You give your life vest an extra tug and hunker down on your knees in your raft, an appropriate position both physically and metaphorically.The rapids begin with an attention-getting drop. Before you make the plunge, you glimpse wickedly positioned rocks and enormous waves that rise and crash, followed immediately by more enormous waves that do the same, a train wreck that seems to never end. It’s a white-water broil, the kind you see in those bad creature features where some monstrous entity bubbles to the surface.
- Then the raft drops and all hell breaks loose. Oars creak mightily, absorbing (hopefully) tremendous strain. The raft lurches, bucks, folds, bounds. Water envelops you. It’s not cold, not violent – it happens too quickly for you to feel anything but heavy weight pressing away the world. And then you are through, in about the time it took to read the preceding paragraph. The rapid, and the moment, have passed, but the memory will always remain. There are
- destinations around the globe, and as an outdoor adventure travel writer I have experienced my share of them, from hiking the Inca Trail to diving with bull sharks in Fiji. But Lava Falls tidily illustrates two critical points. First, adventure might only encompass a wink in time, but, done right, it stays with you forever. And second, while Machu Picchu and Fijian sharks have their charms, adventure can be done very right, right here at home. These ten North American travel adventure destinations will move you to get outside. While they vary in their adrenal quotient, they share the common denominator that matters: Each offers the chance to experience something that might change you forever.
Where: Vancouver Island’s Wild West Why: Kayaking in pristine wilderness. The west coast of Vancouver island is where civilization falls away; in its stead are rugged coastline, silent forest, and lovely waters that are home to black bears, salmon, bald eagles, cougars, and orca, humpback, and gray whales. The Broken Group Islands, within Pacific Rim National Park, offer some of the world’s best kayaking. The area comprises more than 100 islands huddled conveniently close. As you move through calm, clear shallows, you’ll see clams, anemones, and enormous starfish scrolling beneath your kayak, or you can pull close to rocky shores thick with barking Steller sea lions. On terra firma, stroll wild beaches strewn with 15-foot strands of wrist-thick bull kelp and backshores heaped with car-size pieces of driftwood, or explore Quait Bay, home to one of the world’s last temperate rain forests. Vancouver Island’s wild side is also home to the famed 48-mile West Coast Trail. Encounter civilization in the artist’s enclave of Tofino or buy Dungeness crab off the dock in the fishing town of Ucluelet. How to do it: Stay at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino. Built of cedar, fir, and stone and perched atop a cliff at the edge of the Pacific, the luxury resort never forgets its place, offering sweeping coastal views at every turn; from the rooms, from the library, from the lobby’s 20-foot windows. Recover from your adventures at the Ancient Cedars Spa; arrange for more travel adventure at the front desk. Working with abundant adventure outfitters in Tofino and Ucluelet, the concierge team can arrange almost any outdoor option, from guided kayak and nature walks to fishing and surfing.
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Also In British Columbia: Heli-Fishing adventure travel destination or the ultimate in luxury outdoorsmanship, helicopter fishing is a must for the sportsman.
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Where: The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park
Why: Adventure travel hiking the history of time. They are America’s geological triumvirate, works of rock and canyon and immutable time. These Southwest icons appear on pretty much every adventure list ever compiled, and here’s why: It’s a wondrous feeling fathoming your impermanence in a place where sun and moon shine on rock more than one billion years old. At the Grand Canyon, at Bryce, at Zion, the rock seems magical – a wonderland of towers, temples, canyon walls, and buttresses so multi-hued that in different lights it appears to change color. And let’s not forget the primary artisans behind these wonders: The Colorado River, the Virgin River, secret grottoes of silent pools, and thrumming waterfalls, all sing of an eternal work in progress.How to do it:
Tauck World Discovery’s eight-day American Canyonlands trek begins at the Grand Canyon, moving next to Bryce, and finally to Zion (followed by a farewell dinner in Las Vegas). The trip hits some of each park’s signature highlights: At the Grand Canyon you’ll take a four-wheel-drive jeep to a remote canyon and float down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. You’ll hike in Bryce Canyon, taking in surreal hoodoos and rock amphitheaters; at Zion, there’s more hiking and muted-rainbow geology. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: Yellowstone in Winter
Why: Serene solitude Yellowstone in winter holds peculiar beauty. Geysers belch billows of sulfur smoke that the wind rips away, thick ribbons of gray strafe across the creamy snow, throwing shadows like fast-moving ripples. Bison graze, hum-mocked forms dark against the white. Copper rivers run and cascading waterfalls send up mist that freezes to the nearby trees and coats them white. Beneath the sun it all sparkles. Most people visit Yellowstone in summer; escape for their adventure travel in winter, crowds tailspin. Better still, Yellowstone’s abundant wildlife ambles down out of the mountains to the valley floor, where the geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles provide a degree of warmth and, more important, a thin blanket of snow, allowing grazers to forage for food. In summer, sighting a single bison across a meadow is cause for celebration. In winter, you might spy them less than ten yards away. Imagine sharing Old Faithful only with an elk.
