Ice climber Juliette Sutherland, of South Portland, rappels down the ice after climbing to the top in Camden Hills State Park. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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There are presents I remember. Begged-for toys and cool-kids clothes I sought out under the tree like some ravenous late-winter scavenger. The jean jacket with the square fabric patches that made me feel like Debbie Gibson. The Cabbage Patch Kid with the orange yarn hair, whose hard plastic head smelled like baby powder and daydreams. 

But mostly, when I think about my happiest moments – the peaks on my life’s timeline when I felt certifiably wonderful and on-top-of-the-world – I don’t remember things I got; I remember things I did. 

It’s pretty marvelous to know we can gift someone else a memorable adventure they won’t soon forget; perhaps an experience that challenges them in all the right ways, or lets them see a much-loved place from a new angle or in a different season. Or heck, it could simply be a day they did something swell with someone they really like (ahem, that’d be you). 

Great experiences can bond us to each other, connect us to a place and often teach us a thing or two. My jean jacket never did that. Also, and this is important, they’re fun. People like fun. To help you brainstorm experiences you could gift the outdoorsy person in your life – or the I’d-like-to-be-more-outdoorsy person – here are a few ideas.

Ice climbing

Ice climbing is a unique winter experience that offers just the right amount of mental and physical challenge while still being entirely accessible to beginners. Also, you get to swing ice axes, which makes you feel powerful and cool.

Equinox Guiding Service offers half-day and full-day ice-climbing trips in the winter, typically at Camden Hills State Park. No climbing experience is necessary; in fact, trips are geared toward beginners (although trips can be catered to more experienced climbers, too) and all the ice climbing gear (boots, crampons, harness, helmet, and ice axes) is included. For more info:

Also: Acadia Mountain Guides leads ice-climbing trips on Mount Desert Island. It’s a fine opportunity to experience the park in a totally different way. For more info:

A group of kayakers paddles on Casco Bay during a guided overnight adventure with Portland Paddle. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

Island kayaking, camping

Camping is just more magical when it’s on an island you spent the day paddling to. Portland Paddle, on the city’s East End, leads a variety of day trips in Casco Bay. But for a full-on experience you won’t soon forget, book an overnight on an island.

Trips are led by an experienced guide and all the gear – from the kayak, paddle and personal flotation device, to the camp stove and tents – is provided. You can even rent a sleeping bag. Cost ranges from $235-$455. You’ll paddle past shorelines you’ve probably never seen and fall asleep to the sound of the sea. For more information:

In the Midcoast, Maine Kayak offers day trips and multi-day excursions from the Pemaquid Peninsula. They also offer whitewater kayaking lessons on the Penobscot River at the foot of Mt. Katahdin. Now there’s a thrill for you. For more information:

Rappel down a waterfall

One-hundred-foot Ripley Falls in New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch State Park is a popular destination for White Mountain visitors who appreciate the spell-binding effects of water tumbling down a rock face. You can also experience Ripley Falls up close and personal by rappelling down it.

Northeast Mountaineering, based in Bartlett, New Hampshire, leads waterfall rappelling adventures in the summer and fall. It’s a scary-wonderful experience to lean out over the waterfall’s edge. Trips include the necessities – a harness, a helmet, a lesson in rappelling – and cost $125-$200. For more information:

The SnowCoach is a 12-passenger van equipped with treads that allow it to climb Mt. Washington’s snow-covered auto road in the winter. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

Mt. Washington

Enjoy stunning winter views from Mt. Washington without having to hike all the way up there.

Great Glen Trails in Gorham, New Hampshire, has a fleet of SnowCoaches – 12-passenger vans equipped with what amount to tank treads. SnowCoaches run daily all winter and take passengers up the Mt. Washington Auto Road (not all the way up; the weather’s too cagey for that). At 4,200 feet you can get out to take in the views and snap some photos before riding back down. Or you can snowshoe down instead. Cost is $55 per person. For more information:

Experienced hikers who would like to hike up Mt. Washington in the winter can book a guided hike with Maine Alpine Guiding. The one-day trips are an excellent way to level-up your White Mountain hiking while keeping it safe with an experienced guide. Necessary climbing gear is included (mountaineering boots, ice axes, helmets, and crampons) and trips cost $80-$155. For more information:

Learn to fly fish

Learn the basics of fly casting from a Master Maine Guide, then spend the rest of your trip using those skills to catch some fish.

Maine Outdoors leads learn-to-fly-fish trips that cater to your experience level. You’ll improve your cast, learn how to choose your equipment and get a refresher in fish biology. Rates range from $375-$700 for a half or full day (that’s for the whole trip, not per person) and includes the fishing boat and guide, rods, lures, bait, and fishing license. For more info:

Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.

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