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31 Greatest Adventurers Of All Time

31 Greatest Adventurers Of All Time

Estimated reading time: 18 minutes

Adventure is out there!” 

This phrase was said by Charles Muntz in Disney Pixar’s 2009 film “Up”.

In the same film, a girl named “Ellie” was inspired by the phrase and used it to find her greatest adventure.

While the characters and events in that film were fictional, the potential for finding adventure beyond one’s comfort zone is as true in real life as it was in the film. 

Adventure really is out there, and it’s waiting for those who’re ready to brave every challenge to find it.

Be Inspired to Adventure

Adventurers aren’t born, they’re made.

Adventure is synonymous with what humans fear most — the unknown — and it takes a special kind of courage and drive to face it willingly.

With this article, let’s take a glimpse at the life and achievements of some of the greatest adventurers of all time; at least in the past couple thousand years, and on this timeline. 

We’ll start with 31, and hopefully with the help of our users and as time goes on we will eventually get this to the top 100 and so on. 

In no particular order: 

Davy Crockett celebrating a successful hunt and hike1. Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier 

Davy Crockett was an American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician. He’s most commonly known in popular culture as the “King of the Wild Frontier”. He represented Tennessee within the U.S. House of Representatives and served within the Texas Revolution. 

He was born on August 17, 1786, and died on March 6, 1836, while defending the Alamo.

Bjarni Herjolfsson 2. Bjarni Herjolfsson: First Modern European to Discover the Americas

Bjarni Herjolfsson was a Norse-Icelandic explorer who many believe to be the first known European to discover the mainland of the Americas, which he sighted in 986. He came across the Americas after being blown off course by a storm while on a trip to look for his father.

 

Leif Erikson3. Leif Erikson: First European to Set foot on Continental North America

Leif Ericson (a.k.a Leif the Lucky) was a Norse explorer from Iceland. He’s believed to have been the first European to actually set foot on North American ground, about half a millennium before Christopher Columbus. Leif arrived in North America after being blown off course (from his trip to Greenland) to a land where he found “self-sown wheat fields and grapevines” and later established a settlement which many believe is now Newfoundland. 

John Muir4. John Muir: Father of National Parks 

John Muir (a.k.a John of the Mountains) was an influential Scottish-American  naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America. He co-founded the Sierra Club, has helped preserve the Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park.

Saint Brendan5. Saint Brendan: The Navigator, The Voyager, and The Anchorite 

Saint Brendan (a.k.a Brendán moccu Altae/Brendan of the Fosterling Folk) was called “the Navigator”, “the Voyager”, “the Anchorite”, and “the Bold” for a reason. He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and is most known for his legendary quest to the “Isle of the Blessed” to search for the Garden of Eden. 

 

Ansel Adams taking a picture6. Ansel Adams: Photographer, Environmentalist, & Co-founder of Group f/64

Ansel Adams was an American landscape photographer and environmentalist most known for his black-and-white photographs of the American West. He was a founding member of Group f/64 and was a life-long advocate for environmental conservation. His photographic practice had a deep connection with this advocacy.

 

Ferdinand Magellan7. Ferdinand Magellan: Achieved the First European Navigation from the Atlantic to Asia 

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who’s best known for having planned and led the 1519 Spanish expedition to the East Indies through the Pacific while seeking to open a maritime trade route. This expedition led him to discover the interoceanic passage which would later be called the Magellan Strait.

David Aston overlooking a hidden lake from an unknown trail in North America8. David Aston: Explorer Helping People Find Their Own Adventure 

This one is a nod to this website’s owner. David Aston, (Founder of AdventureHacks over a decade ago) is a regular guy, and “adventure hack” if you will, who helps people go from chaos to clarity with outdoor adventure in 5 minutes or less. He averages more than 1,000 miles per year on the trails and has hiked every major peak in the lower 48 states. He’s been known to hike barefoot at night with no lights to enhance his senses and tune into the area around him. He might not be famous, but we’d be hard pressed to find someone with more time on the trails or a more adventurous spirit in this day and age. He has touched the lives of every member of this team, thousands of users and countless strangers on the trails over the years. He’ll probably ask me to remove him from this list, but I wont 😉 

Polar explorer later U.S. Navy flag officer Richard Byrd9. Admiral Richard E. Byrd: Pioneering American Aviator, Polar Explorer, and Organizer of Polar Logistics 

Admiral Richard E. Byrd was an American naval officer and explorer who received the Medal of Honor. 

