The Great Outdoors, Now Even Better
25 Jun, 2021By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Outstanding Landscapes Make These Destinations a Natural for Hosting Sports Events
Outdoor sports have surged since 2020. In fact, according to the Outdoor Foundation, there has been an uptick in total outdoor participation to 52.9 percent, up from 50.5 percent in 2018 and 50.7 percent in 2019.
During the pandemic, significant increases were observed across the spectrum of outdoor pursuits, including in trail and road running, road and mountain biking, snow sports, golf, beach volleyball, open water swimming and fishing. And it’s looking like many of the new participants are not just sticking with the sports they discovered – they’re becoming competitive in them.
One complication of COVID has been that although it put the brakes on sports all at once, the country’s reopening has been gradual, with restrictions dropping state-by-state (and in some states, within individual counties and jurisdictions). And that, in turn, has propelled event owners outward to search for new destinations for their events.
The good news: There are some great destinations out there, with landscapes ready to accommodate a wide variety of sports. On the next few pages you’ll find a curated collection of some of these. So whether you need to site a triathlon, disc golf tournament or anything else, you’ll find some great possibilities here.
Alabama: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Off the field, athletes and their families can explore the natural wonders found along the Alabama Gulf Coast. This destination boasts vibrant ecosystems with many ways to explore all of them.
One way is to travel through Gulf State Park by foot, bike or Segway on the 28-mile Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. On this paved trail system, visitors will encounter a wide variety of flora and fauna that call Gulf Shores and Orange Beach home. It is also possible to get out on the water to see and learn more about the coastal marine life, and visitors can choose from kayaking, paddle boarding, parasailing and nature cruises.
Another fantastic way to experience nature on the water is by booking a fishing excursion. The locals’ favorite pastime, fishing allows athletes and their families to explore the various waterways, learn about marine life and catch their own post-game meal.
Of course, nobody can forget to visit the most popular natural wonder – the beach. This destination is home to 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches that sit along the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. While on the shoreline, visitors can collect shells, go ghost crab catching, snorkel, play beach volleyball, build sandcastles and much more.
Visit GulfShores.com to learn more about the outdoor adventures and activities awaiting athletes and their families in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Bentonville, Arkansas, the Mountain Biking Capital of the World, is a unique destination at the foot of the Ozarks filled with culture and a strong sense of community – a place brimming with arts, cycling and natural beauty and a new American town.
In the last decade, Bentonville has experienced a major cultural shift, becoming a must-visit cycling and arts destination. Whether it's touring Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Momentary, the Amazeum, the Walmart Museum, or just exploring the area’s vast train network from the downtown square, visitors are guaranteed a great time.
The Mountain Biking Capital of the World is considered a top-rated cycling destination that welcomes riders of all skill levels. Cyclists can ride to their heart's content with over 140 miles of trails, 40 plus miles of hard surface and over 100 miles of single track with 400 miles of trail in the Northwest Arkansas region.
Any adventure can be planned on Bentonville’s popular trails such as Slaughter Pen and the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve. No matter what destination is chosen, on or off the trails, there is no doubt a trip will culminate in new friends and long-lasting memories that will leave visitors wanting more.
For event owners looking for a new home for an outdoor competition, Redding, California can host just about anything, including…
Cycling, Running and Triathlons: Redding has hosted the NorCal High School Mountain Bike race, “the Swasey Shred,” and is also home to the Lemurian Shasta Classic, one of the oldest mountain bike races. The annual Redding Marathon is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. The combination of venues for biking, running and water sports creates a perfect environment for hosting triathlons.
Water Sports: Shasta Lake is a bass mecca, having hosted the Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nationals and the Wild West Bass Trail SuperClean Showdown. The area is also home to world-famous trout-fishing waters which helped Redding make Forbes.com’s list of “10 Trout Fishing Towns in North America.” Have a kayak event? TIME Magazine labeled Redding as the “unofficial capital of kayaking.”
Soccer: The California Soccer Park is a 22-acre facility with four new all-weather synthetic turf NCAA regulation-sized lighted fields, offering year-round play.
Baseball, Softball and Sand Volleyball: Redding’s Big League Dreams is a 30-acre sports complex with scaled-down replicas of Boston’s Fenway Park, New York’s Yankee Stadium and Chicago’s Wrigley Field, configurable for youth baseball, youth fastpitch softball and adult slow-pitch softball. The complex features outdoor sand volleyball courts and a 20,000-square-foot air-conditioned fieldhouse.
Colorado: Colorado Springs
Event owners can set their sights on Colorado Springs, Olympic City USA, for the next competition or event. The new Weidner Field in Downtown Colorado Springs offers a state-of-the-art "Korkconut" turf field, measuring 360' x 255', ideal for sporting games, tournaments and other special events. The facility also has indoor spaces available for receptions, team building and sponsor entertainment.
