9 Affordable Spring Outdoor Adventures

Take in awe-inspiring landscapes, captivating wildlife and epic natural wonders on a shoestring budget.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterMarch 16, 2017
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterMarch 16, 2017, at 3:32 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

9 Affordable Spring Outdoor Adventures

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Woman hiking with nordic walking sticks
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Embrace pleasant temperatures and legendary backdrops on an unforgettable trip.

Whether you're a thrill-seeker yearning for adrenaline-pumping experiences or a nature-lover craving dramatic scenery, spring is an ideal time to plan an adventure in the great outdoors. After all, it's the best season to catch sight of beautiful blooms and striking rock formations across America's prized parks or test your limits on a challenging hiking or biking trip. And no matter the kind of intrepid pursuit you crave, you can unleash your inner explorer without paying a high price tag or battling heavy crowds. Here are nine ideas to get you started.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California.
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(Getty Images)

Catch the wildflower 'super bloom' at Anza-Borrego Desert.

To surround yourself in striking desert flowers, head to California's Anza-Borrego Desert, located about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles. "Due to the record-breaking rain this winter, the Anza-Borrego Desert is slated to have the most vibrant wildflower display in 20 years this spring," says Salwa Jabado, senior editor at Fodors.com. Desert lilies, parish poppies and desert chicory are just a few of the diverse species you can expect to see, she explains. The best way to experience the rare display: Go to the visitor center and grab a map for a self-guided wildflower tour, or join a canyon hike for sweeping vistas of desert sunflowers, she says.
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Embrace pleasant temperatures and legendary backdrops on an unforgettable trip.

Whether you're a thrill-seeker yearning for adrenaline-pumping experiences or a nature-lover craving dramatic scenery, spring is an ideal time to plan an adventure in the great outdoors. After all, it's the best season to catch sight of beautiful blooms and striking rock formations across America's prized parks or test your limits on a challenging hiking or biking trip. And no matter the kind of intrepid pursuit you crave, you can unleash your inner explorer without paying a high price tag or battling heavy crowds. Here are nine ideas to get you started.

Catch the wildflower 'super bloom' at Anza-Borrego Desert.

To surround yourself in striking desert flowers, head to California's Anza-Borrego Desert, located about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles. "Due to the record-breaking rain this winter, the Anza-Borrego Desert is slated to have the most vibrant wildflower display in 20 years this spring," says Salwa Jabado, senior editor at Fodors.com. Desert lilies, parish poppies and desert chicory are just a few of the diverse species you can expect to see, she explains. The best way to experience the rare display: Go to the visitor center and grab a map for a self-guided wildflower tour, or join a canyon hike for sweeping vistas of desert sunflowers, she says.

Enjoy wildlife watching in Glacier Bay National Park.

For animal enthusiasts, Glacier Bay in Alaska offers a one-of-a-kind whale-watching experience come spring, Jabado explains. Plus, while the water is consistently chilly, May and June are the two driest months of the year, making for more mild and comfortable conditions for exploration, she adds. She recommends hopping on "the daily boat that leaves from Glacier Bay Lodge on an eight-hour glacier and whale-watching tour." Also, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for sea lions, puffins and more wildlife. What's more, you'll have ample opportunities to hike and camp at Bartlett Cove. Jabado suggests kicking off your adventure from the small town of Gustavus, which offers a variety of cost-effective accommodation options and is just a 30-minute flight from Juneau, making it an ideal springboard to the park.

Bike across Moab, Utah.

Utah's otherworldly landscapes enchant year-round, but spring offers an especially enticing time to plan a trip. "Whether you climb, run, mountain bike, there's something there for you there," says Abigail Wise, a senior editor at Adventure Projects Inc. Jabado also points to the popular Slickrock Trail, just outside of Moab, as "a mountain biker's dream." And while you can expect heavy crowds around the area's noteworthy Navajo Sandstone dunes, you can still plan a frugal trip, Jabado adds, pointing out that southern Utah offers budget-friendly lodging options, with nightly room rates under $150 and a variety of campsites and Bureau of Land Management campgrounds that "only charge $15 a night."

