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Adventure travel options await in the West's wide-open spaces

Adventure travel options await in the West's wide-open spaces
Take a frosty hike on top of Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sometimes the best adventures are in your own backyard – especially if the "backyard" encompasses western Canada and the United States. At the turn of the 19th century, the entire area was remote and largely unknown to anyone other than the indigenous peoples who lived in its mountains, deserts, forests and plains. Two hundred years later, dramatic landscapes and high adventure are still hallmarks of the West.

One of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon has been attracting adrenaline junkies since 1869 when John Wesley Powell made the first-known run down the Colorado River through the canyon. These days, river trips span anywhere from a couple of days to three weeks in rubber rafts or modern reproductions of Powell's little wooden boats.


Water travel isn't the only way to experience the Arizona landmark. Hair-raising helicopter tours depart form Las Vegas or Tusayan, Ariz., near the South Rim, including some aerial adventures that touch down inside the canyon. The canyon also hosts thousands of hikers each year on well-worn routes like the Bright Angel Trail or wilderness trails that lead off to super-remote mesas and side canyons.

Denver provides a gateway to myriad outdoor options in the Colorado Rockies. Winter adventures range from snowboarding and cross-country skiing to dogsled expeditions, ice climbing and snowmobiling. During summer, many of the state's snow resorts morph into warm-weather adventure hubs with mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and long-distance backpacking along the Continental Divide.


The Pacific Northwest is another center for adventure, with Seattle and Vancouver serving as waypoints for escapades on land and sea. The scenic San Juan Islands, which straddle the U.S.-Canada border, provide ideal conditions for sea kayaking. Local outfitters organize multiday journeys with overnight stays at waterfront campgrounds and paddle trips that concentrate on viewing resident killer whale pods.

The Inside Passage north of Vancouver is renowned for its fly-in fishing, featuring remote lodges that can only be reached by boat or floatplane. Ferries also provide quick and easy access to isolated landfalls like Denny Island and Bella Bella, where First Nations culture endures on the edge of a wilderness flush with grizzly bear, bald eagles and wild salmon.

Alaska is the last frontier when it comes to North American adventure. RV rentals in Anchorage allow visitors a jumping-off point to explore the vastness of the state. Kayak camping provides a one-of-a-kind view of the dramatic Kenai Fjords. Always-snow-covered Denali, the highest peak between the Himalaya and the Andes, attracts extreme hikers. The wild Copper River winds its way through Wrangle-St. Elias - America's largest national park, and a perfect spot for thrilling whitewater rafting. Alaska features many extremely remote lodges, where the activities include bush plane flights that land on glaciers and grassy ledges perched on the edge of thousand-foot cliffs.

-Joe Yogerst, Brand Publishing Writer


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