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Monday, May 23, 2022

The Best Outdoor Activity in Every US State

Image: Merrill Images/Getty Images

By Avital Andrews
May 23, 2022

America is a vast and diverse nation that offers every type of outdoor activity you can imagine. We’re talking the usual hiking, biking, kayaking, but also the unexpected whale-watching, archery, spelunking. And then there’s the pure fun of zip-lining, tubing, even swan-boat pedaling. From this huge, huge list, we charged ourselves with picking just one outdoor activity for every state—no small task. But if you're ready to take a screen break and get fresh air in your lungs, this list will show you the very best ways to do that from coast to coast (plus Alaska and Hawaii, too). So if you can only do one outdoor activity in the state you’re visiting, it’s listed right here. Which one did we pick for your home state? Read on and find out.

1. Alabama: Go spelunking.

With more than 4,800 caves within state lines, Alabama is spelunking heaven. No wonder it’s the home of the National Speleological Society. (Yes, really!) To go deep, explore Woodville’s 493-acre Cathedral Caverns State Park, which holds Goliath, one of the world’s biggest stalagmites, plus a “frozen waterfall.” You can also wend your way through impressive Rickwood Caverns, beautiful Fern Cave, or magical DeSoto Caverns, whose gorgeously lit “rooms” extend more than 12 stories high.

Runner-up: Kayak the Sipsey River

2. Alaska: Helicopter onto a glacier.

Helicoptering over crystal-blue lakes, gleaming white icefields, and lush mountainsides is like a scene out of a James Bond movie. The Alaskan glaciers hold some of the purest ice on earth, and they make for a dramatic backdrop. Guides explain what you’re seeing—and stop you from walking into actual danger—as you take in the scenery and pose for your own action shots.

Runners-up: Go dog-sledding; hike Denali; climb the via ferrata on the edge of the Triumvirate Glacier.

3. Arizona: Kayak the Colorado River.

Arizona is Grand Canyon country, and our pick is all about seeing that big, bombastic American landmark in the most exhilarating way—by water. Outfitters run day and overnight trips that help travelers experience the mile-high rock walls, shimmering night skies, and world-class whitewater runs, including famous Horseshoe Bend.

Runners-up: Ride a hot air balloon over Phoenix; hike Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon Trail; attempt the  Castle Hot Springs via ferrata.

4. Arkansas: Soak in a hot spring.

Image: zrfphoto/Getty Images

Arkansas has so many hot springs that there’s a whole national park named after them: Hot Springs National Park. And that name doesn’t lie. There’s a whopping 47 hydrothermal springs in the Ouachita Mountains to get your soak on, complete with cooling waterfalls. Most are too hot to touch, but you can soak at two different bathhouses in the park or dip your fingers in at the Display Spring or Hot Water Cascade. In summer, you can take a thermal features tour to learn about this distinctive, bubbly geology.

Runners-up: Dig for gems at Crater of Diamonds State Park; canoe Buffalo National River; bikepack the Arkansas High Country Route.

5. California: Hit the trails.

Headed to Cali? Pack your sturdiest hiking boots. As a state, California is stuffed with world-class hiking trails that let you roam these magnificent lands and put a major dent in your adventure bucket list. After all, this is home to the longest stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail—including the epic John Muir Trail. Add in Yosemite’s 800 miles of hiking trails, and you’ll see why California is a state whose glory is best seen on foot.

How to try it: Yosemite National Park

Runners-up: Hike the Pacific Crest Trail; see the giant sequoias at Redwoods National Park.

6. Colorado: Go downhill skiing.

In Colorado, every season is glorious, but winter has an extra-special sparkle, especially when you're into getting lifted to the top of a mountain in the Rockies, then whooshing your way down, speeding past pine and aspen. Vail, for one, is among North America’s biggest ski resorts, with 31 lifts, three terrain parks, and plenty of runs for every level. The snowy state’s other ski havens include TellurideAspenPark CityBreckenridge, and many more.

How to try it: Vail, Colorado

Runners-up: Ride the train to the top of Pikes Peak.

