Despite the doomsday prognostications, 2012 is gonna be a good year. It will be, in fact, a great year, with these 100 foolproof, failsafe, airtight, guaranteed, tried-and-tested things for you to do this year, from our calendar to yours.
1. Channel your inner animal. Polar bears may be disappearing in the Arctic, but their numbers are growing in the Southeast. Take the Polar Plunge at Lake Lure, N.C., on January 1, or head to Blowing Rock, N.C., on January 29 for a polar bear dip during Winterfest.
2. Freeze your paddle off. The 23rd annual Chili Run attracts paddlers from across the region to paddle the class II+ Cartecay River on January 1. Enjoy piping-hot chili afterward.
3. New Year, Old Rag. A handful of hardy hikers head up to Shenandoah every New Year’s Day to summit Old Rag Mountain.
4. Get tough this year. Train like a SEAL. Former Navy SEAL John McGuire has been helping people get into the best shape of their lives for over 10 years. Training as part of a team, you’ll get worked, you’ll get wet, and you’ll train hard–outside, nonetheless. sealteampt.com
5. See Blackwater Falls—in the snow. Whet your winter palate with a visit to Blackwater Falls, W.Va., then enjoy the cold-weather paradise of Canaan Valley area surrounding the falls.
6. Explore the South’s newest National Park. Congaree National Park, just south of Columbia, S.C., contains some of the largest old growth trees in the Eastern U.S. They also grow in a massive, swampy floodplain that you can canoe through year-round.
7. Ski Cupp Run. Snowshoe Mountain’s top-to-bottom, two-minute big boy run is downhill racer David Lippucci’s favorite run in Appalachia.
8. Train for a marathon or half marathon. Whether you’re training for the Charlottesville Marathon and Half Marathon (April 7), the Charlotte Half Marathon (April 14), the Blue Ridge Marathon and Half Marathon (April 21), or the Kentucky Derby Marathon (April 28), or the legendary Boston Marathon (April 16), February is the month to bulk up on mileage and get serious about training.
9. Catch a Bluegrass Show at the Purple Fiddle.
10. Skate ski at White Grass. Over in West Virginia near the Canaan Valley area, Chip Chase has carved out the most impressive cross-country ski park in the entire region. Whether you’re cross-country skiing or you want to get some speed going, White Grass will satisfy your thirst.
11. Paddle at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The center in Charlotte, N.C., includes an artificial class II-IV whitewater river, along with hiking, mountain biking, and climbing on the 400 surrounding acres.
12. Try snowkiting. Dolly Sods and Roan Mountain are ideal spots for wind-powered fun.
13. Trek the A.T. in winter across Roan Mountain. The A.T. crosses the 6,285-foot Roan High Knob on Roan Mountain. Keep heading north and the trail covers 10 miles of balds with incredible views–often touted as the best section of the entire A.T. Enjoy this winter wonderland on foot or on skis.
14. Learn to roll a kayak. Visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center or Endless River Adventures in Western North Carolina, D.C.’s Potomac Paddlesports, Richmond’s Adventure Challenge, or join the Georgia Canoeing Association in Atlanta.
15. Catch a flick. And get educated while doing so. Since 1993, the D.C. Environmental Film Festival has showcased world-class outdoor documentaries and features.
16. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail. Beautiful countryside, pristine creeks, and old bridges are highlights of this flat 34-mile ride.
17. Read the coal history of the New River Gorge, and then hike it. The New River Gorge was once the heart of the Industrial Revolution, supplying staggering amounts of coal to the entire U.S. Mining towns sprang up along the C&O Railroad throughout the gorge. There are still ghost-town remnants of some of them.
18. Get tropical at the Snowy Luau Festival. Timberline Resort’s spring Polynesian fest is a must for anyone looking to cap off their ski season in style. The night-time torchlight parade, where skiers descend the mountain in unison carrying torches to form a fiery lava trail, is spectacle all on its own.
19. Run an ultra. Terrapin Mountain 50K in late March is an ideal ultra for rookies: it’s a scenic loop trail course in George Washington National Forest with challenging-but-doable climbs and outstanding race support.
20. The Cold Mountain Challenge. Hike in the footsteps of Inman. Made famous by the book and movie, Cold Mountain is nestled in the corner of North Carolina’s Shining Rock Wilderness. Take the Art Loeb trail for a strenuous-yet-rewarding ten-mile roundtrip hike to the summit.
