Top 13 Must-Visit Adventure Destinations for 2018
When it comes time to make plans for adventure travel, it seems like the same destinations get recommended over and over. And those of us who have hiked the Grand Canyon, mountain biked in Moab, and went diving while visiting Australia, it can be a challenge to find a cool new place to visit for an active travel vacation.
So, we did some traveling last year looking for cool new places for adventure and have come up with the places we think are the must-visit adventure destinations for this year. If you’re looking for cool places to add to your travel itinerary this year, check out one of the 13 places we’ve selected below.
- 1. Flåm, Norway
- 2. Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
- 3. Rapid City and Black Hills, South Dakota
- 4. Jordan
- 5. Las Vegas, Nevada
- 6. Cappadocia region, Turkey
- 7. Snowdonia, Wales
- 8. Cortina dʼAmpezzo, Dolomites, Italy
- 9. Écrins National Park, France
- 10. Bled, Slovenia
- 11. Kelowna, Canada
- 12. Mai Châu, Vietnam
- 13. Northern Territory, Australia
1. Flåm, Norway
It’s no secret that Norway is an amazing destination for outdoor enthusiasts, but our pick is a bit more specific. The village of Flåm is probably most well known for the Flåm Railway, which is known as the world’s most beautiful train journey. We visited Flåm back in 2014 as part of the “Norway In A Nutshell” tour, but unfortunately the tour didn’t allow for any type of long-term stay in the village. If you’ve done a fjord tour in Norway, then you’ve probably been in Flåm after traveling from Oslo or Bergen. And it’s worth more than a few hours of your time.
Since the fjord ferry tours launch from here, you have lots of water sports opportunities at your disposal. There are also plenty of opportunities for awesome hiking treks and cycling excursions for you to fill your time with. And while Flåm is a tourist-heavy destination due to the fjord ferry tours, the outdoor trekking paths are not crowded like you’d expect.
Recommended activities: hiking, biking, and canoeing
When you take the train from Oslo or Bergen, your stop for Flåm is Myrdal. From Myrdal, you can either take the picturesque Flåm railway down into Flåm Valley, or you can hike or bike the 20km path from Myrdal station to the valley. Here at Active Weekender, we suggest that you hike or bike down into the valley and then take the train ride back up when you leave. The difficulty level for this path is rated as medium, so it is not for the beginner. If you prefer to bike down the path, you can hire a cycle at Myrdal station.
How long to stay: at least 5 days/4 nights to give yourself ample time to get in all the hikes and other activities in the area at a leisurely pace. And don’t forget to book yourself a fjord tour before you leave!
Where to stay: since Flåm is a small place, there are not a lot of options when it comes to places to stay. We suggest the Fretheim Hotel – they even have hiking maps you can pick up at the front desk. Plus, the views from the room are an amazing bonus.
Get more information at Visit Norway.
2. Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
While plenty of outdoor enthusiasts visit the Scottish Highlands for amazing scenery, local parks and great hiking, the Scottish Islands don’t get the attention that they deserve. Not only will you find them less crowded, but there is a wealth of outdoor opportunities awaiting you. Of the Scottish Islands, our top pick for adventure travel seekers is the Isle of Skye.
What’s so great about the Isle of Skye is that there are many awesome outdoor activities for you to choose from when you plan your trip there. Whether you’re into horseback riding, jet skiing, canyoning or something else, you can find something to match your adventure travel tastes. You can even book tours.
Recommended activities: hiking, boating, canyoning, snow sports, mountain biking, paragliding, rafting, and kayaking
No matter what time of year you visit the Isle of Skye, you will find lots of fund outdoor activities you can enjoy. The must-visit part of your trip should be Quiraing – the hike is popular and gets crowded, but is definitely worth it. Another great hike you won’t want to miss is the making the trek to the Fairy Pools.
Regardless of your physical fitness level, there is plenty for people of all ages and skill levels to enjoy when visiting the Isle of Skye. A great place to learn about all your options is the Visit Scotland website.
How long to stay: at least a week to enjoy several different activities, as well visiting some of the other local attractions like Dunvegan Castle and the Talisker Distillery.
Where to stay: most of the holiday rentals are located in Portree, and of those we recommend the Heatherfield House B&B. If a B&B isn’t your style, you can choose from several different properties at Booking.com.