7. Connecticut: Take a woodsy stroll.

Strolling under sun-dappled leaves while breathing in crisp, fresh air—“forest bathing” may be the buzzy new term for it, but Connecticut has always offered loads of opportunities to walk through nature with all five senses switched on. In Devil’s Hopyard State Park, you can take the short, peaceful orange trail up a small mountain to a lovely view over high trees. Or seek out the Farmington River Trail for a casual walk. Or saunter Castle Craig, ramble Bear Mountain, wander Bluff Point… you get the idea. There’s no shortage of lovely places to walk in Connecticut.

Runners-up: Ride a hot air balloon over Farmington Valley; raft the Housatonic River; take the self-guided walking tour through Yale Marsh Botanical Garden.

8. Delaware: Go birdwatching.

For such a little state, Delaware packs a punch when it comes to birdwatching. The First State's varied ecosystems attract hundreds of bird species, some that hang out here year-round and some that show up only during migration. Prime Hook and Bombay Hook are key spots for waterfowl, shorebirds, terns, and massive groups of geese. Other solid birding areas with good sightlines include Cape Henlopen State Park (look out for the rare piping plover), Brandywine State Park (keep your eyes peeled for the yellow-billed cuckoo), and Fort Delaware State Park (where you’ll see nesting pairs of snowy egrets).

9. Florida: Wildlife watch in the Everglades.

Everglades National Park could rival any zoo for the sheer number of animals you’ll see in a day, starting with Florida’s famed mascot: the alligator. (Don’t worry. Most stay a safe distance from people.) Other easy-to-see critters in the Everglades include turtles, egrets, and herons. Take the ranger-led tour on the paved Anhinga Trail to spot wetland birds and more gators, or the self-guided one along the forested Gumbo Limbo Trail to catch glimpses of owls, even during daylight hours.

How to try it: Everglades National Park

Runners-up: Visit Seacrest Wolf Preserve; scuba or snorkel the hundreds of shipwrecks along the Treasure Coast; tube the springs in Ichetucknee Springs State Park; paddle the bioluminescent lagoons of Florida’s Space Coast.

10. Georgia: Take a scenic swamp drive.

Lush green lily pads, twisted roots, and dark placid waters—the Okefenokee Swamp is a poetic place, and it’s North America’s largest blackwater wetland. You can see most of it from a 90-foot observation tower. But a better idea is to drive the seven-mile Swamp Island Drive (“Auto Tour Route”) loop to get a closer look and do a little gator-spotting. To get a deep dive on the Okefenokee’s wildlife and rich cultural history, refer to the park’s handout brochure as you drive.

Runners-up: Raft the Chattahoochee River’s Columbus Whitewater Express course; hike the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

11. Hawaii: Be on the lookout for lava.

The island of Hawaii is home to some of the newest earth on Earth. See it forming in real time at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This otherworldly land has active lava, lush rainforest, plunging cliffs, vivid rainbows, and essential Native Hawaiian culture—according to legend, Pele, the goddess of volcanoes makes her home in the fiery crater at the summit of Kilauea. Ask a ranger at the visitor’s center where you can see lava the day that you’re there, then plan to arrive after sunset for the full glowing effect.

Runners-up: Surf Oahu’s North Shore; hike Kauai’s Kalalau trail; climb Waikiki’s Diamond Head crater; tidepool or snorkel Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

12. Idaho: Go whitewater rafting.

When it comes to whitewater, Idaho has serious bragging rights: It pioneered commercial rafting trips in the U.S. and boasts more than 3,100 navigable whitewater river miles—more than any other state. But no stretch is more iconic than the middle fork of the Salmon River, where 100 miles of Class III-IV rapids, interspersed with lazy-water breaks, dial up the adventure. Outfitters provide everything you need to flow through Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forest in the lower 48.

Runners-up: Visit Yellowstone Bear World; zip through Lava Zipline Adventure and Ropes Course; cycle the Grand Targhee Bike Park.

