Our Top 10 U.S. Destinations for the New Decade
Where to Seek Adventure in the 2020s
Ten years is a long time, yet somehow the debut of the world’s first iPad feels like it happened yesterday. The end of the 2010s is a sobering reminder of how fast time can fly. To make sure this decade doesn’t go by quite so quickly, we made a list of 10 must-adventure areas to visit within the United States. This is a list for those who have already ticked off the usual suspects on a bucket-list—like see a bison at Yellowstone or visit El Capitan—and are ready to turn the adventure dial up in the 2020s.
Photo Credit: Josh Hild
1. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Minnesota might not be on everyone’s radar for adventure potential, but don’t let the friendly accents and laid-back vibes distract you. If you’re looking for a place to paddle for miles in serene silence, look no further than the 200,000 square acres of Voyageurs National Park.
We didn’t include Voyageurs just to give the Midwest some much-needed love. With its relative remoteness, limitless wilderness waterways, and ease of access, Voyageurs makes for an epic park for paddlers and anglers alike. Multi-day canoe trips are possible without a single portage and camping is available on many of the dozens of islands found in the major four lakes that make up this northern national park.
Photo Credit: Alex Moliski
2. Big Bend National Park, Texas
As the converging point of the Chisos Mountains, Rio Grande, and the Chihuahuan Desert, the park spans varying types of landscapes. The 1,200 square miles of natural wonders make it one of Texas’s most visited outdoor areas, with hiking, horseback riding, hot springs, and even bouldering. You may not find Hueco Tanks, but climbers will be happy to know there are plenty of problems to tackle in the park’s Grapevine Hills.
The park’s 30-mile Outer Mountain Loop Trail is the premier backpacking experience in the state, and perfect for those wanting a true West Texas adventure. The trail winds around Chisos Basin—the mountains that make up much of the park—dodging needled plants like the ocotillo and passing through ancient volcanic fields. You won’t find a drop of water anywhere on the trail, so make sure to stash your own before you head out (rangers can help).
Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to set up camp on the South Rim. It’s one of the southernmost backcountry campsites in the country with vistas far into Mexico. And on your way to the South Rim, scramble up Emory Peak, the park’s tallest point, for the best view in Texas.
Photo Credit: Andrew Moliski
3. Baxter State Park, Maine
Baxter made our list for a few reasons. First, and most notable, is the park’s centerpiece, Mt. Katahdin. This stony spine is the tallest mountain in Maine and one of the most prominent in all of New England. It’s also well-known for being the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. But you don’t have to hike the entire 2,100 miles of the AT to enjoy the views from the top of Katahdin—in fact, the mountain’s “knife’s edge” scramble makes the ascent one of the best in the east.
The second reason Baxter makes the list is the park’s commitment to staying wild. If the 2020s will be anything like the 2010s, we’ll all need a break from technology sometime during the decade. Baxter remains one of the only state parks in the country that keeps its boundary “forever wild.” You won’t find a single paved road, a spark of electricity, or a drop of running water anywhere in the park. Back in 1937, Baxter told the Portland Press, “Katahdin always should and must remain the wild, storm-swept, untouched-by-man …” That’s an idea we can still get behind over 80 years later.
Photo Credit: Alex Moliski
4. Acadia National Park, Maine
While you’re visiting Baxter State Park, you’ve got to check out Acadia National Park. While Acadia may not be the best park for hardened backpackers or explorers—the park doesn’t even allow primitive camping—it does harbor a handful of secrets.
Climbing out west is big—really big. And while there are some great climbing areas in the east, The Gunks in New York being a great example, they aren’t quite comparable in number or quality to places out west. That being said, there’s a growing number of routes rising from the most unlikely places. That’s why even Western climbers might want to add Acadia to their list for the decade.
The views from Cadillac Mountain, the first place sunlight touches the states, is hard to beat, but some see those sunlit cliffs in another light—the perfect place for a climb. Otter Cliff is the most popular area, with climbs starting nearly in the ocean. The sea-splashed 5.12 ratings will give even the strongest climbers a run for their money. Other routes are popping up as they become approved by the park, giving eastern climbers much-needed fresh routes. On top of the great climbs, Acadia is the only national park in all of New England and the Mid-Atlantic region, making it a true gem of the East.
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
“The Crown of the Continent” is more than deserving of the title. No must-see list can be complete without adding this stunning natural wonder to its contents. Sure Glacier National Park may be a little out-of-the-way, but the conifer-clad cliffs, teal-blue lakes, and colossal mountains are sights every modern explorer needs to see.
