6 Outdoor Adventures for Spring Break in the United States

Whether you’re looking to dive deep underwater or witness a spectacle in the sky, there’s something for you.

Inns of Aurora, Finger Lakes, New York

Al fresco saunas beckon in New York’s Finger Lakes region.

Courtesy of Inns of Aurora

You’ll never go wrong booking a beach vacation or hitting the slopes for spring break—just don’t expect to be the only one with those plans. From sea to shining sea and in the spaces between, the U.S. blooms with surprising outdoor adventures when spring does its glorious thing in March, April, and May. Read on for spring break ideas in unexpected spots across the country—including one of the world’s greatest bird migrations, Florida’s spring and lake-filled interior, and surf ’n’ ranch fun in Texas.

Waken from your winter slumber in the Finger Lakes

Wellness gets an invigorating outdoor spin in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes when you book into a lakefront resort that adds a sauna and outdoor soaking time into the equation. Slink into an outdoor barrel sauna at the edge of Canandaigua Lake by yourself (or share it with a friend) at the Lake House on Canandaigua. Here, a spa attendant walks you through the ritual, complete with a bucket of ice chips for cooling off between sauna sessions and a honey-infused mask that will leave your face feeling like silk. The hotel’s 125 rooms (many of which have views of the lake) offer a clean-lined and soothing design and carved four-poster beds. And the Sand Bar, a casual hangout overlooking the water, serves oysters, crab cakes, and enormous Atlantic sea scallops.

Two lakes over, on the gently sloping shores of Cayuga Lake, the newly opened Spa at the Inns of Aurora has an indoor/outdoor farmhouse aesthetic, roaring firepits to warm up by, and an outdoor sauna and soaking pools overlooking the wooded lakefront.

When you’re up for something more active, Bristol Mountain, the Rochester area’s go-to ski area, is 59 miles away (or 14 miles from the Lake House on Canandaigua) and usually stays open into early April, with 39 slopes for all abilities to schuss down. Or head to the southern tip of Seneca Lake to chase the 19 waterfalls gushing forth all their springtime glory at Watkins Glen State Park.

Bighorn sheep in South Dakota.

South Dakota’s wildlife comes out to play as the weather warms.

Photo by Chad Coppess

See springtime’s baby animals in South Dakota

For an epic spring break road trip full of dramatic American landscapes, star-splattered skies, and the most fuzzy baby animals you can imagine, set your sights on South Dakota. Fly into Rapid City Regional Airport for the closest access to Badlands National Park, where the 39-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway winds through canyons and towering spires and fluffy bighorn lambs make their delightful debut from April through June.

Just west in Custer State Park, adorable knobby-kneed baby bison (dubbed “cinnamons” for their reddish fur) start making an appearance at the end of March. And the wide plains of the state’s Missouri River region bound to life in late May with leaping pronghorn antelope fawns.

Stargazing is a big draw in South Dakota’s remote wilds, too, including within the Badlands, where it’s said that more than 7,500 stars and celestial sights are visible on any given cloudless night. Other hot spots for planet-spotting include the unobstructed Class I Sky (read: little light or air pollution) at Wind Cave National Park.

Scuba diving at Alexander Springs.

Alexander Springs is the only place in the Ocala National Forest where scuba diving is allowed. The water is surrounded by a forest of maple trees and cabbage palms.

Courtesy of Discover Lake County Florida

Find freshwater fun in Florida’s Lake County

Just north of Orlando, Lake County’s “Land of 1,000 Lakes” offers a far less hectic spring break escape away from Florida’s crowded coasts. This part of Florida gets ideal temperatures in March and April (usually hovering in the low 80s), and cute historic lakefront towns like Mount Dora and Eustis (on Lake Dora and Lake Eustis) are at their most pleasant to visit during spring.

Head out for a stroll along the 2.7-mile Florida Scrub Jay Trail or in Emeralda Marsh near the Ocklawaha River to spot endemic Florida birds. And take to the skies for an aerial tour of the area’s chains of lakes during seaplane tours with Jones Brothers & Co., complete with a splash landing on Lake Dora. The spring months are citrus season in Florida, perfect for U-pick adventures in a local grove. And if you fancy a swim, brave waters that stay a brisk 72 degrees year round for a refreshing dip at the region’s many freshwater springs, including Alexander Springs, a hideaway spot for camping within the Ocala National Forest.

San Antonion River Walk

San Antonio’s River Walk is a hub for artisan markets, festive parades, and a range of food.

Photo by fllphoto/Shutterstock

Fly into San Antonio for Texas-style surf and turf spring fun

With average March and April temperatures in the mid-70s and low 80s, San Antonio beckons for a spring break warm-up. Spend a day or two experiencing the cafés, bars, sculpture parks, and shaded areas. Or relax with a book along the city’s pedestrian-only 15-mile River Walk and the rooftop pool at Hotel Emma, an elegant address inside a former brewery in the city’s Pearl district. Then road-trip north into Hill Country for something more countrified.

Get a taste of the rarified ranch life at Camp Lucy, a luxe Hill Country outpost set atop a bluff in Dripping Springs with 41 rooms set on 289 acres. Spend time enjoying the rolling scenery, getting up early for sunrise hikes and yoga, trying a spot of archery or hatchet-throwing, or cavorting with the resident alpacas.

When you’re ready for the surf part of your Lone State spring break, it’s a four-hour drive south to reach Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico. Here, at the state’s fishing capital, you can head offshore on a deep-sea fishing adventure (April coincides with pompano and cobia season) or check out the incredible native sand works of art along the beach at April’s Texas Sandfest.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

A trail through Casa Rinconada reveals a multitude of Chacoan building styles.

Photo by Amanda Powell

Find urban adventures and spring equinox glamping in Albuquerque

Springtime is the sweet spot for visiting New Mexico, which turns up the heat to mercurial in the summer and catches a surprising chill come winter. (The state perhaps best known for desert climes is also home to nine snowy ski resorts.)

March and April are idyllic timing for adventures into Chaco Culture National Historical Park, also known as Chaco Canyon. It’s been likened to Machu Picchu and was central to Ancestral Puebloan people between 850 and 1250 C.E. (you can still see ruins from their ancient buildings today). Explore the canyon’s spiritual ties on overnight glamping trips—complete with canyon hikes to see petroglyphs and then massages once you’re back at camp—with Heritage Inspirations. They depart from Albuquerque and are timed for the spring equinox in March and the new moon in April and May.

Back in Albuquerque proper, half-day eBike tours with Heritage Inspirations depart Hotel Chaco to roll along the banks of New Mexico’s largest river, the Rio Grande, visiting a working organic farm dating to 1934 along the way.

Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska

Over a million sandhill cranes migrate to Nebraska between February and March.

Photo by Bill Frakes

Camp out by a river during Nebraska’s sandhill crane migration

Every year from February and March through mid-April, Nebraska’s Platte River plays host to an event that Jane Goodall reportedly called one of North America’s most incredible spectacles. On their way from wintering grounds in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico, more than a million sandhill cranes alight here before continuing their journeys north for summer.

To see the elegant, crimson-crowned birds gathered along the river and swooping in from the skies is nothing short of spectacular. The area around the central Nebraska town of Kearney is a good place to base yourself. And while easy hikes to the river will bring you within good birding distance, consider booking something truly unforgettable here instead. Audubon’s overnight crane photography experience lets you spend the night in a viewing blind along the Platte River just east of Kearney within Rowe Sanctuary. You’ll arrive in the evening, in time to photograph the cranes as they descend upon the river at dusk and be perfectly positioned at sunrise to capture their ascent.

Terry Ward is a Florida-based travel writer whose work appears in CNN, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and the Washington Post, among many other outlets.
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