This article has been written for those of you who are explorers or would-be adventurers who are looking for the best adventure experiences that North America has to offer. If you complete even part of the recommended journeys on this list, you will have stories and experiences that will last a lifetime. What follows are my recommendations (which run the gamut in terms of physical difficulty) for a series of adventure travel excursions in North America that are nothing short of a rite of passage.
#1. Dog Sledding in the Gates of the Arctic, Alaska, US
Dog sledding in the Gates of the Artic National Park & Preserve, the second largest national park in the U.S. at a staggering 8,472,506 acres, through snowy wintery environments offers encounters with wild animals (wolves, foxes, and moose), frozen tundras, and northern lights and makes for an outstanding adventure travel experience fit for any explorer. There are many sledding tour packages, so you have the ability to tailor your trip to the areas of the diverse landscape through which you’d like to sled.
#2. Hiking and Rafting the Grand Canyon, Arizona, US
Taking the hike down into Arizona’s Grand Canyon, which is a red-rocked canyon of incredible height and depth (carved by the Colorado River, which reveals billions of years of geological spectacles) or river rafting in the scenic landscape of the Grand Canyon through the rapids of the Colorado River, is an adventure travel experience unto itself.
#3. Kayak Lake Powell (Colorado River), Arizona and Utah, US
Kayak against the backdrop of incredible rock formations on Lake Powell, which serves as a reservoir on the Colorado River near the Arizona-Utah border. The second largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Powell’s scenic backdrop offers a glimpse into the geological wonders of the Colorado Plateau.
#4. Diving in Key Largo, Florida, US
The world-renowned diving adventures in Key Largo (in the Florida Keys) are replete with underwater wonders ranging from diverse sea life to coral reefs and shipwrecks.
#5. Hike the Zion, Utah, US
The most narrow area of Zion Canyon, located in Zion National Park in Utah, this gorge with walls on either side that are roughly one thousand feet high (which includes walking through the watery river bottom of the Virgin River) includes spectacular views and immersive all-day adventure excursions.
#6. Hike in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, US
Hiking in this national park which ranges across three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) and which is home to some of the most beautiful flora, fauna, and geothermal phenomena in the country is a journey into a land of lakes, mountains, rivers, and canyons that are as fantastic as they are palpable.
#7. Ballooning over Napa Valley, California, US
Ballooning over California’s beautiful wine country in Napa Valley makes for a great in-air adventure experience, and with so many tours from which to choose, why not work in package with breakfast and wine-tasting? Cheers!
#8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska, US
With a volcano, glaciers, and some of the highest peaks in North America, this national park and preserve comprises the single largest area under the auspices of the National Park Service at a staggering 13,175,799 acres. A number of camp grounds and private lodging are available and cruises are even available off of the coast of the park.
#9. Horseback riding through Banff National Park, Canada
With grizzly bears, wolverines, cougars, bighorn sheep, elk, and moose, this awe-inspiring Canadian national park with its gorgeous crystal lakes, forests, and Valley of the Ten Peaks, is ideal for a tour on horseback. Here in the rocky mountains in Canada’s oldest park, you’ll have to gallop quickly if you don’t want the beauty to overtake you.
#10. Climbing Mount Rainier, Washington, US
An active volcano that is ringed round with meadows of wild flowers, Mount Rainer is the highest mountain in the state of Washington. Traversing the glaciers of Mount Rainier to reach the summit generally takes 2 -3 days and requires technical climbing skills and equipment, but the views from the summit are extraordinary. In short, Mount Rainier is one great travel adventure for an advanced climber who wants to experience the very best of the Pacific Northwest.
#11. Go See Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Travel to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada between October and November to see magnificent polar bears in their natural habitat (as they commence their journey from their summer tundra territories to their seasonal seal hunting terrains along the Hudson Bay). There are many ways to see these wild Artic kings (with heights ranging as 10 feet tall) from journeying out on snow vehicles to guided walks to canoeing excursions. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to enjoy the mesmerizing coastal views.
#12. Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliff Wilderness, Arizona and Utah, US
Go for a hike in Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliff Wilderness comprised of territory in Arizona and Southern Utah. This wilderness area offers canyons, escarpments, and plateaus with an array of fauna including eagles, hawks, herons, mountain lions, and bobcats. Mostly, importantly, however, you’ll want to check out the incredible red sandstone striations dubbed “The Wave” in the slopes of the picturesque Cayote Buttes. Bring your camera!
#13. Tulum Ruins, Snorkeling, & Caves, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Go to Mexico’s Tulum (in the Yucatán Peninsula) to see ancient Mayan ruins above a breath-taking beach replete with fantastic snorkeling and cave exploration opportunities. There are many guided tours from which to choose and a more extraordinary setting would be difficult to find.
#14. Oahu Shark Dive, Hawaiian Islands, US
Dive with the sharks (including such hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, and sandbar sharks) in Oahu shielded by a shark cage. In addition to being able to observe these predators in their habitat up close and firsthand, you’ll have an opportunity to see humpback whales, dolphins, and turtles on the way to your dive sight.
#15. View Lava at Night, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea, Hawaii, US
Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano at night is nothing short of amazing. Once you hike or bike your way up (a 9 mi round trip), you’ll have an awe-inspiring opportunity to see an unabashed display of lava flaring with color against a beautiful dark backdrop that only night can provide. Tour guides are necessary to get as close as possible (while staying safe) and the daily schedule of tours is dependent upon changing lava conditions. If you want to make a day (and night) of visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, there are so many great hikes and gorgeous views. Don’t miss the Kilauea Iki trail and the Thurston Lava Tube, a lava cave that’s 500 years old!