Best US adventures: Top 11 USA extreme sports & outdoor activities

May 25, 2021 BY Luke Rees

If you are looking for the best US adventures then you have come to the right place. The United States of America is the birthplace of a number of action sports and the spiritual home of many others. So we’ve pulled together the top 11 USA extreme sports and outdoor activities for you to try.

This list of American adventures combines the best activities in the best places for the most extreme experience. From surfing to snowboarding and climbing to kayaking we’ve looked at the ultimate extreme sports in the USA. For each item on the list there is a ‘pros only’ option that is out of reach of most of us, but also a more accessible adventure for us mere mortals to get involved in.

Best US adventures

Best United States adventure holidays trekking the Appalachian Trail Flickr CC image by stannate

Best USA extreme sports

The top adventures in the United States are all the kind of thing your mother doesn’t want to know you are doing. We are talking about Red Bull video levels of risk. And while you might not being going as big, high, fast or risky as the pros you will still get a huge adrenaline buzz and/or feeling of achievement from these action sports and outdoor activities.

So if you want to get extreme in America choose one of the top 11 options below:

Heli skiing/boarding in Valdez, Alaska

If you’ve watched any Travis Rice or Chris Benchetler videos from heli drops in Alaska you will know that there are some seriously gnarly lines to be had. But if you are not planning to ride 70 degree spines, drop cliffs the sizes of houses or send it huge off every feature it is still pretty extreme to heliski or heliboard in Alaska.

Best US adventures Valdez heli ski Top 11 USA extreme sports & outdoor activities image courtesy of Elemental Adventure

The mountains here are steeper, more wild and less predictable than elsewhere. All of which adds to the risk, but also to the fun. A reputable heli ski operator such as Elemental Adventure will tailor the drops to their clients needs. And despite the extreme nature of the Chugach Mountains there are still plenty of lines us standard skiers and snowboarders can enjoy.

Climb El Capitan in Yosemite, California

El Cap, as it is affectionately known to climbers, was a huge draw long before Alex Honnold’s first free solo ascent in 2017. Rising 914 metres (3,000 feet) from the valley floor it’s one of the world’s tallest monoliths and takes most climbers three to six days to summit. Although Alex Honnold (again!) and Hans Florine hold the speed climbing record of 2 hours 23 minutes and 46 seconds.

There are many named routes of varying difficulties, none of which are easy due to the sheer size of the face and being prepared for a multi day multi pitch ascent. But experienced climbers climb El Capitan all the time. That said the Dawn Wall is regarded at the toughest climb on earth and less then 300 people have climbed it.

There is also plenty of other climbing in Yosemite. You can easily take in the majesty of El Cap while getting involved in more accessible rock climbing. And while you are in state perhaps visit some of these incredible destinations to stay in California.

Base Jump off Perrine Bridge, Idaho

As USA extreme sports go BASE Jumping is about as dangerous as it gets. Basically it is skydiving without a plane from high buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth (eg cliffs). In much of the USA BASE jumping is illegal. In National Parks it is forbidden and off manmade structures you risk being arrested for jumping.

But that doesn’t stop a dedicated community of BASE jumpers from doing it. Legal jumps can be made within Bureau of Land Management boundaries where there are dozens of popular spots. But the only manmade object in the US you can leap from year round is Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s the most popular BASE jump in the USA.

best USA extreme sports BASE jumping Perrine Bridge Idaho Wikimeida CC image by Chris McNaught

But before learning to BASE jump you will need to learn to skydive and have recorded at least 200 jumps. This is some serious investment in time and money. Fortunately, just like you can tandem skydive you can also tandem BASE jump from Perrine Bridge. There are a few reputable operators offering tandem BASE jumps which is possibly the best USA extreme sport available to someone without prior experience.

Surfing at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii

When the conditions are right the world’s top big wave surfers flock to Peahi on the Hawaiian Island of Maui to try to break big wave surfing records. At its monstrous best Jaws peaks out at over 21 metres (71 feet) and rightly scares even pro surfers.

Sadly, numerous surfers have died or been seriously injured here. But Jaws isn’t always huge. In the summer months waves are far more manageable and good surfers can get involved. Lets face it surfing the world’s most famous wave is a bucket list item and easily one of the best US adventures.

