Extreme Outdoor Activities to Try Before You Die
A vacation doesn't mean the same thing to all travelers. Some people want nothing more than to relax by a pool and not lift a finger. Others want to learn as much as they can about a destination by sightseeing from dawn to dusk.
And some want to jump off clips, dive in underwater caves and roll down hills in a giant hamster wheel.
If you're an outdoor-lover who likes high-energy experiences, these are the activities you need to try, at least once, before you die.
Not an adrenaline junkie? Consider giving one of these experiences a try to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Feel weightlessness for a few brief seconds by jumping off a cliff into refreshing water below. This extreme feat was once a test of bravery for Maui's King Kahekili II, who would make his warriors jump off a cliff into the water to prove they were loyal and fearless.
Our advice? Don't go leaping off any old cliff, which can be a little risky if the water below is filled with rocks, the water isn't deep enough or heights are too great for a nonprofessional. This is a dangerous leap you'll be making, so stick to areas that are highly frequented by tourists and that have locals who know the rocks and best ways to jump.
Where to go cliff jumping: There are many places tourists congregate to catch some air, including many of the islands in Hawaii. Since Maui is where cliff jumping became a thing, give it a try at the island's Waianapanapa State Park, home to a black-sand beach, or the Bridge at Seven Pools — if you're brave enough to jump 60 feet!
Why just look at beautiful canyons and waterfalls when you can rappel down the side of one, jump across small gorges and slide down mossy rocks into natural pools?
From newbies to experienced rock climbers, this relatively new outdoor activity can be enjoyed by anyone willing to put their muscles into it. And it does make sense to have some level of physical fitness, because you will need to pull yourself up the side of rocks and support your body weight using your legs.
Where to go canyoning: There are few more formidable, or staggeringly beautiful, places to go canyoning than the iconic French Alps. Hundreds of canyons here offer thrills for adventurers of all skill levels (some are even suitable for kid canyoning).
Downhill Mountain Biking
Downhill mountain biking isn't a walk in the park. As you descend a mountaintop on a rugged mountain bike (with great shocks to absorb the bumps), you'll fly off rocks and encounter obstacles, combining fantastic scenery with serious thrills.
Mountain biking has its roots in a fascinating period of American history: In 1896, the U.S. Army organized an experimental regiment of soldiers, all African-American, who rode bikes instead of horses. Dubbed "buffalo soldiers," the men journeyed long stretches of difficult terrain on their bikes, laying the groundwork for modern-day mountain biking.
Once the U.S. made mountain biking a competition in the 1980s, the entire world was turned on to the idea of hitting the trails on two wheels. You can go it alone on many mountains that allow bikes, as well as specifically designed mountain-bike parks.
Where to go mountain biking: Sweden's Åre park is specially made for mountain-biking thrills, with 32 different trails to choose from, as well as chairs and a gondola to get you to the top.
Freshwater Cave Diving
Been there, done that with your ocean dives? Try freshwater cave diving, which takes you deep into lakes to explore underwater caves. While the water may be darker, you'll see fantastic formations of rocks, stalagmites and stalactites. Some dives lead to remote swimming holes that can only be reached by swimming through a cave. Pretty cool, right?
One caveat of cave diving versus open-sea diving? If something goes wrong, you cannot just surface, thanks to the presence of a rock ceiling above you. As a result, cave diving should be done exclusively by those who have divemaster status, with a minimum of 40 dives logged.
Where to go cave diving: The easiest caves to explore can be found in Tulum, Mexico (near Cancun), where you can traverse 7,456 miles of underwater caves — the largest expanse of freshwater caves on the planet.
Since the days of Leonardo da Vinci (who created a glider during the Renaissance), people have taken to the skies to glide like a bird. Official hang gliders, which date back to 1890, can be equipped with rigid or moveable wings, pushing participants to speeds of 30 miles per hour using nothing but the wind.
You don't have to go it alone to experience the rush: Tandem hang gliding allows a trained glider to take the lead as you enjoy the birds-eye views.
Where to go hang gliding: Strap safely into a glider in Rio de Janeiro and see the world's largest urban forest, Tijuca National Park, and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.
When you take a gondola to the top of a ski slope, you join hundreds of other skiers on the slopes. When you take a helicopter to the top of an untouched mountain, you get to ski fresh powder on pristine slopes.
Austrian Hans Gmoser is credited with popularizing heli-skiing in the 1960s while working as a ski guide in British Columbia. In the early days, it could take hours for the small helicopters to reach the ski summits; today, it's a much more efficient affair.
The activity allows adventurers to enjoy off-trail skiing or snowboarding in backcountry areas. This is skiing for black diamond skiers who can take on unmarked "trails" that don't use even a touch of fake snow. Avalanches and tree wells are dangers for anyone trying this pricey extreme sport, but advocates will tell you the rewards are well worth the risks.
Where to go heli-skiing: Go to where it all began by journeying to British Columbia. Here, millions of acres of backcountry terrain are available for heli-skiiing; outfits out of Whistler Mountain are particularly popular.
This high-energy activity is so cool, even Barack Obama gave it a go in the British Virgin Islands, while visiting Richard Branson at Necker Island. Part snowboarding, part surfing, part paragliding, it involves strapping onto a board connected to a giant kite that's propelled across the water before catching wind.
