Twelve Amazing Adventures

A year's worth of adrenaline-packed trips that are easy on the wallet.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

If visiting your neighborhood deer stands and fishing holes is beginning to feel a bit routine, maybe it's time for a fishing and hunting road trip. With a little preparation and some imagination, you can find unvarnished adventure in any corner of the United States. And unlike Mongolian sheep hunting or billfishing off Belize, these trips don't require raiding your savings account or refinancing your mortgage.

Call them domestic safaris. For the price of a few tanks of gasoline, some basic gear and the requisite licenses, you can have the sort of heart-pounding, muscle-searing, life-affirming adventure that globe-trotting adrenaline junkies pay thousands of dollars to experience.

And you can do it without showing a passport, in some cases without even leaving your time zone. You don't need to pay a guide or make reservations months in advance. Imagine devoting a year to chasing America's extreme, obscure-and public-hunting and fishing opportunities. Here's how your calendar might look.

FEBRUARY : Everglades Canoe Bass and Gators
The best cure for insomnia deep in south Florida's Everglades is to fish until you're exhausted. Even then, it's hard to keep both eyes closed all night. Tropical birds cackle and fret, mosquitoes raid your veins, and frequent violent splashes keep your senses tuned tight as a fiddle string.

Anglers who investigate the ruckus with a flashlight are often greeted by the bright ruby-red eyes of an alligator. Sweet dreams.

Don't limit your visit to this sprawling swamp on the southern tip of Florida to the paved roads. Instead, rent a canoe, load your fishing rods, bass gear, food, drinks and bait and spend a week paddling the back-country waterways, mangrove knobs and tidewater flats of America's largest subtropical wilderness. Just be sure to bring a compass.

Inside Everglades National Park, each night's destination is a different chickee, or elevated sleeping platform, which provides a gator-free perch above the swamp. Then you fish all day between campsites. The Everglades are full of largemouth bass, and some fish in the freshwater northern portion of the park have never seen a spinnerbait or pork rind. Anglers commonly report 100-fish days, and plenty of bass break the 4-pound mark, though it's rare to catch a 10-pounder here.

Topwater baits are favorites for springtime anglers, and weedless-rigged lizards and worms are also productive, especially in the canal system along the park's boundary. But bring a variety of hard-bodied crankbaits, not only for bass but also for snook, snapper, sea trout and tarpon to 8 feet long, which are also abundant in the coastal streams and brackish water in the southern portion of the national park.

[pagebreak] MARCH: New York Snowbound Steelhead
Upstate New York's Salmon River seems sedate most of the year, a gentle tributary of Lake Ontario. But come March, when the dozen feet of snow on the Tughill Plateau at its headwaters start to melt, the river begins to roar.

Fighting a steelhead in that heavy water is like flying a kite in a hurricane. Still, hard-core Empire State anglers know that the runoff signals the peak of the steelhead bite in the Salmon and Black rivers and the forks of Sandy Creek, all located an hour or two north of Syracuse.

"When the water temperature gets just a degree or two above freezing, the fish really start to move," says Eric Pappa at Fat Nancy's, a bait and tackle store in Pulaski. "Guys will throw spoons and spinners, but the real productive bait is spawn sacks drifted in the deeper holes."

This is legendary big-fish water. The state-record steelhead, a gargantuan 32-pounder, was caught on the Salmon River last fall, and the average March fish goes 12 pounds. Competent anglers will hook a dozen steelhead a day during the peak of the runoff bite, as adults surge toward awning shoals in the upper reach of the 14-mile-long river. The ballistic fish and the heavy current conspire to make busted line and straightened hooks more common than fish in the net. Bring heavy line and quality reels. Bring warm clothes, too.

"We're known as the salmon and steelhead capital of the world," says Pappa. "We're also known as the snowfall capital of the world. It can get pretty wild around here when we get over about eight feet of snow, and it's even wilder when it starts to melt."

