We love winter and all it brings: fires, warm sweaters, skiing and flasks of Scotch. Still, come June, we’re ready to bust out and undertake some adventures that can only be done in the warmer months. Memorial Day is traditionally when bikes and boats and boots get dusted off and you hit the ground running until the Labor Day slow down. This summer, why not go a little further and tackle something truly epic? We’re here to help with five great summer-only, all-American adventures. There are only 12 weeks in the season, so get planning.
Hut-to-Hut Hike the Presidential Range
New Hampshire’s White Mountains are only a couple hours’ drive from Boston but feel like a world away. What they lack in altitude, they make up for in scenery and unpredictable weather. In fact, the highest wind speed ever recorded (231 miles per hour) was atop Mount Washington. Not someplace you’d want to be in February. But while every summer throngs of tourists take the easy way to the top, by road or cog railway, you can proudly wave to them from the trail as you hike your way across this majestic set of peaks named for Presidents Adams, Jefferson, Washington and ten others. Sure, you can camp, but the classic way to do this 19-mile traverse is to sleep in the huts set up and maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Each hut is slightly different in terms of amenities, but you can count on a warm bed and magnificent views. Book your bunk early though. You’re not the only one trying to get out of town in the summer.
Swim Lake Superior
Open water swimming requires stamina, technique and, well, open water. From December through March, the two-mile channel of Lake Superior between Bayfield, Wisconsin and the town of LaPointe on Madeleine Island is frozen solid and used as an ice road for vehicles traveling back and forth from this closest of the Apostle Islands. But come August, a couple hundred brave souls plunge into this
arrogant massive lake and swim across. A competitive wave of swimmers tend to finish the race in about 45 minutes, while less ambitious swimmers can also tackle the challenge at their own pace — though everybody has to bring your own kayak pilot. While this shallower stretch of Superior can warm to the low 70s by August, the big lake is known to stay in the 40s all summer, so we recommend a wetsuit.
Climb Longs Peak
Sure, you can tackle a winter ascent of Longs, the highest peak in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. But unless you’re geared and trained for technical ice travel and prepared to bivouac in a snow cave, we recommend waiting until summer to bag this popular Fourteener. Typically, the snow is gone from all but the shadowed parts of the route by July, and you can tackle it as a long day hike (set off from the trailhead at 3 a.m.) or overnight it by camping in the Boulder Field at 12,000 feet. Either way, be prepared for some serious altitude gain, lung- and thigh-busting hiking and sheer drops after you pass through the Keyhole to the back side of the mountain.
Mountain Bike the Continental Divide
A cross-country bike trip should be on every adventurer’s bucket list. How about doing it top to bottom, with over 200,000 feet of vertical gain? Take a sabbatical (or quit your job) and set off from Eureka, Montana and aim south for the Mexican border, riding along the spine of the Rockies along the way. You’ll pass through just about every type of terrain we have in this great country, from grassland to desert to subalpine. Unless you want to schlep all your food and gear, plan to restock in towns along the way, and remember that a good set of tires and some spare tubes may be about the best investments you can make.
Raft the Grand Canyon
First of all, let us say that you can paddle the Colorado River in winter, but most guide services take the cold months off for obvious reasons and because the water typically isn’t as high. Come summer, this classic of American adventure is much like it was a hundred years ago: wooden dories, class IV rapids and a wild remoteness like few other places in the country. Keep in mind you have to pack out everything you packed in — and we mean everything — so we recommend a reputable guide service who takes care of all the unsavory business. Needless to say, rafting the Grand Canyon is a popular thing to do, and there’s a long waiting list, whether you opt for a two-day trip or the full-on three week epic. So while you may not be able to do it this summer, get on the list for 2014.