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Top 10 Outdoor Adventures

By: Kate Sekules


For a brief few months each year, warm weather, long days, and generous vacation time opens up a world of travel possibilities. Whether you enjoy climbing the top of remote mountains, exploring breathtaking river gorges, or biking quiet backcountry roads, we’ve selected 10 spectacular outdoor adventures that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping – and earn you bragging rights, to boot. And to make sure there’s a trip to suit every taste, we’ve included a splurge option (for those who must have the most exotic and/or pampered voyage) as well as a great value (for those who don’t mind roughing it).

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals.


SMART SPLURGE: Loire Valley, France 
Unlike most Loire Valley trips, this classic 6-day ride by Butterfield & Robinson lets you stay in the best châteaux, including the exclusive (it’s a private home) 15th-century Château du Rivau, an exquisitely restored castle that once hosted Joan of Arc. This level of access continues all week; you’re even initiated into the local wine brotherhood Bon Entonneurs Rablaisiens. From $5,795 for 6 days, all-inclusive.

GREAT VALUE: Napa and Sonoma, California
More than a decade of running bike tours through the top two wine-producing counties has given Getaway Adventures unparalleled expertise in plotting outdoor adventures. The 6-day ride goes from the hot springs of Calistoga to the hot restaurants of Healdsburg, with plenty of wine sipping, picnicking, and photo ops en route. Not to mention, riders lodge a different local inn each night. $1,959 including rooms, tastings, and most meals.


SMART SPLURGE: Chamonix, France
Stage Expeditions has led climbs on some of the most challenging mountains around the world, but its home base is Mont Blanc. Whether a novice or almost professional, you’ll be set up with instruction (most guides are fluent in English) in ice, rock, or mixed climbs. After training, you’ll be expertly guided over the cable car network and all the best routes. Six-day trips from about $1,832, includes basic equipment (bring or rent personal climbing gear), nights’ accommodation, and all meals

GREAT VALUE: San Jacinto, California 
Come high summer, when the desert is roasting, Vertical Adventures Rock Climbing School moves its operations from Joshua Tree to the equally challenging and varied ascents of Suicide Rock in the San Jacinto mountains. Find sweet lodgings like the Quiet Creek Inn in nearby Idyllwild to complete one of our favorite outdoor activities ($85–$152/night). $540 for 4-day beginner Rockcraft course


SMART SPLURGE: Kola Peninsula, Russia
Over the past decade, the Ponoi River on Russia’s Kola Peninsula has gone from total obscurity to the hottest destination for Atlantic salmon. Great fishing is just about guaranteed, thanks to aggressively biting fish that are far more plentiful than in Scotland. Frontiers Travel gives you a private guide for 8 hours a day, comfortable platform tents, and amazing food, for a once-in-a-lifetime fishing week. From $3,990 for 7 days, all-inclusive, with flight from Murmansk

GREAT VALUE: Big Sky, Montana
Fly fishers know the Gallatin River as the trout Grand Central of the lower 48. Rainbow Ranch, a former cattle ranch with wooden decks and river-rock fireplaces, is on the main tracks. In between casting-clinics, wading and walking trips, or all-day trips to wilderness lakes, you can literally cast off from your deck into the Gallatin – or into the ranch’s own trout pond. Non-fishers can embark on other outdoor adventures, such as rafting, hiking, and biking, and everyone can meet up over dinner at one of the best kitchens in the Rockies. From $145/night, guided trips and area activities extra



SMART SPLURGE: Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Take in a full dose of Croatian culture, history, and scenery with an 8-day itinerary from Country Walkers, a Vermont-based specialist. As you travel south from Split to Dubrovnik, you’ll encounter Roman ruins and medieval towns, pine forests and lavender fields, plus stunning coastlines and beaches. Treks are easy to moderate, averaging 3 to 5 miles of walking each day. That leaves ample time for other pursuits like swimming, sightseeing, and wine tasting. Along the way, you’ll stay at luxurious seaside hotels and dine at traditional family-run restaurants. From $4,298 for 8 days, including accommodations and most meals

GREAT VALUE: Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, California
For a quick, budget-minded hiking getaway, consider the 3-day Yosemite and Tahoe itinerary from Australian outfit Intrepid Travel. The trip starts with a half-day of sightseeing in San Francisco before taking a van to the shores of Lake Tahoe, with options for hiking, sailing, or kayaking. Next, you’ll head to Yosemite National Park to view natural wonders like the Nevada Falls and Mirror Lake. There are no frills here – be prepared for two nights of camping – but hikes are suitable for all levels and the sights are well worth the trek. From $455 for 3 days, including some meals

Flickr/dane brian

Horseback Riding

SMART SPLURGE: Granby, Colorado 
A haven in the high Rockies for over 90 years, C Lazy U Lodge offers home-cooked feasts served family-style, comfy cowboyish lodges, and the hospitality of an extended family. Horses and instruction are exceptional, with classes at any level in indoor and outdoor arenas and all-day trail rides. At week’s end, show off your teamwork at the (slightly) competitive rodeo. From $2,730 for 7 days

