Tackling a gnarly vertical pitch, backpacking some forgotten cirque, car-camping your way through a National Forest: Outdoor recreation in the U.S. takes many equally wonderful forms. Certain towns and cities in the country claim especially enviable geographies when it comes to adventuring. Here’s a roundup of 10 of the very best “base camps” for outdoor pursuits!
10. Lincoln, New Hampshire
The hamlet of Lincoln nestles into the looming flanks of the White Mountains, grandest range of the Northern Appalachians. Here, big, burly mountains cut by whitewater brooks and famous passes—among them Franconia Notch within the town’s expansive limits—form some of New England’s most breathtaking scenery.
Hit up the ski runs and bike trails of Loon Mountain, make sure to check out the Loon Mountain Maps before you go. Explore the Flume Gorge and Cannon Mountain—once studded with the iconic Old Man of the Mountain rock-face—within Franconia Notch State Park. Goggle at the grandeur along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which in fall becomes a first-class leaf-peeping drive. Trek the extensive trails of the White Mountain National Forest, hugging high ridgelines and bagging waterfalls. Backpackers will especially relish the solitude of New Hampshire’s largest wilderness area, the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset. Not far northeast of Lincoln, the White Mountains reach their elevational zenith in the mighty Presidential Range. The Presidentials top out on 6,288-foot Mount Washington, New England’s tallest mountain and the only 6,000-footer north of the Southern Appalachians.
9. Snowshoe, West Virginia
Situated up in eastern West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, Snowshoe nestles you amid a year-round highland playground. It’s best-known for the ski resort of Snowshoe Mountain and serving up plentiful off-piste delights amid Snowshoe Village’s charming Old World-style architecture. The area marks the junction of two impressively lofty Allegheny ridges—Back Allegheny and Cheat mountains—and puts you a stone’s throw from the latter’s highpoint, 4,848-foot Thorny Flat, the state’s second-highest spot.
Opportunities for outdoor recreation abound in the vicinity. Near at hand, for instance, you’ve got West Virginia’s biggest state park: 10,100-acre Watoga, recently designated an official Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. Then there’s the Monongahela National Forest’s ample front- and backcountry. The Monongahela includes some of the Mountain State’s most magical places. Among them are the Cranberry Glades and Cranberry Wilderness as well as the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, anchored by the Alleghenies’ king peak: 4,863-foot Spruce Knob. A Snowshoe home base gives you plentiful options for day-tripping or backpacking getaways to these and other regional wildlands.
8. Asheville, North Carolina
Among America’s hippest mountain towns, Asheville plops you down within the embrace of the greatest ranges of the Southern Appalachians. This is the highest country in the entire 1,500-mile-long Appalachian Mountains. Within ready reach of the city rise the Black Mountains, lorded over by that ultimate Appalachian crown of 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell. The Great Smokies—host to the country’s most popular national park and some of the East’s most extensive roadless acreage and old-growth forestland—beckon nearby as well. Add to those the Great Balsams and Plott Balsams, the Great Craggies, the Roan Highlands. It all shakes out to some stellar mountainscapes right on Asheville’s doorstep, chockablock with “Southern Sixers” (6,000-plus-foot Southern Appalachian peaks).
Gape at Linville Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the Southeast.” Marvel at the plunging walls of Looking Glass Rock. Traipse through Roan Mountain’s famous summer rhododendron blooms. Navigate whitewater and cast for trout on gorgeous rivers. Listen for rutting elk bugle in the Cataloochee Valley of the Smokies. And then cap a full day’s worth of adventuring with craft brews, delish eats, and live music in Downtown Asheville. Sounds pretty darn perfect to us!
7. Duluth, Minnesota
Most thrumming of Great Lakes ports—vast, tempestuous Lake Superior is its watery backyard–Duluth also makes a fine launchpad for exploring the Upper Midwest Northwoods.
Journey northeast along the North Shore of Lake Superior, serving up big-time scenery and ample wilderness in equal measure: from Split Rock and Gooseberry Falls to the Sawtooth Mountains and the Pigeon River’s High Falls, Minnesota’s tallest waterfall. Northward, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—a superlative expression of boreal backcountry—beckons with rock-edged waterways and loon-song. Head east through Duluth’s sister city of Superior, Wisconsin to reach the marvelous Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, famed for black bears and wintertime ice caves.
