10 things you didn't think of doing in wilderness

Kayaking sea caves in Gaylord Nelson Wilderness

Flickr, Marshmallow Molly

From mushing to spelunking, a wide variety of outdoor recreation can be found throughout our nations' wilderness lands.

Federally protected wilderness areas offer loads of great outdoor recreation opportunities that go well beyond hiking. While day hiking, backpacking, nature and wildlife photography, wildflower viewing and kayaking are common ways to spend time in wilderness areas, here are few more ideas to add to your must-do list.


1. Catch some Zs in a fire lookout tower

Did you know you can spend the night in a mountain-top historic fire lookout. You may have to hike farther to get there, but the reward is a 360-degree birds' eye views of wild landscapes. You will likely need to make a reservation well in advance at one of the dozens across the country.

photo: Granite Mountain in Alpine Lakes Wilderness. credit: Flickr, Sean Munson.


2. Night hike - by snowshoe

Enjoy a stretch of snow under starlit skies. Full moons offer well-lit nights for snowshoers. You can find guided hikes by snowshoe in winter in the wilderness areas in Rocky Mountain National Park and others. Be sure to take a flashlight as you discover all the creatures that thrive in the dark. If you’re thinking of taking pictures, be sure to get our tips on photographing night skies.

photo: snowshoeing at dawn in Rocky Mountain Wilderness. credit: Flickr, Pierce Martin.


3. Spelunk

The caves at Carlsbad Cavern Wilderness in New Mexico are world famous. This wilderness boasts 116 caves including the 125-mile long Lechuguilla Cave. Subterranean riches can also be found at Craters of the Moon National Wilderness. Adventurers can kayak through sea caves at Gaylord Nelson Wilderness and the proposed Channel Islands Wilderness.

photo: Carlsbad Caverns. credit: Flickr, Dave Edwards.


4. Mush!

Experience one-of-a-kind winter transportation on sled led by a pack of dogs. If you don’t have your own canine team, you’ll need to find a guide of course. Boundary Waters Canoe Area is a good place on the continental side, but Denali takes the cake.

photo: dog sledding in Denali. credit: NPS.


5. Sandboard or sled

The giant sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes Wilderness, Colorado, are one of only a handful of places where you can board or sled all year. But instead of crashing through the cold snow, you’ll be coursing over silky sand. You'll need the right equipment, but this activity is sure to be truly unforgettable.

photo: sandboarding in Great Sand Dunes. credit: Flickr, mike waggoner.


6. Watch for whales

Visitors can spy whales offshore in San Juan Wilderness in Washington, and Farallon and Phillip Burton Wilderness Areas in California, but Alaskan wilderness is the prime place for this activity. At least 17 species of whales have been spotted at Simeonof Wilderness, the endangered bowhead whale swims by Bering Sea Wilderness in winter, and thousands migrate off the coast of Izembek Wilderness. 

photo: whale off the coast of Glacier Bay Wilderness. credit: NPS.


7. Be a scientist

A citizen scientist, that is. You can contribute to all sorts of important scientific research while engaging in your favorite activities, including:

  • participating in research and studies at your nearest national park.
  • recording animal sightings with Project Noah
  • sharing photos with Encyclopedia of Life
  • reporting Pika sightings while mountaineering with Pika Project
  • reporting on the conditions of waterbodies during winter with IceWatch

Find out about what simple, fun activities are available at your favorite wildland. Your participation can be a big help to underfunded agencies and the lands that they are tasked to understand and protect.

photo: catching butterflies as part of a citizen science project in Mount Rainier Wilderness. credit: Flickr, Kevin Bacher.


8. Go ice-fishing

For this sport, your paradise is Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. Here ice can last until early May. Catch some lake trout, walleye, northern, and crappie and then camp overnight on the ices if you want. 

photo: icefishing in Minnesota. credit: USFS.


9. Forage - and try a new recipe

It can be a special delight to stumble upon fresh berries, nuts and mushrooms while sauntering through the woods. But we are guests at the home of animals who rely on these foods for survival so manners are vital. Before you start collecting, check to see if a permit is needed.

photo: berries picked in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. credit: Flickr, stpaulgirl.


10. Soak in hot springs

Everyone likes a nice warm dip but what better place to relax than in the midst of gorgeous landscapes? No better opportunity exists that in America's first protected wilderness: Gila Wilderness. Although it requires a decent hike to get there,  twenty-foot wide Jordan Hot Springs is very popular. Lightfeather Hot Springs sits in a steep canyon on the Gila River and can get up to 130 degrees. 

photo: Wildwood Hot Springs in Gila Wilderness. credit: Flickr, dedhed1950.

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