The stadium is conveniently located near downtown shopping and restaurants and is a short walk from the new U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, a must-see attraction for athletes and sports fans alike, with high-tech and high-touch exhibits.
Just a few miles north on the Colorado College campus, construction continues on the newest indoor facility, the Ed Robson Arena. The 3,650-seat arena will have 120,000 square feet of competition space, seating, lockers, concessions, storage and administrative space. It will be home to the Colorado College Tigers hockey team and will also host non-ice events.
After the event, athletes and their families can enjoy unique experiences such as riding The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center at 14,115’ elevation, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Garden of the Gods Park, Flying W Ranch and the Space Discovery Center.
Clermont, including Clermont Waterfront Park, Victory Pointe and Lake Louisa State Park might be the greatest natural resource for sports. Located just 30 minutes outside of Orlando, Clermont is the choice of champions.
For over 34 years, Clermont been a triathlon, duathlon and endurance haven, with facilities for running, open water swimming and competitive cycling. And yes, it’s a Florida destination with hills; in fact, the highest point in peninsular Florida, Sugarloaf Mountain, which rises 312 feet above sea level, is located near Clermont and is a sought-after destination for cyclists and runners and features routes for nearly every skill level and discipline.
Want to know what kind of events are on the area’s resume? Just check out the following:
Triathlons– including the 2021 USA Triathlon Ultra Distance National Championship, Great Floridian Triathlon Multisport Festival (which celebrated its 31st year running in 2021 and is the nation’s longest running independent full distance triathlon) and the Clermont Draft Legal Challenge
Cycling– Clermont’s pedigree includes the Horrible Hundred and Fondo Clermont
Running– the Clermont Clay 15K runs on the Clermont Clay Loop, a hilly, scenic trail that athletes love.
Clermont also has easy access to lodging accommodations in a wide variety of price points, multiple dining options and plenty to do for athletes who have crossed the finish line and are ready to unwind. For more information, visit https://visitlakefl.com/sports
Florida: Jackson County
Watching a sunrise by the water off of a 200-acre spring fed lake may not seem like the typical way to start the Fourth of July, but that’s exactly what athletes can experience at the Freedom Springs Triathlon to be held in Jackson County, Florida.
The Freedom Springs Triathlon is held each year on the Saturday closest to Independence Day at Jackson Blue Springs Recreation Area in Marianna, Florida. Competitors will begin their morning with a quarter-mile swim in the cool, 72-degree waters of Merritt’s Mill Pond. A staggered start for men, women and kids allows participants to enter without overcrowding the waters.
Following the swim, racers exit the beach at Jackson Blue Springs and follow a path up to the bicycle station to compete in the next leg of the race. The competitors will then complete a 10-mile bike ride winding through some of Florida’s most scenic agricultural lands – passing fields of livestock, planted pines and several varieties of row crops.
The triathlon will end with a 5K for the last leg of the race, taking place on a mostly unpaved dirt road bordering the park. This low traffic road is made of the staple red clay found on many of the local dirt roads, and will take runners alongside the east banks of the Blue Springs Basin that park is in.
Experienced and beginner athletes alike have enjoyed participating in this annual event for the past 35 years – one of the longest held sporting events in Jackson County! Awards are given for the fastest times in each of the age categories, as well as a most-spirited award – an award designed for those who go all out with their Fourth of July costumes for the race.
To learn more about the Freedom Springs Triathlon, contact the Jackson County Tourist Development Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida: Sports Coast
On Florida’s Sports Coast, pristine playing surfaces are just the beginning. Conveniently located 35 minutes north of Tampa International Airport, this nature-rich destination offers a diverse selection of outdoor sporting venues from coast to country.
Make par at one of the area’s 18 premier golf courses. Score a hole-in-one at Saddlebrook Resort and Spa, home to two Arnold Palmer signature courses. There, golf enthusiasts can mix business with pleasure as they tackle each of the golf legend’s Par-70 courses.
Spike the next tournament at the Beach at Bishop, Florida’s Sports Coast go-to beach volleyball venue. Home to 10-three feet deep, Bahama-sand courts, players will be able to dig deep to score that next win. The Beach at Bishop has hosted events like AAU Beach Qualifier Grand Prix and is home to No Name Volleyball Club.
Florida’s Sports Coast is home to 24 miles of nature-rich coastline that makes for excellent inshore fishing perfect for that next big fishing tournament. Common fish species caught off the coast include red drum, spotted seatrout, snook, gag and red snapper.
There are endless ways to play on Florida’s Sports Coast. Learn more about outdoor sporting venues at flsportscoast.com/sports-tourism.
Natural resources and the amenities that accompany them are plentiful in Boise, the Capital City of Idaho. The scenic foothills backdrop is an obvious iconic and natural beauty, which provides not only incredible recreation options but watershed and riparian environments, agricultural uses and wildlife habitat.
