outdoor adventure destinations you may have never heard of
Ahh, a travel guide! Thought I’d never write one of these again. My passport was getting dusty and I let my Global Entry lapse like a newb. But alas, today I bring you some places you may have never heard of to fill your adventure void. We’ve got both a few domestic options and an international option. I’ll open this up with one of my favorite backpacking trips in a less expected US state.
Cirque of the Towers Backpacking trip
Imagine this. You’ve just flown into the Jackson Hole Airport and had a great view of Grand Teton during landing. You grab your bags and rental car and jump on US 191. As you turn South, you notice most people are driving North. While most people have Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park on their agenda, you are en route to the Big Sandy Trailhead near Pinedale, Wyoming.
This 3-day backpacking loop takes you through the Wind River Mountain Range, a lesser explored area of the Continental Divide. This place is in the middle of no-where. No cell service. No nearby grocery stores or bars. So be warned and prepare accordingly with proper gear. If seclusion with towering peaks and alpine lakes is your thing, read on. The loop spans around 25 miles of moderate terrain. I won’t go into details on the actual hike but know that there are plenty of blogs and websites that provide technical information about the hike. While on the trail, you will only run into a few dedicated backpackers and some rock climbers. You shouldn’t see too many gapers.
Channel Island National Park
Be honest, if you aren’t from California or a National Park buff, you haven’t heard of this National Park. I only say that because I hadn’t either until about 2019. California has the massively popular Yosemite, Joshua Tree and the Redwoods which usually take up nature aficionados attention. This group of islands gets called the “Galapagos of North America” because of the thousands of different species that inhabit the park. Part of the allure of this destination is the lack of visitors, however, the lack of visitors is partly due to the fact that you can’t drive there.
Activity options are overflowing on Channel Islands. Most people take the ferry out for day hikes but there is also camping available if you want to stay overnight and appreciate the insane sunrise and sunset. In terms of marine activities, there are kayaking routes off Santa Cruz Island that take you through sea passages and next to towering cliffs.
Slot Canyons of Escalante
This place gets straight-up overlooked.. and I love it. Like a few of the destinations on this list, there are just too many heavy tourist attractions nearby and this spot gets overlooked. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument sits in the middle of southern Utah and truly embodies the notion of being remote. It was the last place to be mapped in the entire contiguous US. so yes, you should at some point visit the nearby attractions if you have not previously. Everyone should see the Grand Canyon afterall.
So the Grand Staircase is massive, like almost 2 million acres massive. So, I'll narrow this tip down to some of my favorite slot canyons. If you drive through the little town of Escalante just east of Bryce Canyon, at the end of town a road splits off and heads south. “Hole-in-the-rock road” is easy to miss so I would recommend downloading the map on Google Maps while you still have service. This road is dirt with some larger rocks. A low clearance vehicle may have trouble in some areas. I drove a Subaru Crosstrek through with no problem.
At this point, we’ve got two destinations in mind for a solid day trip. Zebra Canyon and Peek-a-boo/Spooky Slot Canyons. You’ll hike through areas as narrow as 10 inches in some of the canyons. Google some of the photos, hopefully claustrophobia doesn’t set in. Once again I won’t go into the exact details of the hikes, those can be found on guide books and blogs. Ultimately what you have to do is set your odometer as soon as you pull onto Hole-in-the-rock Road–Zebra Slot parking area is on the right at 7.8 miles and Peek-a-boo/Spooky is at 26 miles on the left.
Overlooked Pyrenees Mountains
Spain isn’t usually known for its mountains and most folks have never heard of the Pyrenees Mountains. This range forms the border between France and Spain and is also home to a tiny country I certainly had to zoom in on Google maps to find: Andorra. Probably the easiest way to get here would be a flight to Barcelona followed by a drive North.
Some of the most famous hikes are in the Pyrenees National Park in the center of the range. The Cirque de Gavarnie or the Lac d'Oô Hike (don’t ask me how to pronounce that one) are two of the numerous small hikes in the park. One of the more fascinating aspects about hiking in the Pyrenees is the blending of Spanish and French cultures as well as languages. The Pyrenees have a great option for a sabbatical or someone looking for over a month of daily hiking covering 500 miles. There is a very organized set of huts and areas for resources giving you the ability to hike from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Mediterranean Sea via the High Route Pyrenees.
The outdoors are becoming more and more popular but there are always places to find that have less crowds and provide some seclusion. Sometimes you just have to work a little harder to get there. Enjoy!