3. Rapid City and Black Hills, South Dakota
While it might not be the first place in the U.S. that you think of when it comes to adventure travel, we visited the Rapid City area over the summer of 2017 and found it to be an awesome place for outdoor activities. There’s a lot more to do in the area than see Mount Rushmore!
We recommend using Rapid City as your base location, unless you intend to go camping. From there, you can visit Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, Custer State Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Jewel Cave National Monument, and Wind Cave National Park for all the outdoor activities you can imagine. You can even take some time off from being active and visit the nearby Wild West city of Deadwood. Plus, Rapid City is only around a six hour drive from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, if you want to make it an awesome couple of weeks.
Recommended activities: hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding
The Visit Rapid City tourism site is a wealth of information on all of the outdoor adventures that you can have in the area. We used it when we planned our trip and found it to be very valuable. As you start poking around and seeing all of the awesome trails you can hike, wildlife you can see, and other cool things to do, it will be hard to narrow down your options to fit your vacation length. At a minimum, we suggest Badlands and Custer State Park – at both of these you can see some cool wildlife as well as enjoy some outdoor activities.
If you don’t have the time to do everything, then we suggest just picking a few of the parks to visit because you will spend an entire day at the parks and still not do everything that you want to do. Plus, you can always go back to pick up the parks you couldn’t visit the first time.
And while you’re in town, make sure to take time to visit the Firehouse Brewing Co. for dinner one night. It’s the oldest operating brewery in the state and the food is pretty good. It was even featured on one of Rachael Ray’s shows on The Food Network.
How long to stay: a week is a good amount of time to visit Badlands, Custer State Park, and one other park. If you can stay for 10 -14 days, then you should be able to fit all of the parks and several trails in the area.
Where to stay: if you’re not camping, then we recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Rapid City – it has a good location right off the interstate and the rooms have kitchenettes so you can make some meals in the room. There is also a coin laundry room if you want to be able to do laundry during your stay.
While you may already be familiar with Petra, it’s not the only outdoor adventure you can have in Jordan. That’s why we couldn’t narrow this one down to just one city or region of the country.
In addition to hiking all over the awesome landscape of Petra, the Jordan Trail recently opened and you can go from Um Qais to the Red Sea on this trek. Just make sure you have the time for it because the Jordan Trail takes 36 days to complete! Something else to consider is the Dana Nature Reserve – it is a cool experience if you have the time to go off the beaten track.
If you’re interested in desert adventures, then Wadi Rum is perfect for you. You can go on a camel trek, a 4×4 jeep tour, and spend the night in a Bedouin camp under the stars.
The ruins of Jerash are often on the itinerary of travelers to Jordan, but what you might not know is that it’s a great spot for rock climbing.Another popular spot for climbers is Jebel Rum.
As you can tell, we’re big fans of Jordan here and think it’s an awesome spot for outdoor adventures of all shapes and sizes.
Recommended activities: hiking, cycling, rock climbing, jeep tours, camel trekking, snorkeling and other water sports
Definitely give yourself at least two days for hiking in Petra, and even better if you can spare three days for it. If you end up in Aqaba, it is seaside city, which means that all the standard water sports are available for you to enjoy. If you stay at a resort right on the water, then they usually have equipment you can rent for a day in the water. You can also book excursions out into the water, if that appeals to you.
Plenty of tours are available for hiking, rock climbing and other adventures. This is a good option if you don’t want to go solo on your adventures.
With so much to do in the country, not including regular sightseeing, you need to give yourself a good 10 to 14 days to take it all in. And the longer you can stay, the more cool stuff you can enjoy while in the country.
How long to stay: two weeks minimum; at least six weeks if you want to do the Jordan Trail
Where to stay: our favorite hotel in Petra is the Petra Moon Hotel (read more about our Petra hotel picks here), for Aqaba we had a good experience (and got a good rate) at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Aqaba, for the Dead Sea we got a cheap price and had a great experience at the Holiday Inn Resort Dead Sea, for Amman we actually stayed outside the city in Madaba at the Mariam Hotel, and for Wadi Rum there are a variety of camps to choose from for desert camping.
Get more information at Visit Jordan.