Enjoy leisurely rides through Vermont’s Green Mountains with Equitours, the oldest horseback riding vacation company in the U.S. On the Sugarbush Tolt Trek, rolling farmland and leafy forests serve as a backdrop to guided rides, while a local Vermont inn is your home base for exploring when not in the saddle. The pace is slow to moderate on these outdoor adventures, and you’ll spend up to 6 hours a day on your horse: This trip is best suited for riders with previous experience. We recommend springing for the slightly more expensive (just $100 more per person) trips in late September and early October to take full advantage of the region’s spectacular fall foliage. From $1,565 for 6 days, including accommodation and some meals


SMART SPLURGE: Baffin Island, Canada
Eclipse Sound is only penetrable by kayak in August, when a fleeting summer begins and the ice around Baffin Island splits. Explore Pond Inlet, an Inuit village on the island’s northern coast, on a tour led by Canada-based Black Feather – The Wilderness Adventure Company. The 16-day kayaking voyage gives showcases remote treasures – including vacated Inuit camps, secluded headways and, with luck, narwhals  – Arctic whales identified by their slender, pointed tusks. For experienced kayakers; from about $5,301 for 16 days, all-inclusive

GREAT VALUE: Suwanee River, Florida and Georgia
On this 7-day Sierra Club outdoor adventure through the Okefenokee Refuge, kayakers and canoers paddle down the Suwanee River, a fresh waterway tinged black by tannic acid from decomposing vegetation. Encounter black bears, otters, and alligators along the (mostly) calm shores. From $1,245 for 7 days, all-inclusive


SMART SPLURGE: Alsek River, Alaska
Part of the estimable Mountain Travel Sobek stable, Alaska Discovery has been running trips to the last frontier longer than anyone. At this end of the earth, where grizzlies and eagles are quite at home, you really need expert guidance – especially when running “God’s fastest scenic conveyor belt,” the Alsek River. One of many highlights on this 12-day outdoor adventure of magnificent scenery and thrilling rapids is the helicopter portage across the deadly Class VI whitewater of the aptly named Turnback Canyon. The Class III and IV runs you’ll actually be doing are quite exciting enough. From $3,795 for 12 days, all-inclusive

GREAT VALUE: Arkansas River, Colorado
One of the most proficient river-rafting operators in Colorado, Wilderness Aware treads lightly on the land. This 5-day Arkansas River trip covers 90 miles with Class III and IV – plus an optional Class V – every day. This package takes you far, far into the wild, with secluded sleep-outs and fresh multi-course meals cooked on the campfire. $814 for adults, $692 for children for 5 days, all-inclusive


SMART SPLURGE: Rome to Venice
Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper, a majestic giantess modeled on the 1902 Preussen, is the biggest fully rigged sailing ship afloat: Her size benefits the reluctant high-seas adventurer (three pools, watersports platform, and a spa), while her layout pleases more classic sailors. From $2,609 per person for 11 days 

GREAT VALUE: Pacific Northwest
Learn to sail aboard the schooner Martha, a restored wooden tall ship built in 1907. With only six students per trip, passengers are intimately schooled in all the workings of the ship, learn critical seamanship skills, and integrate with the crew on this historic vessel. From $875 per person for 5 days, including all meals and snacks

Scuba Diving

SMART SPLURGE: Turtle Island, Fiji
The superdeluxe Turtle Island resort is located in what is known as the “soft coral capital of the world.” The clear, deep waters are fantastic, and local dive shop Westside Water Sports outfits certified guests free of charge. For committed divers, the resort throws in enticement to stay longer: book for 6 nights, and your 7th night is free. From $2,500/night (based on double occupancy), all-inclusive

GREAT VALUE: Curtain Bluff, Antigua
Summer is Caribbean bargain time, but at this toniest of resorts, diving deals are in season, too – Curtain Bluff covers all equipment and guides for guests who are certified divers. Pack those tennis whites, clubs, and yoga pants, and check out the spa for a well-rounded outdoor escape. From $760/night, all-inclusive 



Nancy Emerson is a former champion Women’s World Tour competitor, sometime Hollywood stuntwoman, and owner of the Nancy Emerson School of Surfing, probably the best known surf school on the island. Top up the fantasy level with a stay at Waikiki’s legendary Halekulani resort (from $490/night). $400 to $1,575 for 5 days of lessons

GREAT VALUE: Nosara, Costa Rica
Surf threads purveyor Billabong gives Safari Surf School its official stamp of approval, and with good reason: Red Cross-certified staffers offer lessons at all skill levels at Playa Guiones, a wildlife refuge encompassing some of the country’s most surfable waters (expect waves between 4 and 10 feet during wet season, and between 3 and 8 feet throughout the dryer months). The camp hosts various packages, but the 7-day Tortuga Package includes the essentials – accommodations, daily lessons, airport transfers, breakfasts, and dinners. From $2,380 for 7 days

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