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20 BIG Adventure Vacations in the US Not to Miss

Are you ready for some adventure? Of course you are!

From coast to coast, national parks, epic road trips and unexpected destinations in between, these are the best adventure vacations in the US.

adventure vacations in the US view of mountain scene with purple wildlfowers
One of the top adventure vacation in the US: road tripping in Alaska (see #10)

This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, see my disclosures.

This list is full of awe-inspiring activities and vacation spots is full of jaw-dropping adventures! From thrilling adrenaline rushes to epic hiking trails, you won’t believe your eyes.

The US has incredible vacation destinations that are just begging to be explored!

Whether you love hiking for amazing views, ziplining over stunning landscapes or snorkeling next to massive manta rays, there’s a little bit of everything here. So no matter what your style, this list of adventurous vacations in the US will give you ideas for your next getaway!

Oh, and when you’re finished with this list, go abroad and check out these adventurous bucket list ideas throughout the globe!

Map of adventure vacations in the US

From sea to shining sea – and even the islands beyond, here are the locations of the best adventure vacations USA.

Adventures in the US

Eeek! I’m so excited for you to see this list! Some of the very best adventures are first. But honestly, they’re all fantastic (or they wouldn’t be on the list 😉).

Real quick – since I haven’t been everywhere (yet), I’ve asked my fellow travel writers with a variety of experiences to help with this epic list.

Let’s dive in!

1. Road trip down the California Coast

adventure vacations in us view of california coast with teal water rocky shore and white waves
California Coast near Big Sur 😍

Region: Western USA
Closest major airport: San Francisco International Airport

One of the coolest adventure vacations in the US is driving the Pacific Coast Highway in California. A San Francisco to San Diego road trip is quite the adventure!

Start off in San Francisco eating delicious food, touring Alcatraz and walking or biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. As you head south on US Highway 101, you’ll want to stop for a kayaking and whale watching excursion at Monterey Bay.

Plan to spend a day exploring Big Sur, California. Hike and watch the Harbor Seal pups at Point Lobos State Reserve. Adventure across the Bixby Creek Bridge, find the purple sand on Pfeiffer Beach and hike to the famous McWay Falls.

Further down the Pacific Coast Highway, you can do wine tasting in Lompoc or Malibu, visit the Santa Monica Pier or take surfing lessons in Huntington Beach.

When you get to the end of this epic road trip, be sure to spend a weekend in San Diego by kayaking in La Jolla Cove, hanging out on Condado Beach or seeing the famous San Diego Zoo.

You’ll want at least 5 days to do this road trip, but if you can have more time you’ll be able to see more along the way. I’d recommend flying into San Francisco, renting a car and returning it in San Diego. I love using Discover Cars for the best car rental deals, as I typically save 10-30%.

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

2. Climb the Telluride Via Ferrata

adventures in the US view of Telluride via Ferrata woman rock climbing with cliff in distance
Climbing at Telluride Via Ferrata, Colorado

Region: Western USA
Closest major airport: Denver International Airport

Are you an active person looking for adventures in the US? If so then head over to Telluride in Colorado and try the mega epic Telluride Via Ferrata

You’ll find it in Box Canyon, right near Ajax Peak, at the far eastern end of town. It’s a fun, seasonal activity that originated in Italy since the term translates to “iron way” 

When you embark on this incredible experience, you’ll uncover an intense hiking trail that is totally exposed and that takes you along a series of iron rungs along narrow cliffs. 

Therefore, you will need special gear for this activity and should definitely hire a guide if you don’t have a ton of hiking experience. You can find fantastic tours of this technical climb at a reasonable price. 

This intense experience will take you anywhere between 4 and 5 hours to complete.

You should plan this adventure any time between June and September since this is when all the snow in the area has completely melted. 

Also, be on the lookout for any afternoon storms that sometimes hit the area since the metal rungs and iron footholds you’ll traverse from 500 feet in the air do a good job of attracting lightning. 

Then, just enjoy the climb and the stunning panoramic views you’ll encounter along the way! You’ll also get to see Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall while on this journey.

You can spend a day or long weekend enjoying Telluride and the Telluride Via Ferrata. While you’re in the area, be sure to drive the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado!

Recommend by Meg of Fox in the Forest

3. Soar over the NaPali Coast in Kauai (one of my favorite adventure vacations in the US)

adventurous places to visit view of napali coast jagged peaks beaches and vibrant blue water
The incredibly picturesque NaPali Coast😍

Region: Hawaii
Closest major airport: Lihue Airport

One of the most spectacular bucket list travel adventures in the world is taking a doors off helicopter tour in Kauai

To get to Kauai, fly into Lihue Airport. There are direct flights from many US West Coast cities, as well as flights that connect in Honolulu. The helicopter tours all depart from Lihue airport, so it couldn’t be more convenient!