13. Illinois: Glide across an ice-skating rink.

In winter, temps plummet in the Prairie State, making it prime territory for outdoor skating rinks of every kind, plus some solidly frozen lakes where you can bundle up and skate your heart out. In Chicago, ice skating at Millennium Park is pure magic, and the squiggle-shaped Maggie Daley Skate Ribbon lets you glide along under one of the world’s most dramatic skylines.

How to try it: Millennium Park Chicago

Runners-up: Forest bath in Rockford, the Forest City; sail on Lake Michigan; explore Shawnee National Forest.

14. Indiana: Rollerblade the Monon Trail.

Once a railway line where trains chugged along from Sheridan to Indianapolis, the Monon Trail has become a paved path that’s a rollerblading fave. And it’s super popular, with visitors and Hoosiers alike. Strap on your wheels and fly past 25 engaging miles of sightseeing, with restaurants, shops, and even a water park. (If blades aren’t your thing, you can still bike or walk the route.)

How to try it: Monon Trail

Runners-up: Wander the Newfields grounds at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; hike the Ohio River Scenic Byway.

15. Iowa: Go cross-country skiing.

Image: Aliyev Alexei Sergeevich/Getty Images

Somewhere between cardio and meditation, cross-country skiing is the rare activity that feels like a reset for both mind and body. And Iowa is one of the best places to try it. Head to wooded Bear River Recreation Trail, or one of Iowa’s many other great places to cross-country ski. Tracing a path through snowy forests, sliding between trees, and spotting animals on a frosty morning add to the tranquility. Many Iowa resorts and city and state parks offer groomed cross-country trails where beginners can get an easy start.

Runner-up: Canoe or kayak the Iowa River.

16. Kansas: Climb to a castle.

It isn’t Oz, but the surprising castle at Coronado Heights does feel like it was airlifted from another place and time. (Actually, it’s a shelter built during the 1930s, but that doesn’t stop locals from embellishing its origin with a ghost story or two.) If you’re up for it, take on the moderately challenging two-mile loop trail up this bluff near Lindsborg. The reward is real: The craggy stairs will take you to the top of this WPA-built fortress, a rare elevated spot in Kansas. Time it right to catch a glorious sunset over the flatlands.

How to try it: Coronado Heights

Runners-up: Hike the Flint Hills.

17. Kentucky: Go caving.

Welcome to cave country. Underneath the surface of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park lies the world’s longest known cave system, with 420 mystical miles of passageways. Both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, these elaborate underground caves and their dramatic stalactites and stalagmites feel like a sci-fi backdrop, complete with dramatic lighting and echoing sounds.

Runners-up: Rock-climb in Red River Gorge; hike the Kentucky Wildlands to Cumberland Falls; spelunk Lost River Cave; traverse the world’s longest swinging underground bridge in Hidden River Cave.

18. Louisiana: Airboat on the swamp.

No doubt, the spiritual heart of Louisiana is swampland. And there’s no better way to get to know it than on a fast-paced airboat ride. Guides point out swimming wild hogs—especially if you picked Honey Island as your swamp-tour destination—and other water-loving creatures, like alligators, otters, egrets, and bald eagles. You’ll also learn about this marshy area’s rich Cajun history.

Runner-up: Swim with dolphins in Grand Isle State Park.

19. Maine: Speed around in a snowmobile.

Thrill-seekers know there’s nothing better than zooming around snowy turf on a snowmobile. To try it out, head to Maine’s mountainous Katahdin region. Whether you’re a snowmobile newbie or pro, you’ll find the ultimate experience along its more than 400 miles of curated trails. Hang on tight as you whip through this winter wonderland, but make sure to gear up, since more speed equals more windchill.

How to try it: Acadia National Park

Runners-up: Dive off Cape Neddick; raft the Kennebec River; sail the Bay of Fundy; hike Acadia National Park.

