With Memorial Day behind us, it’s official: summer is just around the corner. And you know what that means – it’s time to plan your summer vacation! Or shall I say, your “summer adventure”? While many people favor a lounge-by-the-pool-every-day kind of vacation, others prefer to use their vacation time for more active, adventurous trips that involve adrenaline rushes and the making of priceless memories. Do you belong to that second category of vacationers? Woohoo! You’re in luck.
To help you start planning your adventure, we’ve put together a list of unique and exhilarating vacation ideas/destinations, all located within the United States – in case, like many of us, you don’t have the time or money to explore ancient ruins in Peru or backpack across Europe this summer. Depending on how far you’re traveling to get there, any of these unforgettable, affordable trips could be completed over a long weekend, expanded to a one- or two-week-long vacation, or included as one leg of a longer trip.
1. Spelunking in the Ozarks
Although Missouri’s official state motto is “The Show Me State,” it could just as easily be “The Cave State,” as it is home to more than 6,300 natural caves. Many of these underground caverns are located south of the Missouri River, in the Ozark Mountains. Over 300 caves are situated within the boundaries of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park in the Missouri Ozarks. If you’re not afraid of the dark and are interested in seeing some fascinating underground geological structures, this spelunking (a.k.a. caving) adventure might be the trip for you!
Within Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the Round Spring and Devils Well caves are currently open for exploring without a permit, while you can get a permit to explore Branson Cave, Lost Man Cave, and Bluff Cave during the summer months. Nearby Jam Up Cave, located in the Jacks Fork Natural Area, is another spectacular Ozarks cavern, reachable by boat only, featuring several rare fish species, Ice Age-era vegetation, and an underground waterfall.
Other things to do in Ozark National Scenic Riverways include water recreation on the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, stargazing, camping, and visiting historical structures, such as the prairie pioneer-era Alley Mill and Storys Creek One Room Schoolhouse, both of which are open to visitors in the summer months. For more information on planning an Ozarks caving trip, cave safety, and other related topics, visit this official site of the National Parks Service.
2. Ghost hunting in The Big Easy
If you’re fascinated by history or by things that go bump in the night, a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana could provide you with plenty of thrills and chills, no matter how hot the weather gets. With its rich, dark history, The Big Easy is considered by many paranormal enthusiasts to be the most haunted city in America. The city’s history of slavery and war, along with its coastal port location and multitude of cultural and religious influences, lends itself to legends of Creole voodoo spirits, haunted pirate ships, Civil War ghosts, and other paranormal phenomena.
The so-called “most haunted” New Orleans place is the LaLaurie House, one of the many ornate 1800s-era mansions in the French Quarter. The site is reportedly haunted by its original owners, Louis LaLaurie, a physician, his socialite wife Delphine, and spirits of their mistreated slaves. Some other famous haunted sites in New Orleans include the St. Louis Cemetery, said to be America’s most-haunted cemetery; the Lanaux Mansion, a bed and breakfast that was built in 1876 and is reported to be haunted by Charles Johnson, the house’s original owner; and the Beauregard-Keys House, another haunted French Quarter mansion.
There are plenty of “Haunted New Orleans” tours you can purchase tickets to, and many haunted sites, like St. Louis Cemetery, St. Louis Cathedral, and the intersection of Canal Street and City Park Avenue, can be explored on your own – if you dare! You can find “Haunted Tours” information at The Official Tourism Site of the City of New Orleans.
3. Roughing it in the Badlands
If you’re looking for something rugged and remote, a camping trip in North Dakota’s badlands might be up your alley. One of the Northern Great Plains’ few areas of dedicated wildlife, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the nation’s lesser-known natural gems, and was recently voted as the “Favorite Overlooked U.S. Attraction” by a HuffingtonPost.com poll. The park gets its name from the former president, who came to the Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883 and found himself astounded and humbled by the area’s otherworldly geological formations – towering, colorful rock formations made of layers of sandstone, known as “badlands.” The experience had a life-changing effect on Roosevelt, leading him to create an historic conservation policy.
In addition to its stark, spectacular landscape, the park is also home to plenty of watchable prairie wildlife including bison, elk, and prairie dogs. There are two first-come, first-serve campgrounds open for tent and RV camping year-round, and another that is open seasonally, on a reservation-only basis. Experienced campers can also get permits for backcountry camping. Besides camping and wildlife-watching, other things to do at the park include canoeing, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. Find more information about visiting the park at the National Park service’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park website.
4. Thrill-seeking in the Appalachians
The Appalachians, an eastern North American mountain range stretching as far south as Georgia and as far north as Nova Scotia, is a place of great natural beauty that includes breathtaking mountain summits, lush, deciduous forests, and freshwater lakes and rivers. Besides being a place of exceptional natural beauty, the New River Gorge National River in southern West Virginia is an especially attractive Appalachian travel destination for adrenaline junkies.
New River Gorge is one of the premier whitewater rafter locations in the world, featuring rapids ranging in difficulty from Class I (easy/beginner) to Class V (very challenging/expert). During the summer months, numerous companies offer guided trips down the river. Additionally, the area is becoming one of the top rock-climbing locations in the country, with its 1,400 established climbs.
Seeking even more extreme thrills? Consider a 1.5-mile walk across a 24-inch “catwalk” of the New River Gorge Bridge, a steel arch bridge situated 876 feet above raging white water rapids. The New River Gorge Bridge, featured on the West Virginia state quarter, is the third-longest single-span arch bridge in the world. Guided catwalk tours over the bridge are offered daily, except for in cases of extreme weather.
Visit the official site of the New River Gorge National River for information on whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and other park activities.
5. Slipping-and-sliding in Wisconsin
Have little kids, or aren’t sure if you’re up for something too extreme? Water parks are a great way to get your thrills in a safe, controlled environment. The state of Wisconsin has become known as the “water park capital of the world” with the majority of its water parks located in the popular Midwest tourist town of Wisconsin Dells, WI. Wisconsin Dells has over 20 indoor and outdoor waterparks, including Noah’s Ark, the largest water park in the country, featuring a slide with a 10-story-tall vertical drop; Kalahari Resort, one of America’s largest indoor water park resorts; and Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park, America’s biggest water and theme park resort.
Not working with a “resort” budget? No problem. This inviting city has plenty of economical motels and RV parks in addition to hotels and resorts. For more information on water parks and travel accommodations in Wisconsin Dells, visit the city’s official tourism website.