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
Keeping with the desert landscapes that offer awesome outdoor adventure opportunities, we whole-heartedly suggest considering Las Vegas as one of your destinations this year. Though it is known for casinos and debauchery, Vegas is actually a treasure trove of outdoor adventure opportunities. Plus, it’s only around a two hour drive from Death Valley National Park, a four-hour drive from the West entrance to the Grand Canyon, and around a two hour drive to Zion in St. George, Utah.
Even though there are tons of amazing outdoor activities within a few hours drive of Vegas, there are actually some great things to do in the greater Las Vegas area that you might not know about.
And with so many cool activities at your disposal in Vegas, there is something to do for pretty much anyone of any skill level.
Recommended activities: hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoning, kayaking, paddle boarding, wakeboarding, skiing, cycling, skydiving
While it might be located in the desert, there are actually some good water sport opportunities for you take advantage of. At Lake Las Vegas, you can do a little paddle boarding or wakeboarding if you don’t mind that Lake Las Vegas is surrounded by a seemingly dead retail area. For more water sports, use your America The Beautiful Park Pass to visit Lake Mead National Recreation area where you can go boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, and more.
Around a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip, you can get in some hiking, rock climbing, canyoning, and mountain biking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – your America The Beautiful Park Pass gets you in here for free too. Don’t have a car? No problem! You can book a Red Rock hiking tour through Viator and get picked up and dropped off at your hotel.
If you prefer a state park, and don’t mind driving an additional 30-minutes north of the city, then Valley of Fire State Park is a great option for you. There’s also some easy to reach petroglyphs here that you can check out. And if you don’t have a car, then you can book a Valley of Fire hiking tour where you get picked up and dropped off at your hotel.
If you happen to be visiting Vegas in the hot summer months, then do yourself a favor and head up to Mount Charleston for some cooler temperatures. You can get in some good hiking here as well. Or, if you’re visiting Vegas in the winter, you can actually get in some skiing at Mount Charleston.
For those of you who are not really into mountain biking but want to get in some cycling, then we suggest the paved River Mountains Loop Trail that goes through Lake Mead National Recreation Area. There are also a lot of other trails around the city that you can find and set out on.
You can also book some off-road tours and desert jeep tours, if that sort of thing interests you. You can even rent a dune buggy for an adrenaline-rushed ride through the desert.
How long to stay: a week should be enough time to do a few of these activities. Expect to spend a full day minimum at Red Rock, Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. You can even do a quick Hoover Dam tour while at Lake Mead.
Where to stay: unless you just want to stay on The Strip, we recommend an off-strip hotel near the interstate or the Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, which is a great location for enjoying Red Rock Canyon.
6. Cappadocia region, Turkey
One of our favorite destinations for active travel is the Cappadocia region of Turkey. You probably know it’s infamous hot air balloon rides that take you over the landscape that’s dotted with fairy chimneys. But there’s more than just hot air balloon rides on offer here. If you enjoy hiking, then we think you will definitely want to put this destination on your travel itinerary this year.
It’s a relatively inexpensive place to visit with lots of great, cheap food options and you basically get free reign of the landscape. So, get ready to scramble over some boulders and scale the side of a canyon wall as you take in some amazing scenery. And one of the coolest things about hiking here is that you just might turn a corner on your trail and find a pop-up counter shop with a guy selling the infamous Turkish tea and other snacks. You can also book a tour through G Adventures that includes some other spots in the country.
Recommended activities: hiking, cycling, ATV riding
We’ve written several guides on our experiences exploring the Cappadocia region on foot. If you’re planning a trip, the check out the following articles we’ve written for ideas:
- Renting Bikes and ATVs in Göreme (Cappadocia)
- Hiking From Göreme to Uçhisar in Cappadocia
- Hiking from Göreme to Paşabağı Valley in Cappadocia
- Cappadocia Hiking: Exploring Çavuşin
- Hiking and Climbing Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia
How long to stay: we recommend five to seven days minimum for enjoying a good variety of hiking trails with a little downtime in between
Where to stay: While a few different towns make up this region, we think that Göreme is the best location to base yourself out of for easy access to Paşabağı Valley, Uçhisar, and Çavuşin. Our favorite hotel in the area is the Vineyard Cave Hotel.