20. Maryland: Bike the C&O Canal.

Here’s a little history lesson: The C&O Canal transported goods westward from 1828 to 1924, but now it’s part of a park that stretches 185 miles from D.C. to Cumberland. Get to know it by biking its unpaved towpath along the banks of the Potomac River and past the Great Falls. The pathway is mostly flat and the scenery is like a fun flipbook, changing all the time. One minute you’re in a tunnel, the next you’re atop a bridge, and the next you’re coasting a waterfront boardwalk.

21. Massachusetts: Hike along Cape Cod.

We know. You hear “Cape Cod” and think sandcastles, ice cream, and lobster rolls. But the Cape Cod National Seashore will shift your mindset, with its 43,500 acres and 11 year-round walking trails, including pretty coastal pathways. Wander through sand dunes and salt marshes, stop in at inviting beaches, and gaze up at classic lighthouses, all while taking in sweeping ocean views over some 40 miles of Atlantic shoreline. If you catch the hiking bug, you can keep it going in this state, from the Berkshires to Walden Pond to Mount Greylock.

Runners-up: Zipline at the Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens; forest bathe in Chesterfield Gorge; cycle the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.

22. Michigan: Go kayaking.

This Great Lakes State offers some of America’s best paddling opportunities, including quiet water bodies, rushing rivers, official water trails, and more than 3,200 miles of freshwater coastline made just for kayaking. In Ludington State Park, the Hamlin Lake Canoe Trail is a signpost-marked waterway where you can rent a kayak to cross 2.5 miles of marshland. You’ll float over swimming carp and past white cedar and pine. Stop at sandy beaches for a picnic pit spot, and keep your eyes peeled for swans and eagles.

How to try it: Ludington State Park

Runners-up: Ride the Saugatuck dunes; take a shipwreck tour aboard a glass-bottom boat on Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary; traverse the ropes course at Frankenmuth Aerial Park; camp in the Porcupine Mountains.

23. Minnesota: Paddle a canoe.

In the “land of 10,000 lakes” (technically 11,842), it can be tough to pick just one watery adventure, but canoeing in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is super worthwhile. Lining 150 pristine miles of the U.S.-Canada border, these wooded Minnesota lands offer 1,500 miles of peaceful canoe routes. From your floating perch, you can watch for moose and wolves, and—if you’re lucky—marvel at aurora borealis in this designated Dark Sky Sanctuary.

24. Mississippi: Bike the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is the stuff of cyclist dreams. It starts in Natchez (natch) and stretches 444 miles through Mississippi and into parts of Alabama and Tennessee. This well-marked route, maintained by the National Park Service, includes bicycle-only campgrounds (no four-wheel vehicles here) and scenic picnic spots. Woven into its diverse beauty is a rich Native American heritage, which cyclists can learn about at several stop-in historical areas.

How to try it: Natchez Trace Parkway

Runners-up: Ferry to Ship Island; cycle Vicksburg’s Battlefield Tour Road loop.

25. Missouri: Float on a tube.

Image: jacoblund/Getty Images

Canoeing, speedboating, jet-skiing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, and stand-up paddleboarding—there are lots of ways to get out on Missouri’s popular Lake of the Ozarks. But we’re giving tubing top billing here. After all, Missouri’s lake is a bit of a floating party. So join the fun, drape yourself over a doughnut-shaped ring of vinyl, grab a beer, and see who you happen to bump into as you bob along.

How to try it: Lake of the Ozarks

Runners-up: Hike Table Rock State Park; go sailing at Stockton State Park; bike the Katy Trail.

26. Montana: Walk in a national park.

Not every outing needs to be a lung-busting, quad-burning endeavor. Sometimes it’s simply about taking a walk, but doing it surrounded by scenery worthy of the Nature Channel. That’s what Montana’s Glacier National Park offers on its 700 miles of diverse trails. On the gentler side, there are self-guided interpretive walks, like those along the Trail of the Cedars, as well as ranger-led hikes through glacier-carved mountains, clear streams, and explosions of wildflowers.

How to try it: Glacier National Park

Runner-up: Raft the Yellowstone River.