Taking a doors off helicopter tour anywhere would be incredible, but it’s extra special in Kauai. Kauai’s nickname is the Garden Isle, and you’ll see so many varying landscapes during a short helicopter tour of the island that you’ll be shocked all these different places exist on one small island!

On a helicopter tour, you’ll see some of Kauai’s most stunning waterfalls which are only visible from the air, including Manawaiopuna Falls (aka Jurassic Falls) as you fly over the Hanapepe Valley. That gives way to Waimea Canyon, which is also called ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ for both its scale and Southwestern-looking landscape.

But the best views occur when you arrive at the coast and see the emerald green spires of the sea cliffs of the Na Pali coast contrasting beautifully with the turquoise ocean waters off the coast of Kauai. This land is completely inaccessible by car, and with limited access by trail, so it’s completely untouched and pristine! 

You’ll also get to the see the Weeping Wall on Waialeale Mountain, one of the wettest places on Earth, with more waterfalls than you could possibly count. It’s truly one of the most remarkable adventures in the US!

Pro tip: wear long pants (it gets cold!), take any motion sickness medication you might need beforehand (the helicopter shakes quite a bit in the wind), and wear either contacts or have a lanyard for your glasses so you don’t worry about your goggles slipping.

You’ll only need about 2 hours for the tour, but I suggest spending somewhere between 3 to 5 days on Kauai.

Recommended by Allison of Eternal Arrival

4. Go sea kayaking in Acadia National Park

adventurous places to visit view of rocky cliff and ocean with trees in distance
Picturesque spot for sea kayaking: Acadia National Park, Maine

Region: Northeast USA
Closest major airport:
Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport or Portland International Jetport

Acadia National Park in Maine is an unbelievably beautiful destination full of adventure!

One of the best adventures in the US is sea kayaking off the coast of Maine. The Porcupine Islands are a chain of islands right off Bar Harbor, and are part of Acadia National Park.

Renting kayaks or taking a kayaking tour is an awesome way to see marine life in the wild! You’ll likely see seals while kayaking, and may catch the occasional harbor porpoise (similar to a dolphin). Of course, don’t forget to look up! Home to eagles, osprey, blue herons and a 250+ more avian species.

In just 6 miles, this is a paddler’s paradise! The unique features of the islands are incredibly picturesque. Steep granite cliffs dive into the bold ocean below. Sea caves, rocky beaches and the dramatic coastline of Maine provide such an amazing adventure!

Kayaking tours in Acadia National Park are seasonal, running from mid-May through mid-October each year. Book them in advance as they do sell out!

While you’re exploring Acadia National Park, be sure to hike the Jordan Cliffs Loop trail (5.0 miles) or the Beehive Trail (1.5 miles). Catch incredible scenic views at the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and be sure to drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road.

You’ll want 3-5 days minimum at Acadia National Park. Between paddling, hiking and seeing all the best spots in the park, your time will go fast! Plus Bar Harbor is the picture-perfect coastal town, offering plenty to see and do.

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

5. Snorkeling in Dry Tortugas National Park

ocean view bright blue water through stone tunnel
Top adventure trips in USA: snorkeling in the Florida Keys

Region: Eastern USA
Closest major airport:
Key West International Airport

One of the best adventure vacations in the US is in the sunshine state!

Dry Tortugas National Park is located in the Gulf of Mexico about 70 miles off the coast of Key West. Even though 99% of the park is underwater, these islands were named “dry” because there is no fresh water source around, and “tortugas” by Ponce de Leon due to all of the huge sea turtles in the area.

The park itself covers 100 square miles and has 7 small islands to explore, the main one being Garden Key. The most popular and best way to explore the park is by snorkeling!

Because of the shallow clear waters (between 5 to 15 feet deep) and the secluded location, Dry Tortugas offers some of the best snorkeling in North America. And less visitors means the coral and surrounding sea life remains healthy and vibrant!

Pro tip: be sure to wear reef-safe sunscreen while snorkeling or enjoying the ocean water to protect reefs and marine life.

There are several different locations to snorkel around Garden Key, the most popular area is around the historic Fort Jefferson. You can enter the crystal clear water right off of the white sand beach. Just snorkeling along the moat wall you will see different kinds of coral, tropical fish, conchs and crabs. 

The only ways to get to the Dry Tortugas are by air or by sea. Because of the remote location it is one of the least visited national parks, which makes a visit here that much more inviting!

