25 Great American Adventures
Sometimes, a trip is more than a trip—it’s an adventure. An opportunity to test your limits, to learn something new, to find yourself—whether you're alone on a mountaintop or with a group, diving to the ocean floor, in a city, or even indoors. Adventure today is about much more than braving the elements: it's also about embracing unique experiences. From a classic hiking trip through the national parks of Utah to a training session with a Hollywood stunt team, here are 25 ways to seek your thrills in the United States.
Written and reported by Rich Beattie, Jason Cochran, Jennifer V. Cole, Amy Farley, Martin Forstenzer, Granville Greene, David Howard, Xander Kaplan, Eric Kater, Dean Kuipers, Clark Mitchell, Celeste Moure, Clara Ogden, Dan Oko, Kira Salek, Jack Stephens, Anya Strzemien, Bonnie Tsui, and Marion Winik
Utah & Kansas Parachuting
The Trip: Powered parachuting for beginners.
Why: Unfold your chute, buckle into a go-kart-like seat with a powerful propeller at your back, taxi down a makeshift runway, and off you go in what has been referred to as the safest form of modern flight. It’s like parasailing without the tow rope. The rigs have a range of 90 miles, and newbies can fly in a two-seater with an instructor. SkyTrails Ranch offers three-day courses over gorgeous Utah desert and canyon country.
For more information: SkyTrails Ranch; four-day course $1,695.
The Trip: Small-boat cruising through Glacier Bay and Prince William Sound.
Why: When you board the small-scale boats and sail past this gorgeous landscape, the Dall’s porpoises, Steller’s sea lions, bald eagles, and other wildlife come close, and the local humpback whales are nearly half the size of the ships. Try sea kayaking amid icebergs and hiking on glaciers.
Don’t Miss: Photographing orcas cavorting off the bow.
North Carolina Diving
The Trip: Diving with sand tiger sharks and gathering scientific data on them.
Why: These protected fish grow to a length of nine feet and are found hovering above the ocean floor. Beginning this summer, those with Advanced Open Water certification can become the first handful of Sandtiger Specialty Divers—a designation that will allow them to help with hands-on tasks like photographing tagged sharks.
Don’t Miss: The many wrecked ships that serve as a shark habitat.
For more information: Shark Research Institute; from $250 per day.
Florida Drag Racing
The Trip: A course in drag racing.
Why: You’ll go a quarter-mile in eight seconds—and hit 150 mph. After two days of instruction, you’ll be wearing a fireproof suit behind the wheel of a big-block Chevy dragster. And it’s more than just fantasy camp: good students can get an NHRA license and begin racing for real.
Don’t Miss: Frank Hawley’s Alcohol Course, where you can ignite a 200-plus-mph, alcohol-burning funny car.
For more information: Frank Hawley’s NHRA Drag Racing School; courses from $495.
The Trip: Biking through the wine country in Napa and Sonoma.
Why: You can explore Napa at your own pace.
Don’t Miss: Discovering a new favorite wine, exploring culinary masterpieces in Yountville, and picnicking among the redwoods.
Nevada Stunt Team Training
The Trip: Training with a professional Hollywood stunt team.
Why: Thrillseekers Unlimited, the stunt team behind MTV’s Road Rules, and magician Criss Angel puts together one- to five-day “Extreme Getaways” from its Las Vegas location. These build-your-own adventures are designed for large groups, so grab your friends and family and do stunts like paragliding, fire walking, racing hovercrafts, mountain-boarding, skydiving, or any of 40 other forms of madness.
Don’t Miss: Throwing yourself into a wind tunnel for indoor skydiving.
For more information: Thrillseekers Unlimited; trips are custom designed, so call for prices.
Colorado River Boarding
The Trip: River-boarding the rapids of Colorado’s Clear Creek.
Why: You’ll swim through rapids (in fins, a life jacket, and a wet suit) on a torso-length boogie board-type contraption, popping through or ducking under waves. The boards look skimpy but in fact provide riders with good control and maneuverability.
Don’t Miss: Golden, Colorado’s Clear Creek Whitewater Park, one of the sport’s epicenters. RipBoard Inc. offers beginner lessons daily there from May through September.
For more information: RipBoard Inc.; equipment rental and four-hour lesson: $55-$65.
North Carolina Hiking
The Trip: A hike through the Pisgah National Forest.
