Where to Get an Adrenaline Rush
For certain travelers, a vacation spent unwinding on a sunny beach or relaxing poolside with a cocktail can be summed up in one word: Lame. Indeed, these adrenaline junkies would far rather set off for the world of outdoors and adventure. With 2014 upon us, we've set out to find the hottest adventure destinations for the new year. Whether you get your kicks heli-hiking, ripping through wild-red rock formations and desert terrain, or trekking some of North America's highest peaks, we've picked out the wildest adventure destinations of 2014.
1. South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand's landscape looks like Mother Nature on steroids: Everything here seems larger, wilder, more rugged and stunning than most anywhere else on Earth. From mountains that appear to have just burst forth, to glaciers, fjords and breathtaking, jagged coastlines, New Zealand's South Island strikes awe in the heart of any outdoors lover. Must-see natural wonders include the unforgettable Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier and Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain.
Queenstown is undoubtedly the country's -- if not the world's -- capital of adventure tourism. The city serves as a jumping-off point for a seemingly endless array of activities not for the faint of heart, such as skydiving, bungee jumping, heli-biking, paragliding, jet boating, white-water rafting and zip lining. For more "run-of-the-mill" adventures, the region also offers excellent hiking and skiing at Coronet Peak.
2. Canadian Rockies, British Columbia/Alberta, Canada
Some of the most beautiful vistas in the world await travelers arriving in the Canadian Rockies, which makes grabbing your outdoor gear and exploring the stunning landscape all the more inviting. The Canadian Rockies lie on the cusp of British Columbia and Alberta, and encompass an incredible 7,814 square miles of national parks, including Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay. It's widely accepted that the region's monstrous, white-capped mountains and sapphire-blue lakes are best appreciated on foot, making hiking one of the premier activities in the Rockies.
A plethora of outfitters offer guided tours, and whether you join an organized venture or strike out on your own, plan to trek through a few must-see points. Head to Banff to hike the shores of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, where you can then admire the Valley of the Ten Peaks. After crossing the Continental Divide, visit 1,240-foot-high Takakkaw Falls, Canada's second highest waterfall, then kick up your adventure with a rafting trip along the Kicking Horse River. Hike along the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, or traverse the alpine meadows toward Wilcox Pass in Jasper National Park. For a final, adrenaline-pumping excursion, heli-hike to the base of Mount Assiniboine, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, at nearly 12,000 feet high.
3. Costa Rica
The lush, tropical environs of Costa Rica supply adventurers with ample opportunity to take a trip on the wild side. The Central American nation lures travelers with an array of heart-pounding outdoor pursuits including white-water rafting, mountain biking, world-class surfing, volcano tours and zip-line tours across the tangled jungle canopy. Many tourists are surprised to discover that Costa Rica is home to some of the world's wildest white-water rapids; book a trip to raft on the Reventazon River, or the Pacuare River, where you'll encounter more than 20 class 3 and 4 rapids bursting from between 100-foot-tall canyon walls.
When you're ready to dry off, head inland to the jungle for a canopy tour, a trip via lengthy zip line through the rainforest. You'll zip from platform to platform across jaw-dropping ravines and hillsides. Cap your trip off with a bike tour around the base of Arenal Volcano, one of Costa Rica's 5 active volcanoes.
4. Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Coined "Alaska's Playground," the Kenai Peninsula offers travelers a whopping 15,000 square miles of sheer wilderness adventure. Take a deep breath and hop into a raft with an experienced guide to brave the unforgettable white water at Six Mile Creek, one of Alaska's most difficult rafting rivers, with torrents of class 4 and 5 waves flanked by ominous, rocky cliffs. For water-based action that's less fearsome, grab a canoe or a kayak, and explore the 60-mile Swanson River Canoe Trail, a series of rivers and lakes tucked into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
While you may encounter a few minor rapids, these trips are for rowers of all experience levels. Wildlife lovers will be pleased to discover the peninsula is 90% wilderness, and provides ample opportunities for spotting animals such as brown and black bears, moose, lynx, wolves and foxes, from land or water. Try to plan a multiday pit-stop in Kenai Fjords National Park, where, in addition to enjoying majestic scenery and catching glimpses of sea otters, puffins and whales, you can also get up close and personal to glacier action -- watching as massive ice chunks calve into the water below, reminding witnesses of the very power of nature.
5. Sedona, Arizona
One glimpse at the breathtaking, sprawling red-rock formations that define so much of the Sedona landscape inspires the urge to burst headlong into the great outdoors and embrace it in any way possible. With that instinct in mind, Sedona has made the extraordinary nature in its reaches accessible to tourists through endless numbers of trails, parks and adventure tours offered through outdoor outfitters. The absolute must-do Sedona activity is a Jeep tour exploring desert, canyons, red-rock formations and ancient cliff dwellings. Though many outfitters offer the rides, Pink Jeep Tours is a favorite, and offers extraordinary, heart-thumping, bone-jarring trips in modified (pink!) Jeeps.
Equine lovers can indulge in horseback riding tours from a number of ranches, such as family-owned and operated Foothills Ranch, which offers tours ranging from 1-hour to full-day rides, through ponderosa pine forests, along bubbling Grapevine Creek and into Grapevine Canyon. Finally, plan a hike along the many trails winding throughout the region. The number of trails is vast; consider joining a guided hike with an outfitter, such as Sedona Adventure Tours, which offers 2.5- to 3-hour hikes through the red-rock formations for all levels of hikers.