Next weekend: The big thaw

Twelve ways to spring into your weekend, coast-to-coast and close to home

<strong>Point Reyes, California</strong><br>Getty Images


Find the Wild Things
Point Reyes goes Animal Planet in March. Offshore, gray whales breach en masse; see them from Chimney Rock or Point Reyes Lighthouse. On the beaches 5,000-pound elephant seals loll about; it's less than a quarter mile walk to a viewing area from Chimney Rock. And in the air, more than 200 species of birds take wing; view showy types like ruddy turnstones from Tomales Bay or Drakes Estero. Base yourself at the suitably wild Blackthorne Inn ($225;, which offers tree-house rooms near the shore.

Easy Ride in the Desert
This month Death Valley's notoriously sizzling pavement is better suited for road biking than egg-frying. From the Furnace Creek Campground ($18; deva) pedal 18 miles past patches of wildflowers to Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere; add another nine miles on the way back by chugging up the one-way road to Artist's Drive. Furnace Creek is conveniently central. Got a few extra days? Sign up with Berkeley-based Backroads for its five-day Death Valley Multisport ($1,998; and get shuttled through the desert in bloom.

Pray for Rain
You'll get wet in March on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, but that's precisely the point--temperate rain forests are the hallmark of soggy Olympic National Park. At night dry out on Olympic's western slopes in one of Kalaloch Lodge's 44 log cabins ($119; The oceanfront rooms offer VIP seating for thunderous Pacific storms and instant access to seven beaches stretching nine miles. The heart of the park, the mossy, ferny, old-growth Hoh Rain Forest is just 20 miles away.


Watch Talladega Nights
Dugger Mountain Wilderness, in Talladega National Forest (256-463-2272), occupies the most remote, lovely, and rugged corner of the state, and the 120-mile, shelter-dotted Pinhoti Trail crosses right through it. For a weekend-size chunk, pick up the trail at the Highway 278 trailhead seven miles east of Piedmont and hike south. The path climbs to ridgetops and drops to streams in a forest of mixed pine, chestnut oaks, hickory and maple. The first shelter is on Oakey Mountain (8.7 miles); the Dugger shelter is seven miles farther. Watch for pinhoti (what the Creek Indians called wild turkeys) and abundant spring wildflowers, including orchids and hepaticas.

Paddle the Blueway
Lost is a state of mind, not a rescue emergency, for paddlers on the well-marked, hundred-mile Great Calusa Blueway near Fort Myers. Crystal clear waterways trace estuaries, islands and forests of chocolate mangrove. Expect to see manatees and dolphins; hope for sea turtles and stingrays. The Tropic Star ferry (a craft originally built for Walt Disney World) departs from Pineland on Pine Island and will drop you and your boat off on the white sand of the Cayo Costa State Park campground ($45 a day for kayak rental and ferry service;, an ideal departure point for a daylong paddle.

Kayak Down, Ride Up
What paddler hasn't dreamed of riding a motorized boat lift back to the put-in? That's the drill at the new U.S. National Whitewater Center ( just outside Charlotte: Run a mile of concentrated Class II-IV rapids in man-made channels beside the Catawba River, paddle over to a conveyor belt, ride up and do it all again. Skilled paddlers can access the kayak lift for $25 a day. Beginners can get a two-hour lesson in the instruction channel ($70).

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