27. Nebraska: Hunt for fossils.

Cue the “Jurassic Park” theme: Nebraska is a fossil hotspot. Signs of prehistoric life are scattered all over the state, including at Toadstool Geologic Park, a swath of land covered in lumpy, mushroom-like rock formations. It’s here you can find fossilized animals from 30 million years ago. Elsewhere in Nebraska, there’s the Ashfall Fossil Beds, the only place on earth where hundreds of complete skeletons of large prehistoric animals have been found, and the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. (Just remember, fossils aren’t souvenirs, so leave them where you found them.)

How to try it: Toadstool Geologic Park

Runners-up: Birdwatch in the Platte River Valley; stargaze at Box Butte Reservoir; hike Scotts Bluff National Monument.

28. Nevada: Go skiing.

Skiers—both black-diamond champs and bunny-hill beginners—can find their people at Nevada’s skiing meccas, including both Mount Rose and Lake Tahoe’s nearby Incline Village. At both spots, staffers are friendly and the views are majestic. Rose is Nevada’s tallest mountain, at 10,785 feet, with some of the continent’s longest continuous vertical slopes. The Chutes, for example, dangles 1,500 vertical feet of extreme terrain. Even better, the snow conditions here are often perfect, remaining powdery even on warm days.

How to try it: Mt. Rose Ski Resort

Runners-up: Rockhound at Garnet Hill; stargaze in Great Basin National Park; gravel ride in Ely; hike Red Rock Canyon; ride the train at Springs Preserve; mountain bike Barnes Canyon.

29. New Hampshire: Backpack the Appalachian Trail.

Newbies need not apply. This challenge is for experienced explorers only. But consider putting it on your bucket list all the same, because backpacking the New Hampshire stretch of the Appalachian Trail—with its 161 alpine tundra miles of steep, rugged, and craggy terrain—is the stuff of legend. And the exposed ridgeline rewards your efforts with jaw-dropping views of the Granite State’s White Mountain National Forest. Mercifully, this popular backcountry portion of the AT has ample signage, campsites and huts for overnighters, plus lakes for breezy pit stops.

How to try it: Appalachian Trail

Runners-up: Paddle Lake Winnipesaukee; ATV at Jericho Mountain State Park.

30. New Jersey: Take a ferry ride.

What other outdoor activity lets you recreate an American immigrant story? From the Garden State’s serene Liberty State Park on the Hudson River, board the ferry to Ellis Island—part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument—and cross the waterway that served as the last leg of the long journey for so many arriving refugees. Along the way, you’ll take in the dramatic view of the Manhattan skyline. Opt for a rooftop seat to feel the water whoosh by.

How to try it: Liberty State Park

Runners-up: Surf at Asbury Park Beach; ski Vernon’s Mountain Creek.

31. New Mexico: Ride a hot air balloon.

There’s nothing like floating serenely above a desert landscape. Which is why every autumn, more than 700 hot air balloons launch simultaneously during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta at—where else?—Balloon Fiesta Park. As if that weren’t enough balloon-themed fun, this magical festival hosts special events like “Balloon Glow,” when the balloonists fire their burners to light up the night and the “Special Shapes Rodeo,” when bright-colored bees, cows, daisy hot-air balloons hover above, filling the New Mexico sky.

Runners-up: Ski Taos; spelunk Carlsbad Caverns; paddle the Rio Grande; climb the via ferrata at Vermejo; explore White Sands National Monument; visit the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary; ride the aerial tramway at Sandia Peak; see ancient carvings at Petroglyph National Monument.

32. New York: See Niagara Falls.

When you get near 6 million feet of roaring water, you just might get a little wet. Niagara Falls, America’s oldest state park, brings on the drama—and the dampness. Ride the electric Maid of the Mist boats to get as close as safely possible to the charging falls. Or, if you prefer to stay dry, visit the new recreation area, appropriately named Gorgeview, for cinematic views of the U.S. side of these famous falls. Looking to chase more falls? Hike to waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park, stand on the overlook beside Middle Falls in Letchworth State Park, or snapshots of Buttermilk Falls near Ithaca.

