If you’ve ever Googled adventure activities in the USA, you usually come up with the same lame list of hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, etc. Not that these outdoor activities aren’t fun or bucket list worthy, but you can do them just about anywhere. And not to knock national parks (clearly I’m a huge fan), but sometimes, you just want grand American adventures. Something to write home about. Something that will make your friends say WTF did you do on vacation? For instance, did you know you could go wreck diving in Michigan, caving in Texas, wingsuit flying in Arizona, and snorkel with manta rays in Hawaii? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re ready to turn up, these are some of the most insanely cool, hair-raising, unexpected adventure activities you had no idea you could do right here in America. Some of these are more extreme than others, but at a minimum, they’re all extremely epic. Add these incredible adventures to your summer to-do list because we’re kicking your bucket list up a notch.
Here are the most offbeat adventures my travel friends and I could dig up:
Cliff Camping – Estes Park, Colorado
Normal people sleep on the ground when they’re camping or even in a bed when glamping, but if you’re looking to step up the thrill factor a bit, you can actually sleep in a tent suspended off a sheer rock face. It may sound crazy, but take one look at the photos and the extreme adventurers will be drooling. To get to your sleep setup, you can either hike to the top and rappel down (the easier route) or for the experienced rock climbers, scale up the big wall to your makeshift campsite called a portaledge. Starting at $1200 a person, the experience certainly isn’t cheap, but it is definitely one you’ll remember forever.
If that all sounds a bit too intense, they also offer “cliffnics” a lunch or dinner suspended 75 feet in the air to an epic backdrop of Longs Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park. You just need to hike, climb, rock climb, and rappel to get there.
Summer Dog Sledding – Breckenridge, Colorado
When you think of dogsledding, you probably imagine racing through a winter wonderland in a snow globe come to life. And you’re not wrong; most dog sledding does require, well, snow. Breckenridge figures the dogs need exercise in the summer too, so they may as well let them run – while pulling you along for the ride. They use a contraption called a Tug and Tow, which is basically a hybrid bike/scooter and also offer rides with the dogs pulling golf carts. Yes, it looks as goofy as it sounds.
BASE Jump – Twin Falls, Idaho
The way to one-up skydiving and bungee jumping, Idaho is one of the few places in the country that offers tandem BASE jumping to get a feel for the sport (literally). Strapped to the back of an instructor, you’ll hurl yourself off the side of the Perrine Bridge, which is one of the only man-made structures in the United States where BASE jumping is allowed year-round without a permit. Try to remember to open your eyes and unclench your fists so you can take in the epic views as you freefall above Snake River Canyon slowly gliding your way across the sky.
Cage Diving with Sharks – Oahu, Hawaii
Cage diving is popular in countries like South Africa, but you may not know it’s also accessible right in America in states like Florida, California, and Hawaii. From the safety of a David Blaine like plexiglass box, you’ll come face to face with some the ocean’s biggest predators. Outfitted with a mask and snorkel, you’ll have an underwater encounter with 400-pound Galapagos and Sandbar Sharks in Hawaii’s beautiful Northshore, dispelling any myths of becoming their next meal. The tour is actually all about ecotourism and crushing the stereotypes that movies like Jaws and the media create, which makes us a fan.
Snorkel with Endangered Manatees – Crystal River, Florida
Recommended by TheHotFlashPacker
Known as Sea Cows, manatees are the watery cousins of the elephant. Weighing up to 1,200 pounds each, these gentle giants are found around the Caribbean, and in Florida. The Crystal River and Three Sisters Spring have nearly constant water temperature, so many manatees make this their winter home. This same water is quite cold for humans, so a wetsuit offers us the ability to snorkel with them. While you’re not allowed to touch the manatees, they aren’t scared of humans, which offer the unique ability to watch them munch on seagrass, come up for air, and frolic around you. You may even get a surprise as one manatee managed to blow air, water, and whatever else was in his nose all over me!
Traverse the Via Ferrata – Telluride, Colorado
Recommended by Jill of Jack and Jill Travel the World
Via Ferrata is a type of protected climbing route that became popular in World War I as a way to aid the movement of troops across the Alps. Nowadays, via ferrata are a unique outdoor challenge built for adventurers. While they are more commonly found in Europe, there are a few scattered across North America. One of the best is in Telluride, which circumvents the cliff above the town providing spectacular exposure. There’s no entrance fee, but you may want to go with a professional guide who can provide you gear and instruction. It’s certainly one way to conquer your fear of heights.
Feed Rescue Tigers – Phelan, California
Recommended by Dave of Dave on Arrival
Just over the mountain from Los Angeles is a tiny town in the desert called Phelan. Home to the exotic animal rescue center, Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary, they take in exotic animals from Fish & Wildlife Departments, private owners, and animal control centers that wouldn’t survive in the wild and would otherwise be put down. They rescue everything from reptiles, monkeys, and birds to bigger mammals such as leopards, tigers, and even bears. While you can simply view the animals in their new forever home, they also offer a more unique experience — to feed the tigers, black leopard, alligators, and monkeys. Outfitted with a pole to reach through the cage, meat is put on the end to nourish your new friends.
For another unique exotic animal experience in the USA, check out my experience at Myrtle Beach Safari.
Search for Sapphires – Philipsburg, Montana
Recommended by Corinne Vail of Reflections Enroute
Adventure comes in so many forms; one of my favorites is a quest. On this particular day, we were in search of sapphires on a real-life treasure hunt. We climbed over the mountains and through the valley until we reached a small town called Philipsburg, Montana, home to Gem Mountain. An outpost reminiscent of a real western mining camp, you can buy buckets of pre-washed gravel from local riverbeds where you hunt, peck, and brush in search of gemstones. At $15 a bucket it’s a little pricey, but totally addicting when you start locating some serious shiners. Out of the five of us, we found a total of 14 semi precious stones, mostly worthless, but one was a true “gem.” It was a rare peach-colored sapphire that my daughter and her fiancé ended up making into their engagement ring.
SCUBA in a Sharks’ Cave – Maui, Hawaii
Recommended by Jess of LongestBusRides
I had the most unexpected surprise after completing my PADI open water SCUBA course in Maui. Halfway through the lesson, my instructor asked if I wanted to check out a small cave where sharks and other animals reside. “Of course!” I exclaimed, my face lighting up despite my pre-dawn wake-up call that morning.
We swam from shore and descended about 20 feet. Observing the colorful coral and flittering fish, we paddled out for several minutes before arriving in the cave. Wielding my long fins and tank, I was careful to maneuver through the narrow entrance to avoiding damaging any of the coral. The light was dim, but not pitch black. My instructor shone his flashlight around the interior. There was an 8-foot black tipped shark near one wall lying quite still near the sandy bottom. Under a ledge on the other side of the cave were two huge sea turtles. The turtles didn’t approve of my presence and quickly retreated, but the shark stayed still with a watchful eye on the humans. Then, with a swift whip of its long, lithe body it shot out of the cave, leaving my instructor and me alone in the solitude of the underworld.
To emulate this experience, book a dive in Kihei and request to dive with sharks. Of course, what you ultimately see and do will depend on nature (weather, animals, etc.) as well as your skills and that of the other divers. Keep in mind that this cave is small and fragile, and may not be capable of holding many people. A private tour may be your best bet.
And there you have it, proof that adventure can be found in every corner of the country, even where you’re least expecting it.
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