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Bryan Fitzmartin's pics for Best Outdoor Locations in the United States (part two in our series)

September 03, 2020

Review by Bryan Fitzmartin

This second list in our series of best outdoor locations in the United States, has been somewhat delayed, however, we’re very proud to present it – the second
of our series. During our search for the best places to feature on our list, we were somewhat saddened to find that some of the most recommended places for outdoor adventures in the United States, such as the Oneonta Gorge in Oregon, and the Bearskin Lake (off of the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway) in Minnesota, had closed, but one shouldn’t worry too much, all of the best are still open. So without further ado, let’s get right to our next list of best locations for outdoor adventures in America.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

This location happens to be unique in some ways compared to many of the locations we’ve reviewed thus far in part one (which is listed below) – don’t get us wrong however, it has many good things in common with them as well. For starters, like many of the other locations from part one, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park offers some of the best and most scenic views in North America, an example is Mount Whitney, coming in at 14,494 feet which is the tallest mountain in the entire lower 48 states. The park also boasts many impressive deep canyons and gorges, and roaring rivers; one can climb all the 390 stairs to the top of Moro Rock and see the entire Great Western Divide capped with its many sawtoothed peaks and impressive skyline. Also, just like many of the locations in our previous article (again which is listed below), the area boasts very impressive camping, and impressive wildlife (315 kinds in total actually) such as gray foxes, bobcats, western and mountain bluebirds, falcons, and most importantly perhaps -- black bears. Visitors should be aware however that because of the bears the park has very specific rules regarding camping, all food (and trash as well) must be stored in bear boxes, which all campsites always come equipped with; we’re told the bears are very interested in human food so this is important. When it comes to hiking, there are 800 miles of trails available, the most well known of which is the John Muir Trail, which is 221 miles long and stretches from Yosemite Valley all the way to Mount Whitney.

As we said before however, there are two very big things that set this location apart and make it very unique, and the first one of them does not have anything to do with what happens above ground, but below it; specifically we’re talking about the 200 marble caverns of Crystal Cave, with its entire subterranean wonder, which is open to visitors during the summer. Also, perhaps equally importantly is what the Sequoia National Park national park was originally created for in the first place -- to protect it’s trees, but it’s key to point out that they’re not just any trees. The park has the largest tree in the world (which has been named “General Sherman”) and an extremely extensive collection of trees that literally grow to over 26 stories high (yes, that’s right, 26 stories); so when one visits, it’s important not to forget what Sequoia Nation Park was all about in the first place, it might be one of the very first things you notice, and perhaps the most impressive thing there.


Thor's Well, Oregon

This attraction is located at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, three miles to the south of Yachats (which is part of Lincoln County in Oregon) and it has a very unique name. However, the first step to understanding the outdoor adventure that is Thor’s Well, is understanding what Thor’s Well actually is – looking at a picture of it may seem misleading, as it looks like a place where the pacific ocean falls into a massive sinkhole of some kind or another. It’s actually even been called “the gate to hell” but this name is actually rather misleading as there is no nefarious intent of any kind when it comes to Thor’s Well, nor does the water that falls into it get lost in any way. In reality, Thor’s Well was probably formed when the basalt ocean rock ceiling of a sea cave collapsed in on itself. We know this because that’s exactly where the water falls into – an ocean cave that’s about 20 feet deep, so the water doesn’t have a very long way to fall before it reaches the bottom of the cave below (the entrance at that end leads out to sea). In that sense, though it may look strange all Thor’s Well really is a unique geological feature for travelers and outdoor adventurers to enjoy. It should also be noted that there are other places like this in Oregon (which is strange, since one may guess this place is completely unique but it turns out not at all), there are two others actually, located in the general area within the distance of a single mile, known as “Devil’s Churn” and “Spouting Horn” which are similar, but also breathtaking geological phenomenon in their own right.

When visiting Thor’s Well, one should also be on the lookout for “Sneaker Waves,” which are powerful waves that show up randomly on the Pacific Coast line in places like Oregon and Washington State. These waves are dangerous because they can pull someone out to sea, so one must be slightly careful and not get extremely close to Thor’s Well. Low tide is generally thought to be the safest time to visit.

Thor’s Well is just short drive from the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center – less than half a mile actually. The Visitor Center is located off of the Oregon Coast Highway which is situated about 4 miles south of Yachats, Oregon (one should park at the Cook’s Chasm pull-out). Upon arriving, look for signs for the “Sprouting Horn” trail. If you look down towards the ocean water, you should also see a set of stairs descending towards the shore. You can find Thor’s well there. When one arrives, they can also check out the Heceta Head Lighthouse and the Sea Lion Caves which are both located only 15 min away, and there are also the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site – these two are both located about 35 minutes away.


Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, Arizona

Upon arrival at this amazing outdoor location, certainly and truly one of the most breathtaking in America, be ready to see the vibrant red color amongst all the magnificent rock formations you’ll immediately see all around you. The Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness area boasts 43,950 acres of amazing panorama’s, impressive canyon walls, rock outcroppings, high cliffs, rock art (made by the area’s ancient native inhabitants), and impressive trails (exactly 58 miles of trails, in fact), the most interesting of which is the aptly named Secret Mountain trail which is also the longest at 4.4 miles (Secret Mountain itself that the trail is named for is 6,600 feet tall, for those who like trivia). Other major trails include Long Canyon, Sterling Canyon (the Vultee Arch Trail), Boynton Canyon, and Devil's Bridge Trail. It is actually recommended that hikers plan several trails into their itinerary, and not just one, since many of them actually have “dead-ends” that end in canyons, and may not be as long as one would like for a full day of hiking, but are still extremely magnificent.

The area is just minutes away from downtown Sedona, 25 miles south of Flagstaff, and 110 miles north of Phoenix. It can be found off of Dry Creek Road also known as Forest Service Road 152 (FR 152) -- located off of US 89 in Sedona.


Uncompahgre National Forest, Oregon

The Uncompahgre National Forest is somewhat unique insofar as its size -- it covers a whopping 1 million acres across western Colorado, but that’s just the start of the story. Uncompahgre National Forest (which happens to also contain parts of the San Juan Mountains) is actually part of a network of three forests. Along with the Grand Mesa, and Gunnison National Forests, all of them together comprise a staggering 3,161,912 acres and contain some of the most spectacular scenery in the entire Rocky Mountains. Uncompahgre just so happens to be the smallest of the three – but that fact does not make its scenery or its mountains any less amazing.

Want to go camping during your trip? No problem – all three forests contain ten designated “Wilderness areas” comprising a total of nineteen percent of their acreage. Camping, fishing, and hiking, are all welcome in these areas. If it’s skiing you’re after one can try Telluride Ski Area for family skiing or Silverton Mountain – however, that second option is not for the faint of heart. Silverton Mountain has trails so pristine, and snow so deep and untouched, that every skier is required to have avalanche gear on hand. Want to know about specific hiking trails on hand? Check out Bear Creek National Recreation Trail, Blue Lakes Trail, and Handies Peak. The first of which was built by miners along a deep gorge; amazingly it was done without single power tool on hand to help them.

Some of the most spectacular sites at these National Parks include the Alpine Tunnel, which at one time stood as the highest railroad tunnel all of North America; the Grand Mesa, which is one of the world's largest flat top mountains, interestingly enough that mountain has more more than 300 lakes, and there is also the Bridal Veil falls, coming in at 355 feet high. Other activities in the area include Snowmobiling, Snowshoeing, Cross Country Skiing, Boating, Biking, and Hunting, which makes Uncompahgre National Forest worth checking out for sure.


The Lost Coast, CA

When trying to understand the “Lost Coast,” one must first understand exactly what the “Lost Coast” is. The Lost Coast is a section of North California that was too rugged because of the steep cliffs of the King Range Moutains for highway construction – it was simply too costly to do that. Plus, there were other problems, in the early 20th century, severe rains would wash away any roads in the area, leading to a mass exodus in terms of the local population. What still exists of the population of the Lost Coast are concentrated in a small number of communities such as Westport, Shelter Cove, and Whitehorn. In fact the entire Lost Coast has only one restaurant and bar, which is the “The Yellow Rose.” It can be found along 28-mile long stretch of road called “The Wildcat.” Since the time that everyone left, the Lost Coast has become a haven for adventurers and those who love the great outdoors.

If it’s hiking you’re after the Lost Coast has 463 acres available. Many people come to backpack through the Lost Coast Trail-North, which is 25-miles long (along the beach), and usually takes about three days. This trail is the only one our entire list that requires a permit (which has a $6 reservation fee). Hikers should also be aware that this trail is sometimes plagued by tides that make some portions impassable. However, day hikers are not required to get a permit.

Beyond excellent hiking, the most unique attraction this area has to offer though, might very well be its wildlife – especially on the beaches. Whether it’s marine mammals, seabirds, Pacific harbor seals, sea lions, or whale watching, the Lost Coast has plenty to see when it comes to animal life on the waterfront in this Northern California’s coastal wilderness. While the scenery and wildlife are breathtaking, people should also be on the lookout for “Sneaker Waves” which are powerful waves that can appear from time to time that can pull beach-goers out to sea, these are known to plague that area around the Amerircan Pacific Coast, and they were also discussed above in the section on “Thor’s Well.”


So there you have it, better late than never, those are our picks for this second list of best outdoor locations in the United States. We had a lot of fun compiling this list, and hope everyone had a lot of fun reading it. For our next series of posts, instead of a lists that feature many locations such as this one, we will focus on singular posts about the best places in America for outdoor adventures, showcasing just one location at a time, since those can be written and posted much faster. The first will take us to the east coast and will focus on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia – which is considered to be America's Most Beautiful Highway. Until then, happy trail hunting.





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