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TandemBase
Photograph: Courtesy TandemBase/Luanne Horting TandemBase

Best outdoor extreme adventures in the USA

Discover the top outdoor extreme adventures the USA has to offer, including BASE jumping, mountain climbing and more

By Tim Lowery and Spencer Spellman
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Consider yourself a daredevil? Yeah? Then check out this roundup of the most amazing outdoor extreme adventures throughout the United States. You can consider it your bucket list for memorable experiences that come with serious rushes, including goodies such as scaling a mountainside in Yosemite National Park, BASE jumping off a high bridge in Idaho, taking a wild and bumpy lakeside bike ride and much more. Looking for some more alfresco fun? Be sure to consult our guides to the best beaches in the United States, best national parks in the U.S. and best hiking trails in the United States

NOTE: We’ve flagged which services are temporarily closed below. If you need recommendations on what you can and should do to safely travel, check out this handy FAQ

RECOMMENDED: The 17 best places to visit in the USA

Best outdoor extreme adventures in the USA

Red River Adventures
Photograph: Nicole Morgenthau

1. Canyoneer through Moab, Utah

Known for its world-class mountain biking, Moab also has great canyoneering routes that take you from carved sandstone slot canyons to ancient ruins and water-filled pools. Red River Adventures offers several guided canyoneering routes, including the relatively easy-to-moderate Ephedra’s Grotto and Chamisa Canyon, both of which include hiking, scrambling and a couple of rappels. The company also boasts day trips that combine canyoneering with rafting down the Colorado River. 

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TandemBase
Photograph: Courtesy TandemBase/Luanne Horting

2. BASE jump off Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho

Part skydiving and part cliff jumping, BASE jumping is one of the most extreme thrills you can pursue, largely because the relatively low-altitude launch points mean less time to deploy your parachute. Perched nearly 500 feet above the Snake River, Perrine Bridge is known worldwide for the adrenaline-charged activity and, unlike many other destinations for the sport, doesn’t require a permit. The only prerequisite is courage, but TandemBASE guides newbies through the experience. 

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Wanna Ride Tahoe
Photograph: Ben Fish

3. Bike Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in South Lake Tahoe, California

No, we’re not talking about the Disneyland attraction. This single-track mountain-bike route heads primarily downhill from the Tahoe Rim Trail for several miles—the total descent is more than 2,000 feet. With multiple steep drops, sections traversing nothing but rocks, as well as epic views of the California-Nevada–straddling lake, it sure lives up to its name. If you’re not bringing your own wheels, Wanna Ride Tahoe can provide bikes, helmets and shuttles to Mr. Toad’s and other local trails.

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Sky Combat Ace
Photograph: Courtesy Sky Combat Ace

4. Fly an aerobatic plane over Las Vegas, Nevada

Trust us: Save the buffet for later. Getting an eagle’s-eye view of Vegas is thrilling in itself, but pulling Gs in an aerobatic plane takes a sightseeing flight to heart-racing new heights. For the full Top Gun experience, Sky Combat Ace lets you take over the controls. Your pilot demonstrates each maneuver, such as a barrel roll, loop and hammerhead, before letting you test your own skills. 

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Pikes Peak
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Hike a 14er in Colorado

What’s a 14er, you ask? As the name suggests, it’s a mountain at least 14,000 feet tall, and there are more than 50 to choose from in Colorado, from the 14,007-foot Sunshine Peak in the San Juan Mountains to the 14,440-foot Mount Elbert, the highest summit in the Rocky Mountains. One of the most popular in the state is Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs, which is a lofty 14,115 feet tall. A number of trails ascend to the top, including the most popular, the 13-mile Barr Trail. 

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Turtleback Dome, Yosemite
Photograph: Courtesy DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite

6. Climb Yosemite’s El Capitan in California (VARIOUS RESTRICTIONS)

Yosemite National Park is one of the best rock-climbing destinations in the world, but you don’t have to be Tommy Caldwell or Kevin Jorgeson, the duo that made history by free-climbing the daunting 3,000-foot Dawn Wall of El Capitan, to tackle its peaks. In addition to the popular 8,839-foot-tall Half Dome, easier summits include Washington Column, which has a 1,000-foot route. Need a guided trip, as climbing lessons or equipment rental? Yosemite Mountaineering School has you covered. 

NOTE: Yosemite
 is open, but day passes are required for entry. Only two campsites are open. The Yosemite Wilderness is open to those with existing wilderness or Half Dome permits. 

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Cumberland Caverns
Photograph: Courtesy Cumberland Caverns

7. Go overnight caving in McMinnville, Tennessee (TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED)

Want to get in touch with your inner caveperson? Not only can you explore Cumberland Caverns, which has more than 32 miles of underground passageways complete with cool rock formations, waterfalls and pools, but you can sleep over, too. Excursions include the All Around the Mountain tour, featuring ladder climbs, cave crawling and camping out in an underground cave, followed by breakfast in the cavernous Volcano Room.

NOTE: Overnight tours are currently suspended. However, day tours are still available. 

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New York Zipline Adventure Tours
Photograph: Courtesy New York Zipline Adventure Tours

8. Zipline above New York State's mountains (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)

Whizz 600 feet above a verdant Catskills valley at just under the highway speed limit along a 3,200-foot cable. The Skyrider tour is the most daring of three options at Hunter Mountain’s New York Zipline Adventure Tours. The 650-foot-long midmountain tour, which also traverses rope bridges and a rappel, is a tamer option for beginners (and you can also tackle it at night). 

NOTE: New York Zipline Adventure Tours are currently closed. 

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Proflyght Paragliding
Photograph: Spencer Spellman

9. Paraglide over Maui in Hawaii (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)

What better way to experience the world’s largest dormant volcano than by paragliding off its slopes? Daily flights with Proflyght Paragliding take off from the slopes of Haleakala, which at 10,000 feet is the highest peak on Maui. Beginners can test their mettle with the shorter 1,000-foot descent, but for the true adventurer, the 3,000-foot option features up to 15 minutes of airtime over the island’s lush tropical landscape and lavender farms. 

NOTE: Proflyght Paragliding is closed until further notice. 

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Waterfalls in Crawford Notch State Park, NH
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Rick McCharles

10. Go waterfall rappelling through New Hampshire’s White Mountains (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)

There are few things more exhilarating than lowering yourself down a rock face amid a deluge of foamy spray. While waterfall rappelling is often associated with exotic destinations, you don’t need to travel to Costa Rica to experience it. Climbing outfitter Northeast Mountaineering offers adventurers of all skill levels the chance to try it in New England. Take a short hike to the top of a 100-foot fall before rappelling down it with the help of a guide. Just be prepared to get wet.

NOTE: Northeast Mountaineering is closed until July 1. 

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Heli-ski
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Heli-ski in Anchorage, Alaska (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)

Taking the off-piste concept to the limit, heli-skiing transports you to slopes only accessible by chopper. The deep, ungroomed powder makes it the preserve of experienced skiers. Set within one of the largest state parks in America, just north of Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains offer thousands of miles of terrain, powder bowls and steep vertical descents, all of which means you’ll never ski the same line twice. Chugach Powder Guides is one of the best operators in the area.

NOTE: Chugach Powder Guides are currently closed. 

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