As a pioneering American aviator, polar explorer, and organizer of polar logistics, he often served as a navigator and expedition leader on aircraft flights crossing the Atlantic Ocean, a segment of the Arctic Ocean, and a segment of the Antarctic Plateau. He claimed that his expeditions had been the first to reach both the North Pole and the South Pole by air. He was also the one to discover Mount Sidley, the largest dormant volcano in Antarctica.

Adventurer Jim Whittaker10. Jim Whittaker: First American to Reach the Summit of Mount Everest 

Jim Whittaker is an American mountaineer and mountain guide who became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest as a member of the American Mount Everest Expedition led by Norman Dyhrenfurth, alongside the Sherpa Nawang Gombu (a nephew of Tenzing Norgay) on May 1, 1963. They managed to reach the summit and plant the U.S. flag at the top despite having run out of oxygen.

Barry Bishop Mountaineer11. Barry Bishop: Member of the First American Team to Summit Mount Everest 

Barry Bishop was an American mountaineer, scientist, photographer, and scholar. He was a member of the first American team to summit Mount Everest on May 22, 1963, together with teammates Jim Whittaker, Lute Jerstad, Willi Unsoeld, and Tom Hornbein. He worked for the National Geographic Society for most of his life until his untimely death in an automobile accident near Pocatello, Idaho in 1994.

Lute Jerstad12. Lute Jerstad: American Mountaineer and Mountain Guide 

Lute Jerstad was an American mountaineer and mountain guide and member of the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition. He reached the summit of Mount Everest by the South Col route on May 22, 1963, together with Barry Bishop. Jerstad died of a heart attack on October 31, 1998, in Nepal on Kala Patthar, while on a hike with his 12-year-old grandson to introduce the boy to Himalayan travel.

Charles Darwin13. Charles Darwin: Explorer and Contributor to the Science of Evolution 

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist, geologist, and biologist. You might know him for his contributions to the science of evolution. In 1831, Darwin went on a voyage aboard the ship of the British Royal Navy, the HMS Beagle where he spent much of the trip on land procuring plant, animal, rock, and fossil samples. 

He explored several regions including some in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and remote islands such as the Galápagos. 

Sacagawea the explorer and adventurer and guide14. Sacagawea: Aided Lewis and Clark on Their Expedition 

Sacagawea was a Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition explore the Louisiana Territory — all while she was 16. She helped the expedition establish cultural contacts with Native American populations and contributed to the expedition’s knowledge of natural history in different regions.

She is now a symbol of women’s worth and independence, with several statues and plaques in her memory.

Sylvia Earle15. Sylvia Earle: American Marine Biologist, Oceanographer, and Explorer 

Sylvia Earle is an American marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer and has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998. 

She was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was named Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet in 1998. She is presently a part of the Ocean Elders, a group dedicated to protecting the ocean and its wildlife.

Wesley C. Skiles16. Wesley C. Skiles: American Cave Diving Pioneer, Explorer, and Underwater Cinematographer 

Wesley C. Skiles was an American cave diving pioneer, explorer, and underwater cinematographer. He started diving when he was eight years old and chose his career at a young age after a fateful meeting with a Fossil Club on a field trip to Ginnie Springs. 

He’s won many awards during his life including Diver of the Year for education, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, the annual HDFEST Deffie Awards for best HD documentary and best cinematography, and posthumously awarded National Geographic’s “Explorer of the Year” award.

Jeanne Baret17. Jeanne Baret: First Woman to Have Circumnavigated the Globe 

Jeanne Baret was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s expedition on the ships La Boudeuse and Étoile in the mid 18th century. She’s recognized as the first woman to have circumnavigated the globe via maritime transport. 

She had to join the expedition disguised as a man, under the name of Jean Baret. She enlisted as valet and assistant to the expedition’s naturalist, Philibert Commerçon, and was herself an expert botanist.

James Cook18. James Cook: British Explorer, Navigator, Cartographer, and Captain in the British Royal Navy 

Captain James Cook FRS was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the British Royal Navy, famous for his three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, and to Australia in particular, between 1768 and 1779.