21. Paddle the Linville Gorge. Massive holes, great rapids, unspoiled canyon.
22. Rim to Rim Across the Linville Gorge. Named for William and John Linville, the father-son explorer team who fell to their fate when the area’s Cherokee Indians scalped them in 1766, the gorge is as rugged as its history.
23. Bike the Triple Crown of Dirt. Mountain bike three of the most popular fat tire destinations in the East—Tsali Recreation Area, Dupont State Forest, and Pisgah National Forest—over three consecutive days.
24. Run naked. The Fig Leaf 5K at Paradise Valley in Georgia may be the best.
25. Team up for an adventure race. Bored of your standard routine? Try mountain biking, running, trekking, kayaking, canoeing, rappelling, orienteering, river crossings, climbing, mystery challenges—all with a team. The Blue Ridge Adventure Race, a 46-mile ordeal in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, is ideal for beginners and experts alike.
26. Ride dirt roads. The Hill Billy Roubaix is a Southern take on a European road cycling tradition. The 70-mile bike race covers 60 percent paved roads, 38 percent gravel roads, and two percent completely trashed roads in northern West Virginia. Do: bring extra tubes. Don’t: bring your road bike.
27. Learn to fly-fish. If you’re anxious to get a line in the water but don’t know where or how to start, check out Fly Fishing Adventures in Shenandoah Valley, Va. where you can schedule guided lessons or fishing trips year-round on Buffalo Creek, Back Creek, and the Jackson River.
28. Get dirty. The Goodwill Mud Run in Greenville, S.C. offers several race categories, including “Out for Blood” for competitive athletes and “What Were We Thinking?” and “If We’re Not Back in an Hour and a Half, Come Find Us!” divisions for less experienced folk. April 14-15.
29. Backcountry camp Dolly Sods. The closest thing to Canada you’ll find in the region, the Dolly Sods Wilderness is truly something unique and spectacular. Explore the sweeping, panoramic vistas from the 4,000-foot plateau.
30. See the Southeast’s largest falls. The 411-foot Whitewater Falls in Gorges State Park, N.C., are the largest falls east of the Mississippi. Head downstream to explore more fun falls, including Turtleback Falls, known to locals as “Bust-yer-butt” Falls.
31. Hike Cumberland Island Wilderness. Paddle by sea kayak (or catch the ferry) over to Cumberland Island National Seashore and explore its 8,000-acre wilderness, which includes windswept beaches, alligator-filled lakes, and ancient live oaks just begging to be climbed.
32. Run barefoot. Barefoot running can offer health benefits that normal running cannot, but there’s more to it than just shedding your shoes and hitting the trail. Step into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes or the Merrell Trail Gloves. Start with just a half-mile on grass or soft terrain to allow your body to adjust.
33. Take the South Beyond 6000 or the Smokies 900 Hiking Challenge. There are a couple ways you can prove you’re worth your salt around here. Climb all 40 of the 6,000-foot peaks in the Southern Appalachians, or hike the 900 miles of hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or take it to the next level and create your own challenge.
34. Hike Lindy Point. The Lindy Point overlook near Blackwater Falls is a short, family-friendly hike offering stunning views of Appalachia.
35. Explore the A.T. Pick a spot anywhere along the 2,180-mile trail and get out there. The 72-mile stretch through Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers the highest and most spectacular vistas. For a less crowded adventure, explore the A.T. near Damascus, Va., then celebrate at the Trail Days Festival afterward.
36. Hike through Joyce Kilmer’s old-growth forest. California has their giant redwoods and sequoias. We’ve got our 400-year-old tulip poplars and hemlocks. These old-growth wonders eluded the axe and stand mighty and proud in a secluded corner of North Carolina.
37. Bike fishing. Throw your fly-fishing gear in the back seat of the car and your bike atop, grab a backpack, and head to Abington, Va. Here you can visit the Virginia Creeper Fly Shop before picking up the Virginia Creeper Trail where you can bike and fish all day. There are even camping areas on the trail if you decide to make a weekend out of it.
