An Epic Adventure Bucket List to Complete This Summer
There's nothing wrong with a summer spent at the beach. But if you want more than tan lines and sand-covered clothes, consider embarking on one (or all) of these incredible seasonal adventures.
After all, bucket list trips are like snowflakes. And for this one, we've ditched the tame and the far-flung in favor of a high-octane, thrilling series of experiences you can complete on your summer break (or maybe during your summer Fridays). Whether you're a fan of sun and sand, fresh mountain air, or sweeping desert vistas, there's a potential adventure for you. Very ambitious travelers can even try checking off every item on this wild, once-in-a-lifetime list.
Consider, for example, spending a balmy weekend in June scuba diving around the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, off the Florida Keys. Or getting extra muddy during the Tough Mudder competition in New York.
Regardless of whether or not you want to get high (parasailing or hang gliding) or go low (spelunking in Kentucky) we promise your summer stories won't be the least bit boring. And the pictures you share on Instagram won't look like every other snapshot of beach umbrellas and pool floats.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of those places that initially leaves you feeling like you’ve walked onto a movie set—an action movie set, specifically. And there’s this other thing: it’s mind-bogglingly huge. Not only is it a mile deep, but it's also 277-“river miles”-long and up to 18-miles-wide. Incidentally, it's also a bit of a challenge to get to, with only three spots where you can reasonably get into the Canyon: the North Rim, the South Rim, and the West Rim.
A vast majority of hikers start at the South Rim, from which there are two major trails—the 12.8-mile-long Rim Trail and the 6.6-mile Greenway trail. Each is broken down into sections of varying difficulty. The Hermit Trail, for example, is a rocky, steep, and challenging route that starts at an elevation of 6,640 feet. The recommended day hike destination is 2.5 miles away at Santa Maria Springs (4,880 feet). If you’re up for an overnight hike, you can do the seven hours of hiking needed to go from the trailhead to Hermit Creek (a distance of only 7.8 miles).
Whitewater Rafting on the Colorado River
At the base of the Grand Canyon is the Colorado River, a famous spot for whitewater rafting. (You don’t actually have to hike into the Grand Canyon to do a whitewater rafting trip, however, as there are many spots along the 1,450-mile-long river where you can start your adventure.)
One of the most popular places to begin is at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona. The trip from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch is a great way to experience the Colorado River rapids, as well as get a view of the Grand Canyon that you just won’t see any other way. Be prepared, however, to spend a little time on this experience. It's often considered a six or seven day adventure. And you may want to take a few shorter, gentler trips before tackling this one, which features no less than 19 major rapids over the course of an 87-mile journey.
Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park
A trip to California's Joshua Tree National Park may be as close as many of us get to visiting another planet, with its strange plants and massive, lunar-like boulders littering the landscape.
While there are countless trails over the rocks that can be tackled with just a good pair of hiking boots, more daring travelers can use the park's 400 climbing formations for advanced rock climbing. If you want help navigating the 8,000 trails (or you need assistance with the ropes, helmets, and footwear, get in touch with one of the local climbing schools (such as the Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School or Joshua Tree Climbing Guides).
Scuba Diving Off the Florida Keys
If you’re new to scuba diving, the Florida Keys region is a fantastic place to get started. One hot spot for divers visiting the Florida Keys is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. It bills itself as the country’s first underwater state park and—together with the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary—spans 178 nautical square miles.
More important than its vast size, this state park is home to the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Sea life here is so rich and abundant you may want to take a little time to brush up on your marine biology before your trip. According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), there are 40 species of living coral in the park along with some 650 varieties of fish.
Parasailing in California
If parasailing is on your bucket list, there are few more iconic places you could take to the skies than Marina Del Rey. Surrounded by places like the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, and Malibu, parasailing on this stretch of California coastline will let you float high above these iconic destinations.
Check out Marina Del Rey Parasailing, which allows up to three people at a time and flies them at either 500 or 800 feet above the ocean.
Surfing in Hawaii
Is there anything more quintessentially Hawaiian than hopping on a surfboard and riding the waves? Travelers looking to check this off the bucket list should be sure to choose a beach that best matches his or her abilities. If you’re a beginner—and don’t mind wiping out in front of large crowds—then the venerable Waikiki Beach is a good choice.