There is a ferry service that operates tours to the Dry Tortugas every day of the year. The ferry has a limited number of seats and they book to capacity daily so book your tickets as far in advance as you can!

The ferry is a high-speed catamaran, offering inside air-conditioned seating as well as covered open-air spaces above deck. Just a 2.5 hour boat ride takes you to a secluded location where you feel like you are alone in a tropical paradise!

Recommended by Erin of Super Simple Salty Life

6. Hike the Pacific Crest Trail (one of the most difficult adventures in the US)

view of the pacific crest trail and Mt Hood with flowers in foreground hiking trail and mountain peak in distance while on adventure vacations in the us
View of Mt Hood from the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon

Region: Western USA
Closest major airport:
Portland International Airport, San Diego International Airport or

If you’re looking for an epic adventure in the western United States, you can’t miss the rugged Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

This renowned long-distance footpath stretches for over 2650 miles through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. The trail begins at the border with Mexico and travels through the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges before eventually crossing into Canada at Manning Park.

Designated as a National Scenic Trail by the US Park Service, the PCT is one of the longest trails in the country.

The footpath travels through 3 different states and showcases varied landscapes and ecosystems along the way. Highlights include Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Mountains in California, the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon and the remote town of Stehekin in Washington State.

While some hikers explore small sections at a time, other folks attempt the entire trail all at once.

These intrepid adventurers are known as “thru-hikers”. This is a challenging undertaking which typically takes 5-6 months to complete. Much planning and preparation is also required to secure the proper permits and to assemble a workable PCT gear list.

Thru-hikers in the northbound direction typically start in April or May at the Southern Terminus near San Diego. These hikers must average 20 miles per day in order to finish before the snow starts falling in September or October. There is a narrow window of time each year when the trail is not covered in snow, so thru-hikers must pay careful attention to the seasons and weather when attempting this feat.

Recommended by Katy of A Rambling Unicorn

Adventurous vacations in the US

Only 1/3 of the way through this list of amazing adventurous vacations in the US! One of my favorites is up next…

7. Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park (a must-do on this list of adventures in the US)

glacier national park picture of mountainside with peaks, snow green lush hills and blue sky
Incredible adventure vacations in the US: Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana

Region: Northwest USA
Closest major airport: Glacier Park International Airport

One of the most incredible drives in the USA, the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is indescribable!

At just 49 miles, this scenic road really packs a punch. Nestled in the mountains of northern Montana, the rugged peaks, alpine lakes, roadside waterfalls and amazing overlooks will leave you speechless.

Because of it’s popularity, the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park now requires reservations during the summer months. But it’s 100% worth it!

See the famous Lake McDonald, with rocks so vibrant they’re like nature’s skittles! Hike the incredible Avalanche Lake Trail where you’ll see massive trees and a lake so beautiful you won’t believe your eyes.

Perhaps one of the most picturesque spots along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the hike to Hidden Lake Trail. It’s one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park, and one you must do if you’re in decent athletic shape.

You’ll be surrounded by the majestic peaks on all sides of you, while looking down at a gorgeous alpine lake. So stunning!

Further along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll have a chance at more lake views and waterfalls in Glacier National Park, like Saint Mary Falls and my personal favorite, Virginia Falls. You’ll also drive by the famous Wild Goose Island Viewpoint and see the Jackson Glacier from a distance.

A reservation to drive the road covers 3 days in Glacier National Park, which is adequate for this area. Be sure to save more time to explore the Two Medicine and Many Glacier areas of the park, too.

Exploring Glacier National Park in Montana is sure to be one of your favorite adventure trips in the US!

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

8. Explore Antelope Canyon

best adventure vacations in the US view of antelope canyon deep red and orange sandstone canyon walkway
Best adventure vacations in the US: walking through Antelope Canyon

Region: Southwestern USA
Closest major airport:
Page Municipal Airport, Harry Reid International Airport or Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Antelope Canyon is the most photographed slot canyon in all of Arizona. The colors, shapes, and light beams within make it one of the coolest adventure trips in the US. 

Because it’s on Navajo Nation land, all visitors must join with a guided tour from a Navajo-owned company. Tours can visit Lower Antelope Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, or Antelope Canyon X. Each tour lasts approximately 90 minutes from leaving to returning to the visitor center.

Hikes in Antelope Canyon are exciting because they showcase beautiful rock formations, beams of light in the summertime, and even changes in color in the rocks due to temperatures in the wintertime.

Visitors to Antelope Canyon should note that neither hiking backpacks nor water bladder packs are permitted inside the Canyon any longer. Even small purses and small water bottle satchels are prohibited.

