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Best Adventure Vacations in the USA

Get your adrenaline fix in one of these 15 heart-pumping destinations.

U.S. News & World Report

Best Adventure Vacations in the USA

Young woman with backpack sitting on an edge of cliff and looking to the sky.
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Whether you like to hike, fish, surf or climb, you'll find an adventure to suit your tastes.

From the country's hallowed national parks to the peaks of northern Maine to the sands of Hawaii, this year's 15 Best Adventure Vacations in the USA will appeal to all thrill-seekers. Combining reader feedback and expert analysis, U.S. News found the top destinations throughout the country for hikers, climbers, surfers, bikers and all active types.
A male alpine skier smiles while skiing untracked groomers in Colorado.
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(Getty Images)

15. Vail, Colorado

Nestled between the Gore Mountain Range to the north and the Sawatch Range to the south, Vail is a sought-after destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Vail Ski Resort's 5,289 acres boast jagged peaks and more than 190 trails for skiers of all levels, while nearby Beaver Creek is home to nearly 150 trails and a 4,040-foot vertical rise. If you're visiting during the warmer months, Holy Cross Wilderness area is an expansive playground for hikers and boaters alike, as well as a prime location for spotting wildlife and taking panoramic photos. Eagles Nest Wilderness is also a popular spot for hikers, as it spans nearly 133,500 acres of the Gore Mountain Range and includes 180 miles of rugged and challenging trails.
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Whether you like to hike, fish, surf or climb, you'll find an adventure to suit your tastes.

From the country's hallowed national parks to the peaks of northern Maine to the sands of Hawaii, this year's 15 Best Adventure Vacations in the USA will appeal to all thrill-seekers. Combining reader feedback and expert analysis, U.S. News found the top destinations throughout the country for hikers, climbers, surfers, bikers and all active types.

15. Vail, Colorado

Nestled between the Gore Mountain Range to the north and the Sawatch Range to the south, Vail is a sought-after destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Vail Ski Resort's 5,289 acres boast jagged peaks and more than 190 trails for skiers of all levels, while nearby Beaver Creek is home to nearly 150 trails and a 4,040-foot vertical rise. If you're visiting during the warmer months, Holy Cross Wilderness area is an expansive playground for hikers and boaters alike, as well as a prime location for spotting wildlife and taking panoramic photos. Eagles Nest Wilderness is also a popular spot for hikers, as it spans nearly 133,500 acres of the Gore Mountain Range and includes 180 miles of rugged and challenging trails.

14. Boulder, Colorado

Famous for the Flatirons, Boulder is a prime destination for avid hikers and rock climbers. Thrill-seekers and sightseers alike both appreciate Chautauqua Park, which offers vast green space, as well as easy walking trails and rock climbing. If you're looking for more of a challenge, head to Eldorado Canyon State Park. Its 885 acres offer ample opportunities to rock climb, kayak, horseback ride and hike (previous travelers highly recommend the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail for its views of the Continental Divide).

13. Sedona, Arizona

With more than 100 trails throughout Sedona's famous red rocks, this is the place to come if you love to hike. Recent visitors suggest stopping at The Hike House before setting out, where staff members can help you decide which trail is right for you based on your time frame and skill level. Another must-visit spot is Red Rock State Park; here you can take guided hikes (even at night) or cool off with a swim in Oak Creek. But of course, no trip to Sedona would be complete without a visit to one of the area's many spas, which offer a relaxing way to end your adrenaline-fueled vacation.

12. Adirondacks

From the speedy bobsled runs at the Olympic Sports Complex to the fresh powder on Whiteface Mountain to the hiking trails on High Peaks to the kayak-friendly waters at the St. Regis Canoe Area, the Adirondacks have something for every adventure-seeker. To take in all of the sights at once, book a scenic aerial tour of the lakes, peaks and Olympic venues that make this area in upstate New York so special. No matter the season you decide to visit, rustic log cabins and picturesque natural scenery will be there to welcome you to the area.

11. Juneau, Alaska

If you're eager to explore America's Last Frontier, then look no further than Juneau. Here, you can spot bears, whales, seals, eagles and crumbling glaciers at Tracy Arm Fjord – a narrow waterway surrounded by sharp and staggering cliffs. Or, dogsled and hike on the Mendenhall Glacier, a majestic sheet of ice that's 13 miles long. You can also raft on Mendenhall Lake, or take a tour through Alaska's often overlooked rainforest at Glacier Gardens.

