All nature all the time
November 13, 2013 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend interesting spots within the US or Canada for a 7-10 (or even 15) day nature-centric vacation (for example bike tours, canoe trips or long hikes).

We're interested in nature vacationing somewhere with lots of cool things to look at. We've been to the boundary waters Minnesota, and found it really magical because of the location in itself (Thunderstorms! Water the color of iodine! Warn night swims!). Please recommend a place for exploration that you find especially interesting, ie. where is that place that was so eerie/haunting/mysterious/beautiful that you keep wishing to go back to? We like remote, but won't throw a tantrum if we run into other people.

Other things to know:
-We're from BC, Canada, and pretty familiar with Pacific Northwest. We're looking for something very different from here that will blow our minds in part from contrast.
-We're pretty experienced bike tourists and back country packers, and are pretty good with gear.

posted by PorcupineQuills to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cecic at 10:42 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona during monsoon season (roughly mid july to mid september). The Gila (pronounced Hee-la) wilderness is really neat. Lots of Native america pueblo ruins and apache ruins, lots of ghost towns and great scenery. It is a little warm some days that time of year but then the afternoon summerstorms roll in and cool it off. The wilderness area is HUGE and full of wildlife. It has never been logged and it is the last remaining intact old growth ponderosa pine forest in the world. And across the state line in Arizona is even more ghost towns and old west culture. If you want to get to the high country, just north of there is Alpine/Nutrioso and St Johns and lots more camping and great scenery. To the east is the plains of St Augustine and the Very Large Array (VLA), the largest radio telescope in the world and a really good visitor's center open most every day (about half the movie Contact was shot here). There is a Lightning resort near there that is usually booked up year in advance. They put hundreds of lightning rods in the ground and it creates a huge show during monsoon lightning storms (and yes, they are legitimate monsoons just like India-the winds shift from west to north and bring the wet air off the sea of Cortes and gulf of mexico to the Colorado plateau and monster thunderstorms and rain).
posted by bartonlong at 10:43 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

New Mexico is REALLY beautiful (I'm from California). I like northern New Mexico; northern Arizona seemed nice too - Grand Canyon!
Utah is REALLY weird lookin' =)
posted by jrobin276 at 10:51 PM on November 13, 2013

Response by poster: Can you please be more specific, jrobin and cecic? Utah is a place I that I definitely want to visit, but more specific suggestions will be appreciated. Thanks for all the responses so far and please keep them coming.
posted by PorcupineQuills at 10:55 PM on November 13, 2013

Yosemite is jaw dropping.
posted by empath at 12:00 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mmmm... well, I came in to say the Columbia Gorge, but your below the fold "familiar with the PNW" likely means that you've already been here... but just in case anyone else reads later and hasn't been here, the Gorge pretty much hits the details.
posted by stormyteal at 3:42 AM on November 14, 2013

Seconding Utah.

There are 5 US National Parks in Southern Utah, and several impressive State Parks. These parks offer some of the best hikes in North America. The Narrows in Zion National Park is the single best trail in America, and few people hike it.
posted by Flood at 4:30 AM on November 14, 2013

Yeah, thirding Utah. Depending on where you start, you can do a loop of Zion - Bryce -(Utah Highway 12 - spectacular!) - Capitol Reef - Canyonlands - Arches - Natural Bridges - Grand Staircase/Escalante or if time is lacking cut out Canyonlands and Arches. Not just the parks, but the drives are fantastic. Utah 12 deserves its own day in the itinerary, it's that wonderful.
posted by notsnot at 5:45 AM on November 14, 2013

Yosemite is completely awesome, but since you're from BC, you are not unfamiliar with amazing granite cliffs and beautiful forested valleys and mountains.

UTAH. We went on a drive-around-the-SW trip last year and I mean look at this! (Mostly Capitol Reef with a little Kodachrome State Park thrown in.) It's high on our list of places to go back and spend more time. I think what you should do is mostly base yourself in Moab and explore the hell out of Arches National Park and Canyonlands NP, especially the Needles district (which we did not get to, so I am living vicariously through you), which is more remote than Arches and has fewer facilities and more backcountry stuff. Moab is full of outfitters from whom you could rent camping gear, and Moab is a hotspot for mountain biking, if that's a thing you might like. And rafting down the Colorado.

Caveat: If you can only do this in the summer, it's going to be hot. We went in September, and it was warm without being pass-out-from-heat-exhaustion warm, but since everything in that bit of Utah is at a higher elevation, the effect of the sun can be kind of stunning even when it's not super-hot out.
posted by rtha at 6:22 AM on November 14, 2013

Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, morning's drive north from Toronto. 2,400+ lakes. You can basically get in a canoe loaded with stuff and stay out there for as long as you like. Absolutely gorgeous.
posted by valkyryn at 7:15 AM on November 14, 2013

To supplement Valkyryn's central Ontario recommendation, the most memorable places I've gone on canoe trips in are Temagami & French River Provincial Park. Both are north of Algonquin and a little less busy.

French River has a surprising mix of (I'm going to use Minecraft terminology that may or may not be accurate) biomes - some (maybe, looked it to me!) old growth pine forests, some areas that looked more Carolinian, bizarre serpentine labyrinths of narrow "lakes" (I hesitate to call them rivers, because they didn't flow noticeably, but towards the southern end of the park there are these great areas of land where it's so obvious that tens of thousands of years ago glaciers scoured the hell outta the place.)... and bizarre areas of bare Canadian Shield rocks where, again, glaciation and the near-constant winds whipping off Georgian Bay have made the place look like a parking lot. To boot, I went on an easy 6-day trip and only had to do one portage, some 200 easy, well-marked meters.

Apologies for rambling on, I really liked the place!

Temagami I spent more time in when I was a teenager, but also has a great network of lakes and portages, and a nice variety from some good areas of backcountry to canoeing on big lakes with cottages and jerks on jetskis. Also some of the most astonishing old growth I've seen outside of BC... assuming it's still there.

Of course, these options may not be sufficiently different to fit what you're looking for!
posted by rhooke at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2013

Depending how far you want to travel, I highly recommend the area around Robbinsville, NC. Interesting things include: And if you're looking for a nice place to stay, Snowbird Mountain Lodge is terrific.

There's probably not a lot of river canoeing, since it's a mountainous area, but there are several lakes in addition to the aforementioned Fontana. Road biking can also be a challenge, but it looks like this semi-nearby bike shop has a bunch of route maps (look under "local info").

You're also not too far from Knoxville, TN., and the terrain smooths out between Robbinsville and Knoxville, so there may be things to do in between.
posted by underthehat at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2013

It won't be cheap, but how about visiting Nunavut?
You could do canoe trip along the Thelon River, which would let you visit the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, here are a couple of links:1,2.
posted by Snazzy67 at 10:46 AM on November 14, 2013

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