He made detailed maps on his voyages and achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands as well as the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Alex Honnold19. Alex Honnold: American Rock Climber Who Free Soloed El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park 

Alex Honnold is an American rock climber most known for his free solo ascents of big walls especially that of El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park in 2017. He’s the first person to free solo climb El Capitan and he also holds the fastest ascent of the Yosemite triple crown which is an 18-hour, 50-minute link-up of Mount Watkins, The Nose, and the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome.

Piri Reis20. Piri Reis: Ottoman Admiral, Navigator, Geographer, and Cartographer 

Piri Reis (a.k.a Ahmed Muhiddin Piri) was an Ottoman admiral, navigator, geographer, and cartographer best known today for his maps and charts collected in his Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation), a book that contains detailed information on early navigational techniques, and charts describing the important ports and cities of the Mediterranean Sea.

His world map is the oldest known Turkish atlas showing the New World and one of the oldest maps of America in existence. 

Junko Tabei21. Junko Tabei: First Woman to Reach the Summit of Mount Everest and the First Woman to Ascend the Seven Summits 

Junko Tabei was a Japanese mountaineer, author, and teacher and is known as the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest as well as the first woman to ascend the Seven Summits after climbing the highest peak on each continent. She had an asteroid (6897 Tabei) and a mountain range (Tabei Montes) on Pluto named in her honor.  

Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman aka Nellie Bly22. Nellie Bly: Went Around the World in 72 Days 

Nellie Bly (a.k.a Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) was an American journalist, industrialist, inventor, and charity worker best known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days which, you guessed it, was in emulation of Jules Verne’s fictional character, Phileas Fogg. She also worked undercover on an exposé to report on a mental institution from within making her a pioneer in her field who launched a new kind of investigative journalism.

 

Aloha Wonderwell23. Aloha Wonderwell: First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe in a Ford 1918 Model T 

Aloha Wonderwell was a Canadian-American Internationalist explorer, author, filmmaker, and aviator. In the 1920s, she traveled 380,000 miles across 80 countries, while still being a teenager, and became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a Ford 1918 Model T, a journey which took her five years to complete.

24. Jacque Cousteau: Co-developed the Aqua-Lung and Pioneered Marine Conservation   

Jacque Cousteau was a French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author, and researcher of the sea and underwater life. He’s known for co-developed the Aqua-Lung and was a pioneer in marine conservation. 

Mark Twain25. Mark Twain: The Father of American Literature 

Mark Twain (a.k.a Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer. He’s been called “the greatest humorist the United States has produced” and “the father of American literature”. He worked as a typesetter, riverboat pilot, and turned to journalism after failing at mining. 

He’s most known for his novels which include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) — which is often called “The Great American Novel”.

William Dampier 26. William Dampier: First Englishman to explore parts of Australia and the First person to Circumnavigate the World Three Times 

William Dampier was an English explorer, pirate, privateer, navigator, and naturalist who became the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia. He’s the first person to circumnavigate the world three times and is known as Australia’s first natural historian, together with being one of the most important British explorers of the period between Francis Drake and James Cook.

Ernest Shackleton27. Ernest Shackleton: A Principal Figure in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration 

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was an Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer known for leading three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He made several excursions into the Antarctic and even attempted crossing Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. 

Vasco da Gama28. Vasco De Gama: First European to Reach India by Sea 

Vasco De Gama was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His first voyage to India established a link between Europe and Asia via an ocean route. It connects the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient which marked the beginning of a sea-based phase of global multiculturalism. 

 

Marco Polo29. Marco Polo: Venetian Merchant, Explorer, and Writer Who Travelled Asia Through the Silk Road 

Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant, explorer, and writer who traveled Asia through the Silk Road from 1271 to 1295. The book called “The Travels of Marco Polo” (a.k.a Book of the Marvels of the World and Il Milione, c. 1300) outlined his experiences and described the then mysterious culture and inner workings of the Eastern world.

Roald Amundsen30. Roald Amundsen: A Key Figure in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration 

Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions who was also a key figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He led the first expedition to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage on the sloop Gjøa. He also led the team that became the first to successfully reach the South Pole on 14 December 1911.

Jesus Christ was a legendary adventurer and explorer31. Jesus Christ: Central Figure of Christianity 

We know Jesus Christ as the central figure of Christianity but he was also quite the adventurer back in his day. From his travels with his apostles, healing the sick, curing the blind, exorcising demons, sailing in a storm, and feeding the masses on the mount, Jesus showed the same qualities all adventurers share: endless courage and drive to face the unknown. 

 

More Adventure Related Reading:

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