Why: You can choose a one- to three-day Smoky Mountain trek (or longer, you can customize the trip): the company provides camping gear and llamas—smart, agile, calm animals—to haul it. Scale the walls of Panthertown Valley; rock-climbing instructors will meet you there.
Don’t Miss: Standing on top of 4,629-foot Max Patch Bald for a 360-degree view of the Smokies.
For more information: English Mountain Llama Treks; from $75 for a day trip, $65 for children 12 and under; $280 per person for one night and $100 each additional night, children start at $250 for the first night.
Washington Treehouse Hotel
The Trip: Cabin living above it all at Cedar Creek Treehouse.
Why: Treehouse hotels are becoming more and more popular. Here, after a day’s hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, you’ll stargaze from your bed through the skylights of a wooden cabin 50 feet up a 200-year-old rain-forest cedar, or contemplate Mount Rainier from on high.
Don’t Miss: Crossing the vertiginous Rainbow Bridge to the glass-encased Treehouse Observatory, a smaller lookout 100 feet up a nearby forest giant.
For more information: Cedar Creek Treehouse; doubles from $300.
The Trip: Bike through Philadelphia with local hero Jane Golden, whose city art program has been turning desolate gray corners into rainbow dreamscapes for 20 years.
Why: One hundred indoor and outdoor murals were created in 2004, bringing the total to 2,800 citywide (with 100 to 150 added each year). Among those unveiled: a multistory tribute to African American poetry; “Healing Walls,” a series by prison inmates and victims of crime; and “Passing Through,” a postmodern treasure hunt composed of 20 satellite murals.
Don’t Miss: Lunch with Golden—a tiny tornado of inspiration and energy.
New York Flying
The Trip: Mastering the art of the flying trapeze in New York City.
Why: Trapeze School New York, founded in 2002, has two locations dedicated to the art of flying—one an indoor one, and the other on Pier 40. Gravity-defiers can convene for two-hour classes year-round under a big top tent, or along the Hudson River May-October.
Don’t Miss: Upside-down, mid-air city and Hudson River views.
For more information: Trapeze School New York; sessions from $47.
The Trip: A six-day chauffeured white water rafting trip on Idaho’s Main Salmon River. Mackay Wilderness River Trips’ advance teams set up luxury camps, so when rafters stop for the evening, tents are already pitched.
Why: This summer, guides will be adding a spare “cataraft” to each downriver regatta. Borrow one when you feel like some easy paddling.
Don’t Miss: The high-end cuisine, cooked over an open flame, including local salmon and paella.
For more information: Mackay Wilderness River Trips; from $1,695 per person, children 12 and under are 50 percent off.
Louisiana On a Segway
The Trip: Explore New Orleans while riding a Segway.
Why: Let the bon temps roll by gliding around town on a single-person, stand-up electric scooter. Get acquainted with your machine during the 15-minute training session, then don the probably-a-good-idea helmet and set off on your two-hour tour.
Don’t Miss: Mardi Gras World, where the famous floats are made.
For more information: Segway New Orleans Tours; $70.
Hawaii Sailing and Snorkeling
The Trip: Sailing and diving along the remote Na Pali Coast of Kauai.
Why: Austin-Lehman Adventures has a tour that includes catamaran sailing in the Pacific and biking around Waimea Canyon’s volcanic rim. You can also take advantage of Pure Kauai’s customized spa vacations and end a day of sailing with a muscle-melting massage.
Don’t Miss: Snorkeling with sea turtles off powdery, 15-mile Polihale Beach, or a kayak tour of the coast from Haena to Polihale to look for humpback whales and sea turtles.
The Trip: Hike the 1,000-foot rock formations of Boynton Canyon at the otherworldly Enchantment Resort in Sedona. The 70-acre desert retreat is surrounded by miles of rugged terrain, including the Coconino National Forest.
Why: The two-hour Vortex Walk: acertified Qigong instructor will guide you through the red rocks, among them a majestic spire that locals call Kachina Woman.
Don’t Miss: The 90-minute Table Thai Massage at the Mii amo spa.
For more information: Enchantment Resort.
The Trip: White-water rafting on the rapids of the 40-mile-long Chattooga River, where the movie classic Deliverance was filmed.
Why: In the six-hour day trip, you’ll learn precision paddling from an expert guide as you glide down Chattooga’s easier Section III run.
Don’t Miss: An overnight excursion—which includes a catered trout dinner—will take you to Chattooga’s challenging Sections III and IV.
For more information: Southeastern Expeditions; from $79.
