9 of the Best U.S. Adventure Destinations | TravelAge West (2022)

From the snowy glaciers of Alaska to the sun-soaked islands of Florida, atop California’s mountain peaks and into the depths of Arizona’s spectacular canyons, travelers can tackle domestic adventures from the East Coast to the West — and plenty of places in between.

And with COVID-19 concerns driving more interest in domestic travel and outdoor locales, now is the time for advisors to suggest a close-to-home adventure trip.

While the U.S. has dozens of destinations featuring outdoor fun, these nine must-visit spots showcase geographic diversity, feature unique regional specialties and provide a range of bookable experiential travel activities that will excite anyone from extreme athletes to multigenerational groups.

1. Alaska’s Inside Passage to Juneau

Alaska’s nickname, ‘The Last Frontier,” is well earned, with a vast wilderness full of adventure opportunities as big as the mountains that dominate the landscape.

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The popular cruise ship route through the Inside Passage, along Southeast Alaska, is not just for sightseers. Multiple expedition cruise lines, such as Windstar Cruises and UnCruise Adventures, focus on active excursions — including kayaking, hiking and wildlife viewing — that will raise the heart rate of even the most jaded tourist.

I think kayaking is the best way to truly feel present in the moment, and the most enjoyable way to see the state.

“I think kayaking is the best way to truly feel present in the moment, and the most enjoyable way to see the state,” said Sarah Betcher, expedition guide for Windstar Cruises.

Visitors can also disembark at picturesque ports for excursions that may feature up-close encounters with grizzly bears as they snatch salmon from rivers. This can be followed by a chance to reel in some fish of their own (occasionally even battling the bald eagles that may swoop down to steal a catch).

Helicopters can airlift adventurers for hikes atop towering glacier fields, while kayak and Zodiac tours bring paddlers within shouting distance of looming seaside glaciers calving house-sized chunks of ice into the chilly waters.

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2. Arizona’s Northern Mountains and Canyons

While Arizona is rightly world famous for the Grand Canyon, the entire northern Arizona region, from Flagstaff to the Utah border, features a wide range of adventure opportunities. This area includes the bucket-list trifecta of rafting, mule riding and hiking within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. There’s even skiing — yes, snow skiing — at the Arizona Snowbowl resort outside of Flagstaff, which sits at 11,500 feet. The high elevation across the region (Flagstaff is perched at 6,900 feet; the Grand Canyon rim at 8,300 feet) keeps temperatures cooler year-round, with prime hiking in the alpine forests around Flagstaff in the fall.

Helicopter rides give visitors a bird’s-eye view of the majesty of the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, while deep within the canyon, whitewater rafting trips need to be booked far in advance but are worth the wait. For an alternate canyon activity, visiting the blast zone of Meteor Crater, outside of Flagstaff, makes for a good excursion.

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Farther north, roadtrippers enjoy the Instagram favorites of Horseshoe Bend for clifftop views of the Colorado River, and hikes along the narrows of Antelope Canyon for wild rock formations. AtArizona’s northern border, Lake Powell is a haven for waterski and fishing adventures or even a multi-day houseboating trip.

9 of the Best U.S. Adventure Destinations | TravelAge West (2)

3. California-Nevada: Lake Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe area, on the border of California and Nevada, traces 70 miles of shoreline along the crystal-blue waters of the high alpine lake outward to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The area is crisscrossed with hiking and biking trails, more than a dozen ski resorts and a host of surrounding lakes and reservoirs.

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This is truly a four-season outdoor playground. In summer, visitors can go sailing, powerboating and wakeboarding on the lake, or try cycling on terrains that range from flat, gentle paved trails to experts-only single tracks. (Lift-serviced downhill biking courses from beginner to advanced can be found at Northstar ski resort.) Clients can also climb along cliff faces (safely clipped into guide cables) on Alpenglow’s via feratta at Squaw Valley, or test their balance at the three high ropes courses of Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks all year round.

Winter brings world-class skiing at mega-resorts Heavenly and Squaw-Alpine, but also at smaller family-friendly hills, such as Diamond Peak and Tahoe Donner.

Fall is a great time to hike trails through Tahoe’s prime leaf-peeping terrain, including around the appropriately named Fallen Leaf Lake. Local guide Trout Creek Outfitters can help perfect travelers’ angling skills in the Truckee River or Lake Tahoe.

Spring skiing is a sunny celebration of the outdoors that can be complemented by a round of golf — either frisbee or with that little white ball — at many world-class area courses.