The Ridge to Rivers trail system includes over 190 miles of trails throughout the hills for hiking, biking, ATV and equestrian use, all just minutes from downtown. The City of Boise also has a geothermally heated river that runs below the foothills. The 177º water that runs under the city is pumped through 20 miles of pipeline and in turn is used to naturally heat over 90 buildings in the downtown core.
Boise also boasts the Boise River, a tributary of the Snake River, which flows through the middle of the city. The river provides water supply and habitat for many species, as well as recreation and natural beauty. Recreational and sports uses include fishing, tubing and biking or strolling along the river on the Boise River Greenbelt, a 25 mile pathway system showcasing the beauty and habitat the river provides.
Boise values each resource that makes the destination a surprise and invites event owners to come and see for themselves.
Lafayette, Louisiana has plenty to offer event owners and rights holders. Here are just a few options:
The Cajundome Sports Arena has hosted state high school basketball championships and Sun Belt Conference Championships with arena seating for 13,500.
Cycling trailsare available; in fact, Cycle Zydeco uses them for their events. Trails include 50-60 mile circuits through the Atchafalaya Basin and levees. BMX has a home in a USA BMX-sanctioned track at Picard Park.
Two of Lafayette’s city golf courses and a third semi-private venue are available; courses host the LHSAA State Boys and Girls golf championships annually.
Lafayette has three state-of-the-art sports multiplexes with up to eleven turf fields each, providing the ability to host baseball/softball tournaments with between 50-150 teams.
The Youngsville Sports Complex has Sugar Beach sand volleyball, with five courts conforming to NCAA and USA Volleyball regulations.
Acadiana Park has 10 miles of hiking trails and is ideal for cross country track meets.
For more information, visit LafayetteTravel.com/Sports.
The charming college town of Oxford, Mississippi is a great spot to stay and play. Whether visiting one of the local parks, biking trails, taking on one of the golf courses or looking to try out fishing at Sardis Lake, there are many chances to get outdoors in Oxford.
The Ole Miss Golf Course was designed to provide enjoyment and challenge for all skill levels and is a pleasure for golfers of any skill level to play. It follows USGA specifications with more than 7,000 yards in course length and plays host to the Ole Miss golf teams, including the 2021 National Champion Ole Miss Women’s Golf team.
The 18-hole course at The Country Club of Oxford features 7,028 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 72. The Club features a pro shop, club and lounge area, restaurant and an outdoor pool and tennis courts. In 2018, the Country Club of Oxford hosted the North Mississippi Class as part of the Web.com tournament.
The Clear Creek Bike Trail is located about 30 minutes outside the downtown area near Sardis Lake. It was selected as the best trail in Mississippi by Mountain Bike Magazine and host to the Clear Creek Challenge XC Race that can be ridden as a beginner, intermediate or complete 13-mile loop. Sardis Lake has hosted the Magnolia Crappie Club Tournament year after year providing a great fishing experience for the angler enthusiast.
While Tulsa, Oklahoma earns international recognition for its Art Deco architecture, world-renowned cultural institutions and performance venues, T-Town also boasts incredible outdoor experiences at every turn. Tulsa’s natural landscape provides the perfect setting for events like Certified Piedmontese IRONMAN Tulsa, Saint Francis Tulsa Tough and Tulsa Federal Credit Union Tulsa Run. Connected by more than 100 miles of biking and running trails, Tulsa is the ideal destination for any sports enthusiast.
Visitors can explore an abundance of green spaces from downtown Tulsa to the surrounding suburbs, many linked by River Parks’ beautiful 26 miles of asphalt-surfaced trails, weaving past playgrounds, fountains and sculptures along the banks of the Arkansas River. River Parks offers dual trails for pedestrians and cyclists, plus seasonal enjoyment of fishing, rowing, kayaking and disc golf.
Enjoy Tulsa’s average 227 days of sunshine, from downtown’s Guthrie Green to the award-winning Gathering Place, recently named the “Best City Park” in the U.S. by USA TODAY. Out south, experience Turkey Mountain’s 45 miles of trails, perfect for hiking, mountain biking and equestrian use. Nearby Keystone Lake, past host to the Bassmaster Classic, is perfect for camping, kayaking and fishing, and provides scenic hiking and biking trails.
Erie, Pennsylvania is home to one of the country’s top natural destinations – Presque Isle State Park. The park is a 3,200 acre peninsula that arches into Lake Erie to form Presque Isle Bay, a beautiful five square mile bay that is a popular location for bass fishing and is lined with hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Presque Isle State Park, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2021, features seven miles of sandy beaches on the shores of Lake Erie. The beaches are a very popular tourist destination during the summer months, as well as a popular spot for sporting events, having hosted beach volleyball, beach soccer and beach Ultimate events. Notably, Presque Isle State Park receives more than four million visitors per year.