This policy changed in 2021 when the Canyon reopened after a temporary closure at the beginning of the pandemic. Water bottles must be hand-carried or put in a clothing pocket.

There is an airport in Page, Arizona that Antelope Canyon tourists can fly into. However, most people tend to drive to Antelope Canyon as part of a road trip from Las Vegas or Phoenix so they can visit other sites in the area.

There are a variety of activities in Page, Arizona near Antelope Canyon. These include Horseshoe Canyon and Glen Canyon Recreation Area as well as further adventures like the Grand Canyon South Rim. You’ll love that this is an area home to the most adventurous vacations in the US!

Recommended by Brodi of Our Offbeat Life

9. Hit the trails in a UTV in Michigan’s UP (a super fun experience on this list of adventure vacations in the US!)

adventure vacations usa view of four wheeler sitting by lake at sunset
Most adventurous vacations in the US: off-roading in Michigan’s UP

Region: Upper Midwest
Fly into: Sawyer International Airport or Cherry Capital Airport

One of the best adventurous vacations in the US is going off-roading in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

With thousands of miles of trails, you absolutely won’t get bored! There’s a variety of off-road vehicles to suit your needs. Rent a dirt bike, 4×4, side-by-side UTV or Jeep and hit the trails. In the winter, many of the trails double for snowmobiles, so this is a year-round activity.

You can opt for daily rentals and explore different parts of the Upper Peninsula, or a multi-day rental so you have the ORV (off-road vehicle) longer.

Choose trails with scenic views of Lake Superior, waterfalls, forests and more! You’ll need a license to drive an ORV and trail permit to drive on any public trail. These are easy and affordable to acquire online before you go or there’s plenty of local retailers to get them – including convenience stores.

An awesome spot to go off-roading is the Ottawa National Forest. It has over 1 million acres of land and over 2300 miles of roads to explore! Rent your UTV at Headwaters Polaris in Watersmeet then hit the dirt!

If you’re looking for trails with picturesque lake views, you’ll love the Pine Ridge Trail on Lake Superior! Rent your ORV at Grand Marais Powersports and enjoy the day (or multiple) exploring the trails with killer views.

I recommend at least a long weekend enjoying the scenic routes while on a ORV in the Upper Peninsula. However, you could stay longer exploring the nearby towns, such as Marquette, Grand Marais Copper Harbor and the popular Mackinac Island.

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

10. Road trip through Alaska

road trip Alaska sights purple flowers lake at mountain scene
The vast landscapes during an Alaskan road trip adventure 😍

Region: Alaska
Closest major airport:
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

Going on an Alaska road trip needs to be on your list of adventure vacations in US! With breathtaking landscapes, stunning hiking trails and ample wildlife-watching opportunities, Alaska offers something for everyone. 

To make the most out of this stunning U.S state and to explore at your own pace, renting an RV is by far the best option. You can create your own Alaska itinerary this way, and you won’t have to worry about finding accommodations or extra costs. 

The most popular place to start a road trip through Alaska is Anchorage, as this is where you’ll find Anchorage International Airport. If you’re renting a car or an RV, it is recommended to book in advance. 

You could easily spend weeks or months road-tripping through Alaska, but of course, not everyone has that kind of time. To see the best of this state, allow yourself at least a week so you can take your time, and add on any extra sites you want to visit. 

There are endless attractions within Alaska, so you’ll have to narrow your itinerary down based on what you’re there for. If you’re in Anchorage area and want to explore the wildlife, then some of the top places to visit include the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the Beluga Point to see whales from the shore. 

Or if you’re dying to see some glaciers or just enjoy the scenery then take your trip further from Anchorage. Explore the amazing Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward area, where you can also take a boat tour to see the marine wildlife, and go on amazing hiking such as the Exit Glacier Trail and the incredible Harding Icefield hike.

Road tripping through Alaska is by far one of the most adventurous places to visit!

Depending on which season you’re visiting Alaska, you can find some great discounts on car rentals. However, if you’re traveling through the shoulder season be prepared for many restaurants and lodges to be closed. 

Some of the tour operators and hiking trails also shut after peak season, so keep this in mind for your visit. Renting an RV may be your best choice for a road trip in Alaska, as you can cook your own meals.

Recommended by Paula of Paula Pins the Planet

11. Go ziplining in Puerto Rico (another favorite on this list of adventure vacations USA)

adventure trips in usa view of road with lush rainforest and mountain peak in distance
Adventure trips in the US: El Yunque Rainforest

Region: US Caribbean Islands
Closest major airport:
Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport

If you’re looking for adventure trips in the US, look no further than Puerto Rico! Full of history, beaches and culture, this island really packs a punch!

