Top 25 Summer Adventures in the United States
Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
When it comes to outdoor adventures you can enjoy over the summer, the United States has an abundance of destinations to choose from.
Say what you will about its politics, as far as raw beauty, and activities for outdoor enthusiasts the U.S. is holy land.
Some adventures on this list are more expensive than others but you can definitely find summer vacation destinations within your budget.
Choosing which vacation destination to relax at the summer is the difficult part because there are so many great places to choose from; both within the continental United States and outside of her borders.
Here are the top 25 summer adventure destinations in the United States:
Table of Contents
#25. Hike Glacier Peak, Washington
The Pacific Northwest’s wilderness gem. A four-day backpacking loop around Glacier Peak, 10,541 feet (3,213 meters), about 32-40 miles depending on your route, with plenty of rock ribs and glaciers. This is not for the faint of heart, but darn it, if it ain’t worth the effort!
#24. Run the TransRockies, Colorado
The TransRockies six-day stage race from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek is the most spectacular and difficult trail run in the country. For pros, there’s a purse ($20K). For the rest of us, there’s a boast-worthy vacation: 113 miles (182 kilometers) and 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) of elevation gain, all above 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) amid grandiose ruggedness. Fore-Tex TransRockies Run; August 23-28
#23. Boulder Hueco Tanks, Texas
It’s the climber’s equivalent of Mecca: Every winter, between November and March, thousands of climbers from across the world make the pilgrimage to Hueco Tanks, an 860-acre (348-hectare) bouldering area outside El Paso, Texas, with more than 2,000 problems—and counting. It’s renowned for its dry, sunny weather, bombproof igneous rock, and fantastical rock formations that make for endlessly challenging climbing.
Though the problems get as hard as V15—picture holds the size of a housefly on an overhanging rock—the beauty of Hueco Tanks is that there’s such an abundance, variety, and concentration of problems that a veteran and a newbie can challenge themselves within spitting distance. The atmosphere, therefore, is decidedly inclusive and laid-back. Whether you arrive with friends or solo, seasoned or brand-new, you’re virtually guaranteed a personal cheering section.
A large part of the experience is staying at the ten-acre (four-hectare) Hueco Rock Ranch, a campground, guesthouse, pro shop, and gathering spot where climbers often camp for months.
#22. Canoe the Boundary Waters, Minnesota
The Boundary Waters offer some 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) of canoe routes and 2,000 secluded campsites; in other words, it’s the perfect territory in which to disappear for a while.
Plenty of people organize their own trips into the BWCA, but it’s far easier to let Ely, Minnesota-based Boundary Waters Outfitters do the work. They’ll organize meals, plan a route, rent equipment, and hand over all the maps. For true solitude, go in late August or early September when the summer crowds have thinned, or have the outfitters charter a float plane, which will drop you off far away from any signs of civilization.
#21. Climb Red River Gorge, Kentucky
Sport climbing’s motherlode, the Gorge aka the Red has 1,892 routes and 145 distinct sandstone crags. Widely regarded as one of sport climbing Mecca. There are just so many areas and routes that you could spend your whole life climbing at the Red and not even scratch the surface of this rad area.
#20. Mammoth Cave National Park
Badlands Park contains Wind Cave and it is certainly impressive but if you really want to check out the cave that you will remember, the largest one on the American continent is known as Mammoth Cave and it is located in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The cave encompasses more than 400 miles of caverns, some of them several hundred feet high. You can check out the park in the cave itself while you are camping if you vacation in the south.
#19. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is another vacation destination that is quite popular. Lake Tahoe offers hiking, skiing, swimming and boating and many other act or activities. The lake is something truly magnificent and everyone should see it in person at least once. There is also gambling at the nearby Reno, Nevada, which bills itself “the biggest little city in the world.”
#18. Fly-fish the Pecos River in New Mexico
There’s a superb stretch of the Pecos River along Route 63. Don’t fish there. Hike away from the hip waders into Pecos Canyon. My brother in law and I have both caught some beautiful trout here. I am talking lunkers. We’ve used all different types and colors of flies and have fished different hours of the day. Our best haul was during the last 3 hours of daylight with blue and orange flies. Definitely worth the trip.
#17. Horseback Ride through Northern California Coastal Trails
Everyone was super friendly and knowledgeable. The group that we road with was so fun. Everyone was so welcoming and won’t make you feel like a newbie.. Definitely recommend this if you have the chance! You will not be disappointed!
#16. Hike the Dipsea Trail in Marin County
Considered one of the San Francisco area’s most technical hiking trails, the Dipsea Trail stretches 7 miles (one way) from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. It starts at the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, traces the Redwood Creek watershed, crosses the Redwood Creek in Muir Woods National Monument, and ends at Stinson Beach. I’m not a fan of San Francisco in the slightest, but somehow the trails located north of the Golden Gate are quite special. They are vibrant, clean and in good shape. When you consider the filth that covers the streets of SF and the volume of people who visit the Dipsea trail each year, this is pretty impressive. Way to go park service and hikers alike – keep up the good work!
#15. Acadia National Park
If you live in New England or you are planning to go there for your summer vacation, then Acadia national Park should definitely be on your list of places to visit. The most compelling thing about this vacation destination is the views that it offers. From gorgeous inland lakes to breathtaking mountain views and miles and miles colorful forest, this is one of the best places in New England to spend a few days outdoors.
