5 Spring Break Trips That Don’t Require Boozing In Mexico

Neon colored fruity cocktails consumed poolside with college students and bad house music in the background not really your thing? Spring break can be a lot of things, and it doesn’t have to fit the classic stereotype of sunburned jocks taking tequila shots in Cabo.

Spring is that perfect time of year when it’s not quite summer but the weather’s nicer so you can take full advantage of the great outdoors while still avoiding the larger crowds of tourists. If you’re willing to invest a little time in adventure planning, you can get some serious payoff. This is the time of camping and road trips after all.

So start packing your tent and down sleeping bag and get ready to explore. And although you might not be boozing at Senor Frogs, feel free to bring a flask of high-quality whiskey. It’s perfect around a campfire.

Explore Red Rock Country, Southwestern Utah

Some of my best spring break trips have been spent in southwestern Utah. This is the hotspot of mountain biking, canyoneering and just good old-fashioned exploring. If your mountain biking legs are itching to get out, you can’t do any better than the White Rim Trail. Arches National Park is always busy no matter what time of year, so either be sure to reserve your campsite in advance or opt for the less frequented Canyonlands; Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District is easy to access from Moab, but is far enough out that you’ll definitely feel off the grid. You’ll freeze at night, but during the day you’ll get dessert spring heat and low crowds. Be sure to bring ample down and wool for when the sun sets.

Hike in Yosemite National Park, California

One of the most iconic and most visited National Parks in the US, you should do whatever you can to avoid Yosemite National Park in the peak of summer. Springtime, however? Have at it. Because you are at elevation, you will need to pack layers, and you’ll need to be ok with the potential of waking up to snow on the ground, but you’ll have a beautiful park with a touch more peace and quiet than most people see it in. Take a day hike to explore a small part of the John Muir Trail.

Highway 101 Road Trip, Oregon and California

It might not be warm enough to do the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, but a drive down the coast of Oregon and California in springtime is a beautiful thing. There are plenty of state parks along the way, which are much less crowded this time of year, and you’ll pass through enough cities that you can log in some urban adventures.

Bike in Yellowstone National Park, Montana

In the summer you can barely see a buffalo without a tourist and a camera right next to it, and cycling within the National Park would be near suicide, but in the early spring when the roads are plowed and the crowds have yet to arrive en masse, cycling is an excellent way to explore Yellowstone. It’s still a time of year when you are subject to the desires of the weather gods, so you will want to check with the local park service which roads are open.

A Hut-to-Hut Trip at Mount Rainier, Washington

Cross country skiing and snowshoe in the Mount Tahoma Trails Association‘s hut and yurt system. The trail system lies just outside of Mount Rainier National Park, and includes two cabins and a yurt for overnights. You’ll want to be sure to check availability online, and weather can quickly change your winter adventure into more of a muddy hike, but the views of Mount Rainier from High Hut are stunning and certainly worth it.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

Want A National Park All To Yourself? Visit Canyonlands National Park In Winter

It was 12 degrees as we stood before the Mesa Arch in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park early on a Monday morning in January waiting for the sun to rise. But we weren’t complaining because we knew that we had this wild and magnificent place almost all to ourselves.

Photographers have gathered at the Mesa Arch to photograph the early morning light that unfolds into the vast, majestic canyonlands below since the previously obscure area became a national park in 1964. But on this day – the first workday after the New Year – there were but two photographers, Bryan from Denver and Ryan from Cortez, Colorado, and their companions trying their luck.
We compared notes on our morning drives and hikes and realized that the five of us may have represented the entire human population of the 527-square-mile park at that moment. If you want to commune with nature but hate visiting our national parks out west when the roads and hiking paths are clogged with visitors, go now, in the dead of winter, when you’ll feel like you have some of our greatest natural treasures all to yourself. On a recent five-day road trip, I enjoyed blissful quiet at all three national parks I visited: Mesa Verde, Canyonlands and Arches.