One of the most adventurous activities is ziplining and it’s also one of the best things to do in El Yunque. The only protected tropical rainforest in the US, El Yunque National Forest is home to lush waterfalls and a diverse ecosystem just waiting to be explored.

You have several options for ziplining in El Yunque. Most of them depart from San Juan with transportation, or meet at the ziplining site. You can opt for a full day tour including ziplining and hiking to waterfalls in El Yunque.

Or you can do a half day ziplining tour, as you fly above the trees, seeing epic views of the rainforest and all the way out to the coast! It’s incredible to see the diverse landscape below you as you’re flying through the rainforest – so thrilling!

While you’re in Puerto Rico, there’s a ton of things to do in Old San Juan, in a city that’s over 500 years old! Visit the San Juan Fort, see old churches or the Insta-worthy umbrella street and visit the home to the first Pina Colada at it’s birthplace, Barrachina restaurant.

You’ll want at least 5 days in Puerto Rico. Ziplining will only take 1/2 to 1 full day, but there’s so much more to see and do on this island!

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

12. Hike the The John Muir Trail in California

adventures in the US view of mountains with large rocks hiking trail trees and mountains in distance
Epic views along the John Muir Trail😍

Region: Western USA
Closest major airport:
Reno-Tahoe International Airport or Mammoth Yosemite Airport

For an awesome bucket list adventure in the US, take a few weeks and hike the John Muir Trail.

This epic trail takes you through the Sierra Nevadas from Mount Whitney to Yosemite Valley. Thru-hiking the JMT does require some serious logistical planning, but it’s totally worth it to experience the stunning alpine scenery. You can also section hike the John Muir Trail if you don’t have time to tackle the whole 211 miles of trail all at once.

Hiking the John Muir Trail is absolutely one of the best adventures in the US because it’s a perfect way to see all the best that the Sierra Nevadas have to offer.

From the soaring granite walls of Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite to the summit of Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet), the JMT is full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The John Muir Trail also runs through the beautiful landscapes of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

You can hike the John Muir Trail either Southbound (SOBO) starting from Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park, or Northbound (NOBO) starting from Whitney Portal or Horseshoe Meadow near Lone Pine. Whichever direction you go, you will need a permit, but Southbound permits are much more competitive to get. 

Depending on where you begin, you can fly into Reno-Tahoe Airport (better for NOBO) or Mammoth Yosemite Airport (better for SOBO). You can also fly into larger California airports like San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles Airport for more (and usually cheaper) flight options, but you will just have a longer drive to the trailhead.

Recommended by Allison of She Dreams of Alpine

13. Get drenched by Niagara Falls

view of Niagara Falls from the air huge waterfall from river tiny boat below one of the best adventure vacations in the US
Adventures in the US: boating under Niagara Falls

Region: Northeastern USA
Closest major airport: Niagara Falls International Airport or Buffalo Niagara International Airport

Taking a boat up close and personal to the massive Niagara Falls is one of the best adventure vacations in US!

The Niagara Falls area is split by the Canadian side and US side. Niagara Falls, Canada is a larger city with a lot to do. But don’t sleep on Niagara Falls, New York!

One of the most popular ways to see the triple waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls is via boat. But prepare to get drenched! Since 1946 passengers and waterfall enthusiasts started crossing the Niagara River below the falls.

Thousands of people take the Maid of the Mist tours every year from May through October. You’ll see the falls in all their glory from a double-decker boat. Ponchos are given because you’ll be really close to the falls!

To experience the full roar of the waterfall, be sure to climb the Cave of the Winds and Hurricane Deck. It’s located at the Niagara Falls State Park on Goat Island on the New York side. The mist from the waterfall is so powerful they actually have to rebuild it every winter!

For alternative views, you can Walk the Shoreline Trail. And be sure to catch the falls at night when they’re lit up with colorful lights.

Note: don’t visit the falls in the winter, like my first time! 🤣Go in the spring, summer or fall for the best experience. A weekend in Niagara Falls is sufficient, or you could combine this with a longer New England road trip.

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

More adventures in the US

Can you believe all the sights and things to do across these adventure trips in the US?

Let’s keep going!

14. Hike Angel’s Landing in Zion

view of Zion from Angels Landing steep red canyon walls with river and trees below
Epic views from Angel’s Landing in Zion

Region: Southwestern USA
Closest major airport:
Harry Reid International Airport

For an epic hike in the U.S. southwest, a climb of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park is one of the best adventure vacations in the US! 

Considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, Angel’s Landing is not for the faint of heart. If you have a fear of heights, the exposure on the hike will be daunting. Part of the trail follows a knife edge ridge with steep drop-offs to the floor of Zion Canyon on either side.

