A number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.
The diverse climate and terrain of the Western U.S. make it a popular destination for adventurers and adrenaline junkies. Quick to mind are the deep slot canyons of Utah or the towering rocks of Yosemite, but dig deeper and you’ll find extreme adventures ranging from caving to whitewater rafting. All of these activities will get your heart rate up.
Want to chill instead? Consider ballooning over the wine country of California. Yup, the American West is a land of outdoor adventure opportunity.
Ready to add to your bucket list? Here are 10 adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities the West has to offer:
1. Hiking – Half Dome, Yosemite, CA
Bring your inner brave kid on this hike. Labeled one of the most dangerous hikes in the U.S., it’s also one of the most spectacular. This hike is also extremely difficult, so you’ll earn badass points for completing it….alive. Okay, I’m being a little over-dramatic. For more information visit YosemiteHikes.com.
2. Climbing – Taos, NM
Solid climbs, beautiful views, and routes for all abilities, the area surrounding Taos, New Mexico is a great climbing destination. There are also some highly accomplished guide services available to show you the ropes. Bring the whole family on this adventure, there’s something for all.
3. Canyoneering – The Subway, Zion National Park, UT
This 9.5-mile hike is both dramatically scenic and challenging. From the top down, the Subway is technical, requiring rappelling skills, 60’ of rope, swimming, and solid route finding ability. Hiking this was one of my top outdoor experiences. It’s worth the effort!
This is more than a simple hike; you must understand what you’re doing. If you don’t have the skills, but are in good shape, hire a guide. Fair warning, you’ll likely get hooked on canyoneering! More information is available from the National Park Service.
4. Mountain biking – Moab, UT
The slick rock formations in this area are essentially petrified sand dunes. They appear smooth, but actually have the texture of course sandpaper, perfect for tire traction. At first you may fear your tires wont hold, but they will, up to breathtaking inclines.
I’ve heard riders utter in disbelief that they were able to ride seemingly impossible routes. The 12-mile Slickrock Bike Trail is the classic ride, but make sure you also check out other routes in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. Be ready for a workout, good traction doesn’t equal lazy uphill peddling…you’ll feel this one!
5. Road biking – Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, MT
Remote, rugged, and gorgeous! Time this ride for late spring and be sure the road is open or you’ll get turned around by a wall of snow.
The vistas are otherworldly and could easily distract you from the road, so plan time for stops. Expect to see wildlife, mountain views, and waterfalls. Construction on Going to the Sun Road is nearly guaranteed; instead of fretting, use the delays to enjoy the scenery.
6. Backpack – Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Steep, beautiful, and hard work. The 9.5-mile Bright Angel Trail is one of the preeminent trails of the Grand Canyon. Even though it’s considered one of the safest trails in the park, this is still the Grand Canyon. All of the trails here deserve—make that demand—respect.
Spring or fall is the best time to hike this trail due to the high summer temps or treacherous ice in winter. Camp at either the Indian Garden or Bright Angel Campgrounds. For more information check out this Park Service pamphlet.
7. Kayak – San Juan Islands, WA
Your kayak is slipping silently through the water, then something disturbs the surface…something big. Your quiet paddle just got exciting. Known for wildlife and quiet towns, the San Juan Islands are a favorite destination for kayakers and divers hoping to view marine life, up close.
We’re headed there this summer for four days of paddling and camping. Orcas are common in the area and we hope to see them. The last time I saw one I was swimming and panicked! This trip I plan on maintaining a tad more distance by staying in the kayak. Wish me luck!
8. Paragliding – Aspen, CO
Experience Aspen’s stunning views from above in a paraglider. This sport is available in a number of places across the country, but seriously, why not pick someplace with a view? I’m in!
Ride up the mountain to launch, and then glide for roughly two hours depending on the thermal activity. For information on tandem flights check out AspenParagliding.com.
9. Caving – Moaning Cavern, CA
Caving is one of my favorite sports because it often combines rappelling, scrambling, pretty scenery, and mud. What more could a girl ask for?
Moaning Cave is one of the few caves open to the public there you can get the full experience of a “wild” cave, including a 165’ rappel into the main chamber. Visit the Moaning Cavern website for the beta on this adventure.
10. Rafting – Rogue River, OR
Feet wedged under the thwart, paddle in hand, and a face full of water. “Woohoo! What a rush!” Actually I think I screamed like a startled teenager.
Multi-day paddles on Oregon’s Rogue River deliver this kind of exhilaration interspersed with lazy, slow, sections and swim holes. An added bonus, all of this is outside of cell range. I’ve paddled this river twice, most recently with Rogue Wilderness Adventures, which I highly recommend. The guides were unruffled under pressure, personable, and excellent cooks. We also had a brew-master and a keg raft, but that’s another article… You can either self-guide or raft with a commercial outfitter. Either way, this is a wild adventure worthy of “the list.”
Some of the adventures listed here are classics, while others sit in the shadow of better-known options, but all are worth exploring. What would you recommend adding? Please comment below!