CUSTER, SOUTH DAKOTA | BLACK HILLS AND BADLANDS
In the heart of the Black Hills National Forest, Custer is a great home base for an adventure vacation in South Dakota. Think “Home on the Range”: herds of bison, thick pine forests, and rocky peaks rising from the prairie. The Black Hills are a magnet for mountain biking and hiking, but to experience the scale of America’s great plains, check it all out from above on a hot air balloon tour.
Summer in Alaska means long days and sunshine, ideal for adventure trips to the surrounding mountains and coast, which get vast and wild just beyond the city limits. Search for grizzly bears and caribou on a wildlife tour from Anchorage, or hike the vast Matanuska Glacier, donning crampons for a hike across the ice.
SPRINGDALE, UTAH | ZION NATIONAL PARK
A rainbow of towering sandstone cliffs below a huge desert sky—Zion National Park is among America’s most spectacular places for adventure travel. The options are endless here, and you can dare yourself to follow the vertigo-inducing path to Angel’s Landing, get wet while canyoneering in The Narrows, or try scaling the heights on a guided rock climbing expedition. We recommend staying in a Springdale rental, so you’re right at the park’s front door.
COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO
The Rocky Mountains erupt on the edge of Colorado Springs, an adventure travel hotspot with easy access to the Front Range. Scale the towering sandstone of Garden of the Gods on a rock climbing tour, then try off-roading into Colorado’s Pike National Forest, driving up to 11,200 feet above sea level.
OUTER BANKS, NORTH CAROLINA
With coastline for days, the Outer Banks make a dreamy summer adventure vacation destination. This is the spot to leave mainland life behind. Explore the shore on a rented beach cruiser bicycle, take a paddleboard out for a spin, or amp up the adrenaline while learning to surf in Kill Devil. Nags Head also boasts the famous Jockey’s Ridge State Park, with two of the highest sand dunes on the East Coast.
WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA | YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
The first national park on earth, it’s no surprise that Yellowstone appears on many adventure travel bucket lists. It’s a popular destination—with a West Yellowstone rental being the perfect home base—but there are plenty of ways to ditch the crowds, too. Instead of approaching the bubbling geysers and pools by land, launch a kayak into Yellowstone Lake for a completely different perspective on the volcanic landscape. Not exciting enough? Go look for wolves and grizzly bears on a private wildlife tour.
Red rocks and maze-like canyons hold a lifetime of hiking trails that that surround this new-age desert town. Locals swear it’s an energy vortex, but it’s also a great home base for some of the best summer adventure trips in the American southwest. Join a float trip down the Colorado River, or take an off-road Jeep tour to ancient ruins. Not all Sedona adventures mean getting dirty, though (this intuitive-led spirit journey goes way off the beaten path).
POCONO MOUNTAINS REGION, PENNSYLVANIA
Forested peaks, churning rivers, and endless trails make the Pocono Mountains a stellar summer adventure vacation. You can ride a powerful surge of water on a white-water rafting trip that’s timed to a dam release, then rent a bike to take on the 26-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail, pausing for swim breaks in the nearby river.
From towering waterfalls to bamboo forests and world-class surfing, the gorgeous island of Maui has the ingredients for an unforgettable adventure vacation. You can ride a bike down a volcano then zipline through the jungle, or paddle into the break at Lahaina with a private surfing instructor. If you start to overheat, trade the lush lowlands for bare, volcanic rock in Haleakala National Park, an otherworldly landscape of cooled lava and cinder cones.
HOOD RIVER, OREGON
Wind whistles through the Columbia River Gorge, whipping kiteboarders and windsurfers across the broad waterway at top speeds. Not that it’s all flat water at this adventure travel destination—white-water rafting on the nearby White Salmon River is a thrilling trip through Class III and Class IV rapids.
FRANCONIA, NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Hampshire’s White Mountains aren’t as famous as the West’s large peaks, but don’t be fooled. Mount Washington, the tallest summit in New England, sees some of the most dramatic weather on earth. Just driving the super-exposed toll road to the top is an adrenaline rush. To really leave the crowds behind on an adventure tour, opt for a helicopter trip over the White Mountain peaks and valleys of Franconia Notch. Another fan favorite for getting a bird’s eye view is hopping aboard the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram.
BAR HARBOR, MAINE
Take a pre-dawn hike up Cadillac Mountain and you’ll catch America’s first light—its peaks see the earliest sunrise in the continental United States for much of the year. The mountaintop is a favorite destination in Acadia National Park, a gorgeous adventure travel spot that sprawls across Mount Desert Island. Rappel down Otter Cliff then tackle challenging rock climbing as waves crash below your feet. For stellar views of the surrounding islands, scale the exposed paths up Beehive Trail, which features iron rungs sunk into the pink granite.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
One of California’s most iconic spots for adventure vacations, Yosemite National Park is a pilgrimage place for outdoors-lovers. Get your heart pounding on a guided hike in the High Sierra, or climb the steep path up Half Dome, an exposed rock peak that’s a Yosemite Valley rite of passage. It’s not all so hair-raising, though: after a long day on the trail, find a shady spot by the Merced River to soak your feet.
The gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a great summer adventure vacation destination in the South, with plenty of ways to get off-road and into the woods. Try renting a four-person ATV for a day of exploring that’s rugged and independent. If you’d rather hunt for some of the waterfalls hidden throughout the park, opt for a guided hiking tour that leaves marked trails behind.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Not every adrenaline-fueled adventure trip is about the great outdoors, and Las Vegas is ground zero for some seriously heart-pounding experiences. If you’ve got the nerve, challenge yourself to jump from the Stratosphere Tower, race exotic cars, go skydiving, or try “land sailing,” streaking across the desert in a sail-powered trike.