The hike is a 5 mile out-and-back hike with little shade. Make sure to bring lots of water and sunscreen. The total trek takes about 4-5 hours. The trailhead is at the Grotto, a stop of the park shuttle bus just past Zion Lodge.

The first part of the hike is easy as it winds through Refrigerator Canyon on the West Rim Trail. At the head of the canyon, you will start up Walter’s Wiggles, a section of 21 steep switchbacks leading to Scout Lookout. Here you can take a break and admire the huge rock formation of Angel’s Landing. 

The climb gets steep as you ascend 500 feet of slickrock holding on to chains for protection. The cliffs on either side of you are soberingly precipitous. However, the views across all of Zion Canyon are stupendous. Spend time at the top enjoying the vast scenery before you descend the same way.

You will not be alone when you climb up Angel’s Landing. Hundreds of people line up to get on the chained section each day. To avoid the crowds, go very early in the day or in the offseason. 

A hike up Angel’s Landing is a great part of a road trip through the canyons of the southwest such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Canyonlands.

So you can see why Angel’s Landing is one of the most adventurous places to visit!

Recommended by Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler

15. Go sea cave kayaking in Channel Islands National Park (an unforgettable experience on this list of adventure vacations in the US)

adventurous vacations in the us view of narrow islands flowing into ocean with flowers in foreground
The incredibly beautiful and rugged Channel Islands National Park

Region: Western USA
Closest major airport:
Santa Barbara Airport

One of the most adventurous places to visit is located off the Coast of California. Sea cave kayaking in Channel Islands National Park is an activity you’ll never forget!

This national park offers a variety of activities including camping, hiking, whale watching and of course, sea cave kayaking. If you’re a thrill-seeker who wants a more intense kayaking adventure, then this is the perfect bucket list item for you.

Sea cave kayaking is like normal sea kayaking, except that you’re going in and out of ocean caves. What makes this adventure so unique is that every single cave has its own set of challenges that become increasingly dangerous as the waves roll in.

The inside of the caves can be sharp, rock walls that will slice you up if you can’t properly navigate the cave. Some caves require you to squeeze through small spaces while others shoot you through s-shaped canyons that you have to navigate without flipping your boat or crashing into the rocks.

You don’t have to complete this excursion on your own though. There are guided tours that will take your sea cave kayaking and each guide is highly trained and knows the caves well.

The guide will go into the cave beforehand to check that it is still safe to kayak into the cave with the current situation of the tide, and then they will instruct you on how best to safely navigate any challenges the cave may possess. 

To get to the Channel Islands, you’ll want to park at the Channel Islands Marina near Ventura, California, and take the ferry over to the island. From there you can join your tour and start your amazing bucket list adventure.

Recommended by Shannon of Adventuring With Shannon

16. Cruise through the air above Lake Erie

view of amusement park from the air colorful roller coasters and sandy beach
Adventure trips in USA: Cedar Point Amusement Park, Ohio

Region: Upper Midwest
Closest major airport:
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport

One of the most fun adventure trips in the US is in Sandusky, Ohio! Located on Lake Erie, Sandusky is home to a mix of water activities, amusement parks, restaurants, history and so much more.

One of the best things to do in Sandusky is ride the epic roller coasters at Cedar Point Amusement Park. It’s the 2nd oldest amusement park in operation in the country, at over 150 years old. But don’t worry, it’s modern-day thrilling rides don’t disappoint!

If you’re looking for the most adrenaline-pumping rides at Cedar Point, you’ve gotta try the Wicked Twister. It goes up to 215 feet in the air and clocks in at 72 mph, this twisty ride will flip your stomach with a high thrill factor.

If nostalgia is what you’re after, ride the Corkscrew. At 48 mph and with an 85-foot drop, this rickety ride is a classic! Next, check out the Gatekeeper for the best screams. This suspension ride leaves your feet dangling and your heart pumping!

There’s so many rides in Cedar Point! This park offers plenty to do for younger kids and those who aren’t looking for a twisted stomach, like a snake river and awesome on-site restaurants.

After you’re finished at the amusement park, hit the lake in style. Go parasailing over Lake Erie, with epic views of the park while you’re there.

Floating in the air with up to 800 feet of tow line is exhilarating! Kids as young as age 5 can enjoy this experience, and can go tandem with an adult (within weight limit guidelines).

For a proper trip to Sandusky, you’ll want at least a long weekend to explore the parks and rides. If you extend your time further, you can also check out the nearby islands of Put-in-Bay Ohio, which gives a tropical, beachy vibe. Or hang out and explore the nature opportunities on Kelleys Island, Ohio.

