Some folks seek serenity on their vacations. Others plan around Broadway shows, museum exhibits, or concerts. And then there are those of us who yearn to escape the day-to-day by throwing a little adrenaline into the vacation mix. If you fall into this category, we’ve put together a list of our top ten favorite adventure-inspiring destinations from every region of the United States to help jumpstart your vacation planning.
Snorkel off Sanibel Island, Florida
The string of islands ringing the harbor into Fort Myers resounds with wildlife, both above and below the ocean surface. Snorkelers and scuba divers head to Cayo Costa State Park to dive in right from the beach, or take a guide boat out to the artificial reefs and sunken vessels scattered on the ocean floor around the islands. After a full day under the water, break out the binoculars and explore the surface at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, home to over 230 species of migratory birds.
Surf in Newport Beach, California
Surfers don’t flock to Newport Beach to escape the crowds – it’s a hugely popular spot. Newport Beach is a magnet for its surf culture, easy access, and variety of beach spots with surf action that ranges from novice-sized waves to full-on curling tubes of water. Experienced surfers should head to the beach as early as possible to beat the crowds; beginners would be well-advised to sign on for lessons rather than learn on their own.
Fly-fish Hood River, Oregon
Look up from any point in the Hood River area and you’ll see the glacier fields of Mt. Hood seeming to float in the distance. Most fly-fishers, however, spend their time looking down into the clear, bubbling waters of the dozens of rivers and creeks that flow through the area, including the mighty Columbia, the lower Deschutes, the Clackamas and the Sandy rivers. A vacation rental in Hood River makes a perfect base camp for the fly-fishers who crave full days of landing steelheads and trout, followed by evenings in a town of brewpubs and excellent casual dining.
Hike in Stowe, Vermont
Stowe may be better known for its winter sports, but don’t miss the chance to experience Vermont in the fall when the hiking trails meander through blazing fields of autumn leaves. Nicely situated between the White Mountains to the east, the Adirondack Park to the west, and the Green Mountains to the south, Stowe is just the place for a fall hiking vacation. For a real challenge, summit Mt. Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont!
Soar above the Outer Banks, North Carolina
Those who’ve experienced the Outer Banks know the incredible spectrum of beach adventures available here, from boogie boarding to kite flying. In the spirit of the Wright Brothers, who tested their Flyer on these beaches in 1903, let’s focus on getting airborne. The inner sound of the islands create a wind channel the supports phenomenal kiteboarding; those of us who may be less athletic, but still yearn to soar above the water, try parasailing, where the boat does all the work! Either way offers a bird’s eye view like no other.
Nordic Skiing in Winter Park, Colorado
Think about a ski vacation in Winter Park, and the first picture that comes to mind probably involves shredding down the slopes in alpine gear. Fewer people are aware that Winter Park offers some of the best cross-country trails in the country, and is a mecca for nordic skiers of all abilities. Nordic skiing has several advantages: the trail passes are far cheaper, the cardio workout level is much greater, and there’s no line to the chairlift! Grand Lake Nordic Center and Snow Mountain Nordic Center are both terrific resources and within an easy drive from most vacation homes.
Canoe out of Grand Marais, Minnesota
When people call Minnesota the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” they’re not exaggerating – they’ve just lost count. The lush ruggedness of the northern woods is truly best experienced from a canoe. Where else can you round a rocky shore and spot a long-legged moose ambling through the reeds? Grand Marais hugs the shore of Lake Superior and provides the last bastion of civilization before the legendary Boundary Waters stretches off into Canada, and many visitors spend a few days in the local vacation homes either before or after a Boundary Waters canoe camping expedition.
Shred it up at Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Really, forty-six feet of snow is just too much to fathom! That is, however, the official measurement for the 2011 season at Jackson Hole. If it’s steep and deep you’re seeking, start planning your trip to Jackson Hole. The variety of runs, groomed and ungroomed, plus terrain park features for the freestyle crowd, make Jackson Hole appeal to every sort of snow rider, whether on skis or on a board.
Mountaineering at Yosemite National Park, California
It may have been the incredible biodiversity that inspired UNESCO to designate much of this area a World Heritage Site, but it’s really the awe-inspiring granite cliffs that draw mountain climbers from all around the world. Yosemite is considered the heart of mountaineering in America, with legendary features like El Capitan and the Merced River Canyon. A successful trip to Yosemite requires knowing the ropes, both literally and figuratively! Guide services and lessons are a great idea, and as with all outdoor recreation, leave no trace behind when you go.
Sea Kayak the San Juan Islands, Washington
Sitting right at the ocean surface, surging forward by the force of your own paddle, waiting for that unmistkable black and white Orca nose to poke through the water… this is an experience that should be on every adventure enthusiast’s bucket list. The San Juan Islands, north of Seattle, are accessed by ferry or by seaplane, and offer the ultimate Pacific Northwest adventure. Whale-watching by kayak is fantastic, but even paddling close to shore along the tidal zones gives views of smaller wildlife that can’t be beat.
Suzanne Johnson lives, writes and plays in the Cascade mountains of Oregon with her family of adventure-prone boys. More of her writing can be found a SuzanneMyhreJohnson.com.