These Are the Best U.S. Cities for Adventurous Travelers
Rock climbing and freestyle bouldering. Coming face-to-face with lions and wolves. Surfing towering waves. Exploring underground caverns.
These are just a few of the adrenaline-pumping activities that helped make these 15 cities top the list of best places to have an adventure vacation, according to the results of our latest America's Favorite Places survey.
For the survey, readers evaluate hundreds of cities and towns across a range of categories, from the friendliness of the locals to the quality of the pizza. Unlike Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards, which encourages readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America's Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
In general, the western half of the country — from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest to the desert — reigns, taking nine out of the top 15 spots. And with epic snowsports in the winter and hiking and mountain biking come summer, it's no surprise that Colorado has not one, but three cities on the list — and two at the very top, no less.
On the East Coast, Virginia also comes in with multiple winners — pretty impressive for a state that's better known for history than for adventure.
Read on for how to get active in each of the best adventure cities. And be sure to cast your vote in this year's America's Favorite Places survey.
15. Seattle, Washington
When the weather permits, Seattle locals head straight to the parks and the lakes. After all, it’s home to the REI flagship store.
14. Nashville, Tennessee
Adventure travelers can skip the whiskey and Honky Tonk for a day on the river. Nashville is a seriously destination for kayaking and canoeing along the many waterways.
13. Richmond, Virginia
Grab a paddleboard and take to the waters off of Belle Isle, in the James River — the main artery of outdoor life in Richmond.
12. Portland, Oregon
What to do during an adventure vacation in Portland? Pretty much everything. Hike in the fern-filled Forest Park or the Columbia Gorge (just 45 minutes outside the city), and explore caverns and waterfalls off the Horsetail Falls trail.
11. San Antonio, Texas
Escape the summer heat in San Antonio at one of the area’s many caverns. Visitors can also go tubing down a river, or find a shady trail in the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, famous for its pink granite batholith.
10. San Diego, California
Perfect year-round weather makes San Diego one of the country’s best-loved surf spots.
9. Wilmington, North Carolina
8. Boulder, Colorado
Rent a cottage in Chautauqua Park for immediate access to Boulder’s famous Flatirons. Take the switchbacks up to Royal Arch for a serious challenge during a weekend trip.
7. Virginia Beach, Virginia
You can kayak or take a jet ski around Rudee Inlet during a trip to Virginia Beach — or have a more literal adventure at The Adventure Park, which offers obstacle courses and zip-lining, along with other thrills.
6. Tucson, Arizona
Horseback riding, cycling, and hiking are all popular ways to enjoy the beautiful foothills surrounding Tucson. Travelers can also make like Cheryl Strayed, of Wild, and go hiking through the cacti in Saguaro National Park.
5. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Have a true Albuquerque adventure by taking a hot-air balloon ride high above the stunning desert state.
4. Salt Lake City, Utah
The international airport at Salt Lake City is just miles from some of Utah’s top ski resorts. Purchase a Ski City Super Pass for access to Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude.
3. Denver, Colorado
It’s not called he gateway to the Rocky Mountains for nothing. Denver is a wonderful destination for adventure travelers who want easy access to ski areas and challenging hiking and rock climbing.
2. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Enjoy the perfect mix of wellness and adventure in this Colorado town. Enjoy a hike in the 1,600-acre North Cheyenne Cañon Park or explore the incredible rock formations at the Garden of the Gods.
1. Honolulu, Hawaii
When in Hawaii, one must surf—and Waikiki beach on O’ahu is a go-to for lessons. (Or head to Waimea Bay on the North Shore to ogle the pros as they take on massive waves, especially in the winter.) East of the city, you’ll find the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, where you can snorkel among the vibrant fish. And if you want to windsurf, parasail, or kayak, follow the locals to Kailua Beach Park.