You can see why this area is considered one of the best adventure vacations USA!

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

17. Night snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii

group of manta rays in ocean with low light
Snorkel with these gentle giants: Manta Rays

Region: Hawaii
Closest major airport:
Kona International Airport

One of the best adventures in the US is night snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii! Located in Kona on the Big Island, this is an activity you’ll never forget.

Manta rays are diamond-shaped, plankton-eating fish with wing-like fins that can reach up to 12 feet in length. Unlike stingrays, manta rays are harmless without a deadly stinger.

A manta ray night snorkel tour will be about an hour long, with approximately 30 minutes in the water. Tours start at sunset and can go as late as 11pm. This easy activity is good for most ages and skill levels but can be one of the most adventurous and memorable Hawaiian experiences.

Your tour company will supply you with a wetsuit, snorkel set and ankle floaties before taking a short boat ride to the designated snorkel area, wasting no time getting into the ocean water. If you’re prone to seasickness, you might want to take motion sickness preventatives prior to departure.

Once you’re in the water, hold onto a boogie board with blue lights shining down into the dark abyss. The light attracts the plankton which in turn attract the manta rays for feeding. 

You usually don’t have to wait long for the show to begin! These gentle giants will come up from the deep and with their enormous mouths wide open, swim upwards towards the surface – towards your face! Just as you think you might get swallowed up, the manta ray will take a sharp turn, belly up, and somersault back down towards the ocean floor.

The “dance” will continue until the lights get turned off, they get distracted by neighboring lights, or decide it’s time for bed.

To see the manta rays without getting in the water, some tours offer a boatride-only option. Or you can visit the Outrigger Kona Resort’s viewing deck as they shine lights into the ocean to attract them nearer to shore.

Recommended by Tabitha of Travel Compositions

18. Chase waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains (one of the best adventure vacations in the US for hikers)

adventure vacations in the US: view of waterfall with green trees behind and white flowing water
The beautiful Abrams Falls, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Region: Eastern USA
Closest major airport:
McGhee Tyson Airport

One of the best adventure vacations in the US has got to be hiking to waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans the Tennessee and North Carolina border, and is full of adventure.

At over 500,000 acres, this national park is huge! It’s also the most popular national park in the US for visitors, with over 14 million annually! So while the summer months provide the best weather for hiking and exploring the park, that’s also when the most crowds are on the hiking trails and roads.

A trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in spring is recommended if you’re going there for the waterfalls. The lush, flowing falls are breathtaking!

For the easiest hike, try the Laurel Falls Trail. Coming in at 2.4 miles, this trail is rated as easy and doable for most skill levels. It’s also one of the most popular hiking trails in the park so it gets quite busy.

Grotto Falls Smoky Mountains is perhaps one of the most fun, interactive trails for chasing waterfalls. At 2.6 miles, this is a moderate trail but still possible for most skill levels.

If you’re up for more of a challenge, Abrams Falls Trail in the Smoky Mountains is a 5.5 mile, moderate hike. You’ll want to wear good hiking shoes and bring trekking poles for this one. And you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful waterfall for your hard work!

For the best experience while chasing waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains, arrive at the park and trailhead early. You’ll beat the crowds and be able to park in the lot instead of 1/2 mile further up the road.

While in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to hike to Clingman’s Dome, which offers 360 degree views of the mountains! And if you’re looking for the best sunset locations, Morton Overlook is the perfect spot to watch! Just be sure to pack layers as it gets cold up in the mountains once the sun goes down.

You’ll want 3-5 days in the Smoky Mountains. There are plenty of hiking trails and overlooks. Plus the fun city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee has a vibrant restaurant scene and tons of things to do.

Recommended by me – Nikki of She Saves She Travels

19. Take a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon

view of Grand Canyon large peaks in canyon with rocky stripes and shadows at sunset
Epic views of the Grand Canyon😍

Region: Southwestern USA
Closest major airport:
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport or Harry Reid International Airport

Taking a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon is one of the best adventure vacations in US! A helicopter tour is one of the best things to do during a one-day visit to Grand Canyon National Park.

What better way to see the beauty of the canyon than from the sky? 

You can book helicopter tours over the Grand Canyon from multiple nearby places including Las Vegas, Nevada, Page, Arizona, Sedona, Arizona and Grand Canyon Village, Arizona. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early to fill out paperwork and watch your safety briefing. 

The most common helicopter tours last around 30 minutes or less and can accommodate up to 6 passengers. Be advised that weight is important to the safety of your flight and you will be required to provide your weight when booking a tour. 