7. Snowdonia, Wales
While we feel this is a relatively well-known place among Europeans, not many Americans that we encounter have ever heard of it. And that’s a shame because it’s an amazing area that is jam packed with awesome outdoor activity opportunities. Whether you visit in the winter or the warmer months, you’ll find plenty of things to keep you active. You can even just take a walk on the beaches along the coast if you’re feeling a bit lazy one day.
The region of Snowdonia includes the mountains that you’ll find in Snowdonia National Park and it stretches to the coast. That varied landscape is what makes this region a must-visit for adventure travelers like you. Pretty much anything you can think of that you want to do on an active travel vacation, you can do here in Snowdonia.
Recommended activities: hiking, mountain biking, climbing, horseback riding, white water rafting and kayaking, paddle boarding, wakeboarding, caving, bouldering, ice climbing, boating
As you see, the possibilities seem limitless when it comes to what you can do on a trip to Snowdonia. It just depends on how extreme you want to be during your visit. You may discover that it will take several visits to the area to fit in all the things that you want to do.
How long to stay: we suggest at least one week in order to experience multiple activities that the area has to offer.
Where to stay: we don’t have a favorite place to recommend yet, so we suggest that you use the Visit Snowdonia website to search for accommodations near the area where you plan to be active.
8. Cortina dʼAmpezzo, Dolomites, Italy
When most people think of Italy, it’s not amount breathtaking mountain landscapes that offer lots of fun outdoor adventure opportunities all year long. But for adventure travelers, the Dolomites should not be missed. Located in the northeastern part of the country, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has plenty to offer adventurers of all skill levels from the most extreme adrenaline rush seekers to the more casual outdoor enthusiasts.
Several towns and villages can be found in this region, but we’re focusing on Cortina dʼAmpezzo, which is part of the Dolomiti Superski area. In fact, they’re hosting the Alpine Ski World Championships of 2021. But just because it’s known as a ski town doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in the warmer months! Cortina dʼAmpezzo offers year-round opportunities for outdoor activities of all skill levels.
Recommended activities: hiking, mountain biking, skiing, base jumping, climbing, gliding, snowshoeing, snowboarding, canyoning, horseback riding, ice trekking
There are even hiking trails for families who want to get out and experience nature but can’t handle the more strenuous trails. And one of the cool things about the trails here is that you are rewarded with beautiful lakes and waterfalls when you’re out hiking or biking in the area. You can glimpse some of the trail options here.
How long to stay: we think five to seven nights here gives you enough time to have a fun time visiting this area and doing a few different activities. Though, we expect that you’ll want to visit it at least twice – during the warmer and colder months to enjoy all that Cortina dʼAmpezzo has to offer.
Where to stay: a cool thing about this area is that there is really only one big chain hotel, the Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa (a Starwood property), but there are tons of great local places to stay. So, pick one that meets your budget.
9. Écrins National Park, France
One of only ten national parks in all of France, Écrins is situated in the southeastern part of France and consists in a mountainous region of the Dauphiné Alps, south of Grenoble and north of Gap. As you can imagine, this mountainous area is an adventure travelers dream with no shortage of outdoor activity opportunities.
It covers an area of 354 square miles, so you’d need a fair amount of time to cover it all. With that in mind you could use one town as your base, or spread your stay out over a few different towns in order to easily access different parts of the park during your stay. You should be prepared to rent a car for your time in the area so that you can more easily get around.
Recommended activities: hiking, mountain biking, cycling, climbing, skiing, kayaking
As you look for things to do in the park, take note that you can find Maisons du Parc (local information centers) to get information on trails and on the area in general. France This Way notes that you can find these stations located in:
- Briancon (east, Brianconnais region)
- Pont-du-Fossé (south-west, Champsaur region)
- Embrun (south, Embrunais region)
- Entraigues (north-west, Valbonnais region)
- La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar (west)
- L’Argentiere la Bessee (east, vallouise region)
- Le Bourg d’Oisans (north, Oisans region)
How long to stay: we think that a week (minimum) should give you enough time to experience several trails and other activities that might interest you. If you intend to do longer treks or several climbs, then plan for additional days.
Where to stay: There are several towns and villages in the area, but most park visitors tend to agree that Embrun is a good location to base yourself out of. You can find several lodging options in Embrun. If you prefer to camp, then we suggest the campsite in Ailefroide.
