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6 Cool Ways to Explore the Outdoors This Summer You Hadn’t Thought of Before

Summer is upon us, which means there’s no time like the present to get outside and soak up some sunshine. This temperate season makes myriad activities possible… but do you ever feel like you spend every summer doing the same things?

I grew up on the muddy planes of Lake Marion. We spent our lazy, hazy summer days filing down rickety old docks in slapdash lines and dipping our tan toes into the murky water. Or better yet, finding a rocky crag, tying a ski rope to a pine tree and swinging off with reckless abandon (sorry, Mom).

Now, living a few miles from the beach, hardly a day goes by when we aren’t whiling away our afternoons in the salty spray of the surf. And there’s nothing wrong with either of those classic summer pastimes. They’re pretty idyllic, for that matter.

These days, though, I find myself feeling the need to push beyond the comfort of the familiar. I want to explore the outdoors — to seek out her wild glory and really get to know her.

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In fact, I’m currently in the process of selling my house, buying an RV and spending a few years with my husband and kids in tow to do precisely that. And in our seemingly endless research on outdoor adventures waiting to be had, we’ve come across some pretty cool ideas.

So whether we’re meeting up with old college friends or just sojourning with our 6-year-old and 4-year-old, here are some of the things currently on our “must get outside and try” radar.

1. Geocaching

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been hearing about geocaching for awhile but simply haven’t had the time to give it an honest go. But, c’mon, let’s be real. We’re all going to give into this eventually because the premise is irresistibly fun — it’s a real life outdoor treasure hunt. The game relies on GPS-enabled devices to guide you to specific coordinates, where you then try to find the “geocache,” aka hidden container. What’s especially fantastic about this is that geocaches are found all over the world, and the location possibilities are practically never-ending. You may find one beneath your favorite park bench. Or alternatively, you may have to take a challenging hike to get to the proverbial pot of gold. Sign me up!

2. Collecting Junior Ranger badges

By far, one of the most amazing family-oriented activities we’ve discovered is the Junior Ranger program orchestrated by the National Park system. This activity-based program encourages young people to complete tasks during what would otherwise be a typical park visit. Once they complete those tasks, they report their answers to an official park ranger and receive a Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate. How much fun is that? Instead of just running through the park in a blur of adrenaline, kids actually take the time to truly observe their surroundings. And while the program is geared toward kids 5 to 13, there isn’t any set age limit, so big kids can get in on the action too.

3. Caving (aka spelunking)

Did you know there are caves you can visit in nearly every state? From Mammoth Cave National Park in Central Kentucky — the longest-known cave system in the world — to America’s highest underground waterfall at Ruby Falls Cave in Tennessee, underground wonders abound if you can get past any claustrophobic preconceptions. Pick out complex passages if you’re going with groups of friends or focus on showy stalactites and stalagmites in entrance areas if little legs are along.

More: The 5 Best Lake Vacations for Summer

4. Stargazing

I have this friend. She’s kind of a big deal. Well, she may not think so, but with each passing week, she inspires me to make Mother Nature my native language. She camps often, and, an astronomy fanatic, she’s been posting mind-blowing pictures of the Milky Way over the Arizona desert. It’s a curious thing — to experience such a primal urge to want to cloak yourself in the velvety black of night and just stare up at the stars. But I can’t think of a better way to spend my summer, ditching the daylight’s sticky heat and spending evenings letting the enormity of the universe humble me.

5. Going off-road

Hiking will forever be a favorite summer pastime, but sometimes, it simply isn’t possible. Maybe you’re nursing a bum knee or, hey, it’s just too hot. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel unfamiliar stretches of land and discover nooks and crannies of the country you didn’t know lay in wait. All over the country, off-road tours are ready and willing to take you up steep slopes, through rippling creeks, over sandy washes and down hidden trails. You’ll probably get dirty, but there’s a special satisfaction that comes from the windblown feeling of feral earth caked on your skin.

Check out of some of the coolest places to go off-road here.

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6. Grabbing a paddle

If you spend so much time in or near the water that your friends and family joke you might be an amphibian, exploring the outdoors could be as simple as grabbing a paddle. And let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of aquatic travel to try: stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, tubing, rafting… get your gills wet and soak up your surroundings. Not only is the scenery guaranteed to be gorgeous, but you’ll likely come across local marine life too. Since some places aren’t accessible by car or even foot, the added bonus is that you get the chance to ferret out Insta-worthy spots that aren’t your typical touristy fare.

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