Photo © John Malmberg
by Mattie John Bamman
Warm summer days inspire adventure.
Places never explored. Untried challenges to test your mettle.
From Washington and Oregon to Idaho, they await—crampons, paddles, surfboards and expert guides at your fingertips.
Welcome to another summer in the Northwest.
While adventure activities can seem extreme, many are increasingly accessible to beginners—no experience necessary—and most can be enjoyed within a day. Let these top picks be your call to adventure.
Elakah Expedition’s Sea Kayaking and Foraging Tour, Bellingham, WA
Glide into the mouth of a secluded tide pool and skim just inches above neon-colored sea life. Whether along the Oregon Coast or in Puget Sound, sea kayaking unlocks a world of rippling kelp, spiked urchins, sea cucumbers and crabs—all of which taste delicious, by the way.
Leaving from Bellingham, Washington, Elakah Expeditions offers an “over the top” tour to delight foodie adventurers. Kayak in the San Juan Islands; learn to forage sustainably at a massive, hidden reef; and prepare a multi-course meal using the ingredients you find. Dishes have included seaweed-ginger salad and BBQ salmon wrapped in kelp and delicate urchin roe-topped red potatoes with sour cream.
Sea kayaks are more stable than most canoes, yet looking down into the watery darkness draws out ancient fears of the moody sea. It’s a fear worth facing. “Sea kayaking is nothing like kayaking in white-water rapids,” says Mike Passo, who has owned Elakah Expeditions for 12 years. “You rarely tip over. You can always take breaks.”
The full-day foodie tour has a four-person minimum and costs $125 per person. Don’t forget a shellfish/seaweed license, available at sporting goods stores. Bellingham is 1.5 hours north of Seattle. While there, visit galleries and breweries in Fairhaven Historic District, check out the explosive music scene or stay at the unforgettable Willows Inn on Lummi Island or The Chrysalis Inn & Spa or Hotel Bellwether, both in Bellingham. elakah.com, willows-inn.com, thechrysalisinn.com, hotelbellwether.com, bellingham.org, fairhaven.com
Kiteboarding with Air Pirates, Clatskanie, OR
Across rivers, lakes and ocean, kiteboarders hoist brightly colored sails to travel at speeds of 30 mph or more. It’s a beautiful spectacle—one that has many people asking, Can I do that? With qualified instructors, prime locations in the Columbia Gorge and the Oregon Coast (to name a few locations) kiteboarding is more accessible than ever. All you’ll need are the funds to cover the cost of training, the commitment to stick to it (it takes plenty of practice) and the willingness to take the plunge.
Located near Portland, Air Pirates Kiteboarding offers lessons at Jones Beach on the Columbia River between Portland and Astoria. Owner Nate Tussing has worked with students ages 10 to 60. “The scariest part, for most, is when they first get into the water, because they don’t know what to expect,” he says. “I hang on to them the whole time.”
Air Pirates’ go-to location for lessons is the uncrowded Jones Beach, an hour from Portland on Highway 30. It has friendly winds and currents.
All Air Pirate trainers are certified by the Professional Air Sports Association. Day courses cost $550 per person, and the first two hours focus on safety. To prepare, watch “how-to” videos on YouTube. Grasping the fundamentals means more time on the water. air-pirates.com, traveloregon.com
Rock Climbing with Sawtooth
Mountain Guides, Stanley ID
Wind. Rock. Solitude. Rock climbing takes you into isolated scenery where it is just you and the precipice. Simultaneously, it’s a group activity—one that’s fun for friends and families.
Operating since 1985, Sawtooth Mountain Guides offers half-day courses, perfect for children under age 7, as well as full-day courses, and the introductory Super Slabs is out of this world. Offered May through September, the journey begins with a boat ride across Redfish Lake, continues with a 2-mile hike through Redfish Canyon and ends with a multi-pitch ascent.
“Multi-pitch sounds intimidating,” says co-owner Chris Lundy, “but it really isn’t hard. The most important thing to know is that you’re tied to a rope. It’s a chance to push yourself in a safe environment.”
When you reach the top, your rewards are the view over the glacier-carved canyon and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment.
Tours leave from Stanley, Idaho, with nearby opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, soaking in natural hot springs and river rafting. Full-day tours range from $185 to $420 per person. Boise is 130 miles away, and Sun Valley, which offers the regional Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, is 70 miles away. Other prime rock-climbing destinations for beginners include Leavenworth, Washington, and Smith Rock in Oregon. sawtoothguides.com, www.stanleycc.org
Slopestyle Skiing and Snowboarding, Mt. Hood, OR
An hour from Portland, Mt. Hood has the longest ski season in North America, and each summer, Olympians and pro skiers worldwide visit for the predictable snowpack. For downhill, head to Timberline Lodge, where the lift drops you off at 8,450 feet elevation on Palmer Glacier. The run is ideal for intermediates and up. Other outdoor activities in the area include hiking, fly fishing, zip lining and golfing.
But if you want to try something new, learn to freestyle ski or snowboard. The 2014 Winter Olympics premiered slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, and Windells Camp offers week-long, all-inclusive courses. “People come from all over at all ages and abilities,” says vice president Rachel Lemons. “It’s about having fun first, with progression as a close second.” Camps are divided between under-18s and adults, and lots of families book together.
Prices range from $1399 to $1799 and include meals, lift tickets, daily transportation, professional trainers and use of campus training facilities. Adults often view the experience as an all-inclusive vacation with scenic sights and a happening nightlife (we’ve heard rumors of wasabi-eating contests). You can be new to slopestyle but should have at least upper-beginner knowledge of turning, speed control and mountain safety. “At the end of the week, some people are blown away with completing a flat 360,” says Angela, “others, with double backflips.” timberlinelodge.com, windells.com, mthoodterritory.com
Fly Fishing, Teton Valley, ID
Fly fishing may not seem adventurous at first, but there’s more to it than perfecting your cast. Fly fishing can combine everything from camping to exploring rapid-filled canyons, and the full force of the river reveals itself when you stand in it up to your thighs in waders.
The Northwest has no shortage of river and ocean locations. Puget Sound offers near-year-round fishing for cutthroat trout, and the Deschutes and Rogue rivers are popular Oregon spots. That said, fly fishing in Idaho is legendary, and the Teton Valley is known among anglers worldwide for its majestic river canyons and plentiful cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout. “New anglers usually catch a fish—as long as they have a guide—and the local wisdom is catch-and-release,” says Matt Berry, who, with his brother, owns Teton Valley Lodge, which has guided customizable fly fishing trips since 1919.
For beginners, fly fishing isn’t hard to pick up, but the skills involved can be honed for a lifetime. The lodge sells licenses and rents rods; otherwise, the guided trips are all inclusive and cost $350 for a half day, $555 for a full.
Neighbor to Yellowstone National Park, Teton Valley has intense natural beauty; historic lodges, endless outdoor sports (including standup paddleboarding), and world-class golfing at Huntsman Springs. Get there by flying to Idaho Falls, 80 miles away. tetonvalleylodge.com, huntsmansprings.com, tetonvalleychamber.com
Sandboarding at Sand Master Park, Florence, OR
Since emerging 10 years ago as one of the coolest sports on sand, sandboarding has taken off in Dubai, Egypt, Australia, South America and—that’s right—Oregon. In fact, Oregon has the world’s first sandboard park, Sand Master Park, located in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The largest patch of coastal dunes in North America, the area stretches 40 miles between Florence and Coos Bay, and large sections are open to off-road vehicles, including dune buggies, which can be readily rented.
Sand Master Park owner Lon Beale, aka Dr. Dune, says of participants, “The youngest I’ve seen was a year-and-a-half old, and our oldest guy is 84; he’s always putting the kids to shame.” The private, 40-acre park features sculpted dunes and a 40-foot ramp with optional jump. “Most people come just to play around,” says Lon, “and, once you get the hang of it, there’s the entire dune area to explore with a sandboard.”
Sandboard rentals start at $10, and a rental with lesson costs $40–$75. Teachers include world champions Josh Tenge and Gabe Cruz, and the area boasts beaches, cute coastal towns, lighthouses, snorkeling and crabbing. Drive to Florence from I-5 or fly into the newly opened Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend. sandmasterpark.com, oregonsadventurecoast.com