How to do it: Brennan Vacations’ seven-day trip takes you into Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park. In Yellowstone, from the comfort of a SnoCoach (picture a bus on tank treads), you’ll spot vast herds of elk and possibly wolves darting across the snow, and gaze on erupting geysers and the thundering majesty of Yellowstone’s 308-foot Lower Falls. In Jackson, Wyoming, take a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: Canada’s Yukon Territory
Why: Heli-hiking Canada has three territories. The Yukon is its emptiest, at least in terms of people. Which means wilderness nearly as wild as it was when the region’s favorite literary son journeyed 500 miles down the Yukon River to Dawson in 1896. Jack London’s tales like The Call of the Wild and To Build a Fire capture what wilderness means – the jagged mountains clawed by dark clouds, lakes of jewel blue, grizzly bears, caribou, and moose. And stretches of this territory haven’t changed a whit in over a century.
How to do it: London’s tales were founded in harsh discomfort, but Horizon & Co. offers a summer Yukon sampler with both wilderness and luxury: nights spent at sprawling lodges, days and semi-nights (this is the land of the midnight sun) spent rafting down the Tatshenshini River; fishing and exploring in Kluane National Park; golfing into the wee hours (the last tee time at Meadow Lakes is 10:30 pm); and, perhaps the trip’s high point, awe-inspiring heli-hiking in the Tombstone Mountains (with a heli-fishing option if casting is your passion). Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Why: Hiking a wild isle Newfoundland is one of the best adventure travel hiking destinations in the world. Separated from mainland Canada by the sprawling Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the island and its people have long rested alone – home to one main town (Saint John’s), plenty of hardy fishermen, and substantially more moose, bays, and uninhabited offshore islands. The interior of the island remains sovereign wilderness, run through with streams, lakes, and spreads of tundra inhabited by caribou and polar bears. Hike along high cliff tops, looking down on enormous fjords and whales spouting offshore among drifting icebergs. After you’ve trekked through two of North America’s most spectacular parks – Terra Nova National Park on the island’s east side and Gros Morne National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) on the west – you can visit brine-swept fishing villages and do your best to decipher the singsong dialect of the resident Newfies, descendants of English and Irish immigrants, or push out in boats with local fisherman in search of playful minke whales.
How to do it: Via float planes, fishing boats, and luxury motor coaches, over seven days Butterfield & Robinson offers a wealth of cultural and natural highlights. Enjoy short, moderate coastal hikes and an overnight in a charming lighthouse on remote Quirpon Island, where you might fall asleep to the sound of whales breathing, the leviathans lolling off the rocks below. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: Alaska’s Inside Passage
Why: Humpback whales Exploring southeast Alaska’s waters is an exercise in both serenity and grandeur. Travel by boat through the Last Frontier’s Inside Passage and you’ll see true wilderness: fjords and implausible spreads of spruce and hemlock, foraging brown bears and orcas making their way through ice floes, and glaciers that calve with a sharp crack and a rush of wind. Though items of a grand scale tend to grab the eye, the nuances are equally memorable. See how, after a glacial calve, armies of small birds plunge into the water to feed on uprooted plankton and fish.Of course, in summer, the centerpiece attraction is large: humpback whales come to Alaska’s nutrient-rich waters to feed. To hear the hypnotic song of mother and calf alongside your own offspring is to understand that family extends beyond man.How to do it: Lindblad Expeditions has been plying Alaska’s coastal waters for more than 20 years. In response to the growing trend in family travel, the company has transformed its 152-foot expedition vessels (large enough for supreme comfort; small enough to negotiate narrower waters) into floating classrooms. The eight-day, 300-mile Alaska trip from Juneau to Sitka features specially trained guides and fun learning tools like hydrophones lowered into the water to catch the plaintive cries of the humpbacks and an underwater bow camera that sends live streaming whale images to plasma television screens in the ship’s lounge. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: Coastal Maine