Flying in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon is something that you will remember for the rest of your life! If you ever get the opportunity, make sure to take it. 

The Grand Canyon has so much to offer visitors. You can ride a mule into the canyon, go camping or rafting, check out the Grand Canyon Skywalk and of course, hiking. Check out the Shoshone Point Trail in the South Rim or Transcept Trail in the North Rim. You could go to Grand Canyon for just a day or spend a week hiking the epic trails here!

Recommended by Janae of Adventures With TuckNae

20. Go kayaking in a cave in Missouri

adventure vacations in the US: view of inside of cave from kayak dark water grey and orange cave and spotlight on kayaker ahead
Inside Crystal City Underground Cave

Region: Midwest
Closest major airport:
St. Louis Lambert International Airport

The heartland is an often overlooked region of the US but it has hidden gems of its own.

Crystal City Underground Cave in Missouri provides a bucket list opportunity right in the Midwest and it might just be one of Missouri’s best kept secrets!

If you’ve ever wanted to kayak underground this is your chance. Glide along as a knowledgeable guide leads you deep underground through an expansive network of underground cave systems.

You must take the guided tour to access the cave and kayaks, lifejackets, headlamps etc. are provided.

Current cost per person is $45 (subject to change) and the tour runs year round. The tour lasts approximately 2 hours. Prior kayaking experience is helpful but it is not required.

Crystal City Underground Cave is located less than an hour south of St. Louis in Crystal City Missouri by car. The closest airport is St. Louis International Airport (45 miles). 

Looking for other activities for nature lovers in Missouri? There are 2 popular sites within driving distance. Pickle Springs Natural Area hiking trail is one of the most scenic in the state and Elephant Rocks State Park is named for its collection of giant  boulders that resembles a train of circus elephants.

Recommended by Angie of We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Adventures in the US (a recap)

adventures in the US hawaii napali coast jagged mountain peaks green lush forest ocean below
One more view of the helicopter tour on the Kauai NaPali Coast (#3 above)

Can you believe this list?! What an incredibly diverse landscape with endless adventure activities! Whether you’re into hiking or road trips, water activities or helicopter rides, there’s so many great active vacations in the US!

Let’s recap this list again, in a quicker fashion…

Adventurous vacations in the US

  1. Road trip down the California Coast
  2. Climb the Telluride Via Ferrata
  3. Soar over the NaPali Coast in Kauai
  4. Go sea kayaking in Acadia National Park
  5. Snorkeling in Dry Tortugas National Park
  6. Hike the Pacific Crest Trail
  7. Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park
  8. Explore Antelope Canyon
  9. Hit the trails in a UTV in Michigan’s UP
  10. Road trip through Alaska
  11. Go ziplining in Puerto Rico
  12. Hike the The John Muir Trail in California
  13. Get drenched by Niagara Falls
  14. Hike Angel’s Landing in Zion
  15. Go sea cave kayaking in Channel Islands National Park
  16. Cruise through the air above Lake Erie
  17. Night snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii
  18. Chase waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains
  19. Take a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon
  20. Go kayaking in a cave in Missouri

Related content you might like:
28 Underrated Travel Destinations in the US You Need to See

28 Absolutely Best National Parks to Visit in Summer
30 Hiking Trails for Beginners in the USA
101 Travel Bucket List Ideas + How to Create Your Own List
35 Cheapest Beach Vacations: Swoon-worthy Destinations You Need to See

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best of the USA 20 epic bucket list adventures mountain scene with flowers road through jungle and coast with teal water

Brittany

Saturday 4th of June 2022

These adventures all sound so amazing! We almost went sea kayaking in Acadia National Park last fall, but we opted to stay in Portland an extra day, instead. I have road-tripped through Alaska though, and agree - that's a great adventure!

Nikki

Monday 6th of June 2022

Oh cool Britany! I bet Portland was a great day too! Fun to hear you loved your Alaska road trip. There's just so many things to do in this country and not enough time 🤣

Amy

Saturday 4th of June 2022

Wow! These are some great adventure ideas! I've been lucky enough to have done some of these, but might add another one or two to the list!

Nikki

Monday 6th of June 2022

Oh awesome, Amy! I hope you get to try a few more soon 💛

Kristin

Saturday 4th of June 2022

Great list!

Nikki

Monday 6th of June 2022

Thanks Kristin!

Alexandra

Saturday 4th of June 2022

Epic is no understatement 👏🏻 What a great list to get to see this country! I think I’ll start with kayaking!

Nikki

Monday 6th of June 2022

Love it! Kayaking is one of my faves too, and this list provides a few great options for that :)