The park also boasts four boat launch areas, many pavilions and event spaces, and 25 miles of flat trails, including a paved 13-mile loop around the entire peninsula that makes a natural half marathon course. Its amenities make it a regular destination for triathlon, cycling, running and fishing events, like the B.A.S.S. Nation Northeast Regional Championship, hosted there in June 2021.
For more information on Presque Isle State Park, visit www.eriesportscommission.com.
South Carolina: Anderson County
Since 2009, Anderson County has been leading a multi-county project to develop a 48-mile Blueway on the Saluda River in Upstate South Carolina. The Saluda forms the county’s eastern border.
In 2012, it installed the first floating ADA-compliant kayak launch in SC at Dolly Cooper Park in Powdersville. It has gone on to install three other launches. Two are 15+ miles downriver from Dolly in West Pelzer & Belton. The third is just ¼ mile south of the first launch, creating a tubing loop. The launches are linked by an ADA-compliant paved sidewalk. The launches were all partially funded by the Duke Energy Foundation.
In 2010, the county staged its first Saluda River Rally to bring attention to the river. The Rally held on June 5, 2021, sent more than 350 paddle sports enthusiasts downriver for either a 9- or 15-mile paddle. The 15-mile route included a portage around the dam in Piedmont.
In coming years, the county plans to install four additional launches along the Saluda.
Tennessee: Rutherford County
Rutherford County, Tennessee can host any outdoor event. Here is why:
Old Fort Golf Club: Regarded as one of the top public courses in the state, Old Fort has hosted a stage of the PGA Tour Q School and Senior PGA Tour Bell South Qualifier and is an ongoing host of championship events including USGA Boys and Girls Junior Amateur Qualifiers, Tennessee Golf Association and Tennessee PGA Section tournaments. The course is located along the banks of the Stones River adjacent to Fortress Rosecrans, a historic earthen fort used during the Civil War, providing an unforgettable backdrop to any event.
Smyrna Municipal Golf Course can host the emerging sport of Footgolf.
Barfield Crescent Park: Ready to host everything from 18-hole championship disc golf to baseball and softball (eight fields, two concession stands and parking for 600 cars).
Percy Priest Lake: Site of an event on the 2020 Bass Pro Shops Central Tennessee Open Series Tournament, the 42-mile-long, 14,000 acre Percy Priest Lake has bass, catfish, crappie, trout and more – as well as launches and marinas. It is suitable for motor craft as well as kayak fishing (plus bank fishing).
That’s just the beginning. Rutherford County has more – and is ready to host. For more information, check out visitrutherfordtn.com.
Hampton is located in the heart of Coastal Virginia between Williamsburg and Virginia Beach and within a short driving distance to hundreds of world-class attractions. Hampton’s natural resources and scenery make it a great setting to host any outdoor sporting event.
Located on the Chesapeake Bay, Hampton is an ideal location for water and sand sports including beach volleyball, sand soccer, triathlons and regattas. Buckroe Beach hosts the Virginia Sand Soccer Championships and the Life’s a Beach Triathlon annually. Buckroe Beach offers eight acres of family-friendly sandy beach, a playground for children, picnic shelters with tables and grills by reservation, a great walking and bike path and spacious car park areas.
Hampton’s scenic backgrounds make a great backdrop for any event owner’s next racing event. The Crawlin’ Crab Half Marathon & 5K has been a fan favorite for years.
Gosnold’s Hope Park is home to the Hampton BMX. This sculpted outdoor bicycle course is home to USA BMX racing and numerous annual competitions. Gosnold’s Hope Park offers eight picnic facilities complete with tables and grills, campsites and restrooms, perfect for winding down after a day of heavy competition or practice.
Virginia: Richmond Region
The Richmond region is a community of runners, hikers, bikers and anglers. The area is an outdoor playground, designed by Mother Nature, where athletes can kayak on Class III and IV rapids running right through the downtown. River Travel Magazine named Richmond #1 Best River Walk/Hike and #1 Best River Entertainment in 2021.
The area is also home of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, and cyclists can enjoy a 52-mile bike trail that also runs along the James. For mountain bike races, event owners need to look no further than the mountain bike trails at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County.
Runners enjoy a variety of races, including two Richmond staples, the Sports Backers Ukrop’s Monument Ave 10k and the VCU Health Richmond Marathon. Pole Green Park in Hanover County is home to an elite and spectator friendly cross county course that will host the NJCAA DI and DII Men’s & Women’s Cross-Country Championships for the first time in November 2021.
Rowers and anglers also compete on the majestic waters of the James. From the BassPro.com Bassmaster Open at Osborne Landing in Henrico County to the Richmond International Dragon Boat festival at Rocketts Landing in the City of Richmond, both athletes and spectators alike will find entertainment on the water.