Why: Rugged diversity Maine’s coast juts, pokes, folds, turns, and twists, seemingly sculpted by someone who attached a cookie cutter to a jackhammer. The end result is gloriously and uniquely Maine. Seas and bays of shocking blue wrap about pine-capped granite coastline, skies are swept by ospreys, and shores are pocked with fishing communities, weather-beaten docks piled high with lobster traps and pulled at by colorful dinghies. Forests of pine comprise a second sea. Maine’s scent, appropriately, is a salty-sweet tang.The state’s outdoor epicenter is Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, as diverse a playground as you’ll find; you can canoe silent creeks, scale pink granite, hike to the tops of mountains, and kayak among dozens of offshore islands. It’s clear why in the 1800s Mount Desert’s main town, Bar Harbor, was called Eden and was home to the Astors, Fords, Morgans, and Rockfellers.How to do it: In six days – via bike, hike, and sea kayak – Backroads takes families from Acadia National Park south to Castine, Camden, and Rockport. You can camp or stay at inns: Campgrounds are comfortable, with swimming pools and hot showers; the inns offer finer amenities like fresh garden produce and harbor views. Either way, nice Maine touches include lobster bakes and oven-fresh blueberry pies, and climbing lessons for the kids. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: California Wine Country
Why: Cheetahs and chardonnay California’s Sonoma and Napa valleys are famous as home to some of North America’s finest wineries and loveliest countryside, a land of rolling hills peppered with oak and silent evergreen forest and, of course, hypnotic rows of grapes undulating into the distance. But a safari destination? Sonoma County is also home to Safari West, a 400-acre preserve where zebras, cheetahs, and giraffes – some 400 exotic mammals and birds altogether – lope through Northern California veldt.How to do it: Creative Leisure offers a three-day tour with cooking and wine-blending seminars, gourmet dinners, and tastings at wineries such as Chalk Hill, Jordan, Simi, and Lancaster. Guests enjoy a private jeep safari at Safari West, ogling African wildlife and taking a walking tour of a compound containing wild things from lemurs to birds in an open-air aviary. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: Montana Glacier National Park
Why: Family adventureMontana’s glacier national park is big on every front. For starters, it’s a million-acre wilderness and one of the country’s last areas wholly free of man. There are the glaciers themselves, glistening amid the craggy mountains, waterfalls spilling down their fronts. Within the park, you’ll find more than 500 streams and rivers, wildlife in uncountable numbers (bears, deer, beavers, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep), vast panoramas of meadows, and in late summer, heaps and heaps of juicy-fat huckleberries. Last, but not least, there is the sky: Diamond-clear, its expanse almost promotes vertigo. And at night, aah, more stars than you could ever imagine, courtesy of the almost total absence of light pollution (the nearest major city is well over 100 miles away). The Milky Way is moon-bright. In short, it’s a grand family adventure, from happy faces stained by huckleberry to awestruck faces gazing up at torrents of stars.
How to do it: Natural Habitat Adventure’s new seven-day family trip includes a night of camping beneath these stars (the remaining nights are spent in historic hotels), along with excursions like a jumbling white-water raft ride on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and a guided horseback jaunt through Many Glacier Valley. Please contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for current pricing, amenities and departure dates.
Where: The Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Why: The call of Romance thrives with both seclusion and a literal and figurative touch of the wild. There’s no better, or more private, backdrop for outdoor romance than The Bob Marshall Wilderness. Affectionately known as The Bob by locals, this is the great outdoors in a magnificent, and oversize, slice. Abutting two other wilderness areas, the complex comprises roughly 1.5 million acres. The second largest wilderness in the Lower 48 (behind Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness) is home to mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and dense old-growth forests – not one inch of it crossed by road. Here you have grizzly and black bears, moose and mountain lions, bald eagles and great flocks of trumpeter swans. And more than enough buffer from civilization’s prying eyes.How to do it: The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, sidles up to the edge of these wilds, and the staff can arrange trips into The Bob. Paws Up has its own 37,000 acres, including 100 miles of trails and seven miles of Blackfoot River, for horseback riding, fly-fishing, and hiking. But you and your companion might simply want to arrange for a side-by-side massage with a follow-up facial in the newly added Spa Town – 11 private tents tucked at the far edge of a meadow – now and again opening your eyes to take in forest and saw-toothed mountain through the tent flap. Luxury tents with electricity, fine linens, and sprawling wood decks, contact one of our Luxury Travel Specialists for adventure travel current pricing and amenities.
by: Ken McAlpine, Virtuoso Life (March/April 2007)
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