The third-largest country covering a massive 3.797 million mi², it can come as no surprise that there is a diverse variety of adventures and outdoor sports USA. With 95,471 miles of coastline, three major mountain ranges (the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the Appalachian Mountains), 1681 lakes, 250,000 rivers, and lots and lots of airspace, the opportunities for outdoor experiences are almost unlimited.
I’ve had the good fortune to explore a lot of my beloved country and test my resolve with exploits ranging from soft to adrenaline-raising at some incredible adventure getaways in the US.
Here are my ten favorite USA adventures and outdoor sports!
10 Zipline – Columbus, GA
Flying through the air in a harness suspended from a steel cable, propelled only by gravity, the relatively new adventure sport of ziplining is has taken hold as a vacation activity. In addition to the more extreme canopy tours which soar over rainforests and canyons beneath, there are also zipline parks with shorter and lower routes, suitable for children as young as eight years old.
While it’s certainly not the longest, highest, fastest, or most extreme zip line I’ve done, my favorite US zipline is in Columbus, Georgia. What makes “Zip the Hooch” so unique is that the first platform is in Columbus, Georgia, but with your first launch over the Chattahoochee River, you find yourself landing in Phenix City, Alabama!
9 Snorkel – Florida Keys
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located in Key Largo, is my favorite snorkeling spot in the US. Encompassing approximately 70 nautical square miles, it contains stunning living reefs and was the first undersea park in the United States.
These reefs are found from three to five miles offshore and contain White Banks Dry Rocks, Cannon Patch, Grecian Rocks, Banana Reef, and Garret’s reefs
One of the most famous sites in Pennekamp Park is the Christ of the Abyss statue located near North Dry Rocks. Standing 8.5 feet- tall and weighing 4,000 lbs., the statue is submerged 25 feet below the surface and is a popular site for scuba divers and snorkelers.
8 Offroading – Sedona, AZ
The red-rock buttes and steep canyon walls make Sedona one of the most striking areas in the United States. In addition, the mild climate, colorful and quirky New Age arts shops, and unique art galleries all add to the city’s touristic appeal.
One of the best ways to see the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the red rocks is via a legendary Pink Jeep Tour. From mellow canyons to cliff-hanging summits, the jeep tours traverse the diverse terrain that would either take too much time or be too difficult to hike. Knowledgeable guides/drivers also provide history, geography, and entertaining stories along the way.
7 Rafting – Chattooga River, SC
Named “The Number One Thing Every Southerner Ought To Do” by Southern Living Magazine, the 26-mile stretch of white water in the Blue Ridge Mountains is at the same time scenic and wild. The movie Deliverance was filmed here, adding to the allure.
We tested our strength and resolve with a variety of rapids, from calm to bouncy to the famous Bull Sluice, the Class IV rapid that drops a heart-stopping 14 feet! You WILL get wet!
6 Kayak– Inside Passage, AK
One of my most memorable journeys in the United States was my small ship adventure with AdventureSmith Explorations in Alaska’s Inside Passage. On the 12-passenger wooden ship, we were able to enter coves, channels, inlets, and secluded bays too shallow for larger ships to safely navigate. It was the perfect scenario for kayaking excursions.
Depending on the time of day and weather – which can change from clear to stormy with little-to-no warning – the paddling will be on calm waters or upstream currents which can be more difficult to navigate. The variety of physical involvement made each kayaking excursion unique and fun.
5 Hike – San Diego, CA
Boasting a diversity of mountainous and hilly terrain, the United States has no shortage of spectacular hikes. My very favorite is the hike to Potato Chip Rock, near San Diego.
Starting at the Lake Poway Recreational Center, the arduous hike uphill to the nearly 3,000-foot summit took 3.5 hours. But all along the way, the ever-changing scenery made the time pass quickly. From lake overviews, steep switchbacks, huge boulder formations, and canyon vistas, the photo ops are almost limitless.
But none as spectacular as when we arrived at the summit. Dubbed “Potato Chip,” the natural wonder is a sliver of rock that protrudes over the canyon. You have to clamber over a crevice to get to it, which I have to admit was a little daunting, but not as frightening as inching on my backside to the edge of the rock.
Potato Chip is worth the effort and remains not only my favorite US hike but ranks as one of my favorite in all the world.
Related: How I Conquered Potato Chip Rock
4 Hang Glide – Outer Banks, NC
Having already experienced and loved skydiving, I wanted to check out hang glide to see how they compare. So what better place than where the Wright Brothers launched the first-ever flight – Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminum alloy or composite frame covered with synthetic sailcloth to form a wing. They are towed up into the air by an ultralight plane, then the tow rope is released, and voila, you are gracefully soaring like a bird.
Panoramic vistas of the gray-blue Atlantic Ocean, the Currituck Sound, and the Outer Banks are nothing short of spectacular from above! And the stalls, dives, and turns made tandem hang gliding so exciting and memorable, not to mention getting the opportunity to steer the craft!
Hang gliding is a lot different than skydiving, and unlike skydiving, an adventure that I could easily recommend for just about everyone.
Note: The Outer Banks is the perfect destination for a road trip! Car Rentals from $8.98 A Day: 7 Major Car Vendors, 15,000 Locations, Save Up to 40%.
3 Dogsled – Bend, OR
Near the base of snow-capped Mt. Bachelor in the Deschutes National Forest, I scrambled into the Iditarod sled’s bright red basket and bundled myself under the layers of blankets. Driver Jerry from Trail of Dreams released the brake, and yelled, “Hey!” and suddenly the dogs shot forward, dashing down the hill at what felt like breakneck speed, whipping snow into my face.
It was such an exhilarating rush, as we zoomed through the snow-frosted trees under a periwinkle-blue sky, reminiscent of a scene from a Grimm fairytale.
I loved the approach taken with the Huskies; No whips or “motivational” instruments of any kind were needed or wanted. The dogs respond solely to various inflections of Jerry’s voice commands.
2 Scuba Dive – St. Thomas, USVI
They say you never forget your first, and such it is with scuba diving in St. Thomas. I’ve surely dived in more intense and beautiful spots such as diving the Great Barrier Reef, as well as had some not-so-amazing experiences, such as getting lost from my group because of very rough currents in Puerto Rico. But nothing can compete with the awe of my first introduction to the ethereal underworld.
That first dive was surreal. Sights and sounds underwater give you the sense that you’re no longer on Earth. Because we were all beginners, the divemaster did a land-entrance, walking into the shallow water from the beach. After acclimating to the strange feeling of breathing underwater, we swam out into deeper water.
The first thing that happened was a school of thousands of small, yellow fish surrounded us, swimming in a circle around us for several minutes. It was so cool! Even though I have dived many times since then, including getting my diving certification in Bali, that phenomenon never happened to me again.
Related: Belize Diving: Great for Beginners
1 Skydive – Oahu, HI
Why yes, I saved the most memorable adventure for last! Over the North Shore of Oahu, I jumped out of a perfectly good plane…
At nearly 15,000 feet – the highest you can go without oxygen – my tandem pilot pushed me out the door. That first freefall at 200 mph is certainly an adrenaline rush, the wind whipping your face so cold and intense it’s hard to breathe.
A small drogue chute which slowed us down to about 120 mph, enough of a change so that I could enjoy the views below and interact with my tandem pilot and the videographer who had jumped right after us.
When we had descended to around 5,000 feet, the main chute was deployed and we drifted more slowly toward land, a truly memorable view of the gorgeous North Shore before we landed softly and expertly.
Would you like to try some of these adventures yourself? I hope you do! Let me know below, then go out and explore this fabulous country!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.