NAMEKAGON RIVER, WISCONSIN
This spring float your boat in the Namekagon River, part of the 252-mile St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Here you’ll paddle everything from tight, twisty swiftwater runs and narrow passages between steep sandy banks to lazy, meandering routes through glacier-sculptured forests and wetlands. The trip can be split into three sections: Namekagon Dam to Hayward Landing (33 miles, navigable only during the spring runoff); Hayward Landing to Trego (29 miles); and Trego to Riverside, below the confluence with the St. Croix River (40 miles). In high water, put in at Namekagon Dam on National Forest Road 211, off County Highway M east of Cable. Later in the season, use the Hayward Landing put-in on Wisconsin 27 outside the town of Hayward, 150 miles north of the Twin Cities via U.S. 63. Overnight camping is restricted on posted private land within the riverway, so stick to the 70 designated sites along the river (permits aren’t necessary). The Wild River Inn in Hayward (715-634-2631) and Namekagon Canoe Rental near Trego on Highway 77 (715-466-2691) rent canoes for about $13 per day and can help with shuttles. A good source for listings of outfitters and services and for information on current water levels is the National Park Service Visitor Center in Trego. Call 715-635-8346 for information.
JOHN DAY RIVER, OREGON
Looking for some solitude this spring? Then point your canoe down the John Day, a 550-mile free-flowing tributary of the Columbia River. Though people are few here, the land is far from empty; a sharp-eyed paddler will see golden eagles, antelope, bobcats, beavers, bighorn sheep and the occasional rattlesnake. And for those who’d feel naked without rod and reel, the fishing for smallmouth bass and steelhead is superb. Catch the early-season North Fork runoff, a 44-mile stretch of white-water between Dale and Monument, in late March and early April. Another fine trip involves putting in at the Service Creek bridge where Route 19 crosses the main stem of the John Day and floating the 48 miles down to Clarno. If that whets your appetite and you want more, keep going till you reach Cottonwood, another 70 miles down river. Camping on public land along the river is unrestricted, but it’s good form to pitch tents on the beaches. Use a fire pan, (fire restricted after June 1st) and pack out all rubbish and human waste. A complete listing of outfitters that offer shuttle service for canoeists is available from the Bureau of Land Management office in Prineville (541-416-6700).
These days Moab and mountain bikes are as inseparable as hot dogs and mustard–but it wasn’t always so. The former uranium boom-and-bust town came to life again in the mid-1980s when Bill and Robin Groff ignored skeptics and began stocking new-fangled mountain bikes at their shop. Soon the locals were riding the Slickrock Trail, established in 1969 as a motorcross route, and the rest is the stuff of myth. The 12.5-mile bike trail is laid out on the sandstone plateau east of town. It’s blazed with painted white dashes, but black tire marks on the rock do a better job of pointing the way. For beginners, Gemini Bridges and Amasa Back offer scenic vistas and easier riding. After a few days in the saddle, strap on a day pack and hike to the area’s many distinctive sandstone arches, including Delicate Arch and Mesa Arch in Arches National Park. The best times to find yourself in Moab are in the spring and the fall, but unless you’re born to be wild, beware of venturing here during college spring break when erstwhile students turn the place into a prodigious mountain-biking party. For one of the most varied menus in town, serving up everything from sandwiches to spaghetti, try Eddie McStiff’s restaurant. For more information call Rim Cyclery at 801-259-5333.
PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS STATE PARK, MICHIGAN
With 63,000 acres, four lakes, 26 miles of Lake Superior shoreline and a rugged range of surprisingly lofty hills, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the jewel in the crown of Michigan’s parks. Spring is a great time to be here, since the Winnebago caravans don’t stream north until after Memorial Day. Located on the north shore of the wild-and-woolly Upper Peninsula, the park offers two modern campgrounds at Union Bay and Presque Isle, where most people stay. But if you feel like being alone, pitch your tent anywhere along the beach or off the park’s 90 miles of hiking trails. The prettiest campsites are along the 16-mile Lake Superior Trail, which follows the shoreline, skirts the forest, fords creeks and provides magnificent views of the big, ice-cold lake. Be sure to hang your food at night; this is black-bear country, and the critters are expert at relieving careless campers of their victuals. For more information, call the park at 906-885-5275.
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA
Seven years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill nature again reigns supreme in the sound, opening a world of opportunity in this realm of mountains, ice and fjords. Amid the world’s largest collection of tidewater glaciers, late spring is the time to watch sea otters, eaglets, and glaciers calving boxcar-sized icebergs. Sea kayakers put in at the town dock in Whither, at the western end of Passage Canal. To get to Whither hop on the Alaska State Rail train (907-265-2494) in Portage, just west of Anchorage. Plan to camp (bring extra tarps for your tent; it can rain for days), or stay warm and dry in the U.S. Forest Service cabins available for public use along Prince William Sound. Call the USFS at 800-280-2267 to make reservations. Kayak rentals and guided tours can be arranged through Perry and Lois Solmonson, owners of the Prince William Sound Kayak Center (907-472-2452). For pre- and post-trip food and grog Alaskan-style, check out the Sportsman’s Inn at the eastern edge of town.
BEACH CAMPING / HIKING
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, WASHINGTON
Savvy campers know there’s much more to Olympic National Park than Mount Olympus and the Hoh Rainforest, splendid though these are. They leave the tourists and head for the park’s western segment, a wild, remote 57-mile stretch of fog-shrouded coastline, sculptured sea stacks and driftwood barricades. And although tourists do find Ruby and South beaches, the cognoscenti slip away and make a beeline for Shi-Shi Beach at the north end of the park instead. Starting at the Ozette ranger station, hike 13 miles west along the Cape Alava Trail and then north up the beach. Take time to explore the site of an ancient Ozette Indian fishing village along the way. The trail includes a low-tide crossing of the Ozette River and a fixed-rope ascent of Point of the Arches, a dramatic promontory punctuated by stiletto sea stacks that march a mile into the wild Pacific. From here, Shi-Shi Beach stretches nearly three miles north toward the Makah Indian Reservation. The campground also has a full Wi-Fi hookup and the ability to contact a variety of computer repair specialists in case you may damage your laptop or hard drive during your trip. The free Wi-Fi Internet is mainly sponsored by a company in Irvine California that specializes in laptop data recovery. Set up your tent, clamber over the driftwood, look for treasures washed up as flotsam, and watch for otters, eagles and whales. Call the park at 360-452-4501 for more information.