In the arms race to develop the most sophisticated sports complexes, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that some of the very best facilities already exist – no architect and no bulldozer necessary. From lakes that host fishing and boating to trails where athletes can run and cross country ski, to a multitude of other venues, nature has provided some of the best.
Some facilities can host top-level competitions while others beckon to athletes who have finished competing and want to experience more of what the destination has to offer.
What follows is a sampling of those facilities, as described by some top destinations across the U.S.
From forest preserves to parks, the Rock River, sporting facilities and so much more, the Rockford region has amazing outdoor experiences around every corner.
Outdoor adventurists can explore the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, one of the best systems in Illinois with more than 10,000 acres of natural areas, recreational areas, lakes, rivers and forests. From watching migratory birds being banded to boating at Rock Cut State Park and casting a line at places like Baumann Park, there are once-in-a-lifetime outdoor experiences on the trails of the Forest City.
Canoeing and kayaking on the Rock River, Kishwaukee River and throughout the region is a staple on everyone’s itinerary when the temperatures warm up. Larsen’s Landing Outfitters and Rocktown Adventures both specialize in fun, outdoor experiences for all age levels. Novices and experts alike can join in on the excitement.
West Rock Wake Park is the Midwest’s only cable wakeboarding park. At West Rock, visitors can wakeboard on Levings Lake thanks to a system of cables – no boat and no experience required.
The Rockford region is a Real. Original. City. of gardens and rivers – and a wonderful place to spend a life — or a weekend. Event owners can learn more at www.gorockford.com.
Indiana: South Shore
In this destination, it is possible to embark on a one-of-a-kind adventure exploring the most diverse landscapes in the Midwest. Visitors can hike the towering dunes and explore forests, cycle miles of trails or paddle and fish on the open waters. Visitors can also keep their eyes open for over 350 different bird species and native plant life they won’t find anywhere else.
The crown jewel of outdoor activities is Indiana Dunes National Park and State Park, stretching 25 miles along the south shore of Lake Michigan.
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority & the National Park Service partner with Leon’s Triathlon Obstacle Course each year on September 11th. This event is part of a national recognition of the 9/11 attacks and honors military veterans and first responders. The 5K and 10K championship features obstacles representing numerous American conflicts.
This race is part of the Indiana Dunes Outdoor Activities Festival and is packed with a multitude of outdoor adventures. The festival brings together over 50 events in one weekend. Centered at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center in Porter, Indiana, the festival showcases the region’s outdoor activities such as hiking, paddling, biking, geocaching, photography, birding and so many others. The festival has events for everyone including families, beginners, experts and those with limited mobility.
Learn more at alongthesouthshore.com
Kentucky (and Tennessee): Kentucky Lake
Let Kentucky Lake host that next outdoor sporting event! The South’s Great Lake is located in western Kentucky and spans across both Kentucky and Tennessee. With over 2,300 miles of shoreline, this 160,000-acre lake can accommodate a large variety of outdoor sporting events.
Kentucky Lake has been known as a champion bass fishery for decades; however, it can also host a variety of fishing tournaments including crappie, catfish, kayak and bowfishing tournaments. Due to the sheer size of Kentucky Lake, it is also perfect for boat races, jet ski racing, sailboat regattas, wake-surfing and wake-boarding exhibitions. The area is also conveniently located across from Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area which features hundreds of miles of trails, perfect for mountain biking, trail running, marathons, trail riding and endurance for equine events and potential triathlons.
This destination is unique with its small town charm making it a great combination for sporting events and relaxing getaways at the same time. Come to race and play but stay to relax. Event owners are encouraged to contact the office to discuss upcoming outdoor sports events, and to find out how they can be hosted at Kentucky Lake. Call 800-467-7145 or visit online at www.visitkylake.com to get started.
Maine: A World of Natural Venues
The Maine Sports Commission’s tagline captures the style of this New England state’s outstanding, outdoor four-season scene: Maine. Sports. A Natural Fit.
Diverse land, mountain and road trails, pristine waterways and the Atlantic, all invite endless event opportunities. Historically established as a fishing and hunting destination, today’s Maine features an array of competitive sports; this state’s portfolio of outdoor signature events is evolving and growing.
Nordic Trail Festival welcomes cyclists to Aroostook County, home to the country’s first mile, for a celebration of community, trails and lifestyle.
IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta sets the stage for another unique experience; triathletes will compete for the first time in Maine’s capital city, swim the Kennebec River, navigate rolling hills by bike and run along the Kennebec River Rail Track.
Hincapie Cycling Gran Fondo will be hosted in Bangor, August 2022 – 2024; cyclists from around the nation will ride alongside legendary George Hincapie while experiencing scenic roads throughout the Maine Highlands.
Sugarloaf Mountain, a Boyne property, will host the Enduro World Series, one of only two American stops in this international mountain biking series. Maine’s Olympian, Adam Craig, now on the Sugarloaf team, helped design the trails for this challenging East Coast ride.
Event owners are invited to come discover all Maine offers as a summer destination.
New Mexico: Albuquerque
Albuquerque, New Mexico is a premier sports destination with state-of-the-art venues, a distinct yet mild four-season climate, abundant sunshine and authentic culture – all set in a scenic landscape with the Sandia Mountains to the east, ancient volcanoes to the west and the Rio Grande running through its center.
