10 epic American adventure vacations
Sometimes, the prospect of idling a week or two of vacation away on a beach can leave you restless. Sometimes, the lure of adventure cannot be ignored. Luckily, America's great outdoors offer options for anyone looking to work up a sweat while expanding their mind. From a supporting cast of thousands, here are 10 we most heartily recommend:
Explore Yosemite's extremes, California
If the gods of the great outdoors had drawn up an adventure blueprint, it would look very much like Yosemite National Park. Four hours east of San Francisco lies a whole other world, where waterfalls crash from vast granite cliffs, crystal-clear streams cut through giant forests of ancient sequoias and awe-inspiring views appear at every turn. You can hike, bike and raft in the summer months, or ski once the winter arrives. You can push yourself to the limit or just take it easy and smell the flowers along the way, because with 1,200 square miles, there's enough for everyone to uncover here.
Go on an Everglades adventure, Florida
The tropical wetland at the tip of Florida is an area prime for easy but rewarding exploration. Dragonfly Expeditions offers a three-night, four-day foray that will lead you to the best the Everglades has to offer. You'll hike past orchids, bromeliads and ancient wonders, bike to the old and untouched Indian trading post, ride a canoe into Chokoloskee Bay and take a boat through the Ten Thousand Islands to explore where the Everglades meet the Gulf of Mexico. Expect sandy beaches, mangrove islands and smiles all around.
Duration: 4 days.
Follow the trail of John Muir, California
The John Muir Trail is not to be taken lightly. Traversed on foot for over 225 miles and 23 days, it's considered by many to be America's premier hiking trail; it will put up stiff resistance, but it's worth the effort. Named after the Scottish-American naturalist and early-wilderness preservation advocate, Muir also went by the name “John of the Mountains" — and these are some of those mountains. You'll begin in Yosemite National Park, then venture through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, across three national parks and up to the dramatic conclusion at Mount Whitney — at 14,505 feet, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. It might make you wonder if you've bitten off more than you can chew until you stand still and admire the scenery.
Duration: 23 days.
Fly: United Airlines flies direct to San Francisco and Sacramento.
Rafting the wilderness, Idaho
For those intrepid enough to sign up, it's possible to raft the canyons of Idaho's mighty Main Salmon River on a five-or-six-day excursion. Also known as “the River of No Return," it is the longest free-flowing river system in the United States —and rest assured, you will return, having come closer to nature than ever before. Run by Mackay Wilderness River Trips, the staff sets up luxury camps along the route so that when the rafting ends each day, you can refuel on high-end cuisine and rest blissfully beneath the stars.
Duration: 5–6 days.
Fly: United Airlines flies direct to San Francisco.
Dig deep at the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Should you require a reminder of just how small you are in the grand scheme of things, you may sign up for a four-day rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon that will provide a little perspective. Offered each year from June through August, the hike takes you from an elevation of 8,000 feet down to the very bottom of the Grand Canyon, a mile beneath its rim. The trails are well trodden and beginner-friendly, and you'll rest each night beneath the widest sky you've ever seen.
Duration: 3–4 days.
Conquer the Kokopelli Trail, Colorado
Taking its name from the Native American fertility deity, the Kokopelli Trail is a five-day 142-mile mountain biking journey through the most picturesque stretches of Colorado and Utah. Perfect for bikers looking for a challenge, the trail begins near Colorado's Grand Junction, follows the banks of the Colorado River and climbs up secluded trails into Utah's Canyon Country. A number of long and dramatic ascents take you up to over 8,000 feet, pushing lungs and legs to the limit.
Duration: 5 days.
Kayak the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Comprised of 22 islands in Lake Superior, just a few hours drive from Minneapolis, this national park makes wilderness adventure easily accessible to kayakers of all levels. Paddlers from across the U.S. and beyond are drawn to the natural beauty of Lake Superior where caves and otherworldly rock formations await. Itineraries for all levels of experience are available, from a two-day beginner's option, to the advanced six-night “Lighthouse Tour." And for the truly intrepid, tick the box marked cliff diving and return with full bragging rights. Back on solid ground, nearby Bayfield is a town worth exploring at leisure; Raspberry Island Lighthouse should not — and cannot — be missed, while Madeline Island offers great biking and hiking routes for those whose legs crave a little more action.
Fly: United Airlines flies direct to Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Hike the Big Island, Hawaii
It'd be difficult to find a place better suited to adventure than Hawaii's Big Island, a land of volcanoes, hardened lava deserts, snowcapped mountains and lush tropical rainforests. Akaka Falls State Park, Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park and Waipio Valley offer miles of trails to explore — not to mention Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, home to the active, fire-spitting Kilauea volcano. And if the trails take their toll, the golden, black and (in some cases) green sand beaches are a great place to recharge. America's 50th state should probably be first on your list of adventure vacations.
Explore untouched America, Montana
For more than a decade now, American Prairie Reserve has been working to restore the Northern Great Plains to the untouched condition they were discovered in more than 200 years ago. The result is a 300,000-acre reserve in northeast Montana, the largest wildlife park in the lower 48 states. Home to free-roaming herds of bison, elk and mule deer, these vast lands can be explored on foot, by mountain bike or on horseback. Take a tour by four-wheel drive, enjoy wildlife sightings or paddle a good chunk of the twisting, turning Missouri River. At the end of each day, you can sleep literally under the stars, or lay your head at Kestrel Camp, a collection of luxurious yurts with all the mod cons of home.
Be fearless, Las Vegas
If your idea of a vacation involves stunt fighting, fire walking and driving at terrifying speeds, you may like our 10th pick. An increasingly popular alternative to the beach is to sign up for a Stunt Experience and learn the secrets of the Hollywood stunt world under the watchful gaze of trained experts and the Las Vegas sun. Over five days, small groups are put through exercises in an array of skills that may have your beach-bound friends questioning your sanity. Remind them, upon your return, that you only live once.
Duration: 5 days.
Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
Around the web
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.