set amongst the state’s Ozark and Ouachita mountains are the best in a state full of beauties. Cedar Falls, in the west-central region’s Ouachita Range, is the most noted waterfall in the state. Pouring from 95 feet up, this stunner is less than a three-mile hike from the parking lot. In the northwest/north-central, drive to the Ozark’s Marble Falls, which is accessible practically from your car, or enjoy the hike to Eden Falls; a fairytale cascade hidden in a narrow canyon.

Learn More: arkansas.com/outdoors/hiking/waterfalls/



Cruise the Creole Trail

Difficulty: Beginner & Up

Is there anything better than an outdoorsy road-trip? Pack your gear into a car and hit the open road on one of America’s classic scenic byways—Louisiana’s Creole Trail. More than a route through roadside attractions, this road through “Louisiana’s Outback” is an outdoorsy-person’s delight. Birdwatchers can spot tens of thousands of ducks and geese (in season) at Cameron Prairie Wildlife Reserve. Or search for the impressive American alligator in the wetlands of Sabine National Wildlife Reserve. (Keep your distance—these brutes can reach 15 feet long.) And the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico provide endless entertainment, from family-friendly exploration to high-energy kitesurfing.

Learn More: louisianatravel.com/articles/paddle/creole-nature-trail



Tour by Horseback

Difficulty: Beginner & Up

Of course, Kentucky is the place to go horseback riding. But rather than running circles in a stadium, outdoors-people can roam the state’s serene natural environments with the help of a trusty steed. A wilderness horse camp, like those found in and around the Daniel Boone National Forest, are superb places to look for tours. Or head to the Kentucky Horse Park, near Lexington, to up your skills and confidence to foster a lifelong love of equine adventures.

Learn More: kentuckytourism.com/outdoors/horseback-riding/



Kayak the Ocoee River

Difficulty: Advanced

For the past 40 years, the Ocoee River has boasted some of the best freestyle kayaking in the U.S. Once dammed, the energy concern has been releasing recreational flows since the 1970s, creating a 10-mile stretch of Class III+ whitewater. Paddlers should have their rolls on-lock before launching here. Rapids like Grumpy, Broken Nose, Flipper and Tablesaw are all test-pieces. But if you have the skills, Tennessee delivers huge whitewater thrills. And if you don’t? Look to one of the nearby paddling schools and guide operators for a helping hand.

Learn More: americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/1780


MississippiTanglefoot Trail

Cycle the Tanglefoot Trail

Difficulty: Beginner-Intermediate

Rails to trails make the best bike paths. No traffic. Gentle grades. And they lead town-to-town for outstanding tours. And Mississippi’s Tanglefoot Trail—the state’s longest rails-to-trails conversion—deserves its place on this list. Offering more than 43 miles of gentle cycling through the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, riders will pass undulating farmlands, lush forest and seven welcoming towns along this multi-use route. There are even four off-trail campsites along the way if you want to make an overnight of it.

Learn More: tanglefoottrail.com



Go Bouldering at Horse Pens 40

Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced

A privately-owned recreation area, Horse Pens 40—near Steele—is home to one of the most concentrated boulder fields on the planet. It’s an impressive collection of hardened (and sometimes not-so-hardened) sandstone littered amongst the deciduous trees and grasslands. And it’s been attracting boulderers for decades—stumping even pros with rock-problems rated beyond V11. (That’s climbing talk for really, really tough.) Fall and winter and considered the best times to climb. There’s a small fee to enter (approximately $8), and climbers can camp onsite at HP40 for a few bucks more.

Learn More: mountainproject.com/area/106094862

West Virginia

West Virginiahttp://flickr.com/photos/roneskins

Hike the Falls of Hills Creek

Difficulty: Beginner-Intermediate

Here, we have something for everyone. Tucked away in the small but pretty Monongahela National Forest, the Falls of Hills Creek feature three cascades—each getting bigger and more impressive the further you hike. The first, a 20-foot picturesque waterfall, is wheelchair accessible. Step onto the dirt path and hike into a forest carpeted with wildflowers to reach the second stunner, a 45-foot torrent that tumbles over boulders. And deeper into the woods, through a series of switchbacks, you’ll uncover the final waterfall—a 63-foot cascade that will set your Instagram feed on fire.