38. Experience a music festival in its infancy. A celebration of life every Memorial Day weekend, Rooster Walk remembers Edwin “The Rooster” Penn and Walker Shank, two young friends and music lovers who passed away a few years back. This year they are expanding from two to three days of music and planning to include a 5K run.
39. Do the ‘Vous. The New River Rendezvous climbing competition is celebrating its 10th anniversary in the New River Gorge, W.Va. Live music, food, camping, videos, climbing clinics put on by pros, cash prizes, and all the climbing you can ask for.
40. Hike in the footsteps of Bartram. Between 1773 and 1777, America’s first naturalist, William Bartram, explored the South. Dive into the past and hike this 100-mile memorial trail from Georgia into North Carolina.
41. Fly fish the Upper Chattooga River. The Wild and Scenic River passes Ellicott Rock, the marking point where Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all come together. From Ellicott Rock to Highway 28 bridge is some of the best trout fishing in the Southeast.
42. Climb a Continuous, Vertical Mile in a Day by Trail. The best candidate in our region is Mount LeConte (elevation 6,593’) from Gatlinburg (elevation 1,289’). This hike begins at redlight #5 in Gatlinburg and finishes at the summit of Mt. LeConte gaining 5,302 feet. You start on the sidewalk, pick up the Twin Creek Trail, then Cherokee Orchard Road to Rainbow Falls Trail. 10.7 miles one way.
43. Overnight paddling trip. A canoe is the perfect craft for a summer adventure. Canoe-friendly rivers include the French Broad, Tuckaseegee, New, and James.
44. Get your SCUBA license. A few days of bookwork, pool practice, and open water dives and you’ll have yourself a lifelong SCUBA dive license recognized worldwide. The great outdoors below the surface of the great blue seas may just be the final frontier.
45. Sleep in a hammock. String up a hammock between two trees and prepare for a night beneath the stars.
46. 24-hour bike race. The Dark Mountain trails in Wilkesboro, N.C. are home to the annual Burn 24 Hour Challenge: 24 hours of mountain biking on a seven-mile singletrack circuit. Grab some pals and get a team together or take it on solo.
47. Do Bonnaroo. ‘Nuff said.
48. Thru-Bike the Blue Ridge Parkway (or Skyline Drive). “Be prepared to be in the saddle for four to seven hours a day, several days in a row, and riding a consistent pace,” says Paul Wood, owner of Black Bear Adventures, who offers guided Parkway thru-rides. “It’s up and down all the time. There are no flats. You climb for two hours and descend for five minutes, then do that again, all day long.”
49. Stand up paddleboard on a river. The James and the Nantahala are paddleboard-friendly.
50. Wreckdive. The Outer Banks is host to a plethora of historic sunken ships due to its treacherous weather, large shoals, and wars of the past. Dive down and get a closer look at one of these sunken graves; Nags Head Diving offers guided tours.
51. Climb Like a Soldier. An elite group of GI mountaineers referred to as ski troopers came to Elkins, W.V., during WWII to train on the dangerous crag that is Seneca Rocks. The elite army Mountain Training Group was set up for low altitude assault training at the base of those powerful rocks that jut out of the Earth in Pendleton County. There’s a reason they were sent here to train. Seneca Rocks ain’t no joke.
52. Be Selfish…and Eco at the Same Time. Get to work some way other than your car. It will make your day better.
53. Get your festival on. Floyd Fest 11: July 26-29th, at Milepost 170.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd, Va. Headlining: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Brandi Carlile, Leftover Salmon, Matisyahu and many others.
54. Cliff jump. Head up to St. Mary’s Wilderness in George Washington National Forest. Drive right up St. Mary’s Road, park, and take the St. Mary’s Falls Trail for a mile to a refreshing and remote dip. You can get your cliff jumping jollies out here too.
55. Hitchhike. Here’s some advice from Virginia native Benjamin Jenks of AdventureSauce.com: “Be confident in yourself and in the goodness of people. The odds of you having trouble are small, especially if you say no to any rides that are fishy and are willing to let things roll off your back.”
56. Swim the hole at White Oak Canyon.
57. Climb Red River Gorge. Hit the road, head to Kentucky and take your pick of climbs—Red River Gorge is a climber’s playground. The area is riddled with great cliffs and bolted routes that attract people from all over the world whether they seek out challenge or child’s play. Grab a slice at Miguel’s afterward.
