Fuel up the RV and cash in those frequent flier miles, it is time to start checking off “bucket list” destinations. These are some of the best places to go and sights to see in 2016, spanning the calendar and the country. Ready… set… go!
Daytona 500 – Daytona International Speedway; Daytona Beach, Fla. (Feb. 21)
NASCAR’s first points race of the season is also its most prestigious. This year the Speedway will show off its new $400 million makeover. The venue now holds 101,500 fans over three concourses and has three times as many concession stands (and twice as many bathrooms) as before.
NHL Stadium Series – Red Wings at Avalanche; Coors Field; Denver (Feb. 27)
Tap the Rockies to watch what has become a new NHL tradition—the outdoor game. A 53-foot long, 96,500-pound mobile refrigeration unit keeps the 20,000 gallons of water on ice in the temporary rink.
MLB Spring Training – Yankees at Red Sox – JetBlue Park; Fort Myers, Fla. (March 15)
Even though the game doesn’t count in the regular season standings, the heated rivalry that makes this matchup compelling is on full display in the preseason. Plus, JetBlue Park has a Green Monster with seats inside.
March Madness opening weekend – Bellagio Hotel and Casino; Las Vegas, Nev. (March 17–20)
Let’s be honest: One of the most compelling reasons to watch the NCAA tournament is to bet on it. Make the viewing experience more interesting this year by anchoring yourself in the Bellagio’s Sports Book room that boasts 38 TVs and a river of libations. “The wagering action is fast and furious for four consecutive days,” says Jay Rood, VP of Race & Sports for MGM Resorts International.
WWE WrestleMania 32 – AT&T Stadium; Arlington, Texas (April 3)
The House That Jerry Built welcomes the world’s top professional wrestlers for a rumblefest. As with WWE itself, there is a lot of speculation about who will be there. One swirling rumor is a return of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who has hinted he might come out of retirement for this one.
Boston Marathon – Boston, Mass. (April 18)
In a city steeped in history, the Boston Marathon has been a tradition since 1897. The race has meandered along the same 26.2-mile point-to-point course, ending in the city center. Qualifying standards ensure only the swift get into the event. “The qualifying standards have become intertwined with the race itself,” says Race Director Dave McGillivray. “They help give Boston its true identity.”
Kentucky Derby 142 – Churchill Downs; Louisville, Ky. (May 7)
Depending on your style, you can customize race day to suit your tastes. Those looking for debauchery and madness should make their way straight to the infield, while those who prefer something more refined should head for the grandstands. In either location, you can suck down a mint julep while rooting for “your” horse to win.
100th Indianapolis 500 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Indianapolis, Ind. (May 29)
The Indy 500 is Woodstock for car fanatics with 200 mph laps, nightly concerts and plenty of tent camping on the grounds. The event has recently added an exclusive kind of camping on the track infield. “Glamping (glamorous camping) has become extremely popular,” notes Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So come for the private tents and stay for the race.
Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders – CenturyLink Field; Seattle, Wash. (Summer, TBD)
Trek to the Pacific Northwest to take in this heated rivalry that is the closest thing the U.S. has to a European-style football atmosphere. “Portland and Seattle have a 40 year history of battling it out on the pitch,” says Portland Timbers Army fan club board member Garrett Dittfurth. “From the fans to the players to the cities there just isn't a lot of love lost there.”
Fly fishing – Yellowstone River; Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota (early–late July)
Fishing the Yellowstone River gives the angler the opportunity to wade in one of the last and longest remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states, alongside elk, bison and sometimes bear. “We are fishing in the world's first national park for wild, native Yellowstone Cutthroat trout,” says Teton Floats guide Joe Morin. “It doesn't get much better.”
Summer Olympics (Games of the XXXI Olympiad) – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Aug. 5–21)
The Olympics remain well, the Olympics, of the sporting world. For two weeks, the entire planet pauses to tune into this spectacular event. Sure, coveted tickets are hard to find and room rates are high, but those who make the trip can take solace in the fact that they can finally wear that red, white and blue cape they’ve been dying to show off.
Bonneville Speed Week – Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah (Aug. 13–19)
Gearheads make an annual pilgrimage to the Utah desert to blast across the scorched Earth in muscle cars they’ve built themselves. It’s modern day drag racing with drivers pushing speeds of 400 mph on the eight-mile point-point course. “Everything about Bonneville is totally different from any other kind of racing around the world,” says driver Danny Thompson who did 419 mph in 2014. “You’re going two football fields a second.”
National Park Service Centennial – Yosemite (Calif.), Grand Canyon (Ariz.), Glacier (Mont.), Rocky Mountain (Colo.), Mammoth Cave (Ky.), Olympic (Wash.), Grand Teton (Wy.), etc. (Aug. 25, 100th anniversary)
The U.S. National Park Service celebrate its 100 birthday this year, so there is no better time to tromp around the some 84 million acres of outdoor space. “The national parks are great because they are truly democratic and are owned by all of us,” says Andrew White, spokesperson for Grand Teton. “More than anything, they teach us about ourselves, our past, and our future.”
Hike the Appalachian Trail – Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine (Spring/Summer/Fall)
This long walk in the woods—all 2,200 miles of it—winds through 14 states stretching from Georgia to Maine. The hazards are many—black bears, stinging mosquitoes and paralyzing blisters—but the payoff is to finish something only roughly 15,500 people have done since the full trail opened in 1937.
Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (CFB) – Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tenn. (Sept. 10)
Billed as the “Battle as Bristol,” this matchup hopes to set the record for the highest football game fan attendance ever, with 150,000 fans. The field will be located in the middle of the track infield and the stadium seating will be split in half evenly between the two teams’ supporters.
Ryder Cup – Hazeltine National GC; Chaska, Minn. (Sept. 30–Oct. 2)
Over the last 50 years, Hazeltine has hosted every premier championship offered by the USGA and PGA of America. The Europeans teams have won the last three Ryder Cups in a row, so the Americans are due for a win in the high-stakes biennial international golf tournament.
B.A.S.E. Jumping on Bridge Day – New River Gorge, W. Va. (Oct. 15)
Since 1980, B.A.S.E. jumping has been part of the state’s largest annual event. Nearly 100,000 spectators watch more than 400 jumpers leap off the 876-feet high New River Gorge Bridge in 30-second intervals. The landing patch is tight. “New jumpers will typically land in the water,” says volunteer coordinator Mark Kissner. “We have an old saying: ‘You dry faster than you heal.’ ”
By Matt McCue