It’s easy to get into a vacation rut, going to the same beach destinations and ski resorts, sometimes even staying in the exact same hotels each time. Why not shake things up a bit with a little adventure travel?
Adventure travel is a growing niche in the tourism industry as people look for experiences that not only take them to exotic locales, but also push them out of their comfort zone. And while not every adventure travel experience requires gruelling physical exertion or potential danger, they often do. And the bigger they are, the bigger the reward.
The good news is you don’t have to climb Mt Everest or surf the Amazon River to connect with nature and get your adrenaline pumping. The United States is home to some of the world’s most majestic natural environments and a system of trails, rivers and unique geologic formations, all just waiting for you to explore.
On The Water
If you’ve never tried rafting, then a vacation on the Colorado River might be for you. From overnight to multi-day trips, the mighty Colorado offers a number of magnificent river rafting destinations with rapids ranging from class II-V, including Westwater Canyon, Canyonlands National Park and the Grand Canyon.
Another popular spot is Cataract Canyon, where the Colorado and Green Rivers meet at “The Confluence”. This exhilarating ride offers up class III-V whitewater as you navigate through deep canyons overlooked by stunning scenery. (And don’t worry, it’s not all whitewater. There are also tranquil sections to relax and stare up at the wonder of nature.)
The Arkansas River in central Colorado is another popular destination for multi-day rafting trips. From The Narrows to Bighorn Sheep Canyon and Royal Gorge, there’s days of class III-IV whitewater fun to be had.
For those who prefer their action on the ocean, there are surf spots to be enjoyed from the east coast to the west coast, and of course, the surfing mecca that is Hawaii. Learn more about the most popular Hawaiian surf spots at Surfer Today and for kitesurfing, check out this link.
Into The Deep
When it comes to canyons, it doesn’t get better than the Grand Canyon. From day hikes on the rim to multi-day treks all the way to the bottom and back up again, there are a range of options and guiding outfits to choose from. You can also camp in the park or stay nearby and piece together a handful of day trips – more info here.
Although not quite as famous as the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park in nearby Utah is a fantastical hoodoo-filled canyon. A number of hikes are on offer in Bryce Canyon, although the most popular is The Queens Garden/Peekaboo loop (6.5 miles) which descends and ascends over 2,000 feet as you trek into this alien-looking world.
For more hiking trip inspiration check out this article from National Geographic.
Climb The Tallest Peaks
The United States is a gold mine for peak baggers, and Alaska is it’s biggest gem, home to nineteen of the twenty tallest peaks in the country. The most popular summits can be found in Denali National Park and Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest national park in the U.S. and home to nine of the highest peaks. This type of adventure is not for the faint hearted or the novice. Expert climbing skills and experience are required and top physical fitness is a must for these arduous treks ascending above 14,000 feet and some like Denali, soaring over 20,000.
California has its fair share of mountains as well with peaks like Mount Whitney at almost 15,000 feet. The most popular peak in the Sierra Nevada, Whitney is no easy feat with a ten mile hike just to get to the trailhead, although when it comes to 14ers nothing beats Colorado with fifty-four peaks above 14,000 feet. Most of the highest peaks can be found in the San Isabel National Forest, including Mt Elbert, the second-tallest mountain in the contiguous United States and one of the easiest of the Fourteeners to ascend. Although there are several routes to the top and difficulty varies, no special equipment is required and no climbing either. As long as your legs can carry you the nine or more miles up and back, you can bag this peak in a day with relative ease – at least compared to others. Read more about the country’s highest peaks here.
Take A Hike
Before Cheryl Strayed made the Pacific Crest Trail famous (again), many people had already discovered the life-changing experience of through hiking. And the United States has some of the most spectacular and longest through hikes in the world. Up first, is the Appalachian Trail, which at 2,190 miles is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Spanning 14 states and 464,500 feet of elevation gain/loss, it attracts some 3 million visitors every year. If you have months to spare, an adventurous spirit and a love for hiking, maybe it’s time to start planning?
On the other side of the country, the infamous Pacific Crest Trail spans from Mexico to Canada. Hikers traverse glaciers, forests and desert as they cross the states of Washington, Oregon and California for a total of 2,650 miles. An undertaking like the PCT is more than just adventure travel, it’s a true life journey.
Last but not least is the Colorado Trail. It may get less press than the others, perhaps due to it’s shorter length at just 500 miles, but that is music to most hikers ears because it means fewer crowds. Here, hikers can experience six wilderness areas as they trek summits, ridges, valleys and forests from Denver to Durango. The average elevation is more than 10,000 feet, so if you are coming from sea level, be prepared to spend some time acclimating before you set off. You’ll also want to be in peak physical fitness: the total elevation gain from beginning to end is almost 90,000 feet.
If you don’t have time for weeks (or months) of hiking or it just isn’t your thing, there’s nothing wrong with planning a series of day hikes instead. In fact, some of the best hikes in the country are shorter hikes.
Live On The Edge
When it comes to rock climbing, Yosemite National Park is the ultimate destination. Attracting climbers from across the world, Yosemite offers towering cliffs and gigantic granite domes with routes ranging from single to multi-day climbs. The most famous feature of the park is El Capitan, 3,000 feet of terrifying vertical granite, closely followed by the Half Dome, which offers some 5,000 feet for your climbing pleasure.
Zion National Park has plenty of climbing opportunities for the experienced climber as well, with sandstone cliffs rising some 2,000 feet straight up. Renowned for its long climbing routes, this is challenging terrain for those born to climb. For those thrill seekers seeking a little less thrill, Moab, Utah, is a top destination for all skill levels. The red rock of the Colorado Plateau offers cliffs, canyons, arches and sandstone towers, with enough routes to keep you busy for as many days as you can spare.
Of course, not every adventure vacation has to include climbing to great heights or depths, or even any climbing at all. Your idea of adventure might be more along the lines of floating down the Guadalupe River in San Antonio or a driving tour of Yellowstone National Park. Not every adventure tour has to involve loads of mud, sweat and tears. If it makes your heart beat faster and your spirit soar, then you my friend, are on an adventure.