4. The Florida Keys: Not Just Margaritaville

Stretching more than 100 miles into the Caribbean Sea from Florida, the dozens of small islands and atolls that comprise the Florida Keys host plenty of activities beyond sipping margaritas and watching sunsets.

The Keys are a spectacular setting for adventure, including snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, scenic seaplane rides, parasailing and scuba diving. Clients aspiring for hauls of trophy sailfish or marlin can charter trips from a dozen different operators.

Under the water, companies such as Keys Diver and Island Ventures help visitors snorkel or dive down to see some of the many shipwrecks around Key Largo. For an activity sampler, clients can try Key West’s Fury Water Adventures’ Ultimate Adventure, which features kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing and jet-skiing all in one day.

Key West’s rebound as a popular vacation destination is a response to our wide-open spaces, subtropical island breezes and abundance of water activities.

“Key West’s rebound as a popular vacation destination is a response to our wide-open spaces, subtropical island breezes and abundance of water activities,” said Stacey Mitchell, director of the Florida Keys Tourism Council.

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5. Maine’s Adventure Coast

With 3,500 miles of winding, craggy coastline and 2,000 offshore islands, Maine’s Atlantic coast offers enough adventure opportunities to last a lifetime. And there’s no better way to explore than on a traditional sailboat like those in the Maine Windjammer Cruises fleet. Experienced sailors can charter their own sailboat, while newbies can rent a kayak for an hour or two to test the waters. The 375-mile Maine Island Trail provides a pathway via guided tours or on one’s own to find waterborne wild adventure across 240 island and mainland sites that are ideal for camping, fishing and exploring.

Coastal hiking abounds, as well, with Camden Hills State Park and the Bold Coast Trail showcasing Maine’s rugged cliffside ocean views and sweeping forested hills. Acadia National Park is on an island that’s ideal for biking and hiking, and it offers the new nearby Under Canvas glamping location, along with several plush lodges.

Adventure does not stop along the coast during winter, with hundreds of miles of snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski trails available. Camden Snow Bowl also offers downhill skiing with ocean views.

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6. Maui’s Island Adventures

While many people think of Maui for its relaxing resorts and swaying palm trees, the island also hosts a surprising variety of easy-to-access adventure travel options.

“Hawaii has year-round perfect weather and a diversity of experiences,” said Leanne Pletcher, director of public relations for the Maui Visitors Bureau. “If you’re more of the adventurous type, there’s a lot of hiking all over the islands, and adventures from ziplining to snorkeling.”

High above Maui, the windswept 10,000-foot peak of Haleakala Volcano is the go-to spot for an unforgettable sunrise viewing (reservations are required). Adrenaline junkies can test their mettle on Haleakala with a downhill bike ride dropping more than 6,500 feet of elevation on hairpin switchback turns across 25 miles of roads.

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Clients who prefer to go by foot can try Hike Maui, which guides visitors through lush rainforests to spectacular waterfalls, or Rappel Maui, which features rappelling by rope on cliffs beside the falls.

Kualoa Ranch, which served as the shooting location for the “Jurassic Park” films, is now a site for guided tours by ATV, Jeep or bicycle, complemented by a canopy zipline carrying guests as fast as a velociraptor.

Out in the Pacific, the adventures continue with snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing and fishing trips. But nothing says Hawaii like surfing. Beginners can take lessons on the gentle beaches of Kaanapali and Lahaina.

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7. Tennessee and North Carolina: Great Smoky Mountains

The East and West coasts do not have a monopoly on domestic adventure travel — there are plenty of wild destinations in other parts of the country, as well. None are more popular than the Smoky Mountains, the most-visited national park in the U.S.

The wider Smoky Mountains region across Tennessee and North Carolina, between the city hubs of Knoxville and Charlotte, is a hotbed for outdoor adventure companies. Activities include canopy tours, ziplines, hot air ballooning, guided fishing trips and rafting expeditions. Plus, there’s the more relaxed option of booking a quiet bed-and-breakfast for a weekend of forest hikes and bike rides.

Fall foliage is a huge draw in the region, coupled with climbs to waterfalls and mountaintop viewpoints. Spring through fall, whitewater rafting is one of the most popular adventure activities in the Smokies, with tours available from companies such as Smoky Mountains Outdoors and River Rat along the Pigeon River. Trips range from kid-friendly paddles (or innertube floats) to adrenaline-pumping day trips through Class IV rapids in the upper sections of the river. For flat-water fans, Douglas and Fontana lakes provide ample space for fishing trips, jet skiing and wakeboarding.