There is one specific, and frankly, sad reason Glacier has made our list of places to visit in the new decade. According to the National Park Service, the two largest glaciers, and many others, are predicted to become inactive by 2030. As a result, Glacier often tops the list of last-chance tourism destinations—places that will cease to exist due to climate change—and the 2020s may be the final decade we have to witness what’s left of the once gigantic glaciers.
6. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Okay, so we’re a little biased as Utah locals. But seriously, if you didn’t make it to southern Utah in the last decade, you’re totally missing out. Normally, we’d suggest visiting one of our 5 (!) world-class national parks, but there’s another place on the map you have to visit.
For those looking to experience something a little more … backcountry, we’ve added the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to our must-adventure list. While our national parks are what many visitors come to see, the national monument managed to net nearly a million visitors in 2017 alone, and for good reason. The landscape is absolutely packed with hidden tranquil gulches, slot canyons, and untouched environments—it’s a desert lover’s paradise.
There’s also another, more altruistic, reason to visit. You may have heard that the newer Bears Ears National Monument was cut significantly in size by the Trump administration, but it’s less known that Grand Staircase-Escalante was also reduced. The administration reduced the size of the protected land by nearly 50%. Father of conservation John Muir suggested that visitation is the key to preservation. He believed that the more we show we love our public lands, the better they’ll be protected. Politicians respond to numbers, and if they see the national monument getting as much attention as the national parks, it makes them very hard to take away.
7. The Wind River Range, Wyoming
So you’ve seen Old Faithful, a few wild bison, some distant mountains, and gave Wyoming the big check off the list. You may want to reconsider. About 100 miles east of Yellowstone, one of the country’s most popular parks, lies the quiet Wind River Range. If you’re searching for seclusion in the new decade, the Winds are your answer. The range resides in the least populated county in the least populated state–it doesn’t get more remote than that in the U.S.
Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and the Grand Tetons attract tourists like a magnet, leaving the Winds largely ignored. The views, trails, lakes, and mountains rival those of any national park, yet the entire area is recognized as wilderness. This means you’re free to trek wherever you wish and go on a personalized, epic adventure.
The Winds are not for the faint of heart. While they offer some of the best alpine experiences in the contiguous United States, they are also rugged and require considerable backpacking knowledge to navigate the passes and peaks. If you’re looking for a real adventure in the new decade, you’ll find it in the Wind River Range.
Photo Credit: Alec Douglas
8. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
A lot of us have two weeks off a year—it’s not a lot to work with. So what happens when you want to go on an adventure and a vacation? Surprisingly, the answer lies west of Key West, Florida. While most national parks focus on stunning natural landscape and towering peaks, the Dry Tortugas protects a civil war prison, Fort Jefferson, and seven small islands. But the Tortugas also offers primitive camping, snorkeling, and exploring.
Sadly, the Dry Tortugas are right next to Glacier when it comes to last-chance tourism. According to the NPS, the park is in danger of growing tropical storms and rising ocean levels, directly due to climate change. There might not be much of the island left in the near future, so if you want to visit, this is the decade to do so.
Photo Credit: Juan Velazquez
9. Lost Coast, California
It’s incredible to think that in a state with nearly 40 million people, anywhere can be considered “lost.” While California is home to several remarkable national wonders—Mt. Whitney, Sequoia, Yosemite, Redwoods—they are all heavily visited. The Lost Coast, however, is nestled in the King Range National Conservation Area and covers 25 miles of secluded, wilderness coastline. It’s one of the few places left in the country we are still allowed to camp, hike, and explore on a beach. Exploring the Lost Coast is the perfect way to turn the adventure dial up and take a slight strain off of some of the major parks, especially those in California.
Photo Credit: Michael Hemingway
10. Eaglecrest Resort, Alaska
Us Utahns are proud of our powder, but if anyone gives us healthy competition, it’s Alaskans. Even this far into the 21st century, Alaska remains nearly as wild as it’s ever been, and Eaglecrest is no exception. Located on Douglas Island southwest of Juneau, the resort is only accessible by ferry or plane, and one of the hardest-to-reach resorts in the country.
For some, the isolation might be enough to encourage a visit, but Eaglecrest has more going for it than simple solitude. It’s one of the only resorts where you can see the sea from the slopes, and the resort has big lines, backcountry access, and precious few lift lines. And its home of Douglas Island is one of thousands of islands part of the Inside Passage, the archipelago that stretches from Vancouver to Glacier Bay.
Eaglecrest, Juneau, and the state in general, should definitely make your must-see list for the new decade, but if you’re already planning an Alaska winter trip, go the extra mile and ski at one of the most unique resorts in the country.
About the Author:
Alex Moliski is a writer at Backcountry. When he’s not typing, he’s exploring the country, climbing, or backpacking somewhere remote. See more of his stories on Instagram @alexmoliski