6. Whitefish, Montana
This small, swoonily unique scenic town puts some of the finest vistas and deepest wilderness in the Northern Rockies at your fingertips. Staying at one of the Whitefish vacation rentals we’ll be shortly unveiling, you’ll be within shouting distance of Glacier National Park. Here you’ll find world-class mountain scenery and an incredible lineup of wildlife, not least some major megafauna.
But it’s not only Glacier’s alpine lakes, whittled horns, and mountain goats—incredible as they are—which you’ve got at your disposal. Whitefish is also close to some spectacular Forest Service wilderness areas, most notably the several composing the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. At 1.5-plus million acres, this forms one of the biggest roadless expanses in the Lower 48. Whether you’re marveling at the giant Continental Divide ramparts of the Chinese Wall or lake-hopping in the aptly named Great Bear Wilderness, you’ll sense the presence of the grizzly—that magnificent totem beast of the Northern Rockies—throughout.
5. Moab, Utah
Once a hardscrabble, blue-collar outpost, Moab’s become an internationally renowned outdoor destination. It also happens to call some of the world’s most drop-dead-gorgeous landscapes its big backyard. These range from slickrock outback—including the mind-boggling stone sculptures of Arches National Park just outside town—to the soaring La Sal Mountains.
Besides Arches, you’ve got gobs of glorious public lands to explore with a Moab H.Q. Within easy striking distance, for example, you’ll find Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Backpacking, canyoneering, mountain-biking, and stargazing are only some of your out-and-about options in this heavenly swath of the Colorado Plateau.
4. Sedona, Arizona
Set where that very Colorado Plateau tumbles down to the lower Southwestern desertlands, Sedona bowls you over with unreal-looking red-rock sightlines. Lush green riparian canyon bottoms contrast with fiery sandstone battlements and blazing blue skies. Against that backdrop, recreational opportunities span the gamut from river-running to rock-climbing to horseback riding. Not far away is the ravishing Oak Creek Canyon, while within doable day-tripping distance the Grand Canyon itself awaits your ooh-ing and aah-ing.
Calling Sedona your home-away-from-home for red-rock adventuring is easy with Casago Sedona. From Casa Concho and Red Rock Retreat to Canyon Mesa Getaway and Serenity Chateau, you’re spoiled for choices!
3. Bellingham, Washington
Tucked up in far northwestern Washington near the B.C. line, this college town lies in the heart of the Pacific Northwest and its extraordinary Cascadia bioregion. Slip a kayak out onto Bellingham Bay and soak up the Salish Sea’s orca- and salmon-plied waterways. Eastward, you’ve got the icy wildness of the North Cascades, legendary among climbers and (stout-kneed) backpackers. The enchanting San Juan Islands, prime for hiking and paddling, lie past Rosario Strait. And beyond the San Juans, the Olympic Peninsula’s fastness, where Olympic National Park stretches from Pacific tidepools and valley rainforest to high-country glaciers and heather.
2. Redwood Coast, California
The planet’s tallest trees raise their supercanopies into the blowing mists of Northern California’s Redwood Coast. This is the stunning southern expression of the Pacific Northwest’s maritime conifer kingdom: the greatest extent of temperate rainforest anywhere. Coast redwoods can soar to the neighborhood of 400 feet tall, with titanic trunks. Some epic virgin groves can be explored amid the Redwood National and State Parks complex.
With a Casago vacation rental in Arcata, Eureka, Trinidad, or McKinleyville, you can explore the Redwood Coast to the fullest: from the redwood stands themselves and the wilderness mountain rivers to the oceanfront’s pristine Pacific beaches (we recommend Baker Beach or Luffenholtz Beach). Watch for spouting gray whales and spyhopping harbor seals while you ponder the gargantuan proportion of Redwood Coast driftwood. There’s no place like this on Earth…
1. Anchorage, Alaska
Well, what can we say about the Last Frontier when it comes to outdoor adventures? Head for Alaska’s capital city, and you’re smack dab in a stellar nexus of top-tier wilderness. From Denali National Park and Preserve to the north—where North America’s mightiest mountain reigns over the Alaska Range—to the tidewater glaciers and huge brown bears of the Gulf of Alaska coast, this is eat-your-heart-out terrain for any outdoorsperson.
There you have it: Our picks for the 10 best spots in the U.S. for outdoor adventurers. Then again, we could have come up with 10 more, too, a few times over. That’s how richly endowed the U.S. is when it comes to wildlands and recreational opportunities. Needless to say, though, the above list should get you started in unforgettable fashion! Check out the complete lineup of Casago destinations for the best vacation rentals out there for outdoor enthusiasts.