10. Bled, Slovenia
If you’ve never visited Slovenia, then you are in for a real treat. The country is beautiful and definitely a must-visit place for outdoor enthusiasts. Though Bled is one of the major cities of the country, it offers great access to some outdoor recreation opportunities.
From your base in Bled, you can visit nearby Bohinj Lake to enjoy your favorite water sports activities. Or, spend a day in Triglav National Park getting in some hiking and climbing.
Once you exhaust the options from Bled, rent a car or take public transport south to check out Postojna cave. You could actually visit Postojna cave from a base of Ljubljana, if you want to change hotels from Bled.
You can also find tour operators that include all of these locations, if you’re looking for that sort of trip.
Recommended activities: hiking, climbing, water sports, climbing
The landscape here allows for some great hikes, so do plan on hitting up a few trails while you’re in the country. And be sure to bring your camera to snap a shot of those amazing emerald colored lakes.
How long to stay: we think that four to six days is enough to have a fun time outdoors here. Plus, if you rent a car it’s only around a three hour drive from Cortina dʼAmpezzo – so you could fit both into a longer trip.
Where to stay: we suggest the Best Western Premier Hotel Lovec in Bled because it is just a 5 minute walk from the lake and has a free breakfast each morning.
For info on visiting Slovenia, go to I Feel Slovenia.
11. Kelowna, Canada
Known for being wine country, Kelowna is actually a pretty cool place for people who like to get active outdoors. It actually not that far from Banff, and a lot less crowded. In fact, if you’re planning on visiting Banff you can likely route through Kelowna for a couple days stopover.
Since it is situated on the Okanagan Lake, this is great spot for people interested in water sports.
Recommended activities: hiking, cycling, parasailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, wakeboarding, ATVing, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross country and alpine skiiing, snowshoeing, bouldering, climbing
As you can see, there are plenty of options to keep you busy during a trip to Kelowna. During your downtime you can take advantage of some of those local wineries or visit some organic farms or orchards.
How long to stay: if this is your only destination, then we suggest four to seven nights, but if you’re stopping here on the way to or from somewhere else, at least two nights should be good
Where to stay: there are a lot of lodging options in Kelowna, so we suggest you pick something with good ratings that meets your budget. View options at Booking.com.
12. Mai Châu, Vietnam
If you happen to be backpacking around Vietnam, then you should definitely make Mai Châu a stop on your travels. Located only around 160km from Hanoi, this is a relatively popular place for tourists because the scenery is stunning.
The real feature in this area for adventure travelers is the Pù Luông Nature Reserve. For the best weather and most lush scenery, try to schedule your trip either during September to November or February through May. You’ll be rewarded with treks through a lush green valley surrounded by mountains on each side.
Recommended activities: backpacking, hiking, cycling, motorbiking
While there aren’t any extreme activities that we can recommend, we still think this is worth the trip for those seeking adventures. You’re certain to have some fun treks through the valley. This is an especially great trip if you’re looking for a tranquil experience in rural Vietnam. G Adventures also has several Vietnam tours that you can book.
How long to stay: depending on how relaxed you want your travels to be, we think three to four nights is enough to experience the best on offer here.
Where to stay: we currently don’t have any favorites in the area, so pick a place to stay from Booking.com that meets your budget and location needs.
13. Northern Territory, Australia
It’s no secret that Australia has a lot to offer adventure seekers and in the Northern Territory you can find Nitmiluk National Park. The park is home to 13 gorges you can explore, waterfalls, and the Katherine River.
If you’re looking for an awesome outback adventure in Australia, this is the place to be. You can do it alone and set your own itinerary or schedule yourself a tour with a local guide or through G Adventures.
Recommended activities: hiking, kayaking, camping, canoeing, swimming (where permitted), boating
There is a lot to explore in the park, and we think that’s best done either on foot or on the water. You can even book canoe tours or bushwalking tours if you want a local guide to show you all the best spots. Just be sure you only swim where it’s posted that you can do so!
How long to stay: a good four to six nights should give you enough time to leisurely experience the best of the park.
Where to stay: if you’re not camping, then look for lodging in Katherine. We recommend the Cicada Lodge, which is an awesome eco resort in the area.
No matter where your adventures take you this year, remember to leave no trace!