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8. Utah’s Moab Region

Moab is considered one of the world’s best mountain biking destinations, with scenic red rock trails for beginners and descents that pose a challenge for even the best pro riders. Trail systems are graded from green (beginner) to black diamond (expert), and there are plenty of rental shops and guided tours available. Wider swaths of the area can be toured in ATVs.

Nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks provide a vast array of spectacular hiking and camping options, while rafting on the Colorado River is a fun way to cool off either on a half-day or multi-day trip, in both calm and rushing waters.

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In the winter, Moab boasts great snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails in the LaSal Mountains within the Manti-La Sal National Forest, as well as snowmobiling routes across striking scenery of snow-dusted red rocks and evergreens.
“Moab is the backdrop for so many films and commercials,” said Matt Berna, managing director of North America for Intrepid Travel. “But most Americans are unaware that it even exists.”

9. Washington’s San Juan Islands and Olympic National Park

Northwest of Seattle, the archipelago of the San Juan Islands is an epicenter for land and water adventures in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Prime activities include sea kayaking, whale watching, hiking in rainforests and exploring magnificent Olympic National Park on the peninsula to the south.

“The San Juan Islands bring you square into the living room of mother nature,” said Kevin D’Haeze, a videographer for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. “They inspire and immerse, reconnect and invigorate you. They remind you that we don’t just witness nature — we’re part of it.”

But the region is not just for serious adventurers; many cruise companies ply these waters, offering their guests active, but relaxed, wildlife-viewing excursions. For example, UnCruise Adventures’ trips through the San Juans feature kayaking, hiking forests and exploring remote islands.

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Whale watching is a huge draw in this area, and operators such as Island Adventures offer seasonal viewings of humpback and gray whale migrations, as well as regular sightings of orca pods (especially around Orcas Island, of course).

For land adventures, many tour operators lead excursions that range from half-day to multi-day expeditions. Backroads and Wilderness Voyageurs are among the companies offering biking and hiking tours through the islands, as well as on Olympic Peninsula.

FAQs

What is the adventure capital of the US? ›

Alaska has it all: The highest peak in North America, the longest coastline, and the biggest population of bald eagles, grizzlies, and steelhead. Not to mention the insane surfing, hiking, and opportunity for exploration at every turn.

What is the most exciting adventure? ›

23 big bucket list adventures
  • Raft the Grand Canyon Arizona, USA. ...
  • See the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy. ...
  • Sleep at Everest Base Camp, Nepal. ...
  • Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru. ...
  • Hike the Milford Track, New Zealand. ...
  • Sleep under the stars in NamibRand, Namibia. ...
  • Swim with turtles in Ningaloo, Western Australia.
2 Feb 2022

What are some great vacation ideas? ›

20 great summer vacation ideas with never-ending fun things to do (that aren't only beach spots)
  • Seattle, WA. Space Needle. ...
  • Bozeman, MT. Madison River Tubing. ...
  • Vail, CO. Vail Valley Food Tours. ...
  • San Diego, CA. ...
  • Portland, ME. ...
  • Sonoma/Napa Valley, CA. ...
  • Jackson, WY (Grand Teton National Park) ...
  • Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Islands)

What is a fun adventure? ›

countable noun. If someone has an adventure, they become involved in an unusual, exciting, and rather dangerous journey or series of events.

What is the most adventurous country? ›

  • Brazil. #1 in Adventure. #26 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Italy. #2 in Adventure. #16 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Spain. #3 in Adventure. #19 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Greece. #4 in Adventure. #27 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Thailand. #5 in Adventure. ...
  • Mexico. #6 in Adventure. ...
  • New Zealand. #7 in Adventure. ...
  • Australia. #8 in Adventure.

What is an ideal adventure? ›

An Ideal Adventure (Italian: Sballato, gasato, completamente fuso) is a 1982 Italian comedy film directed by Stefano Vanzina and starring Edwige Fenech, Diego Abatantuono and Liù Bosisio.

How do you get a spontaneous adventure? ›

5 Keys to Loving Spontaneous Adventure
  1. Be Open Minded. The most important thing when traveling and experiencing new places is to always have an open mind about everything, even if it seems odd, strange or even absurd. ...
  2. Surround Yourself with Spontaneity. ...
  3. Love Yours. ...
  4. Just Say YES. ...
  5. End with Style.
23 May 2017

What is a dream adventure? ›

Dream Adventure is a leading water sports and travel agency in Goa. We arrange various sightseeing and water sports activities in Goa. Dream Adventure has a varied experience in servicing clients of all profiles and requirements.

