The Thrill Seeker’s Guide to Summer: Top Extreme Sports 🚵 and Where to Try Them

The Thrill Seeker’s Guide to Summer: Top Extreme Sports 🚵 and Where to Try Them

For some, it’s enough to see a beautiful landscape and appreciate it from afar. But extreme sports appeal to a different type of individual. The type for whom seeing things from a serene distance will never be enough.

Better to be a part of the landscape. Better to surge, crash and soar through it while gripping onto a paddle, rock face or handlebars with white knuckles. Will there be a few bumps and bruises along the way? Quite possibly. But there will also be memories to last a lifetime, and if you’re quick enough and lucky enough, some extraordinary photographs to go along with them.

These are some of the best adventure sports destinations in the United States, from national parks and iconic landmarks to more off-the-beaten-path destinations. All are at their finest during the summer months. Just be sure to hang on tight to your camera strap; you’re going to need it!

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Whitewater Rafting the Grand Canyon

The most popular way to experience the Grand Canyon is gazing out across it from the rim. But you’ll get a very different view from below, rocketing between the canyon’s sculpted walls as you ride the Colorado River’s tumultuous whitewater through Grand Canyon National Park. The best time to go is April through September.

The National Park Service itself doesn’t oversee river rafting within the park, but several local companies provide guided whitewater rafting trips in the Grand Canyon. Wilderness River Adventures offers trips ranging from 3-½ days all the way up to a full 14-day rafting adventure, which covers 225 river miles and 67 rated rapids.

Make sure to bring along a GoPro HERO9 Black Waterproof Action Camera to capture every thrilling moment of your journey, your ideal camera for extreme sports in summer.

Rock Climbing at Yosemite

Rock Climbing at Yosemite

California’s Yosemite National Park is one of the best rock climbing destinations on earth, which makes it a magnet for the Alex Honnolds and Tommy Caldwells of the world. But you don’t have to be a top-tier rock climber to experience the raw beauty and vertigo-inducing rock walls of this spectacular place.

There are climbing spots in Yosemite for every skill level. El Capitan is considered one of the world’s most difficult climbs, but there are routes up the iconic rock formation that range from fairly accessible (the Nose, the East Buttress) to the near-impossible (the Dawn Wall). For beginner rock climbers, there are a multitude of options elsewhere in this 747,956-acre park, like the Presidential Boulder and Pothole Dome.

Summer is prime time for rock climbing in Yosemite, though many climbers favor spring and fall for their milder weather and thinner crowds. In any season, use caution. Yosemite National Park sees over 100 climbing accidents each year, of which 15 to 25 require rescue.


Snag a National Park Lanyard to Keep those Keys Safe!

Bungee Jumping at High Steel Bridge

Spanning the south fork of the Skokomish River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the bridge on National Forest Service road #2340 commonly referred to as High Steel Bridge is one of America’s best bungee jumping sites. At 375 feet above the river, it’s neither the tallest nor the most dangerous bungee jumping site in the country, but it is one of the most genuinely stunning. And rest assured, the drop is more than enough to get your adrenaline pumping.

This truss arch bridge was built in 1929 for the purpose of transporting lumber. Surrounded by nothing but pine-studded mountain slopes for miles and miles, it remains the tallest railroad bridge ever built in the United States. Take in the serene landscape before taking the plunge, as you might find it harder to appreciate while you’re plummeting toward the river. Trips for groups of 12 or more are offered by Bungee Expeditions.

Ziplining in the Smoky Mountains

Most people experience the Smoky Mountains at ground level. Hiking. Camping. Mountain biking. Those are great ways to spend your time, but CLIMB Works, a ziplining company with a location in Gatlinburg, Tenn., has other ideas.

With four sky bridges, six side-by-side zipline runs and platforms that loom above the treetops, CLIMB Works offers an opportunity to soar through the canopy on a heart-racing zipline adventure. The panoramic views of the mountaintops are unbeatable, making CLIMB Works the top rated zipline experience in Tennessee. They have a great reputation for safety as well.

