The Adrenalist

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Top 5 Summer Adventure Vacation Spots



Summer is officially here, and that means it’s time for some serious adventure.

If you’re a multi-sport thrill-seeker, it can be hard choosing your next big trip. The good news is you don’t have to. We’ve showed you some of the best extreme vacations, and even some go-to dream gifts for adventurers. Now, make the most of your vacation time by heading to one of these five adventure hubs, where you’ll satisfy your craving for a range of adventures from mountain biking to climbing to bungy jumping and much more.

Here are 5 adventure vacations to hit this summer.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Backed by the Remarkables mountains at the edge of 50-mile-long Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, dubbed the “Adventure Capital of the World,” has everything an adrenaline junkie could ask for. Leave it to the Kiwis to come up with jetboating – planing at high speeds over water as shallow as 10 centimeters – and river surfing – riding head-first down rapids on a bodyboard. River surf down the Kawarau River and under the A.J. Hackett Bungy Bridge, where commercial bungy (or bungee) jumping began 154 ft above the river. For the best jetboating, head to the Shotover Canyon, turning on a dime through a tight, wild river canyon.

In Queenstown, you can skydive over Lake Wakatipu or go tandem paragliding off of Bob’s Peak 1,500 ft above town. Mountain bikers can ride the gondola (the steepest in the southern hemisphere) to the top of Bob’s Peak and cruise nearly 20 miles down any of 12 world class purpose-built trails for all levels at Queenstown Bike Park.

Do you prefer to hoof it in the mountains on your adventure vacations? Then you’ll be happy to hear that three of New Zealand’s Great Walks have easy access from Queenstown. The Routeburn Track, packed with awesome mountain vistas, a gorgeous alpine lake and a winding braided river valley, starts just an hour away in Glenorchy. Additionally, you can hike above a blanket of early morning clouds and over fiords on the Kepler Track, a two-hour drive to Te Anau. Finally, the Milford Track, another hour-and-a-half drive north of Te Anau (or just at the other end of Routeburn) leads to one of the most stunning fiords in the world.

North American summer means winter down under. So grab your skis and head to any of Queenstown’s five ski fields, including Coronet Peak, home to the Queenstown Winter Festival and 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games. Or, if you’re an expert, go guided and heli-ski Walter Peak and other Kiwi powder in the mountains surrounding Queenstown and Wanaka.

Anchorage, Alaska

In terms of adventure vacations in the U.S., there’s Alaska and there’s everything else. The fact is, everything really is bigger in Alaska, which is why, sometimes, the road just ends and the only way to get to a lot of places is by boat or bush plane. Yet, Anchorage, the most populous city in the 49th state, has easy access (by Alaskan standards) to more wild places than you’re likely to take in, including endless opportunity for some of the world’s best fishing.

Head south to the Kenai peninsula, where on the way you’ll find Chugach State Park (half a million acres of backcountry camping, rafting, climbing, and hiking), and then Kenai Fjords National Park, where mountains, ice and ocean meet for spectacular sea kayaking in remote fjords.

Serious backpackers can wander the trail-less wilderness of Denali National Park, where alpine climbers can also attempt to tackle 20,320-ft Denali, the tallest North American peak, or head east to the rugged 13-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park for remote mountaineering and epic river trips.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Nestled against the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico, Santa Fe occupies the best of two ideal playgrounds for Adrenalists: vast alpine forests and high desert canyons. Mountain bikers can ride to several trail systems right from town, including the La Tierra trails, which include a jump park and fun technical routes winding through arroyos in the chaparral with views to three ranges. Or head to the foothills and cruise the rockier maze of the Dale Ball trails overlooking town. Best descent: drive 15 miles into the mountains and drop fast down the Winsor trail from the ski basin parking lot to Tesuque Village more than 3,000 feet below.

Hikers have their pick of uncrowded gems, too, on trails right near town or high up in the mountains. Climb to 8,577-foot Picacho Peak or its neighbor, 9,121-foot Atalaya Mountain, for amazing views over town. You can even backpack for days in the 224,000-acre Pecos Wilderness, accessed from the Santa Fe ski basin parking lot. Best overnight: hike 7 miles up the Winsor trail, through ponderosa pine and aspen groves, to Lake Katherine, a lonely alpine lake at 11,700 feet under the looming rock summit of Santa Fe Baldy a thousand feet above (summit the next day on your return). Look out for bighorn sheep, elk, bears and mountain lions.

Desert-loving Adrenalists can head an hour north to the Rio Chama Canyon, a designated Wild and Scenic River that snakes through a verdant red rock canyon, for the best primitive camping and a daylong 8-mile float from the Christ in the Desert Benedictine monastery down to the Big Eddy takeout. Just keep in mind, this summer adventure spot gets seriously hot.

Boulder, CO

At the feet of the Front Range of the Rockies, Boulder has long ranked high on outdoor enthusiasts’ list of best adventure vacation locales. Boulderites may be known for their superiority complex, but it’s hard to blame them for knowing what they have: beautiful trail running in the backyard and world class rock climbing in El Dorado Canyon, just south of town. Not to mention miles of empty mountain roads for biking, which means a lot of grueling climbing and big descents where you may run into elite cyclists like Taylor Phinney training for his next Tour de France.

If the VO2-max freaks get to you, head an hour west to Rocky Mountain National Park, where you’ll find some of the best hiking and backpacking in the Rockies, including the popular and arduous 15-mile climb up 14,259-foot Longs Peak.

Duluth, MN

Duluth packs a lot of surprising summer adventure for a town near neither mountains nor ocean. Its secret is its extensive trail network for hiking, biking, and even Nordic skiing. In summer, runners train on the 72 miles of Nordic trails, and hikers and runners can hit an addition 82 miles of separate trails. Bikers take to the 32-mile paved Willard Munger Trail or 30-plus miles of city mountain bike trails. If that’s not quite enough, mountain bikers can also drop down Spirit Mountain, a ski resort in winter months, to cruise the flow trails designed by the folks from the International Mountain Biking Association.

If you prefer water, Duluth happens to rest on the shores of Lake Superior, the biggest of the Great Lakes, where you can sail, fish for salmon and trout, and SCUBA dive old shipwrecks. Prefer a little more solitude on the water? Head two hours north to paddle the extensive lake network of the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Know any other must-visit adventure vacation hubs? Let us know about your stories in the comments below or @DegreeMen on Twitter.

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