APRIL: Kentucky Moonshine Gobblers
Daniel Boone blazed a lot of trails through Kentucky, but perhaps his most enduring path is the Wilderness Road, now a 200-year-old trace that follows the high ridges and shoebox hollows between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers.

Now called the Sheltowee Trace, it rambles along more than 250 miles of the Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky and is a top destination for public-land turkey hunters.

Turkeys are abundant but the terrain can be daunting. Sometimes 500-foot vertical drops, whitewater streams and towering ridges separate you from a hot bird. If you want even more of a challenge, hunt gobblers in the Pioneer Weapons Wildlife Management Area near the trail's end in Morehead. Only traditional muzzle-loading rifles, crossbows and archery equipment are legal here, and the relatively light harvest and hunting pressure means wildlife populations are healthy.

[pagebreak] MAY: Idaho Wilderness Bear
Killing a trophy spring bear in Idaho's Selway Wilderness without the aid of an outfitter may be the hardest hunt in America.

For starters, you have to hike roadless ridges for 20 miles or more just to reach productive areas. Survive that and you can start hunting.

The headwaters of the Selway River east of Lowell have high bear densities, but this is part of the largest roadless area in the Lower 48, and getting here without outfitters' pack stock requires the weight-reducing savvy of a veteran backpacker, the stamina of a marathoner and the hunting ability of Artemis.

Climb to a promontory and glass south- facing slopes and avalanche chutes for bears that crave tender grass when they emerge from hibernation. You'll need to be a good judge of bears, because you don't want to squander your energy, or risk a catastrophic fall, in pursuit of a sub-par Yogi. The Selway contains a high percentage of color-phase bears. You're allowed to take two bears, if your back can handle the load.

JUNE: Columbia River Sturgeon
Big sturgeon will take you on a roller-coaster ride, physically as well as mentally. Most anglers are tickled just to get a bite, and when they feel the weight of a big fish on their line, they respond with a kind of bring-it-on swagger. It's not until the fish makes its first run, peeling line off the reel like it was dental floss, that most anglers realize they're in for a long day.

The white sturgeon is the biggest freshwater fish in the nation, and the Columbia produces specimens up to 10 feet. That's more than a thousand pounds of fish, and in the river's heavy current, you'll think you've hooked a Volkswagen.

Most anglers fish aboard boats, but shore fishers can catch sturgeon, too. Look for pullouts off I-84 from Bonneville Dam west to Bridal Veil on the Oregon side, or from Beacon Rock State Park to Camas in Washington. You'll need a long rod (12 feet long or longer) and a saltwater reel spooled with 60-pound-test mono. Use up to 32 ounces of lead to keep your bait-smelt, roll-mop herring or shad, which are running up the Columbia this month-on the bottom of this huge river.

[pagebreak] JULY: Glacier Park Trout Slam
Plenty of tourists visit Glacier National Park for the stunning vistas and panoramic geology lesson. You should visit for the underappreciated trout fishing.

You can catch copper-bright native cutthroats in secluded alpine lakes, determined grayling in cheerful streams, and rainbow and brown trout in lower-elevation rivers and lakes. Trophy brook trout, the endangered bull trout and even deep-water lake trout round out the species available here.

The clincher is you don't even need a fishing license to wet a line inside Glacier Park. You will need an ice ax, gaiters and some grit to access the highest, most remote lakes, where there's a good chance you'll encounter a grizzly bear.

To achieve a Glacier "trout slam," you'll need to be handy with a fly rod as well as spinning gear. In July, once the streams are again fishable, basic attractor flies such as simulators, grasshoppers and Madame X's work great on the surface. Spoons and small spinners work well in just about any environment, but for lakers, troll large minnow-imitating plugs or jig big spoons baited with worms.

** AUGUST: Alaskan Kayak Halibut**
Howard McKim considered cutting his line several times. His kayak was being towed into open water by a fish he couldn't see, and without a motor he faced a long, hazardous paddle back to Ketchikan.

But McKim managed to gain some line, and then more, and at last caught a glimpse of the fish rising beneath his kayak.

