With a small town vibe and largely untouched nature, it’s no wonder nature lovers flock to Ely, Minnesota. Unlike many adventure destinations in the far north, Ely’s outdoor experiences are available year-round. Summer is the perfect time to explore the Superior National Forest on a mountain bike or hike. The hike to Secret-Black Stone Overlook and the views of small lakes and cut-off ridges of the glacier are breathtaking. More than 5,000 lakes, rivers and streams make Ely a great choice for rafting, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Popular outdoor activities in winter include snowshoeing and ice fishing.
North Conway, New Hampshire
You don’t usually associate New Hampshire with mountain species, but it turns out that North Conway, New Hampshire, is one of the best places for climbing on the entire east coast. Mountaineers looking for a challenge go straight to nearby Mount Washington, the summit of 6,288 feet, known for its unpredictable weather. Another popular place for hikers and swimmers is Echo Lake State Park. The Saco River is unparalleled in kayaking. During the winter months, return to Mount Washington for skiing and ice climbing.
Durango, Colorado offers almost everything nature lovers can ask for. The nearby Rockies offer world-class surroundings for hiking, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding and ice climbing. Even closer are the San Juan Mountains and Mesa Verde National Park. Thanks to an altitude of 6,500 feet, most people go to Durango because of their many mountain sports, such as kayaking, rafting and kayaking through the gorges; sandstone climbing in East Animas; or cycling at the World Mountain Biking Championships. For the truly adventurous, the Colorado Trail is great for hiking and biking, stretching 800 miles from Denver to Durango.
Boone, North Carolina
Boone is one of the few towns on the east coast with both a small population and an elevated location. Boone is located 3332 meters above sea level and is home to parks, rivers and mountains that are sure to please all nature lovers. After all, the city is named after one of America’s most famous foreign tribes: Daniel Boone. Walk to Pisgah National Forest for mountain biking, climbing and hiking. For kayaking and rafting, you can’t go wrong between the Nolichucky River and the French Broad River. In the winter, you can take a short drive to Banner Elk or Blowing Rock for some of the best skiing in the south.
While one of the largest cities on this list, Bend, Oregon has maintained its small-town knowledge through the rapid population growth of recent years and remains a mecca for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Explore the Deschutes River by ferry, canoe or kayak, then climb or hike Smith Rock. Black Butte is a great place for mountain biking, while the Deschutes National Forest is unbeatable for unspoilt hiking trails. Bend sits at 3,635 feet, making it as attractive as a winter destination; choose Bachelor Mountain or Tumalo Mountain for skiing or snowshoeing.
Thanks to Portland’s stunning scenery, Maine is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of real life. Relax by doing as a Portlander and going to Pophman Beach, where sunbathing alone is better than swimming and diving. For a little more activity, take a canoe or kayak and go to the calm waters of Casco Bay, Beaver Pond, Haskell Pond, Highland Lake or Presumpscot River Reservoir. There are also many opportunities for rafting. In winter, a large number of local slopes are good for skiing, and they vary in difficulty easily for skiers of all levels. Mountain biking, hiking and climbing are all available on Mount Bradbury, while the lighthouses for the lighthouses around Cape Elizabeth offer a truly unique experience.
One of the least touristy towns on the island of Maui in Hawaii, little Paia is truly a hidden gem. Paia is located right on the beach, making it a mecca for water sports enthusiasts. Surfing and kayaking are popular because they are all over Hawaii, but windsurfing has become a hallmark of Paia. Take a board and hit the water, and you may be able to spot the local celebrity Laird Hamilton, the regular Paia and his beaches.