The Trip: The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail curls along the Cook Inlet for 11 miles—entirely within the city limits of Anchorage.
Why: On clear days, walkers, runners, bikers, and cross-country skiers can view a row of high peaks, including the nation’s tallest, Mount McKinley.
Don’t Miss: Sightings of beluga whales in the inlet.
For more information: Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Colorado & Utah Biking
The Trip: More than 200 miles of bike trails and forest roads from Durango to Moab.
Why: This weeklong traverse mimics the formula of the wildly successful Telluride-to-Moab mountain biking route that opened in 1989. The course is a bit more challenging—though intermediate riders will do fine, and beginners can walk the tougher parts—and a lot more remote.
Don’t Miss: The Wedding Bell Hut sits spectacularly on a cliff 2,000 feet above Colorado’s Dolores River.
For more information: San Juan Huts.
The Trip: A four-day Grand Canyon multisport adventure, featuring guided hiking along North Rim trails and van-supported mountain biking on backcountry off-road terrain.
Why: Rains and snowfall bring stunning, lush wildflower displays in the summer.
Don’t Miss: The unusual perspectives of the canyon seen from the Rainbow Rim Trail.
For more information: Canyon Rim Adventures; trips run June-September; $845 per person.
The Trip: Mount, draw, and shoot a traditional bow and arrow at the Equinox Resort’s Archery School.
Why: Competition hounds can hone their new skills on a forest trail where foam targets simulate bears, deer, and turkeys, while instructors keep score.
Don’t Miss: For the full medieval experience, add a falconry lesson and learn to handle and fly Harris’s hawks.
For more information: Equinox; classes from $75 for an intro class, $120 for a field class, $175 for both.
The Trip: Mountain biking on a ranch at the edge of Texas Hill Country.
Why: The Rocky Hill Ranch—not far from Austin—was bought by bike enthusiasts. Knock yourself out on miles of single-track on 1,200 acres: the aptly named trails range from Easy Pickens to Fat Chuck’s Demise.
Don’t Miss: A burger and a frosty Shiner Bock at the on-site saloon.
For more information: Rocky Hill Ranch.
New York Fly-Fishing
The Trip: The Wulff School of Fly Fishing sits on the legendary Beaverkill, the birthplace of dry fly-fishing in the Catskills.
Why: The course covers casting, streamcraft, fishing knots, tackle know-how, fly selection, wading, playing, and landing; the textbook used is a revision of Joan Wulff’s classic, Fly Casting Techniques. Accommodations can be had less than a mile away at the Beaverkill Valley Inn, a 19th-century angler’s hotel.
Don’t Miss: The school is located on 100 bucolic acres in the Catskill Mountains, so take time to see the landscape that inspired the Hudson River school painters.
Washington, Montana, & Wyoming National Park Tour
The Trip: Audubon Nature Odyssey’s Great Northwestern National Park’s tour. Part of The National Audubon Society, this nine-day tour is led by an experienced naturalist and photographer.
Why: You’ll visit four national parks—Mt. Rainier National Park, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Park—while traveling on the GrandLuxe Express (formerly the American Orient Express).
Don’t Miss: The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Wyoming.
For more information: Audubon Nature Odysseys; from $4,960 per person.
Utah & Arizona Hiking
The Trip: Hiking The Hayduke Trail.
Why: The 812-mile track links up the Southwest’s greatest hits, passing through six national parks in Utah and Arizona, including Arches, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. A pair of self-proclaimed desert rats published of a map-filled guidebook in 2005, mapping out this route (which is not an official trail).
Don’t Miss: The hike in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which takes you into several sandstone slot canyons so narrow you can drag your hands along both walls at once.
For more information: Deep Desert Adventures; from $850 for a three-day trip.
Washington, DC & Maryland Biking
The Trip: The 185-mile C&O Canal towpath from the U.S. capital to Cumberland, Maryland.
Why: Mules stopped pulling coal barges in 1924; now bikers pass locks, lockhouses, and aqueducts while looking for bald eagles and other wildlife. The Monocacy Aqueduct, at milepost 42.2, has just been restored to its original grandeur, and there are trailside campsites, or you can stay at inns along the way in towns like Williamsport and Hancock. The Canal towpath connects to the Great Allegheny Passage trail in Cumberland, making it possible for bicyclists to bike all the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh, PA.
Don’t Miss: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and Antietam National Battlefield—you don’t have to be a history buff to love them.
For more information: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal