In a territory as huge as it is, it’s not surprising there are endless opportunities for unique adventures in the US. The country occupies just over six percent of the globe and has some incredibly diverse landscapes where you can kayak through canyons, swim under waterfalls and hike through some of the most impressive rock formations on the planet.
No matter what adventure sport rocks your boat, there’ll be a location somewhere in the US that takes that activity to an entirely new level. There’s no denying though that the most adventurous places to visit in the US are widespread across the vastness of the country. Even when the attractions are in neighboring states, there’s usually a fair distance to travel to get from one to the other.
Unless you’re going on an extended road trip, or taking a year’s sabbatical, doing everything mentioned in this article during one vacation is verging on the impossible. What you will discover here is which of the following adventurous attractions is the one thing you just have to do. Once you’ve added it to your bucket list, it’ll be time to start planning your extreme adventure vacation in the US and get ready for experiencing the best, and most exciting, time of your life.
1. Rock Climbing in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one-thousand two-hundred square miles of wild terrains in western California that’s closer to the state border with Nevada than it is to the city of San Francisco.
The immense park contains mountainous landscapes carved by glacial action that are both stark and stunningly beautiful. The same glacial action also left behind amazing granite cliffs, El Captain and the Half Dome, which are both challenging and exhilarating to climb. Conquering either of those cliffs has to be classed as one of the top adrenaline activities in the USA and no doubt about it.
Check any list of the best places in the world to go rock climbing and you’ll find Yosemite National Park tops them all. If you’re a serious climber who wants the ultimate climbing experience then you have to go to Yosemite.
Best time to go climbing in Yosemite
The best time to go climbing in Yosemite National Park is in the springtime or in the fall. Attempt it during the summer and you may find the heat will leave you dehydrated. If you do climb during the warmer months you’ll need to carry extra water which will weigh you down and make the climb more difficult.
- El Capitan and the Half Dome are ascents that should only be made by experienced climbers.
- There are rules and guidelines put in place by the National Parks Service for those climbers who want to tackle any of the cliffs in Yosemite. Make sure you’re fully aware of all of them before setting out.
- Always check for route closures before beginning an ascent. Some cliff faces are closed from March to mid-July to protect nesting peregrine falcons.
- If you’re not an expert climber, but want to have a similar high-altitude experience then consider making the hike to the Glacier Point observation deck. It’s a difficult five-mile out and back trek which you can join at the trailhead on Southside Drive.
2. Surfing on Oahu, Hawaii
You can find great waves for surfing in endless places around the world, but not many of those locations match up to Oahu. Oahu is the third largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and a six-hundred square mile virtual paradise.
Scenic coastlines, lush vegetation, and extinct shield volcanoes are just three of the island’s outstanding natural features. It’s also home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu and two of the US’s most famous beaches, Waikiki and Lanikai. They may attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, but they’re not why surfers head to Oahu. Surfers go for the waves on the North Shore.
In Oahu surfing is a legendary sport. Surfing has been part of the Oahu culture for centuries so any surfer is going to feel right at home there.
The island’s coast experiences almost constant swells year round as well as some of the biggest and most dangerous waves of any surf spot worldwide.
Best time to surf in Oahu
Oahu is a year-round surfing destination, but if you’re looking for big waves and a consistent swell, then go any time from November through to March.
Best surfing spots on Oahu
The best surf spots on Oahu for experienced surfers are North Shore, the Pipeline on North Shore and Waimea Bay.
The best surf spots for beginner surfers on Oahu are Pua’ena Point, Waikiki Beach and White Plains Beach.
3. Swim Under The Havasu Falls In The Grand Canyon
Havasu Falls are a stunning thirty meter-high cascade on Havasu Creek that drops into a blue-watered swimming hole. Sometimes Mother Nature likes to keep some of her most attractive attributes hidden from view and she also likes to make them hard to access. That’s pretty much the case with the Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon.
The Havasu Creek is a tributary of the Colorado River and flows through a part of the canyon which is Havasu Native American tribal land. To be able to get access to the falls you have to acquire a permit which means reserving an overnight stay at either the Havasu campground or at the Havasupai Lodge. Sounds simple, but it’s not as places are in high demand and extremely limited.
Visiting Havasu Falls is one of the more unique adventure experiences you can have in the US. Thousands try to get permits, but fail. If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to swim under the falls, you’ll really have something worthwhile to post on your social media and boast about.
Best time to visit
Havasu Falls are open to permitted visitors from February through to November. Even with a permit, visiting is not guaranteed as flooding or high temperatures between June and the end of August can mean the difficult access trail is closed for safety reasons.
4. Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves, Juneau, Alaska
The ice caves in the Mendenhall Glacier are a natural phenomena that form as the glacial ice melts. The water the melt produces flows between the rocks and the base layer of the glacier leaving large gaps.
That simple process means ice caves are not a permanent fixture. Some caves may disappear as the roofs weaken and fall in. On the positive side, the water flow created by the melt can also create new caves. Until the rangers have inspected the glacier at the beginning of the viewing season no-one knows whether there’ll be caves to visit or not.
The ice caves in the Mendenhall Glacier aren’t the only ice caves in the US, but what sets them apart from the others is their spectacular blue color. Their stunning blue appearance is caused by air being forced from the ice as it forms.
If seeing the ice caves in the Mendenhall Glacier features high on your to-do list, don’t leave it too long. The glacier is receding at a rapid rate and isn’t expected to be there forever.
The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers to reach as it’s just a few miles drive from Juneau. That drive though will only get you as far as the visitor center from where you’ll need to make a difficult hike to the glacier or kayak across Mendenhall Lake. Whichever way you choose, it’s recommended you go with a guide who knows the terrain as the caves can prove to be unsafe for independent exploration.
Best time to visit the Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves
You can visit the Mendenhall Glacier twelve months of the year, but the best time to visit the caves is between May and October. This is also the perfect time of the year for whale watching in Juneau so you can make the trip doubly exciting
5. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
There are thousands of options for road trips in the US, but one road trip that stands out from all the rest, as good as they are, is the Pacific Coast Highway.
The Pacific Coast Highway, SR1, is a nine-hundred kilometer long coastal highway which stretches between the Californian cities of San Diego and San Francisco. Travel it and you’ll see sweeping views of the North Pacific Ocean, be able to stop off in big cities like Los Angeles with state-of-the-art attractions or discover quiet coves with empty beaches you may never want to leave.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most iconic road trips you can take in the US and the only way to discover the true diversity of the state of California.
Best time to do a Pacific Highway road trip
Bad weather is rare in California so you can take this road trip at any time of the year. Road traffic tends to get heavier during the peak holiday seasons, especially summer, so if there’s any time to avoid, it’s then.
While it’s easy enough to drive nine-hundred kilometers in twelve hours or less, take a week to make this road trip and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
Must-sees along the way:-
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Half Moon Bay State Beach
- Big Sur and the Bixby Bridge
- Morro Bay
- Santa Monica
6. Hike Angels Landing in Zion National Park
Hiking Angels Landing has to be one of the best thrill seeking activities in the US. To conquer this incredible rock formation in the Zion National Park in Utah you’ll need to battle your way up a five and a half mile long winding trail with an elevation of one-thousand five-hundred feet.
Angels Landing is not a trek for novice hikers or for the fainthearted as there are points on the trail where there are sheer drops either side. It’s a serious leg and stamina tester in every way so make sure you’re truly up for the hike before you set out.
So you can proudly say you’ve completed one of the most nerve wracking and scariest hikes in the US.
Best time to hike Angels Landing
The best time to hike Angels Landing is during the cooler months of the year. Springtime from March to mid-May and in the fall from September to November are the best months so long as it hasn’t been raining. Whenever you go, try to avoid midday when it’s hotter.