Learn More: pocahontascountywv.com/falls_of_hills_creek.aspx



Wander Breaks Interstate Park

Difficulty: Beginner & Up

As an “interstate park,” this one could be slotted in Kentucky too. However you access the “Grand Canyon of the South,” the signature landform—a five-mile-long, 1,650-foot-deep canyon—is sure to impress. Plus, there’s tons to do, from climbing, to ziplining, to mountain biking. We like the hiking. More than 25 miles of interconnected trails create a network that can support anything from a mile-long kid-friendly walk to a demanding day-hike. Start with Prospector’s Trail and Overlook Trail and wander outward.

Learn More: breakspark.com


MarylandThaimoss/Creative Commons

Hike the Appalachian Trail

Difficulty: Intermediate

The 41-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that runs through Maryland could be the best intro to this demanding route on the whole through-hike. Usually done in four to five days, the terrain is easy to moderate, yet also offers great viewpoints of the Potomac River and from atop the near-2,000-foot-high High Rock, plus points of interest like the Mason-Dixon Line. You’ll grind through about 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Designated campsites show up frequently enough to make the days enjoyable. There are also a half-dozen day hikes if you don’t have a week to spare.

Learn More: appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/explore-by-state/maryland



Birdwatch at Bombay Hook

Difficulty: Beginner

Covering almost 16,000 acres of ecologically valuable salt marsh on Delaware Bay, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge beckons birdwatchers the world-round. More than 300 bird species have been logged at Bombay Hook—most of which are migratory. Impressive bald eagles are frequently spotted, as are shorebirds, waterfowl, sparrows and many more. Hop in your car and tour the 12-mile road through the reserve, popping out to walk along the five nature trails—all of which feature 30-foot-tall observation towers where you can set-up with a pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens.

Learn More: fws.gov/refuge/Bombay_Hook/

North Carolina

North CarolinaPixabay

Explore the Great Smokies

Difficulty: Beginner & Up

Straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee lies a gem of the National Parks Service—Great Smoky Mountains. With more than half-a-million acres of protected lands, some 850 miles of hiking trails as well as backcountry, front-country and even horse-camps, it’s little wonder why this is America’s most-visited national park. But where to start? The eight-mile hike to Charles Bunion challenges with 1,600 feet of elevation change but rewards with staggering mountain and valley views. Alum Cave is an easier jaunt that passes wildflowers on route to a scenic bluff. Rainbow Falls, Chimney Tops... there is a lifetime of exploring in this mountain stunner.

Learn More: nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

South Carolina

South CarolinaPixabay

Surf at Folly Beach

Difficulty: Intermediate

Located just a 25-minute drive from downtown Charleston, low-key and undeveloped Folly Beach attracts surfers from all over the Eastern Seaboard. The collection of reefs and islands create reliable and well-formed swells; depending on the season, waves range from mellow to topping 10 feet. Most of the crowds gather around The Washout, a picturesque wave along a 600-foot stretch of sand that attracts renowned pros during the Hurricane Season. Thankfully, the scene is accepting to newcomers, so travelling surfers need only mind their etiquette to fit right in.

Learn More: rootsrated.com/charleston-sc/surfing-windsurfing



Fly Fish a Salt Marsh

Difficulty: Intermediate

Welcome to a less-travelled facet of Georgia’s outdoors—the massive salt marshes that cover more than 100 miles of coastline in this swampy state. But what do you do in this flooded, murky landscape of waterways and dense grass? Slip into a pair of waders and pack your seven-weight fly rod. You’re going sight-fishing for redfish. A hard-fighting fish that grows up to 10 pounds, casting to a rising redfish in anticipation of a vicious strike and feisty battle is worth slinking through the sloppy marsh for hours. Some intrepid anglers have even launch stand-up paddleboards to paddle and fish at the same time. Best thing? Zero crowds.

Learn More: exploregeorgia.org/blog/beyond-the-beach-playing-in-georgias-salt-marshes



Trek the Florida Trail

Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced

Extending a whopping 1,200 miles from near the Alabama border on the Florida Panhandle to the wildlife-rich Everglades, the Florida National Scenic Trail is a hiker’s paradise. This subtropical route is within an hour’s drive of most major cities in the state, and provides adventures ranging from a simple walk in the forest to an extreme multi-day backpacking route. In the Panhandle, trek the silver-sand beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore. In Central Florida, the trail passes through Ocala National Forest, dubbed “the heart of the Florida Trail.” Or embark on a real adventure in South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve. The wildest section of the trail, your hike will likely see you hip-deep in water as you trudge through cypress groves, home to elusive ghost orchids and maybe even the Florida panther.

Learn More: fs.usda.gov/fnst

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