Plan Your Perfect Adventure Vacation

Dream of backpacking to a volcano, scaling a peak or bungee jumping off a cliff? Get your adrenaline pumping at these cool hotspots recommended by travel experts.

Silhouette of a female surfer at sunset on tropical beach

by NEA Member Benefits

For some, relaxing on a quiet beach is absolute perfection. But for others, a truly memorable vacation means planning an adventure: backpacking to a volcano, scaling a peak or even bungee jumping off a cliff. For those of us unaccustomed to competing in the X Games, these trips may sound intimidating—yet intriguing. Or perhaps you’ve already taken the adventure travel plunge and need inspiration for your next excursion.

Have no fear! We called in three adventure travel experts to help get you out, or further out, of your comfort zone: Kraig Becker, freelance outdoor and adventure travel writer and adventure travel expert for TripSavvy; Robin Barton, Lonely Planet’s associate publisher and the editor of the book Lonely Planet’s Great Adventures; and Kitty McDonnell, trip consultant and coordinator for Backroads Active Travel.

Conquer your fears

Admittedly, some adventure trips can be daunting, especially for newbies. Becker’s best advice: “Just go! Once you’re actually there, chances are you’ll find that your chosen adventure is not only exhilarating, but great fun, too.”

If you’re unsure of where to start, travel with a company that will take care of planning and logistics.

Once on the ground, take it easy and don’t overdo it, cautions McDonnell. “No need to go all out the first day and exhaust yourself. Start by doing the easier options and work your way up to the longer options.” Likewise, be realistic about what you’re able to do, says Barton. “And if you’re planning to try a new activity, whether that’s skiing, cycling, horseback-riding or hiking, it doesn’t hurt to get a little practice in before you go, if possible.”

So where will your new adventure take you? Below is a list of our experts’ favorite ideas to help you get inspired to get up and go.

North American adventures

No need to pay for an expensive transcontinental plane ticket—our own continent is chockfull of awe-inspiring adventure travel opportunities, particularly hiking and outdoor sports.

1. Hike the Rockies or Yosemite. McDonnell recommends hiking or climbing the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains or Yosemite National Park, which offers spectacular climbing and beautiful hikes to amazing waterfalls. “People often look to travel abroad, while we have plenty of amazing natural beauty to showcase right here at home,” says McDonnell, who recommends whitewater rafting on the Snake River, kayaking on Jackson Lake, hiking Cascade Canyon, Amphitheater Lake, and Granite Canyon or doing day-climb excursions with Exum Mountain Guides. “Try mountain biking with Teton Mountain Bike Tours.”

2. Try Yellowstone in winter.Yellowstone National Park, which offers both beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife, is particularly amazing in the winter,” says Becker. “It’s a fantastic place to go snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. And while it sees 3+ million visitors on an annual basis, hardly anyone comes during the winter, which means you have this giant park—more than 3,400 square miles—pretty much all to yourself.”

Couple those perks with the animals descending from altitude in the colder months, and it’s much easier to spot elk, bison, moose, wolves and other creatures. Likewise, Colorado has such great hiking, climbing, and skiing.

Adds Barton: “Crested Butte offers amazing snow sports in winter, with steep ski runs and world-class mountain bike trails that roll through beautiful meadows and valleys in the summer. As one of the places where mountain biking was pioneered in the U.S., the activity is very well-supported in the resort with many marked trails to chose from, such as Trail 401’s nine miles of single track. More experienced mountain bikers might want to be in town for the annual Crested Butte Bike Week, one of the sport’s longest running events. And fit riders can take on Pearl Pass as they pedal from Crested Butte to Aspen—if you’d like some company for the 38-mile, high-altitude ride, there’s the Pearl Pass Tour every September.”

3. Hit the water in the Pacific Northwest. “In the Pacific Northwest, the region around Bend in Oregon is renowned for water sports,” says Barton. Similarly, McDonnell suggests water rafting in Wyoming, Montana or the Canadian Rockies, and whale watching in San Juan Islands.

