There’s nothing like overlooking the Grand Canyon from atop a mule to awaken your senses.
Unique outdoor experiences can quicken the pulse and ensure memories that last a lifetime. And thanks to America’s diverse landscapes, groups have plenty of opportunities for unforgettable adventures.
After months of travel restrictions, many travelers are eager for unforgettable outdoor outings like staring eye to eye with a buffalo or peering down at New England’s vibrant foliage from a hot air balloon. Groups looking for an unforgettable adventure should try any of these accessible and enthralling outdoor experiences.
Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour at Custer State Park
Custer County, South Dakota
Rated a Top 10 Safari by MSN, the Buffalo Safari Jeep roams through the 71,000 acres of South Dakota’s Custer State Park unencumbered from May through October.
The open-air vehicle can move up close to pronghorns, elk and some of the park’s 1,300 buffaloes. Guides share historical and educational facts about the park and its wildlife along the way.
The two-hour rides depart daily from the State Game Lodge. Groups can add the Chuck Wagon Cookout for a Wild West feast and cowboy entertainment. A souvenir cowboy hat and a bandanna allow participants to look and feel the part. Groups can choose a sirloin steak or a hamburger with a long list of sides, including cowboy beans and cornbread. Live entertainment completes the experience.
Mule Ride at the Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Since the late 1800s, the sure-footed mule has been a time-honored method of transportation at the Grand Canyon National Park. Groups can try this style of travel through Xanterra’s mule ride trips.
The trips range in length, and riders see different scenery based on the outings they choose. The company’s overnight adventures ride to the bottom of the canyon and spend the night at the Phantom Ranch. This way groups can gape at canyon vistas from below without having to foot the journey themselves.
The two-hour Canyon Vistas Rim Ride starts at the South Rim and runs along the canyon for stunning views. Wranglers stop along the way to deliver interpretive information on geologic formations, human history and fire ecology.
Hot Air Balloon Ride With High 5 Ballooning
Derry, New Hampshire
Guests watch as the world slowly shrinks below on a hot air balloon ride with High 5 Ballooning of Derry, New Hampshire. The company’s tours float above the Merrimack River Valley with views of the White Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and the Boston skyline.
In-flight music accompanies sweeping landscapes. Passengers slowly descend to gently touch the basket to the surface of a lake. Another highlight is floating above the treetops close enough to pluck a pine cone or a leaf.
The balloons fly from April 15 to November 15. Fall is a popular time because of the spectacular views of New England’s famous foliage. Sunrise flights are scheduled seven days a week, weather permitting.
Each one-hour flight ends with a champagne toast to celebrate the enjoyable voyage. Participants receive a personalized certificate for a hot air balloon ride and a souvenir balloon cup.
Cajun Country Swamp Tours
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Moss-laden cypress trees hide all kinds of secrets in the Louisiana swamps. Cajun Country Swamp Tours in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, penetrates the swamp wilderness to reveal the alligators, egrets, herons and other wildlife that call the area home.
The tours are run by a father-and-son team from the area. The ecotours traverse the wild terrain aboard crawfish skiffs, having as little environmental impact as possible. These quiet boats can accommodate groups of up to 24, with additional arrangements possible for larger groups.
The two-hour tours run all year. For the best wildlife opportunities, groups should plan to arrive during spring or from late fall to early winter.
Passengers will not only learn about the ecology of the area but also hear some local lore for additional insight into Cajun culture and natural history.
Whitewater Rafting at the New River Gorge
Oak Hill, West Virginia
Early on, paddlers recognized that the New River Gorge’s rapids were special. The first whitewater rafting outfitter opened in the gorge in 1968. Today, the New River is a world-class rafting destination that attracts both adrenaline chasers and the gentle wave seekers.
Several outfitters can customize whitewater rafting trips down the New River, among them River Expeditions in Oak Hill, West Virginia. The company’s signature trip remains the Lower New River Gorge, which alternates from rapids to calm pools for breaks between the action. Giant holes, roller coaster waves and the New River Gorge Bridge help to pack in the fun.
The Upper New River appeals to groups with young children or adults looking for a low-impact water outing. A few mild rapids, stops for swimming and plenty of panoramic scenery make the trip a more serene ride.
Swim With Manatees at Crystal River
Crystal River, Florida
Massive, slow and adorable, manatees interact well with humans because of their docile, curious nature. Groups can swim next to these creatures in Crystal River, Florida, where each winter they gather in groups of up to 1,000.
Manatees stay in the area year-round, though November through March is peak season. The animals prefer Crystal River’s Kings Bay due to the 70 natural springs in the area.
A relative of the elephant, manatees like to investigate humans floating near them. They will even nuzzle some lucky swimmers. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge facilitates these encounters with about 30 companies in the area that offer guided manatee tours. One company, Fun 2 Dive, can handle the needs of larger groups.
Boardwalks at the Homosassa Springs and the Three Sisters Springs allow groups that want to view manatees but not swim. Other companies provide tours by boat, kayak and paddleboard.
Dog Sledding in Alaska
Dogsledding expeditions with Alaskan huskies make every rider feel like an intrepid explorer. Groups can spend time with dog sled teams at any time of year, but authentic sled rides require wintertime visits.
Winter in Alaska is a wonderland with snowy, white landscapes and chances to view the aurora borealis. Planners should opt for a tour operator seasoned in winter trips to Alaska, such as John Hall’s Alaska Cruises and Tours. The operator offers Alaskan winter itineraries that include dogsledding adventures with Trail Breaker Kennels in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Founded by a four-time Iditarod champion and a Yukon Quest champion, Trail Breaker Kennel has taken groups across Alaska since 1976. The company offers one-hour dog sled rides with each sled carrying four people.
Tours also reveal how Trail Breaker Kennel became one of the top racing kennels in the world. Attendees can meet the cuddly, powerful huskies while learning how they prepare for the 1,000-mile Iditarod race.
Kayak the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Visitors to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Bayfield, Wisconsin, find it difficult to comprehend its substantial size until they paddle it. Guided kayak trips take groups onto the dark-blue waters of Lake Superior past sandstone cliffs, sand beaches and sea caves.
The lakeshore protects 12 miles of mainland wilderness and 21 of the 22 Apostle Islands. Groups can explore the park’s raw natural beauty on guided half-day, whole-day or multiday trips.
Visitors can access the park’s popular sea caves by kayak in the summer. In winter, these caves transform into ice caves, which draw people from around the world to explore the otherworldly interior.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also contains one of the nation’s largest and most complete collection of historic lighthouses. Ranger-guided tours are provided to some of the lighthouses during summer months.