Jeff Rawley surfing Jaws Hawaii best USA extreme sports Flickr image by Jeff Rowley Big Wave Surfer

Trek the Appalachian Trail

At 2,190 miles long the Appalachian Trail is one of the world’s longest treks and takes thru hikers five to seven months to complete. Following the Appalachian Mountains the route crosses the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

While not an extreme sport this trek is one of the best US adventures due to it’s length and it is a serious challenge even for experienced hikers. But you don’t have to do it all in one go. Just taking on a section of the Appalachian Trail will give you a taste of this adventure. There is a great community spirit and those doing the full length usually take on a trail name. 

Ski Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole is known for plunging couloirs, narrow gorges and being blessed with powder. It has become a known for adrenaline fuelled skiing, spectacular backcountry and the odd party too. A big draw is Corbet’s Couloir, one of the most famous off-piste routes in the world. Depending on the conditions you drop off a small, but daunting cliff into a narrow, steep and often icy chute.

best US adventures skiing Corbet's Couloir in Jackson Hole Flickr CC image by dpstyles™

A crowd often gathers and you are in full view of the tram which adds to the pressure, but really it is not that difficult. Any competent off-piste skier should get down it without falling. The town of Jackson has a unique appeal that is different to other US ski resorts. Expect Wild West style wooden sidewalks and cowboy saloons.

Snowboard Unbound in Mammoth, California

With nine terrain parks over 1,500 acres, Mammoth is the US freestyle Mecca. Pro snowboarders base themselves here for the sheer variety of constantly evolving features offered by the Unbound Terrain Parks. The XL lines are huge – anyone sending it needs to be able to handle some serious air time.

But the park is not just for those looking for the best USA extreme sports and outdoor activities. There are plenty of features for everyone from the first time freestyler to a hard core park rat including both 11 foot and 22 foot half pipes. Check out the Hemlocks Zone for huge slack country features that experienced snowboarders will love when the conditions are right.

best US adventures and best USA extreme sports unbound terrain park image courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

MTB near Zion National Park, Utah

The United States has some of the best mountain biking on the planet. And lets face it no riding is more extreme than the RedBull Rampage event held near Virgin on the edge of the Zion National Park in Utah. This freeride event attracts around 20 pro riders each year to perform death defying tricks on the most extreme terrain imaginable.

To get your MTB kicks around Zion you don’t have to follow the pros vertigo inducing lines. There is plenty of excellent riding in this area offering some of the best US adventures for those that like them on two wheels. The Gooseberry Mesa Trail System provides awesome single track for all level of riders. Plus JEM Trail is fast and flowing with some spectacular views.

Kayak (or raft) the Grand Canyon, Arizona

While there are more extreme rapids, the Grand Canyon’s 42 class IV to V white water sections make the Colorado the most impressive US river. The 227 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek are provide the most exciting kayaking expedition in the States. It takes most people 14 to 21 days to paddle the stunning route through this national park. Experienced kayakers can apply to a highly competitive lottery for a permit.

Rafting the Grand Canyon on of the best US outdoor activities and adventures flickr image by Grand Canyon NPS

But those without experience can still get wet and wild on commercial rafting trips. These vary from a few days in length up to three weeks. Apart from being fit, healthy and able to swim you do not need any prior experience to raft the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River is rightly considered one of the best white water rafting rivers in the world.

Combine the best outdoor activities

If you can’t pick just one of the above then why not combine them:

US Road trip!

If you really want to experience the best US adventures then there is no better way than to set off on a road trip taking in as many of the above as possible. There are so many different road trips you could take. For example, how about a Seattle to San Diego surfing road trip? Or you could drive from coast to coast, follow route 66 or try to visit every state.

If you are into music then a Kentucky and Tennessee road trip is a great option. There are plenty of good hotels in Louisville where you can begin and explore bluegrass music. Then drive onto Nashville ‘Music city’ the home of Country and Western before touring to Memphis for the Elvis experience.

Route 66 USA one of the best road trips for adventure lovers looking for overland activity holidays Flickr CC image by foto_graffiti

How about a luxury US road trip? This would be the ultimate way to experience the United States and there are two ways to do this. Firstly, hire the car of your dreams and drive between posh hotels at wineries, ski resorts and casinos. Secondly rent the biggest flashest Winnebago you can afford and travel in style setting up home wherever takes your fancy.

Just be sure to book in plenty of USA extreme sports and outdoor activities along the way.

We hope you found this guide to the best US outdoor activities, extreme sports and adventures useful and inspiring. You can find more ideas for United States adventure travel here.


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