How to try it: Niagara Falls

Runners-up: Rock climb the Adirondacksyacht off Long Island; paddle Otsego Lake in Cooperstown; stroll Old Westbury Gardens.

33. North Carolina: Cycle the Blue Ridge Parkway.

North Carolina offers some of the most fun you can have on two wheels. It’s a fantastic state for bicyclists, as you can tell from the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which links Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks. On it, you’ll cycle past tree-covered mountains, wide-open skies above lush valleys, waterfalls, and Grandfather Mountain, which you can summit if your legs aren’t already mush.

How to try it: Blue Ridge Parkway

Runners-up: Wreck-dive the Outer Banks; hike Pisgah National Forest.

34. North Dakota: Go mountain biking.

Serious mountain bikers flock to North Dakota for its uncrowded terrain with plenty of rolling hills, pretty forests, and satisfying trails for all skill levels. If you can only do one, bike the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail through the jagged badlands of western North Dakota. This remote, single-track trail offers a great ride through changing scenery—including prairies, ridges, drainages, rocky outcroppings, and two crossings of the Little Missouri River—making for mountain biking that never gets boring. Some of the state’s other best mountain biking trails include the Pipestem Creek Trail, the Harmon Lake Trail, and Long’s X Loop.

How to try it: Maah Dahh Hay Trail

35. Ohio: Visit a botanical garden.

Is there anything more delightfully chill than walking through a lovingly tended garden? Ohio takes that experience to another level with its dozens of beautiful botanical gardens and arboretums, including the flower-filled gardens at the excellent Cincinnati Zoo. (Hot tip: Visit during spring’s tulip bonanza.) You can also marvel at the blooms at Ohio’s well-cultured Franklin Park Conservatory, Dayton’s English-style Wegerzyn Gardens, and the humongous Cleveland Botanical Garden, with more than 20,000 (!) types of plants.

36. Oklahoma: Go paddling.

The Arksansas River—which cuts through four states—is arguably at its best in Oklahoma, at least when it comes to paddling. The mostly shallow waterway offers easy breezy fun, with plenty of locks and dams along the way that slow the flow to a paddling speed. Raft, kayak, or canoe along the narrower stretch of the river northwest of Tulsa. Or head south of the city for barge and bigger boat adventures. Advanced kayakers can face off with the Tulsa Wave whitewater park.

How to try it: Arkansas River

Runners-up: Watch buffalo in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge; see the bird migrations at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge; raft Oklahoma City Riversport Rapids; leaf-peep at Boiling Springs State Park.

37. Oregon: Go kayaking.

Kayakers, meet your match—the rivers of Oregon. Between the Cascades and the coast, you’re spoiled for choice: Paddle the Willamette’s waters, let the stars guide you on a moonlit lake trip, feel the ocean breeze in your hair on coastal estuaries, or get your thrills charging through rapids. Not enough? Trace the path from lake to ocean along the three-mile Siltcoos River Trail. Still want more? Head to Bend for some river sightseeing along the Upper Deschutes River: paddle past the historic Old Mill District, across calm Mirror Pond, past lupine meadows, and into historic Warm Springs.

How to try it: Deschutes River

Runners-up: See the waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park; birdwatch at Mt. Tabor Park; windsurf the Columbia River Gorge; swim in Crater Lake National Parkski Mt. Hood; hike the Lower Klamath Basin Trail; view Haystack Rock from Cannon Beach; hike Drift Creek Falls Trail and its suspension bridge; climb Mary's Peak.

38. Pennsylvania: Go snow tubing.

For pure winter fun, nothing beats snow tubing. Plop down on an inflated tube and pick up speed—the ride is zippy, bouncy, and surprisingly thrilling considering you’re coasting downhill on what looks like a pool toy. And yes, you can lug a bouncy inner tube up any old Pennsylvania hillside to get sliding, but the state’s dedicated snow tubing courses offer extra fun, plus an easy way up. In the Poconos, Camelback Mountain offers no fewer than 40 snow tubing lanes, plus two magic carpet lifts.