#14. Wander the National Forests of the Dakotas on Foot and Bike
Number fourteen on our list are the national forests that are located in the Dakotas. Badlands Park in South Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt Park in North Dakota as well as Black Hills National Forest. These are for those travelers who want to spend time outdoors, communing with nature and camping. These parks and forests are some of the best places to go camping in that part of the country. My favorite adventure in this part of the country is definitely mountain biking the ninety-six (soon to be 176) miles (154, soon to be 283 kilometers) of singletrack in the same Badlands that toughened Teddy Roosevelt.
#13. Paddle the Florida Everglades
Our rarest ecosystem is also the most threatened. See it in short order. Guides will drop you halfway down the 99-mile (159-kilometer) Wilderness Waterway.
#12. Canoe Adirondacks Park, New York
Adirondacks in New York is one of the most exciting, and peaceful parks you can visit during the summer and there is a broad range of activities and for you and your family to choose from. Put in at the north end of island-studded Little Tupper Lake and proceed south to paddle the circuit clockwise. This gets the stiffest carries out of the way early. The route will take at least four days. Using marshy outflows, numerous ponds, and meandering brooks, you’ll string together Rock Pond, Lake Lila, languid Bog River, and Round Lake to return to Little Tupper. All of it, forever wild.
#11. Four-Wheel the Steens, Oregon
The 4×4 Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway traverses an encyclopedia of geographies: marshes, alpine highlands, and salt pans. It’s a blast, and something I recommend doing with friends and other off roaders in case you get stuck. Most people we’ve met on the trails have been friendly and more than willing to lend a helping hand if we needed it.
#10. Hike the Stairway to Heaven, Hawaii
This trail is no longer maintained and can be quite treacherous in places. Be very careful if you decide to embark on this incredible journey and follow any official signage. Visiting the various other parts of Hawaii should be an option on your list of vacation destinations for the summer. The larger island of Hawaii has plenty of things to do including summertime activities like hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and much more. Hiking in Hawaii is different than pretty much anywhere else in the world because of the volcanoes that you can visit on your hikes.
#9. Kayak the Maine Island Trail, Maine
The East’s top kayaking destination: 4,600 islands, 375 miles (604 kilometers) of trail. Spend two open-water days between Stonington and Merchant Row.
#8. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
No matter what time of year you go to Jackson Hole you will find lots to do. Many people go during the winter or the early months of spring because they want to ski on fresh powder. While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea there is plenty more. Grand Teton National Park is a great place to go kayaking or hiking and there are plenty of tourist attractions and other outdoor activities as well. Jackson Hole definitely isn’t a budget destination, but it is one that you will not forget.
#7. Tree-Climb Chilkat, Alaska
Everyone should visit Alaska at least once in their life time. Alaska is not only one of the most beautiful states in the nation, it is also the very last to have unexplored territory and goes by the nickname of America’s “Last Frontier.” This particular adventure has you ascend 250-foot (76-meter) tall spruces smack in the middle of the world’s highest concentration of bald eagles. It’s an awe inspiring and particularly moving experience. (www.alaskamountainguides.com)
#6. Backpack the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail, Washington
Hiking the entire 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) of the PNT is not as easy as conquering more established long-distance trails—one section requires bushwhacking, encounters with grizzlies are possible, and there are few fellow thru-hikers. But those difficulties are what make the PNT so enticing.
#5. Hike Yellowstone’s Wild Southwest in Wyoming
Anyone who hasn’t been to Yellowstone yet is definitely missing out. Yellowstone is one of the most visually stunning places in the world and it features geothermic marvels like Old Faithful and the hot springs. Yellowstone is a staple for those who live in the western United States, but even people who live on the East Coast or down south should check out this geological wonder.
The 27-mile (43-kilometer) hike starts at the Bechler ranger station, a long haul in itself, reachable via Idaho Highway 47. It crosses expansive Bechler Meadows, where an early-season crossing would be one of America’s worst adventures—they’re underwater in June and under bug siege in July, so wait till August or September when they’re in their wide-open glory. Then comes a spectacular series of waterfalls in the cool, damp, forested embrace of Bechler Canyon—Ouzel, Colonnade, Iris—and even more cascades outside the canyon in Continental Divide country. But enough of all this cool mist—time to get into hot water.
#4. Row Down The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is so named because it truly is grand. The vibes in this place are unreal. There are few better ways to spend your summer vacation than choosing a place to stay near the Grand Canyon and exploring and taking in the views. There are hiking trails, historical sites and much more around the area.
#3. Bike From Durango to Moab, Colorado to Utah
Connect the dots (six spare but well-outfitted huts spaced approximately 35 miles/56 kilometers apart) on a weeklong mountain bike expedition that starts in the jagged San Juan Mountains and ends in Moab. Harder and more isolated than its twin, the venerable Telluride-Moab ride, the 215-mile (346-kilometer) Durango-Moab route presents navigational and bike-handling challenges and a sense of unfettered freedom.
#2. Surf the Lost Coast, California
Somewhere along the 80 miles (129 kilometers) of glorious northern California wilderness coastline between Fort Bragg and Eureka is a secret surf break as perfect in form as in setting. The Lost Coast wave is the stuff of American legend: a big, consistent, year-round swell that washes onto a rocky shore with high energy and perfect curvature—fast, clean, with long, long sweeps. But here’s the real secret of the Lost Coast: The hidden wave is actually many.
#1. Take a Survival Course in Yosemite National Park
If you decide to visit another city in California you might also want to take the short drive to Yosemite National Park.
You can camp, kayak, hike, swim and ride horses at Yosemite and the view is simply amazing.
But the real adventure would be learning how to become one with this very special and incredibly awe inspiring landscape, with a 3 day wilderness survival course held in the heart of the Yosemite valley.
If I left out your favorite U.S. summer adventure, tell me about it in the comments section below.