What is the number 1 vacation spot in the world? ›

1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia. What is this? The Great Barrier Reef is one of the undisputed best vacation spots for anyone who wants the opportunity to glimpse one of the most incredible marvels of nature.

Where is the best place to vacation in USA? ›

Best Vacation Spots in the USA
  • New York City, New York.
  • San Francisco, California.
  • Oahu, Hawaii.
  • Washington D.C.
  • Miami, Florida.
  • Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Chicago, Illinois.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana.

What crazy things should I do? ›

Here we go then: 120 awesome ideas for crazy bucket lists…
...
Bucket List Ideas: Crazy & Adrenaline Fuelled
  • Do a skydive.
  • Do a bungee jump.
  • Do a base jump.
  • Go free climbing (or free soloing for even more of a buzz)
  • Go high wiring (like slack lining, but up high!)
  • Do a wing walk!
  • Go paragliding.
  • Go heli-skiing.
21 Jun 2021

How can I have adventure as an adult? ›

10 Steps To Go On An Adventure (But Like A Responsible Adult)
  1. Decide to have an adventure.
  2. Invite someone to join you. ...
  3. Go somewhere. ...
  4. Know how much time you have until you HAVE to be back. ...
  5. Know how much money you have to spend. ...
  6. Talk to people. ...
  7. Practice the art of wandering and exploration. ...
  8. Take a camera.
28 Oct 2014

What is the funnest country to live in? ›

  • Brazil. #1 in Fun. #26 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Spain. #2 in Fun. #19 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Mexico. #3 in Fun. #31 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Italy. #4 in Fun. #16 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Thailand. #5 in Fun. #28 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Greece. #6 in Fun. ...
  • Australia. #7 in Fun. ...
  • Costa Rica. #8 in Fun.

Which country has the best excursions? ›

11 of the best countries for adventure travel
  • Portugal. ...
  • Iceland. ...
  • Peru. ...
  • United Arab Emirates. ...
  • Morocco. ...
  • The United States of America. ...
  • Switzerland. A little piece of paradise, Switzerland boasts some of Europe's most beautiful lakes, rivers and mountains. ...
  • Italy.
20 Mar 2018

How many types of trips are there? ›

There are four (4) basic types of trips.

What do you think are the main reasons why people engage in an outdoor trip? ›

5 Reasons Why Outdoor Activities Enrich Our Lives
  • Fitter, faster, stronger. Outdoor adventures provide a wide range of physical and mental benefits. ...
  • Extra spice. Outdoor activities expose us to new terrains and challenge us to go out of our comfort zone. ...
  • Togetherness. ...
  • New friends. ...
  • Mother nature.
19 Jun 2019

What are the extreme things in the United States? ›

Looking for some more alfresco fun?
...
  • Fly an aerobatic plane | Las Vegas, NV. ...
  • BASE jumping | Twin Falls, ID. ...
  • Heli-skiing | Anchorage, AK. ...
  • Waterfall rappelling | White Mountains, NH. ...
  • Canyoneering | Moab, UT. ...
  • Climbing El Capitan | Yosemite, CA. ...
  • Mr. ...
  • Overnight caving | McMinnville, TN.
19 May 2022

Which state of India is famous for adventure sports? ›

Jammu & Kashmir

Besides, the district of Ladakh adds a unique dimension to the state's appeal as a place for adventure tourism. From trekking to mountain climbing, rafting to skiing, there are lots of options. For more details, see www.jktourism.org.

What gives the most adrenaline? ›

Activities that cause adrenaline rush

skydiving. cliff jumping. bungee jumping. cage diving with sharks.

Why do I crave adrenaline? ›

An adrenaline rush will usually have an underlying cause, such as stress or a tumor on the adrenal glands. People should consider seeing a doctor if they are experiencing frequent adrenaline rushes, as these can have an impact on health in the long term.

What are five adventure sports? ›

Details of adventure sports popular in the world are: (i) Land Based: Mountaineering, Trekking, Rock Climbing, Sport Climbing, Camping, Snow Skiing, Mountain Biking and Zipline. (ii) Air Based: Paragliding, Powered Hang gliding, Parasailing, Sky Diving/Parachuting and Hot Air Ballooning.

What is considered adventure travel? ›

Adventure travel is a type of tourism, involving exploration or travel with perceived (and possibly actual) risk, and potentially requiring specialized skills and physical exertion.

Which one is not an adventure? ›

The correct option is D)Marathon

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