Called kitesurfing or kiteboarding, the sport was invented in the 1970s off the coast of France, where the winds whipping along the Atlantic coast were strong, allowing two brothers to catch waves and wind with speeds reaching up to 50 miles per hour. Most surfers don't exceed 15 miles per hour, and need four to five lessons to nail the combination of controlling the wind while controlling a stance in the water.
But even if you fail, you're all but guaranteed a fun time giving it a shot.
Where to go kitesurfing: Off the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, enjoy kiteboarding near where Obama and Branson have taken to the water.
Is there any greater natural rush than jumping out of an airplane? We think not.
Whether you do a tandem jump with an instructor who does all of the work, or train for your own jump and fly solo, this is an activity that will get your heart racing. Take a plane to 13,000 feet, then spend a full minute dropping from the sky at speeds of 120 miles per hour before your parachute stops your free fall and slows you down to an easy landing.
If former president George H.W. Bush can skydive for his 90th birthday, and the youngest recorded skydiver can complete the feat at age 4, you surely can manage to throw yourself out of a perfectly good aircraft.
Where to go skydiving: Looking for something especially unique to cross this one off your bucket list? Try skydiving over Victoria Falls in South Africa, the largest curtain of water in the world.
Not all of the fun is up in the air. Spelunking, or caving, will get you down and dirty as you climb through muck and dirt while exploring tight spaces. This is not for the claustrophobic! You'll see unusual rock formations that most don't know are below our feet, as well as some really rare relics.
In the Bahamas, blue hole caves seal off the oxygen inside so anything inside cannot decompose. You may encounter fossils and skeletons trapped inside for generations.
Spelunking can be a dangerous pastime, as caves can collapse; about 20 pro cavers die annually. Be sure you're with a reputable outfitting team that will take you through easier caves.
Where to go spelunking: In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 45,000 caves. But the best spelunking spot is abroad: Slovenia's famous Postojnska Cave, which spans more than 24,000 feet and is the second-longest cave in the world.
Forget snowboarding and sledding down a mountain of snow — the real action is on the side of a volcano. Instead of snow, you'll catch a rush riding down a slope with crushed black-lava sand.
The activity was first attempted by a hostel owner who gave it a go on Nicaragua's 2,888-foot Cerro Negro volcano. He tried it using a mattress, a table top and even a mini fridge before creating the best board for the run. That volcano is still active, but its last eruption was in 1999, so you'll be pretty safe boarding there. (We think.)
Where to go volcano boarding: Not any old mountain will do: You can only do this extreme sport at the original location of Cerro Negro. Enjoy the fun for just $30 and a lot of courage.
You could spend your vacation floating in an inner tube on a lazy river at an all-inclusive resort, but that would be ho-hum. Instead, try whitewater rafting, nature's very own roller coaster, by paddling down a river and navigating its rapids.
Thrills range from easy Level 1 (a bit like the hotel's lazy river) to Level 6 (so extreme, it isn't available for tourist rides).
John D. Rockefeller Jr. was one of the early pioneers of the sport, introducing the activity at his Grand Tetons resort in 1956 using some of the Army's surplus of rafts.
Where to go whitewater rafting: Ride down the Colorado River, making your way to the Grand Canyon, on a whitewater trip led by one of several tour companies. Some 22,000 river runners get their thrills here each year.
Since the '80s, adrenaline junkies have gotten their kicks by taking a big leap — off of bridges, hot-air balloons and even redwood trees in California. Using a bungee cord wrapped around your feet, dive head first off a bridge and "bounce" as the cord reaches its stretched limit.
Though modern bungee jumping as we know it is only a few decades old, it's rooted in the ancient practice of land diving, which originated on the South Pacific island-nation of Vanuatu. For centuries, young men would tie vines to their ankles and leap off wooden towers as a rite of passage. Today's bungee jumping adventures are safer, but no less exhilarating.
Where to go bungee jumping: Ready to take the leap? Try the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge in Colorado, the tallest bridge in the U.S. Jump from a height of 955 feet before dangling above the rushing Arkansas River below.
The very first time a person rigged a series of lines and cables to soar above a tree canopy was in 1979, using the activity to explore the forest.
These days, zip-lining is so mainstream, some kids in China actually get to school by crossing over the Nujiang River on the lines.
Where to go zip-lining: Just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, you can ride the Campo Rico Zipline and enjoy a drink at the mojito bar at the end of the run. The 2,300-acre park requires a 15-minute hike to the first of five zip-lines and five canopy bridges for $95.
The fastest zip-line in the world is at Zip World Velocity in North Wales, reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour. (Most zip-lining expeditions top out at around 60 mph.)
Climb inside a giant plastic bubble known as a "zorb" and then roll down a hill. The experience sounds simple, but most can't keep stay upright in their personal hamster wheel, and wind up fully upside down at some point in their journey.
Some outfitters will harness you in for more safety, while others let the zorb cushion you in what's essentially giant bubble wrap as you roll 360 degrees. For added fun, try a wet zorb ride, with water causing you to slip and slide all the way down.
Invented by two men from New Zealand, the fastest zorb ride recorded hit speeds of 32 miles per hour. Balls are as tall as an elephant, and the world record for distance traveled in a zorb without stopping was 1,870 feet. Guess you could say they were on a roll!
Where to zorb: Try it in New Zealand, where it originated. Zorb New Zealand has multiple tacks and both wet and dry runs. A 3-ride pass to try all three tracks is $85.