"It looked huge, mean and dangerous. And I knew I couldn't get it strapped to my boat even if I did kill it in the water," said McKim. The giant fish was a halibut, which had inhaled the salmon belly McKim used for bait. Determined to land the fish, McKim aimed for an island in southeast Alaska's Alexander Archipelago. The fatigued halibut thrashed in the shallow water, but McKim bludgeoned it with his gaff, slit its gills and pulled it onto the beach. The paddle back to Ketchikan with 183 pounds of dead fish strapped to the kayak took more than five nervous hours.

Fishing from customized kayaks is increasingly popular in Alaska. Anglers paddle inside passages along the coast and jig for salmon, rockfish and bottom fish, such as flounder and halibut. McKim recommends bringing light tackle, even for halibut over 100 pounds. "It takes about six pounds of pull to drag a kayaker through the water, so don't use line heavier than that," says the Ketchikan resident, who runs a kayak-fishing guide service. "Landing big fish is a game of patience and finesse, not muscle and power."

Fishing from a kayak is nothing new. Inuit hunters used a type of low-slung canoe to spear whales off the Alaskan coast for centuries, and though modern versions can be fitted with fish-toting lashes, sophisticated electronics and rod holders, McKim says the simple craft remain the best way to experience Alaska's coast.

[pagebreak] SEPTEMBER: Bob Marshall Wilderness Bulls
Montana's Bob Marshaling.

You can catch copper-bright native cutthroats in secluded alpine lakes, determined grayling in cheerful streams, and rainbow and brown trout in lower-elevation rivers and lakes. Trophy brook trout, the endangered bull trout and even deep-water lake trout round out the species available here.

The clincher is you don't even need a fishing license to wet a line inside Glacier Park. You will need an ice ax, gaiters and some grit to access the highest, most remote lakes, where there's a good chance you'll encounter a grizzly bear.

To achieve a Glacier "trout slam," you'll need to be handy with a fly rod as well as spinning gear. In July, once the streams are again fishable, basic attractor flies such as simulators, grasshoppers and Madame X's work great on the surface. Spoons and small spinners work well in just about any environment, but for lakers, troll large minnow-imitating plugs or jig big spoons baited with worms.

** AUGUST: Alaskan Kayak Halibut**
Howard McKim considered cutting his line several times. His kayak was being towed into open water by a fish he couldn't see, and without a motor he faced a long, hazardous paddle back to Ketchikan.

But McKim managed to gain some line, and then more, and at last caught a glimpse of the fish rising beneath his kayak.

"It looked huge, mean and dangerous. And I knew I couldn't get it strapped to my boat even if I did kill it in the water," said McKim. The giant fish was a halibut, which had inhaled the salmon belly McKim used for bait. Determined to land the fish, McKim aimed for an island in southeast Alaska's Alexander Archipelago. The fatigued halibut thrashed in the shallow water, but McKim bludgeoned it with his gaff, slit its gills and pulled it onto the beach. The paddle back to Ketchikan with 183 pounds of dead fish strapped to the kayak took more than five nervous hours.

Fishing from customized kayaks is increasingly popular in Alaska. Anglers paddle inside passages along the coast and jig for salmon, rockfish and bottom fish, such as flounder and halibut. McKim recommends bringing light tackle, even for halibut over 100 pounds. "It takes about six pounds of pull to drag a kayaker through the water, so don't use line heavier than that," says the Ketchikan resident, who runs a kayak-fishing guide service. "Landing big fish is a game of patience and finesse, not muscle and power."

Fishing from a kayak is nothing new. Inuit hunters used a type of low-slung canoe to spear whales off the Alaskan coast for centuries, and though modern versions can be fitted with fish-toting lashes, sophisticated electronics and rod holders, McKim says the simple craft remain the best way to experience Alaska's coast.

[pagebreak] SEPTEMBER: Bob Marshall Wilderness Bulls
Montana's Bob Marshal