When it comes to having a thirst for adventure, the only real way to quench it is—well—with water! Be it ocean or lake, whitewater creek or languid river, sometimes there’s nothing more rewarding than getting your feet wet with good-old-fashioned water-based recreation. Thankfully, this country is positively swimming with world-class water adventures. From hidden beach backpacking trips to epic waterfall adventures, here’s a rundown of some of the best places in the US to quench your thirst for adventure—with water features and water activities front and center.
Oh, and while you’re out there, be sure to stay hydrated yourself! Our 3D Hydro Reservoir is the perfect companion for all your agua-adventures. Happy hydrating!
Mountain Lake Adventures
Mountains are awesome. Lakes are too. Mountain lakes? Boy howdy—you better hold onto your trekking poles, because there’s not much better than a beautiful body of freshwater atop a mountainous landscape.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Sprinkled throughout Colorado’s iconic Rocky Mountain National Park are no fewer than 156 glittering mountain lakes. Some are easy to get to. Some are more strenuous. All are totally memorable for their bone-chillingly cold waters, picturesque backdrops, and legendary glass-like surfaces that essentially double the natural beauty around you (ahem, mirror mirror on the mountain lake, anyone?). One standout mountain lake in Rocky Mountain NP is Sky Pond. Weaving through sweet-smelling pines and up a valley of ever-unfolding vistas, this 9-mile round trip hike features heart-pumping inclines, crisp mountain air, and a glorious Gatorade-blue glacial lake at the top.
If there were a tagline for Phelps Lake, it might read something like this: The most iconic adventure in the most iconic place on Earth. Sure, that’s maybe a tad hyperbolic. But taglines are meant to be hyperbolic, right? Located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Phelps Lake is a shimmering mountain lake at the base of Death Canyon. Its unmatched beauty isn’t what makes it a Teton classic. And neither is the 1.2-mile hike to get there. It’s the “Jumping Rock” that makes Phelps Lake such a must-experience. Sure, on paper, it’s just a 20-foot boulder that locals and visitors regularly leap from in summer months. But when you combine the thrill of frigid water and gravity-abandonment with colossal canyon views, moose encounters, and the fact that you’re smack in the middle of the Tetons—well, it’s a mountain lake adventure worthy of every bucket list.
Water Trail Excursions
For the uninitiated, water trails—or “blueways”—are marked routes on navigable waterways, from rivers to lakes to canals. Most water trails in the US are maintained by the National Park Service (which means you can trust them to be both reliably marked and beautiful). And most offer canoeists and flatwater paddlers some of the most memorable overnight paddling excursions one can find.
Huron River Water Trail
In the North Country woods of Southern Michigan, the Huron River Water Trail features 100-miles of incredible inland paddling. Traveling through a mix of bucolic scenery, tiny townships, and subtly breathtaking arborous beauty, this 5-day paddle is one to remember. For anglers, it offers some of the best fishing in the region with bass, northern pike, walleye, catfish, trout, muskie, and more very prevalent and very keen to bite.
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Water Trail
For 48 miles, the Chattahoochee River Water Trail ebbs and flows through North Georgia’s most picturesque terrain: verdant wooded banks, rocky shoals, and rolling hillsides. For canoeists, kayakers, and even semi-experienced standup paddlers, it offers a great “journey trip” full of quaint sandy campsites and even fun Class I-II rapids to keep things interesting. If paddling is more than what you’re looking for, do as the local Atlantans do: turn your water trail adventure into an innertube adventure. This is one of the best (and most popular) tube floats around. “Fun” doesn’t begin to capture it.
When it comes to water adventures, you simply can’t leave out waterfalls. They’re the bread & butter, meat & potatoes, and guilty pleasures for water enthusiasts everywhere. From trickling cascades to plunging behemoths, there’s just something about waterfalls that will forever and always keep the adventurous-at-heart coming back for more every time.
Columbia River Gorge
Where better to start than “Waterfall Alley” itself? Littered along the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge is an all-you-imagine buffet of some of the country’s most scenic waterfalls. Multnomah is arguably the most famous—the tallest waterfall in Oregon and a drop dead gorgeous two-tiered behemoth that drops 620-feet in total. For a more rugged (yet equally popular) hike, nearby Oneonta Gorge features an impossibly lush, moss-covered slot canyon, where visitors hike over precarious logjams and through knee-deep waters to reach a mesmerizing waterfall and plunge pool at the back of the canyon. And Wahclella is another majestical mist-sprayer that will easily occupy an entire memory card’s worth on your camera.
Middle Tennessee Circuit
Between Nashville (the capital of Tennessee) and Chattanooga (the outdoor capital of Tennessee) exists an underrated yet utterly world-class lineup of jaw-dropping waterfalls. In Chattanooga, Rainbow Falls is a 50-foot beaut’ with emerald waters and power personified. On the route towards Nashville, Savage Gulf State Natural Area is home to Foster Falls—a 60-foot gem with an incredible swimming hole at the base and equally incredible sport climbing nearby. And the staircase cascade of nearby Cummins Falls offers one of the best natural swimming holes on the entire East Coast.
Serene Beach Trips
When freshwater doesn’t cut it, it’s time to take your water adventure to the coast. And when overcrowded beach hotspots aren’t offering the kind of soul-searching seclusion you need, it’s time to go for a beach backpacking trip.
Lost Coast Trail
It’s a bit oxymoronic, but the most sought-after secluded beach backpacking destination is easily California’s Lost Coast Trail. This 25-mile strip of untouched beach may be five hours north of San Francisco, but it feels worlds away. You’re more likely to see a bear than fellow humans out there; more likely to encounter a sea lion than cell service; more likely—you get the point. It’s secluded! Delightfully secluded. And quite possibly one of the most scenic stretches of coast along the entire Pacific (looking at you, Big Sur).
Acadia National Park
On the polar opposite end of the United States geographical spectrum, Acadia National Park offers Easterners their own rugged slice of solitude. In Acadia, this is a land where mercurial surf meets glacially-carved cliffs, hundreds of isolated islands, and countless hidden coves and beaches. Whether sea kayaking among the Porcupine Islands or paddle boarding among the many calm inlets or even backpacking among the rocky headlands, Acadia is a water-filled wonderland that shouldn’t be missed.
However you choose to quench your thirst for the outdoors, one thing is clear: you should always stay hydrated!
Written by Matcha for Gregory Mountain Products.