Here, there are many places to rent boards, as well as to take lessons. For a quieter learning experience, check out beaches on the North Shore of the island, like Hale'iwa Beach Park). Here, a two-hour group surf lesson at Surf Hawaii – Surf School, for example, will cost you $85.
Summer Skiing in Oregon
There’s something really special about skiing—fresh powder and all—in a short sleeve shirt with the summer sun warming your face. That’s what you’ll find at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, in northern Oregon. While a lot of the summer mountain skiing happens within the freestyle ski and racing camps that run between June and September, the mountain does offer the general public access to some of the runs on the Palmer Snowfield every summer.
Bungee-jumping in California
If you have an urge to jump off a bridge while tied to a giant rubber band, there's a place in California for you. This abandoned, so-called Bridge to Nowhere, just 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, was reborn as a permanent bungee-jumping site in 1989. To jump just once with a full body suit, you’ll pay $99—and then an extra $50 for each additional jump.
Dune Riding in Arizona
Believe it or not, you don't have to go to another country to speed along miles and miles of sand dunes. You can do that at the Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area outside of Yuma, Arizona. Here, visitors are even allowed to rent and ride all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the dunes. Given that you probably won’t have your own ATV when you reach the dunes, you can rent from places such as Jet Rent in Yuma.
Spelunking in Kentucky
If you’ve ever wanted to explore life underneath the Earth’s crust, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is the place to go to realize your dream. Known as the “world's longest known cave system," with more than 400 miles of explored caves, Mammoth Cave is also one of the country’s oldest attractions.
Last year, it celebrated 200 years of offering tours. For the best bucket list experience, consider the Grand Avenue Tour, which will take four hours or more, and requires you to climb 700 stairs.
Hiking in Washington
On a clear day in Seattle, look to the southeast and notice a 14,410-foot, white-capped mountain rising in the distance. That lofty peak is Mount Rainier, an 85-mile drive south of Seattle.
There are a lot challenging climbs in Mount Rainier National Park—the most extreme of which will require you to have a lot of experience and special equipment. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to summit the mountain. Instead, take one of many day hikes on the 260 miles of trails around the mountain. A favorite is the Glacier Basin Trail, a seven-mile journey (round-trip) that runs along an old mining road and includes a viewpoint where you can see the massive Emmons Glacier.
Tackle a Tough Mudder in New York
For endurance runners who love a challenge, there are few experiences that get the blood flowing more than a Tough Mudder event. This 10- to 12-mile obstacle course features 20 or more complications designed to test your fitness, strength, endurance, tenacity, and willingness to get really muddy.
The obstacles include things to climb over, swim across, go through, and crawl under. Admittedly, none of them are really easy or pleasant. If you’re in the New York area this summer, sign up for the Tough Mudder event in Glenwood, New York.
Mountain Biking at Whistler
Whistler has shed its reputation as a destination exclusively for winter sports enthusiasts. Now, during the summer, some of its steep and challenging runs are repurposed for adventurous mountain bikers. As a result, it now plays host to the Crankworx World Tour every summer. Here, you can watch some of the best mountain bikers in the world take on amazing terrain in the former home of the Winter Olympics. You can also make your own mountain biking adventures at Whistler by tackling one of the many tough trails open to the public in the summer months.
Hang Gliding Over the Great Lakes
Hang gliding is a tough sport. But that’s also part of what makes these tiny, wind-powered crafts so appealing to adventurers. For visitors to the Great Lakes, there’s a well-established hang gliding company called High Perspective, just outside of Toronto.
They offer both tandem flights (where you’re strapped into a hang glider that’s flown by an experience professional) as well as a beginner training course. Unfortunately, crossing this item off your summer adventure bucket list won't come cheap. A single tandem flight on a weekday will cost you CDN $160, plus tax.
Water Skiing in Florida
There are lots of great places across the country to go water skiing. But if you’re going to make this the final item on your bucket list, why not pick one of the more exciting venues to try it in?
That would be the Swiss Waterski Resort in Clermont, Florida, which is well-known for its water skiing instruction (and resort accommodations, 18-hole golf course, and proximity to the theme parks of Orlando). The resort also offers water skiing lessons to visitors, meaning you don't need to factor a resort fee into the final cost.