59. Explore Hungry Mother and other unusually named places you’ve always been curious about. Hungry Mother in southwest Virginia is one of the best places for a chill, laid-back weekend with the family, with lakes, hikes, camping, and cabins.
60. Skinny dip.
61. Stargaze. Bring a bit of strong drink, a pair of binoculars, and somebody close to you. North Carolina’s Max Patch bald mountain provides 350 acres of open 360-degree views perched up 4,600+ feet. The views are spectacular. Lie on your back looking at the stars; soak it in and contemplate complexity.
62. Canoe Lake Jocasse.
63. Take a Brewery tour. Drive through the George Washington National Forest section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, south to north, and arrive in Alcohol Valley. Beautiful wineries spread across the hills, along with a few breweries:
- Wild Wolf Brewing Company: Fantastic beers and a brand new location just opening. I recommend the Fresh Hop Alpha Ale. Their draft root beer is something to speak of as well.
- Blue Mountain Brewery: This place has a great patio and a handful of beers to match the quality of the view. I recommend the Steel Wheels ESB.
- Devils Backbone Brewery: The lodge-style brewery is nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers fantastic views of the valley. Enjoy their classic Gold Leaf Lager.
64. Swim across Lake Fontana or Summersville Lake.
65. Howl at the moon. Run the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50-miler in West Virginia. Follow a moonlit trail along the spine of 4,000-foot ridges on this 50-mile loop.
66. Bike the C&O Canal. The canal runs 180 miles between Cumberland, Md., and Washington D.C., roughly parallel to the Potomac River. The canal was built in the mid 19th century and its industrial livelihood now lies dormant, offering a long, flat straightaway for bike enthusiasts who want to do some long distance open trail riding.
67. Hike Old Rag. Old Rag is one of the better-known summits in Shenandoah, yet it’s no Sunday-with-grandma day hike. Be ready for a strenuous rock-scramble climb towards the peak.
68. Ride Canaan Valley.
69. New River Gorge Expedition. The New River Gorge has got it all: hiking, top-notch climbing and whitewater, mountain biking, even canopy tours.
70. Bike the Shenandoah Mountain 100. If you’re only going to ride in one mountain bike race your entire life, make it Shenandoah. For 12 years, this has been the quintessential endurance bike event in the South. The forest road climbs, technical singletrack descents, lively crowds, and ridiculously fast pros at the front of the pack make this a must.
71. Hike the other A.T. The 288-mile Benton Mackaye Trail runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Davenport Gap on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You could refer to this trail as the sister trail to the Appalachian Trail–it was even conceived by the same man who inspired the Appalachian Trail. This trail crosses through some of the most secluded wilderness areas in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
72. A paddler’s wet dream. After derailing a dam project that would have changed the face of the Gauley River in West Virginia forever, a festival was started in 1983, and it was called Gauley Fest. Today it attracts thousands of people, offers top-notch whitewater adventure, and live entertainment.
73. Build a Trail. Join your local trail advocacy group and get involved in trail maintenance on your favorite trails.
74. Try a tri. And how about helping others while you’re at it! The Nation’s Triathlon held on September 9 benefits The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. You’ll swim the Potomac River, bike past the White House, and run past the Jefferson Memorial.
75. Explore the South’s newest wilderness. Stone Mountain Wilderness lies in Virginia’s Lee County and offers 3,270 acres of remote wilderness to enjoy and explore.
76. Run the oldest ultra in the country. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy wanted to get the country back into shape and challenge his military officers to meet the very fitness prerequisites Teddy Roosevelt had set for his military officers at the beginning of the decade. Along with a handful of other 50-mile events, this Washington County, Md., ultra-marathon was created. Later that year the president was assassinated and the race was changed from the JFK 50 Mile Challenge to the JFK 50 Mile Memorial. Most others shut down, but this one remains as a test of posterity and ultra fitness. Run it November 17.
77. Backpack the Jack. The 16.3-mile trail in north Georgia’s Cohutta Wilderness includes the Jacks River Falls and over 40 river crossings.
78. Hang glide from Lookout Mountain. Unleash your inner raptor at Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain, which offers a world-class hang gliding aviation school where you can get one step closer to the heavens.
79. Tackle the Triple Crown. Three of the country’s best bouldering competitions raise cash for the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition and The Carolina Climbers’ Coalition, both of which have been big players in developing the climbing sport in the region.
- Hound Ears: Boone, N.C. – Oct. 1
- Stone Fort: Chattanooga, Tenn. – Oct. 8
- Horse Pens-40: – Steele, Ala. – Nov. 5
80. Swim the Suck. This organized 10-mile open swim takes place in the Tennessee River Gorge outside of Chattanooga. In 2009, thirty-three volunteers paced 21 swimmers in 71-degree water for up to five hours.
81. Building. Antenna. Span. Earth. (BASE). Last year 800 people BASE jumped from the New River Gorge Bridge, W.Va. in one day. This is, of course, thanks to the massive Bridge Day celebration that takes place there every October.
82. Lord of the Fork. Nestled between Haysi, Va., and Elkhorn City, Ky., the Russell Fork River hosts an annual race held October 22-23. Named Lord of the Fork for Jon Lord who passed away in 2004, this race is a hardcore Class V downriver race in a wild gorge.
83. The Festy: One of the South’s toughest 10K trail races is followed by one of the South’s best festivals on October 5-7th, 2012 at Devils Backbone in Nelson County, Virginia. The Infamous String Dusters are among the headliners.
84. Winin’ and Dinin’ What better time to sit in the countryside sipping a glass of wine than when the fall foliage is at its best? Take a gorgeous drive out to Barboursville Winery in Barboursville, Va. Head up to Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane, Va. Or visit Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville, Va.
85. Surf Road Trip in Outer Banks. The Outer Banks begins to get bigger swells in the fall, and the surfing gets serious. Load the boards atop the car, throw in a few tents and hit the road to hang ten.
86. Tough Mudder. Two English chaps created this 10-mile “run” dubbed as the toughest race on the planet. It includes barbed wire, huge logs, tiny confined tubes and hardcore camaraderie. Wintergreen Resort Oct. 6-7.
87. Boycott the interstate. Drive back roads only for a month straight.
88. Run the Blue Ridge Burn. This annual 5K/10K trail run not only features a scenic run up old logging roads and singletrack trails heading up Horseshoe Mountain, with a ridiculously fast finish at the bottom. The Festy Experience is the perfect post-race celebration.
89. Squirrel-approved adventure. Navitat’s zip lines, just 20 minutes north of Asheville, N.C., span over 1,000 feet of fall foliage canopy. For added thrill, try zipping at night.
90. Witness the weird.The best time to view the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights is in the fall, so make it a Halloween experience.
91. Haunted hike. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club hosts 38 cabins that can be rented out, including the Jones Mountain Cabin. Legend has it that a local moonshiner’s wife died there. Stop in Wolftown, Va., and pick up some local moonshine for a midnight toast to old man Nichols himself.
92. Watch raptors migrate. Hawk Mountain in Kempton, Penn., is one of the best places to see golden eagles, goshawks, and other birds of prey passing through.
93. Night rides. The edginess of night is often the best way to amplify any experience. And that applies to mountain biking as well. You’ll want a headlamp with at least 200-300 lumens.
94. Ski at Snowflex. This world-class skiing facility at Liberty University will get you out on the slopes and hitting the jumps–without snow.
95. Explore the swamp. Canoe-camp the Okefenoke. The winter season means fewer crowds (and snakes), but you’re still likely to see alligators in November.
96. New River Gorge Expedition. The Gorge has it all: top-notch hiking, climbing, whitewater paddling, mountain biking, even canopy tours.
97. Holiday hiking. Choose your favorite day hike trail and try it out in the winter.
98. Get a gym membership — At a climbing gym.
99. Winter Camp Shenandoah. During the winter, the naked beauty of the forest reveals views previously covered by foliage and iced-over waterfalls, seemingly frozen in time.
100. Spelunk. The geographic quadrant formed by Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia (TAG) has the highest concentration of caves in the country, while the Virginias and Carolinas have their own fissures and caves. Join a club or hire a guide and go deep. Just make sure you follow protocol to avoid spreading White Nose Syndrome among bat populations.
101. Try cyclocross. It’s high-intensity biking with obstacles and usually a bit of running on a spectator-friendly course. It’s adrenaline and anaerobic threshold packed into an hour or less.