The Jennifer Riordan Spark Kindness Regional Sports Complex features five collegiate-level baseball fields with synthetic turf and field lighting that can be modified to accommodate baseball and softball. The 600,000-square-foot Albuquerque Convention Center houses a state-of-the-art indoor track and is conveniently located downtown, minutes from the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Additional facilities include Balloon Fiesta Park, the Albuquerque Soccer Complex, the University of New Mexico Sports Complex, one of the largest covered BMX facilities in the country, and several tennis and pickleball venues. Past events include the 2019 National Senior Games, USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, USA Cycling Championships, U.S. Olympic Governing Body events, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and multiple NCAA regional and national championships.
“With world-class sporting venues, over 17,000 hotel rooms and award-winning service and hospitality, Albuquerque will exceed expectations for your next event,” said Angie Jepsen, Director of Sports Development for the Albuquerque Sports Commission, a division of Visit Albuquerque.
Oregon: Eugene, Cascades & Coast Area
The Eugene, Cascades & Coast region of Oregon is home to unrivaled natural venues. Triathlons, mountain biking, cycling, gravel races and endurance runs thrive in the miles and miles of natural courses. Water sports also flourish, such as speedboat racing and rowing, at numerous lakes and reservoirs. The coast plays host to sand soccer and volleyball.
The Oakridge/Westfir area is synonymous with world-class mountain biking and is designated as a Gold Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Cottage Grove is home to the annual Oregon Gran Fondo and USA Triathlon-sanctioned Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove. The McKenzie River Trail Run, established in 1988, is Oregon’s oldest continuous ultramarathon.
The Columbia Drag Boat Association (CDBA), the premier racing association of the Pacific Northwest, races regularly on Dexter Lake. Dexter is also home to a permanent regatta course (fully buoyed with seven lanes) that hosts the annual Covered Bridge Regatta and hosted the Pac-12 Rowing Championships in May. Dexter features a stunning lakeside 18-hole disc golf course, as well.
From mountain lakes and national forests to sand dunes at the coast, few regions in the world are as uniquely suited to host sporting events in natural landscapes.
Chattanooga is surrounded by mountains and natural beauty with the gorgeous Tennessee River winding right through the heart of the city. Its location, natural resources and vibrant downtown define the Scenic City as a premier sports destination.
The Tennessee River is the largest tributary of the Ohio River and flows 652 miles through four states. With easy access to the water and the best spectator view along the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge, the river provides professional and amateur activities year-round. Annual sporting events held on the Tennessee River include IRONMAN & IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon races, Head of the Hooch Rowing Regatta, Chattajack 31 and the Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon.
Lookout Mountain boasts miles of nature trails just minutes from downtown Chattanooga with breathtaking overlook views, refreshing waterfalls and rich history along the way. Lookout Mountain trails are diverse, catering to all ability levels and providing endless unique routes. These trails are home to numerous sporting events, including The Lula Lake Land Trust 5 Points 50, Chattanooga’s Ultimate Endurance Mountain Bike race, Lookout Mountain Trail Race and Cloudland Canyon Trail Race.
Event owners can learn more about Chattanooga’s natural sports landscapes that will make them want to get up and get out there at VisitChattanooga.com/Sports.
Utah: Salt Lake City
Outdoor recreation in Utah represents over $737 million in state and local taxes and employs more than 83,000 people. Salt Lake City can teach event owners how it can leverage its assets and relationships with parks officials and public lands managers to host more outdoor recreation-related sports events.
Some recent examples in the Salt Lake area include the Climbing World Cup series held in a local city park, cyclocross events hosted in a county-owned regional park and trail races in the foothills of the adjacent front mountain range.
“If your sports event has a natural tie-in with parks, open spaces, forests, riverways, etc; you need to be engaging with Salt Lake City’s parks and wildlife managers and our municipalities that oversee those open spaces,” says Clay Partain of Sports Salt Lake. “Not every sporting event needs the traditional format such as a diamond or rectangular field.”
Sports Salt Lake is a division of Visit Salt Lake, a private, non-profit corporation responsible for the promotion of Salt Lake as a convention, sports and travel destination. Sports Salt Lake’s mission is to improve the area economy by attracting and providing support to sports and athletic events to Salt Lake County. Salt Lake is a unique fusion of metropolitan city and quaint mountain town; the towering Wasatch Mountains that embrace Salt Lake offer a dramatic backdrop to the vibrancy and activities of downtown. More information on all that Salt Lake has to offer can be found at www.VisitSaltLake.com.
A hub of outdoor recreation, Casper, Wyoming is an ideal location for sporting events of various sizes. Sitting at the base of Casper Mountain, Casper combines the best of the West – like wide-open spaces and room to breathe – with modern amenities and venues that are well-prepared to host all types of sporting events.
Indoor events – like wrestling, rodeo, basketball and dance competitions – will enjoy the 28,000-square-foot multi-purpose Ford Wyoming Center, which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022. Casper Mountain is the perfect location for outdoor winter sporting events and competitions at Casper Mountain Biathlon Club and Hogadon Basin Ski Area. The mountain also has 26 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Additional venues for sporting events include the Casper Ice Arena, Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, Mike Lansing Field, North Casper Soccer Complex, Platte River Whitewater Park and Stuckenhoff Shooters Complex.
Beyond venues, Casper has a thriving downtown with local restaurants, shops and David Street Station, a year-round outdoor venue that hosts concerts, markets and special events. The city is home to diverse lodging options, with additional highlights that include the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, the Tate Geological Museum, Fremont Canyon and the North Platte River. SDM