Bryan had tried to photograph the Mesa Arch at sunrise last May but arrived too late and couldn’t get near the vista.

“We got there an hour before sunrise, but it was already too late,” he lamented. “There was a row of about 35 photographers here, all with their tripods spread out, and I couldn’t even get near the arch.”

We had no such problem on this morning but we did have to contend with the cold. As we waited for the sun to rise, Julia and Ryan regaled us with stories about her four years working in the ER of a hospital on an Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.

“They don’t shoot each other,” Ryan said, when I asked if Julia treated a lot of gunshot wounds. “The Apache are still warriors. Shooting people is considered kind of wimpy. They’d be more likely to attack someone with knives, baseball bats, two-by-fours, you name it.”

It was an overcast morning and by 7:40 the sun was two minutes late rising and we started to fret. But a few minutes later, the sun peaked through and gradually blanketed the canyonlands below in a lovely, golden light. We could see for miles and the landscape of colorful canyons, mesas, and buttes was peculiar, wild and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

The official Canyonlands map boasts that “Canyonlands is wild America” and that is not an exaggeration. Canyonlands is big enough that you can find places to escape the crowds even in the peak season, but in the dead of winter the whole place is blissfully empty. (It gets about half the number of visitors as nearby Arches NP.) The park has five distinct sections and I had time to visit just two, the Island in the Sky and Needles districts, which are both an easy day trip from Moab.

Island in the Sky is often referred to as the park’s observation tower because it provides a view of the canyons with the backdrop of three mountain ranges – the La Sals, the Abajos and the Henrys. I took hikes around Mesa Arch and near the Grand View point overlook and barely scratched the surface of what’s possible in this area.

Needles is a longer drive from Moab, but it’s worth the trek to see the massive sandstone spires that give the place its name. On the way there or back, be sure to visit Newspaper Rock, a remarkable collection of petroglyphs that were carved by Native American peoples between about 700 B.C. and 1300 A.D.

If you want to go way off the beaten track in this area, check out the view at the end of the Needles Overlook road, and on the way back stop off at Rockland Ranch, a unique community of modern day cliff dwellers, some of them polygamists, that is a few miles down a dirt road that forks off the Needles Overlook road.

And while you’re in the Island in the Sky vicinity, definitely check out Dead Horse Point State Park, which has amazing panoramas some 2,000 feet above the Colorado River.

On my last hike in Canyonlands, I sat on a rock and looked out at the Wooden Shoe arch and realized what I loved most about this place: the absolute silence. I live in Chicago, where it’s nearly impossible to find a truly silent place with no chatter, no cars zooming by, nothing. But this place, this place is so blissfully silent that you really do feel at one with nature.

A few caveats about visiting Canyonlands NP in the winter. Daytime high temperatures are typically in the 30s and 40s and you should be prepared for snow. Bring your own water and food – even the vending machines are shut down for the winter at Needles. The roads can be a bit snowy and icy (they were pretty clear when I was there in early January) but there are so few cars that you can drive at your own pace, and stop in the middle of the road to take photos whenever you want. And be extra careful if you’re hiking because no one is going to find you if you get lost in the winter.

I asked Kati Thomas, a park ranger at Canyonlands, if she thought I was on safe ground recommending Canyonlands in the winter and she didn’t hesitate.

“People should be prepared for snow, but it’s pretty unusual for us to have to close the roads for more than a few hours,” she said. “I think winter is a great, great time to be here.”

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Photo Of The Day: Stand-Up Paddling On The Colorado River

The confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers in Utah is a maginificent sight for the adventurous traveler. To see it from above is one thing – you can access it by trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park – but to see it from the ground is quite another.

Today’s Photo of the Day comes to us from Flickr user Terra_Tripper, who paddleboarded to the confluence of the two great rivers of the West – an up-close way to explore one of America’s greatest natural spaces.

Have you been somewhere few people get to?
Add your photos to the Gadling Flickr pool to be chosen for the Photo of the Day feature.

[Photo credit: Terra_Tripper]