CLIMB Works is located a stone’s throw from Great Smoky Mountains National Park—right across the street, in fact—making it a great option for adventure seekers in the Smokies. The park itself provides some of the best mountain biking in the east.

Canyoneering at Zion National Park

Utah’s twisting canyons create an otherworldly landscape ripe for exploration. There’s a reason why Zion National Park is one of America’s premier canyoneering destinations. Routes like Left Fork of North Creek (“the Subway”) and the Virgin River Narrows (“The Narrows”) are as beautiful as they are technically challenging, and their high rock walls make them some of the best places to stay cool during a summer canyoneering adventure.

If you’re not familiar with canyoneering, it involves a combination of hiking stamina, rappelling skills and swimming abilities. It’s not as simple as taking a hike through a canyon, and it can be dangerous. A special canyoneering permit is required in Zion. Be sure to stay hydrated during your adventure with a CamelBak M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack, which offers a large water reservoir and ample storage for your essentials.

The Narrows is arguably the most well-known canyoneering route, and it requires visitors to hike through water for a significant part of the journey. Portions of the canyon are barely wide enough for an adult to pass through, and the danger of flash flooding is ever-present. Go with an experienced group or book a canyoneering trek with a reputable guide.

Hang Gliding in the Outer Banks

Hang gliding diehards have no shortage of great places to take flight in the United States, but The Outer Banks of North Carolina is among the most majestic. And the most historic. The Wright Brothers achieved their first flight in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. in 1903, and to this day the stretch of coastline from Nags Head to Kitty Hawk remains a popular place to launch oneself into the troposphere.

The tall sand dunes and lofty winds along the Outer Banks make this area ideal for hang gliding, and it’s possible to achieve heights over 5,000 feet. Kitty Hawk Kites has been offering guided trips and lessons in the area for over 50 years, so they’re the go-to for hang gliding, parasailing and other airborne adventures in the Outer Banks.

Climbing Mount Rainier

Visible from Seattle on a clear day, the looming profile of Mount Rainier has beckoned mountain climbers since it was first submitted by Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump in 1870. Mount Rainier is the fifth highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,411 feet (California’s Mount Whitney bests it by just 94 feet). But there’s a case to be made that Rainier is the superior destination for mountaineering

It’s the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, with a snow-capped summit where winter-like storms are possible even in July. The foot of the peak rests within the subalpine meadows of Mount Rainier National Park.

Summer is the ideal time to make the ascent, and there are more than 20 established routes to choose from. Any one of them requires at least a 10-mile trek that gains over 9,000 feet in elevation. Expect to camp overnight before hitting the summit on your second day.

Mountain Biking in Moab

Mountain biking in the dessert.

Extreme mountain bikers are a different breed, and if the very idea of hurtling downhill through the craggy mountains of eastern Utah makes your knees a little tingly, you’re not alone. But the La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab are home to one of America’s most storied downhill mountain biking routes: The Whole Enchilada.

It’s a rugged, meandering trail that descends 7,000 vertical feet over the course of 27 hair-raising miles. You’ll start within the mountains’ alpine zone and end in the red rock desert alongside the Colorado River far below. Segments of the trail have colorful, vaguely intimidating names like “The Snotch” and “The Snaggle.”

YouTube abounds with thrilling (and terrifying) POV videos of cyclists completing The Whole Enchilada, and they should be considered essential viewing for anyone interested in attempting this route. The trailhead is located in Burro Pass on Geyser Pass Road, about an hour southeast of Arches National Park.

Skydiving Key West

You don’t have to go to Key west to go skydiving. You’ll find folks willing to take you up in an airplane and let you jump out just about anywhere, from the deserts of the Southwest to the mountains of New England. But the spectacular scenery and agreeable weather conditions of the Florida Keys have made them one of the world’s most popular skydiving locales.

On a clear day (and they’re mostly clear days here) you can see all of the Middle Keys and Seven Mile Bridge from your jumping-off point 10,000 feet above Key West. A fall rate of roughly 125 miles per hour is sure to get the adrenaline flowing, and you might spot dolphins and manatees once your chute opens, slowing your descent. Hit up Skydive Key West to take to the skies with a team of seasoned pros.

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