Important – Anyone wishing to hike Angels Landing must apply for a permit. Permits are issued on a seasonal and same day basis by the National Parks Service so make sure to apply for one before you go or you won’t be able to hike.
7. Kayaking Lake Powell and the Colorado River
One of the best outdoor adventures in the US you can possibly have is kayaking along the Colorado River where it flows through Glen Canyon National Park or around some of the bays in Lake Powell.
Whether you choose to kayak the river or the lake depends on your kayaking skills. For a calm paddle surrounded by weird and wonderful rock formations you’ll want to be on the lake. For a wilder ride hit the river at the Glen Canyon dam and head downstream to Lees Ferry. It’s fifteen miles of waterway where you may come across sections with white water, but that’s not guaranteed as the flow depends on the time of the year. Sometimes it’s calm and sometimes it’s not.
- Out of all the amazing places to go kayaking, these are easily rated as some of the best places to go kayaking in the world.
- You don’t need a permit to kayak from the dam to Lees Ferry but you will need to pay an entrance fee to get into the park
8. Biking in the Moab, Utah
For biking through wild open spaces there’s really nowhere that can beat Moab in Utah. Moab is surrounded by desert terrains, namely the Arches National Park and the Canyonlands National Park, that are crisscrossed with numerous trails.
There are all classes of bike rides around Moab which range from suitable for beginners to extremely challenging and downright dangerous. The one thing they all have in common, no matter which level trail you ride, are the fantastic desert landscapes dotted with surreal rock formations and plenty of dust.
Biking in Moab is a unique experience on trails that offer some of the best and most exciting mountain biking in the US.
Best time to go biking in Moab
Moab is a place with a desert climate that can get so hot the air will singe your nose hairs when you breathe in. It’s also freezing cold in winter. They’re not the sort of temperatures you want to go biking in. Go to Moab in springtime, April and May, or in the fall during September and October and you’ll have a more comfortable ride.
There are extensive networks of biking trails in the national parks around Moab, some of which are ideal for beginners and others definitely for experts only. Check them out before you go to make sure you set out on the right level of ride for you.
9. Base Jump from Perrine Bridge, Idaho
The Perrine Bridge is a masterful feat of engineering that crosses the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls in Idaho. The fact the bridge has a mega long drop, over four-hundred and eighty feet, from its deck to the water makes it one of the most exciting places to go base jumping in the world.
When you’re hoping for some serious thrill seeking activities in the US, base jumping off Perrine Bridge is one that’s hard to beat. You don’t have to be an expert base jumper to enjoy the adrenaline rush of leaping off Perrine Bridge and into the void with just a parachute to slow your descent either. You can take a tandem leap attached to a qualified jumper which is a pretty wild way of getting initiated to this extreme sport.
Perrine Bridge is the only place in the US where you can legally base jump without a permit. All you have to do is turn up and have the nerve to do it.
10. Soak in the Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
Soaking in the Chena Hot Springs in Alaska is more of a magical experience than it is an adventurous one. The adventurous part of this expedition is getting there as the springs and resort are in a remote location around sixty miles further north than the North Pole.
While the resort does boast indoor thermal pools, it’s the outdoor lake-sized springs that are the best. They’re in a totally unspoilt setting surrounded by pine forests and while you can go for a day visit you’ll probably want to stay longer. You can stay overnight or for several days at the Chena Hot Springs Resort. If you go just for the day, you’ll be charged an entrance fee of $15. The pass includes access to the lake and the resort’s indoor facilities too.
- Bathing in the thermal waters under a star-studded sky is truly special and even better when there’s snow on the ground.
- There’s much more at Chena Hot Springs than warm mineral water. Here you can hike through the Alaskan countryside on isolated trails, visit the ice museum, and bathe as the Aurora Borealis lights the night sky.
Best time to go to Chena Hot Springs
- The springs are open year-round, but the best time to go is in the winter when there’s snow.
- If you want the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights go any time from late August to May.