Runners-up: Hike and birdwatch at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary; bike the D&L National Heritage Corridor Trail; camp in Allegheny National Forest.

39. Rhode Island: Sail Newport Harbor.

Image: DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Rhode Island really earns its “ocean state” nickname—it’s a world sailing capital that’s hosted the America's Cup for half a century. Try it for yourself during a sailing lesson or a private yacht charter. Or hop a sunset sail for breezy views of lighthouses, vintage mansions, and an old military fort. With 400 miles of beaches, there are plenty of chances to take in those dreamy Atlantic views and watch sailboats glide past. And top off a day of boat-spotting with a trip to the new Sailing Museum, home to the National Sailing Hall of Fame and the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

How to try it: Newport, Rhode Island

Runners-up: Camp on Block Island; birdwatch at Norman Bird Sanctuary; cycle the Blackstone River Bikeway.

40. South Carolina: Gawk at fireflies.

Image: Trevor Williams/Getty Images

South Carolina’s only national park may be a humble beauty, but her light show is one of the world’s most spectacular. You’ll need to aim for a visit in late May and win the ticket lottery, but your reward will be witnessing thousands of lightning bugs blinking in perfect unison amid groves of trees draped in Spanish moss. Can’t get there in time to see the sparkling show? Try for a night tour at Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest—or catch the Columbia Fireflies, a nearby minor league baseball team named after the Congaree’s beloved insects. Parts of their uniforms even glow in the dark.

How to try it: Congaree National Park

Runners-up: Birdwatch at Lake Murray; visit Angel Oak on Johns Island; see the sunflower bloom at Draper Wildlife Management Area.

41. South Dakota: Visit Mount Rushmore.

South Dakota’s most famous must-see, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, is a super-sized way to pay tribute to some of America’s great leaders. The 60-foot faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved into the side of a granite mountain are a dazzling display of art, engineering, and patriotism all rolled into one. The surrounding Black Hills National Forest is also a sacred Lakota Sioux site packed with ponderosa pines, lakes, streams, and other jagged peaks.

Runners-up: Hunt for fossils in Badlands National Park; hike Wind Cave National Park; witness the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup; birdwatch at Fort Pierre.

42. Tennessee: See the wildflowers.

Welcome to America’s most visited national park. The Great Smoky Mountains ups the wow factor with its 1,500 species of wildflowers that dot the park year-round. Sometimes called “Wildflower National Park,” this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is at the top of its game in spring, when you can take a Technicolor hike along the Cataloochee Divide Trail or a blissful drive through Cades Cove. Spot more explosions of color in South Cumberland State Park and on Timberland Park’s Big East Fork Reserve Trail. For more fairy-tale-level blooms, head to Roan Mountain, which has the world’s biggest natural rhododendron garden.

Runners-up: Mountain bike at Tannery Knobs; walk the cable bridge at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park; spelunk underground to Ruby Falls.

43. Texas: Paddle a swan boat.

Image: Stanford Photos/Getty Images

Both regal and ridiculous at the same time, Texas’ swan boats make for a truly Texan experience. Piloting your own giant swan is relaxing, affordable, and kid-friendly—and these two- or four-passenger watercraft deliver views, laughs, even a bit of exercise. In Austin, it’s pretty much required that you rent a swan pedal boat and paddle it around on Lady Bird Lake. Near Houson, you can rent a swan boat at Riva Row to pedal from Town Green Park along the Upper Waterway to the edge of Lake Robbins. And in Dallas, float and boat around Fair Park Lagoon.

How to try it: Lady Bird Lake

Runner-up: Camp in Guadalupe River State Park.

44. Utah: Go canyoneering.

Utah’s wildly photogenic slot canyons may be pretty in pictures, but they’re twice as beautiful in real life. And you don’t need to be a geology buff to appreciate these twisting sandstone canyons, sculpted by water and erosion over centuries. Plenty of outfitters will gladly gear you up and provide knowledgeable guides who show you how to safely rappel and descend into, say, Zebra Canyon at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, or into the Black Hole of White Canyon. And Zion National Park, with its Subway and Narrows, is one of the world’s top canyoneering destinations.

45. Vermont: Go downhill skiing.

Step aside, Rockies and Alps—plenty of pros swear that the snowy forests of Vermont are home to the world’s best powder. And while Vermont offers less height than the mountains of the West, it has plenty of choice: more than a dozen ski resorts, including Okemo Mountain ResortJay Peak, and Sugarbush, whose 2,600 feet of vertical terrain spreads over 20 wooded areas with 16 lifts that shuttle skiers to the tops of 111 trails.

How to try it: Sugarbush Resort

Runner-up: Hike the Long Trail.

46. Virginia: Go camping.

Image: Matthew H Irvin/Getty Images

In Virginia, summer means sleeping under the stars—Shenandoah National Park alone has more than 500 campgrounds. And you can set up camp at more than 1,800 pet-friendly campsites in Virginia’s 29 state parks. Whether you're camping in a tent, a hammock, a yurt, or just snuggling into a sleeping bag, there’s definitely a perfect spot to snooze outdoors in the Old Dominion. False Cape State ParkNew River Trail State Park, and Grayson Highlands are some of the state's most iconic camping spots, but there are also plenty of KOAs, plus three Jellystone Parks.

How to try it: Shenandoah National Park

Runners-up: Surf Virginia Beach; kayak the James River; hike York River State Park; bike the Colonial Parkway or Abingdon’s Virginia Creeper Trail; climb the courses at Go Ape or AdventureWorks.

47. Washington: Climb a mountain.

If the mountains are calling, it must be time to head to Washington state. From Rainier to Baker to the famously explosive St. Helens, Washington is an alpine wonderland. There’s nothing like the view from a towering summit to totally shift your perspective, and it’s worth it to get to the tops of Washington’s best peaks—if you can. Bonus: Summits are the perfect place to see even more mountains. For example, from Olympic National Park’s 5,240-foot Hurricane Ridge summit, you can gaze across the strait to Mount Olympus, doubling your fun.

How to try it: Olympic National Park

48. West Virginia: Ride the rapids.

Get ready for a thrill ride: West Virginia has America’s highest density of whitewater runs, plus New River Gorge, America’s newest national park. Along the way, you’ll float through narrow gorges, under lush canopies, and past massive boulders. Add in world-class rapids, ranging from beginner Class I to complex Class V, and you’ve got an adventurer’s Appalachian paradise. These waters, fueled by snowmelt and rain, flow northward, with a wild lower section for experienced rafters and an upper section that’s tame enough for kids.

How to try it: Adventures on the Gorge

Runners-up: Paddle the Gauley River; tube the Cheat River; float the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers; explore the state parks: Hawks NestPipestem, and Carnifex Ferry Battlefield.

49. Wisconsin: Pet a deer.

Wisconsin attracts two kinds of deer lovers: The ones who hunt venison during open season head to places like Richland and Kewaunee. And those who prefer to pet and feed these wide-eyed animals head to Wisconsin Deer Park, a wildly popular spot in Wisconsin Dells where you can hang out with friendly fawns. Wisconsin’s other petting zoos with deer include Peck's Farm Market East, the Lake Geneva Animal Gardens, and the Wilderness Walk Zoo.

How to try it: Wisconsin Deer Park

50. Wyoming: Gaze at a geyser.

First, there’s quiet, then sometimes a hiss, and then—quick as your next breath—water erupts through the ground like a fire hose on full blast. Ready to be both dazzled and humbled? Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park has more than half of the world’s geysers. Some of these pressurized hot springs are predictable—Old Faithful didn’t get its name for nothing—while others, like the cone-like Beehive Geyser and remote Lone Star Geyser are a constant surprise. These bubblers are dramatic reminders of the powerful forces boiling beneath the earth’s surface, and it’s pretty memorable to walk among them.

Runners-up: Backcountry camp at Grand Teton National Park; ride horseback at Red Reflet Ranch; hike Shoshone National Forest; pedal Beck Lake Bike Park; windsurf the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams