By Park Greer

Summer break is approaching and with only one more week left until it officially begins, students are looking for exciting excursions to satisfy their adventurous side. Many local areas offer great day and weekend trips, but some of the best hikes and aquatic adventures are a good drive away. Here are a few of the best trips:

The Great Smokey Mountains on the Tennessee and North Carolina border yield many wondrous opportunities for outdoorsmen of all types. Hiking trails weave throughout the entire park and extend from the deep, cool valleys to the steep, fresh mountain vistas and all the waterfalls, homesteads and cliffs in between.

The famed Appalachian Trail is a must for those thinking of hiking, as it winds for 76 miles from the north end of the park to the south, and nestled in the middle is Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.

If trails abundantly green with summer foliage are not your forte, then the local attractions and townships might provide better excitement. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Dollywood are all nestled in the shadow of the Smokies, and each has its own strong point.

Dollywood and Pigeon Forge both offer areas of amusement through theme parks and wild rides, whereas Gatlinburg is most notable for its wide range of shopping options and the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which is a must for fish lovers.

The Appalachian Trail might be 2,176 miles long from Georgia to Maine, but by far one of the most beautiful spots on the entire trail is the Mt. Rogers Recreational Area. Being only a four-hour drive from Richmond, this destination is prime for both weekenders and backpackers alike.The wilderness itself used to be volcanically active, but in the eons since the molten rock has cooled to form gigantic boulders strewn throughout the landscape, these stone monoliths are just perfect for bouldering.

Also located in the area is the tallest mountain in Virginia, Mt. Rogers. The hemlock forests and rhododendron thickets that cover the mountain sides and creep up the cliffs separate toward the top providing a mountain vista where one can see for nearly 6o miles. And during the summer months, the night sky is alive with meteorites streaking across the starry ceiling.

Is canoeing a love of yours? Then the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is exactly where you need to be. Located in Ely, Minnesota, the drive (or flight) is definitely a long one (16 hours by car), but the destination is absolutely worth it. With vast expanses of untouched national forest resting on the border between the United States and Canada, the BWCAW is one of the most pristine nature preserves in the country.

Trips can be taken for any amount of time and the sights are gorgeous. It’s unspoiled wilderness, and although a bit more effort is required to keep it clean, being able to see the Milky Way on clear, crisp nights is more than enough payment.

White water rafting may be one of the most favored aquatic activities among students, and there certainly is no shortage of opportunities located around Eastern Kentucky, but the best places for this thrill reside outside of the state.

The first of which is the Ocoee River located near Chattanooga, Tenn., which was the site for the 1996 Summer Olympic events in canoeing and kayaking. The rapids here are great and rocks are in no shortage for an exciting and thrilling adventure down calm class II rapids or even daring rapids exceeding class IV’s.

A little closer is the Gauley River in West Virginia and these waters are ranked among the top 10 in the world for thrill during a white water rafting trip, so they should not be ignored by adrenaline seekers.

Summer is meant to be enjoyed, and some of the best experiences are those shared with friends. If an outdoor expedition is taking place, be sure to have good company, ample supplies, and most of all, a sense of safety so that many more experiences can be shared later in life.