10. Maui, Hawaii

Home to the world's most dormant volcano, Maui's Haleakala National Park spans more than 30,000 acres. The park also features the sea level Pipiwai Trail, which leads hikers along Maui's southeast coast to Waimoku Falls and the Pools of Oheo in Oheo Gulch. Snorkelers and strong swimmers will enjoy Kaanapali Beach (be careful; the currents are deceptively strong) while surfers travel the globe to test their luck at Ho'okipa Beach.

9. Acadia National Park

Standing 1,530 feet tall, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the first place in the country to see the sunrise between early October and early March. It's also the tallest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard, making it the preferred playground for avid hikers. If you're more of a fan of rock climbing, head to Otter Cliff to scramble up the towering granite walls. And if you like both hiking and climbing, check out the Precipice Trail, a challenging 2-mile round-trip hike that includes both. A word to the wise: This trek isn't for the faint of heart, as there are sections that require climbing up ladders and iron rungs that have been fastened into the side of Champlain Mountain.

8. Hawaii - The Big Island

The largest of Hawaii's islands features lush jungles, five volcanoes (some are still active), snorkeling or boating off of the coast and hiking through Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and the Hakalau Forest. Looking for an excursion with a little less intensity? Hike Akaka Falls State Park, which ends with the cascading Kahuna Falls and the free-falling Akaka Falls.

7. Anchorage, Alaska

From the craggy cliffs of Chugach State Park to the more family-friendly Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage appeals to daredevils and families alike. Chugach State Park is an ideal base for rock climbers, while the 11-mile paved Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is great for those who want to take in the views without hiking up cliffs. Meanwhile, the 1,400-acre Kincaid Park boasts dozens of hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails, and like almost everywhere else in Anchorage, is an excellent place to spot wildlife.

6. Kauai, Hawaii

Home to the famous Kalalau Trail, a steep 15 miles of coast known as "the cliffs," Kauai beckons to those seeking a rugged vacation. For more dramatic views, head to Waimea Canyon, which is referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." You can choose to drive down the canyon or hike, but you should go early either way to avoid the crowds.

5. Lake Tahoe, California

During the summer, Lake Tahoe's clear waters are a welcome sight for swimmers, while its mountainous trails are a favorite for powder hounds in the fall and winter. Sitting on the California-Nevada border, this popular tourist destination has drawn crowds for generations, but thrill-seekers can still find peace in Emerald Bay State Park, an area that was formed millions of years ago by glaciers and now boasts panoramic views, hiking trails and even the Underwater Park for scuba divers.

4. Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole is a favorite destination for winter enthusiasts thanks to its plethora of cold-weather activities such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding and snow tubing. But those planning a warm-weather getaway will also find plenty to keep them busy, from the Grand Teton's backcountry hiking trails to the Snake River's rapids and calmer fishing pools. There's also all-terrain vehicle rentals and tours, horseback riding through the wilderness, golfing, hunting and rock climbing. In the fall, make a point to visit the National Elk Refuge to learn all about the large animals that call this area home.

3. Yosemite, California

Yosemite's 1,200 square miles boast deep valleys, towering peaks and majestic glaciers, so it's no wonder that it's drawn visitors for more than a century. Hikers especially love this area, as there are numerous trails to explore through Yosemite Valley, White Wolf and Hetch Hetchy, to name a few. When temperatures drop, there's plenty of cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding in the Badger Pass ski area.

2. Yellowstone

Established in 1872 as the country's first national park, Yellowstone's 28,000 square miles are home to the Old Faithful geyser, mountains, canyons, bald eagles and 67 species of mammals. While you can see some of the sprawling park from your car, the best way to experience Yellowstone is by strapping on some hiking boots. During the warmer months, you can trek through the backcountry, canoe or kayak on Yellowstone Lake or Lewis Lake, bike along the trails or park's roads, cast your line into the waters for a day of fishing or horseback ride down scenic trails.

1. Grand Canyon

A mile deep and about 10 miles wide, the Grand Canyon's panoramic vistas have attracted sightseers for decades. Day-trippers can explore either the North Rim or South Rim by foot or from the back of a mule. There are half-day trips and overnight rides that take visitors down to the bottom of the canyon for a stay at Phantom Ranch. More intrepid travelers can backpack overnight below the rim, bike along the canyon's trails or take on the Colorado River rapids on a whitewater rafting trip.
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