Bike along Amsterdam's Flower Route.

Come spring, western Holland beckons with daffodils, roses and tulip-laden fields. To capture the blooms at their peak in mid-April and May, take a self-guided cycling trip outside of Amsterdam, beginning about 20 miles west in Haarlem, Jabado says. "The blooms will continue through May 21 at the famed Keukenhof Garden, with the best viewing usually in mid-April," she says. There are scenic trails along the Bloemen Route (Flower Route) that weave through the countryside and draw less crowds. Look for blue-and-white labeled signs reading "Bollenstreek" or Bulb District, she says. Best of all, affordable plane tickets are easy to come by, with Google Flights currently listing round-trip flights from New York City hubs starting at $510 in May

Traverse Spain's Pilgrimage Trail.

For a walk to remember, consider making a famous trek from France to Spain on the classic network of trails called the Camino de Santiago, says Everett Potter, a columnist for USA Today and author of Everett Potter's Travel Report. While the hike can be challenging, retracing the ancient pilgrim route, with the rolling hills of Galicia and the impressive buildings of architect Antoni Gaudí in the background, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Jabado highlights Camino de Santiago as an ideal attraction this spring "to avoid the crowds and the heat." Another option is covering the 500-mile journey by bike, she adds. A 10-day trip with outfitter Intrepid Travel starts at $2,640 and includes meals, accommodations and transportation.

Explore Yosemite National Park.

For stunning natural beauty, visit Yosemite National Park, America's third-oldest national park. "The spring thaw rapidly melts the snow, fueling Yosemite National Park's peak waterfall season," Jabado explains. "By April, even the smallest creeks gush with water, and the park's iconic waterfalls flow at full throttle. Mirror Lake fills to the brim, offering a stunning reflection of Half Dome that can't be seen during drier times of the year," she adds. For an arduous yet rewarding hike, she suggests tackling Upper Yosemite Falls. Best of all, from April 15-16 and April 22-23, cost-conscious visitors can enjoy free admission days, she adds.

Plan a Grand Circle tour.

"In the U.S., national parks that are gorgeous and yet still reasonably comfortable and uncrowded during the spring months can be found throughout the hot American Southwest," explains outfitter G Adventures' founder Bruce Poon Tip. He points to Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park and Zion National Park as especially spectacular when the trails usher in few crowds and colorful scenery before the peak summer season. Potter also describes lesser-known areas as especially alluring come spring, including the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, which was designated a national monument in 2016. Best of all, there are plenty of affordable campgrounds. Zion and Bryce Canyon offer campgrounds and campsites nightly starting at $20 per site. Arches offers campsites nightly starting at $25.

Cycle across Ecuador.

"I like to recommend Ecuador for cycling that will blow your mind but not bust your budget," Poon Tip says. He highlights G Adventures' nine-day high-octane trip beginning and ending in Quito, where you can traipse across the base of an active volcano in Cotopaxi National Park (it's not for the faint of heart) and enjoy spectacular wildlife-viewing opportunities. "If you're lucky, you'll catch glimpses of wild animals like colorful birds, llamas and foxes," he adds. Plus, get your blood pumping with kayaking and rafting alongside an experienced local guide. What's more, the trip costs $1,049 and includes airfare, transportation and select meals, he adds.

Hike the Cove Hardwood Self-Guiding Nature Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws those with a zest for adventure to its picturesque, flower-filled landscapes and diverse hiking trails. Jabado points to the three-quarter-mile Cove Harwood Self-guiding Nature Trail near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as especially alluring for wildflower enthusiasts. And while the blooms are among the most visited in the country, most people drive past them rather than experiencing them on foot, she adds. Potter also points to the Great Smoky Mountains as an ideal place to plan a budget-friendly spring trip, with the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage festival kicking off each April. Visitors can pick from a variety of campsite and affordable hotel options in Gatlinburg.
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Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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