4. Trek the Alaskan wilderness. “No list of adventure destinations in the U.S. would be complete without mentioning Alaska,” says Becker. “Epic in size and scope, it is one of the truly last wild places on Earth. During the summer, it’s great for hiking, camping, backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking or just about anything else you can do outside; and in the winter, it becomes one of the best backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing destinations on Earth. To get a true taste of Alaskan culture, explore the wilderness on a dogsled, and don’t forget to check out the amazing Northern Lights display, too.”

5. Surf in Hawaii. “You can’t beat Hawaii for otherworldly landscapes, wonderful hikes and water sports, such as surfing,” adds Barton. “Waikiki is a perennial favorite for starter surfers, but you can also head to the North Shore of Kauai, which also hosts surf schools. When they’re not getting to grips with their boards, visitors to Kauai can get astounding views of the volcanic Na Pali coast from the tough, 11-mile Kalalau Trail.”

International adventures

For those wanting to splurge on an international excursion, don’t miss some of the world’s top adventure opportunities.

1. Hike the glaciers in Iceland. McDonnell suggests a glacier hike in Iceland—“the landscape is so unique, the scenery is stunning and there’s the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.” For a moderate glacier tour in the majestic surroundings of Svínafellsjökull Hike, hike with crampons on Svínafellsjökull, part of the great Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park. “The glacier is hemmed in by some of Iceland’s most spectacular peaks, so you can see huge water cauldrons, deep crevasses, strangely shaped ridges and other ice formations,” adds Barton: “[Rent] a jeep with giant tires and head out onto glaciers and volcanic moonscapes on this amazing island.”

2. Backpack in Nepal. “Nepal is often referred to as the “birthplace of adventure travel” and it remains a great place to go backpacking and climbing,” says Becker. “The mountains there are simply unmatched in terms of beauty.” Try trekking to Everest’s base camp.

3. Experience a real safari.Tanzania gives travelers an opportunity to experience the classic safari experience on the Serengeti, as well as climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa,” adds Becker. Likewise, safaris in South Africa (Becker recommends Kruger National Park) and Botswana are fantastic adventure trips.

4. Snowboard in Switzerland. “In Europe, the Alps mountain range remains the epicenter of adventure, with a very high standard of adventure experience on offer,” assures Barton. “In winter the mountains, which straddle France, Italy and Switzerland, offer a vast number of ski and snowboard resorts, with tobogganing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing also available. In summer, the network of trails linking alpine villages is used by hikers and mountain bikers.”

5. Explore Ecuador.Ecuador [is great] due to the diversity of options: You can go trekking the mountains, climb an active volcano, paddle the Amazon and visit the Galapagos Islands,” says Becker.

6. Hike through South America. “Patagonia in South America, spanning Chile and Argentina, is a thrilling destination for all outdoors lovers—it’s sparsely populated, and with wild landscapes that can be explored on foot, horseback or by watercraft,” says Barton. Similarly, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, says McDonnell.

7. Go wild in the Pacific. The Pacific Islands are an outdoor lover’s paradise. From diving the Great Barrier Reef to sea kayaking around the Yasawa Islands, adventures abound. “Go hiking in Tasmania—you’ll see weird and wonderful creatures on any number of well-mapped trails through an ancient and unspoiled landscape,” says Barton. Adds Becker: “Several towns on New Zealand’s South Island, such as Wanaka and Queenstown, specialize in adventure activities and there’s a massive range of experiences on offer, from hiking some of the most pristine landscapes on the planet to bungee-jumping and jet boating.”

Money-saving tips

“Adventure travel can be as luxurious or inexpensive as you’d like—that’s part of its charm,” assures Becker, who recommends camping to save money. “Staying in a tent can save hundreds of dollars, and usually offers a more traditional experience.” Likewise, McDonnell recommends sharing room costs with a travel partner or staying in hostels to avoid private room charges.

Timing is everything, adds Barton. “Check out trips in the shoulder season for the destination, like late summer or fall in northern Europe, so you won’t have to share the place with quite so many people and prices will be lower.” You can also save money by traveling the week after schools in your desired destination are back in session, says Barton, so check their holiday schedules.

Start planning your next adventure