The weather is hot, the skies are blue, and everything has a warm, welcoming glow. Summer is here, which means it’s prime season for exploration, adventure, and living a life that would make John Muir proud. It’s time to dust off your hiking boots and lose yourself in mountains, forests, and fields. Here are the best summer vacation destinations for lovers of the great outdoors.

1. Yosemite National Park, California

yosemiteAt the heart of California lies one of the true gems of the nation—the world, in fact. A testament to nature’s great power and resiliency, the park encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles of valleys, glaciers, meadows, waterfalls, and giant sequoia forests. Yosemite was first protected in 1864 and played an instrumental role in the development of the national parks system as a whole.

The park offers endless activities, including whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, and fishing, but if you really want an up close and personal look at the park, take advantage of the 750 miles of hiking trails spread throughout the Yosemite Wilderness. If you’re truly adventurous, try making it to the top of Half Dome, a granite dome that rises almost 5,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley and 8,000 feet above sea level. However, hiking Half Dome requires a permit and comes with safety precautions you must be aware of.
Other points of interest just outside Yosemite Valley include:

  • Glacier Point
  • Badger Pass
  • Crane Flat
  • The Mariposa Grove
  • Tuolumne Meadows
  • Hetch Hetch

2. Bend, Oregon

bendWhile Oregon is most often associated with the bustling, trendy city of Portland, Bend offers a more natural setting with recreational opportunities all year round. Located almost at the geographical center of the state and populated by over 76,000 residents, Bend is surrounded by densely forested land protected by the U.S. Forest Service. The city sits along the Deschutes River, promising a veritable paradise for water sports enthusiasts, including such activities as rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.

The area surrounding Bend boasts a plentiful bounty of outdoor fun as well.

  • Smith Rock State Park, situated just outside of Bend, is a well-known destination for rock climbing and scenic views.
  • The Deschutes National Forest offers some amazing opportunities for camping and hiking.
  • Tumalo Mountain and Mount Bachelor are excellent destinations for biking, climbing, and enjoying some spectacular aerial views.

3. Acadia National Park, Maine

acadiaAcadia National Park was originally established as Lafayette National Park in 1919, making it the first national park east of the Mississippi River. It encompasses most of Mount Desert Island and several smaller islands off the Atlantic coast. Comprising rich woodlands, rocky shorelines, and granite peaks, Acadia is home to about 40 different mammalian species, including chipmunks, beavers, porcupines, moose, and black bears, along with countless marine species in the surrounding waters.

The coastal location makes Acadia a perfect spot for swimming and other aquatic activities with much of the action occurring around Sand Beach and Echo Lake Beach, while tide pools at the Bar Island Sand Bar and Ship Harbor and Wonderland give you an amazing glimpse into the undersea world.

The rugged terrain promises some amazing rock climbing opportunities. The main climbing spots are:

  • Otter Cliff
  • South Wall
  • Central Slabs
  • South Bubble
  • Great Head

The park is also home to 125 miles of trails that not only give you some amazing views of the shoreline, forests, and meadows, but also provide a glimpse into the park’s rich history of American Indians and early settlers. Bikers can ride through 45 miles of carriage roads that weave throughout the park’s mountains and valleys.

4. Asheville, North Carolina

ashevilleAsheville is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of the greater Appalachians and marks the intersection where the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers meet. Asheville’s location makes it the perfect retreat for those looking to explore the great outdoors. The area offers a huge assortment of activities—mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, zip lining, and beyond.

Just northwest of Asheville lies the Pisgah National Forest, covering over 512,000 acres of mountainous landscape. Pisgah is home to the first school of forestry in the United States and has since become a thriving spot for camping, hiking, and taking in nature.

5. Bozeman, Montana

bozemanWhile it ranks as America’s fourth largest state, Montana has a surprisingly small population, accommodating vast stretches of relatively untouched land. Much of the state is covered in the prairies of the Great Plains or the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

Bozeman, located in southwest Montana, is surrounded by mountains, which provide plenty of skiing opportunities in the winter. During the summer, take advantage of the many hiking trails in the area, particularly around Bridger Mountain, Hyalite Lake, and Bozeman Creek. Trails and rural roads also accommodate biking, while kayaking, rafting, and other water sports have a huge following in the area.

6. Juneau, Alaska

juneauTrue outdoor adventurers shouldn’t leave out a stop in the Last Frontier. Juneau, Alaska’s capital, is a gateway to amazing outdoor opportunities. A visit to Mendenhall Glacier, located about 12 miles from Juneau, offers a variety of outdoor opportunities. You can raft Mendenhall Lake, ride a dog sled around the area, or hike around the glacier.

Surrounded by huge glaciers and mountains, the Tracy Arm Fjord is located about 45 miles south of Juneau and promises spectacular views and a wealth of wildlife, including bears, eagles, seals, and whales.

7. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

yellowstoneEstablished in 1872 as the first national park in the world, Yellowstone is a panoply of dense forests, diverse flora and fauna, and geothermal features—most notably the Old Faithful Geyser. The park is considered one of the world’s few near-intact natural ecosystems.

Yellowstone has a little something for everyone. The park is filled with over 1,000 miles of day hiking trails and over 300 backcountry campsites for backpackers and more off-the-beaten-path adventurers. Anglers can cast their lines to catch some 16 species of fish. With so many activities to choose from, the only thing you have to worry about is deciding what to do first.
These are just a few suggestions for your outdoor adventures. There are so many more opportunities waiting for you. Whether you travel to Yellowstone or stay around town, make sure you do take some time to unplug, head outside, breathe in the fresh air, and make some wonderful memories this summer.

Images:

  • “Yosemite National Park” by eleephotography is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • “Pilot Butte, Bend, Oregon” by F.D. Richards is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • “Acadia National Park” by jeffgunn is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • “20110927 45 Blue Ridge Mountains” by davidwilson1949 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • “Carex geyeri” by Matt Lavin is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • “Field of Flowers” by katsrcool is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • “Yellowstone waterfall” by lorenkerns is licensed under CC BY 2.0