Lacking motivation to stay in shape this summer? Maybe you just need an incentive, like, say, surveying Africa from 20,000 feet up or having the Great Wall all to yourself. Valaer Murray lines up once-in-a-lifetime adventures that will have you hopping off the couch and straight into the gym.
Grand Canyon Descent in Arizona
From the rim, you see the top half, and from a raft on the Colorado, you see the bottom half. But the only way to truly appreciate the Grand Canyon’s grandeur is the rim-to-river hike, a descent of about 5,000 feet. Thought that hiking downhill was easier? The 7.3-mile South Kaibab Trail proves otherwise. But, you’ll pass through a multi-colored rift etched by prehistoric river currents on a trail originally forged by Hopi Indians. Every switchback presents a chance to catch wildlife and a different soaring panorama. South Kaibab offers the shortest route, taking anywhere from three to five hours, while the Bright Angel Trail is more gradual and less exposed but 10.3 miles. Rest for the night in a rustic stone cabin at the Phantom Ranch (reservations open 13 months ahead) before you hike out in the morning.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro has long been known as the “Everyman’s Everest,” since it’s the only one of the world’s Seven Summits that doesn’t require technical climbing skills. Still, climbing the world’s tallest free-standing mountain is not for the weak. Only 40-50% of people are able to complete the climb. The biggest danger involved during the nearly 20,000-foot ascent is altitude sickness. And the biggest reward? Watching the sun rise above the clouds, snow falling from above and a glacier below. Along the way you pass through wildly different climates, from rainforests to lava formations to alpine fields of lichen and grass. And hey, while you’re checking off that bucket list, why not tack on a few days of hiking amid elephants and giraffes in the Serengeti?
Kayaking the Na Pali Coast in Hawaii
The coastline of the Hawaiian islands offers a coffee table book’s worth of eye candy, from black sand beaches sloping up to palm fringed ridges, to rugged cliffs rising from the sapphire sea. But it’s Kauai that tops our kayaking bucket list for its isolated, rugged Na Pali coast. Some of the most spectacular scenery of the Na Pali State Park, like the Miloli'i Valley, are only accessible by sea. One-day guided kayak trips are available, but we’d suggest a multi-day adventure so you’re able to explore the sea caves and virgin reefs along the way. However, we’d suggest taking along a guide, who will rent you kayaks and help you load up with necessities for camping at the two permit-only camping sites. Paddling for 17 miles in rough waters plus landing in high surf requires an experienced kayaker, but your reward is mile-high waterfalls dropping from emerald cliffs, deserted white crescents of sand and misty valleys only a few get a chance to see.
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Biking the Great Ocean Road in Australia
Some say traveling the Great Ocean Road is like a spiritual awakening, perhaps because the Twelve Apostles are waiting for you at the end. In this case, the “apostles” are the ever-changing limestone rock towers carved from the cliffs, one of the major sites to catch along the way. A total of 172 miles end to end, the ride slices through a huge array of ecosystems, from a temperate cloudforest to volcanic craters and sand dunes. Stay at B&Bs in the seaside towns between your starting point in Geelong, accessible by the V/Line train from Melbourne, to your endpoint in Warrnambool, also a train stop. Detour to trace historic rail trails, hit some wineries, zipline through the rainforest and scarf down fish and chips at the excellently named Frying Nemo in Port Campbell.
Trekking the Torres del Paine Glacier Circuit in Patagonia
As you make your way around the 52-mile circuit, each step seems to take you further back in time, when the world was all sharp edges, crystal-clear water and blue ice. The weather and terrain is unforgiving even in the summer months, but you’ll be mesmerized by the icy drama of it all as shards of the Grey Glacier fracture and crash into the lake. About seven different ecosystems host the circuit through Chile’s Patagonia, each with various wildlife encounters, from guanacos to condors, all overseen by the stark monoliths of the Paine stone towers. Lodging can range from tent camps to refugio huts to five-star hotels like explora Patagonia, but only the most adventurous hikers get VIP access to stunning vista points like the John Garner Pass and the jewel-like Lago Sarmiento.
Scaling the Great Wall in China
This epic hike takes you to parts of the Great Wall that are virtually empty of tourists. While some parts of the wall have been partially restored, other areas, like Jinshanling, reveal the original 400-year-old structure and stones. Starting from Gubeikou, trek from tower to tower, stopping for photos of the lush surrounding farmland that flows into the craggy peaks of Mt. Simatai. To complete the trek in three days, you’ll hike an average of six miles a day, including some treacherous, slippery parts and bonus detours to otherworldly sites like Spider Valley. Get a taste of authentic Chinese culture by stopping at guesthouses in the rural villages along the way. Your host may even serve you a home-cooked meal just as they would have offered the ancient warriors defending the land from invading Mongols centuries ago.
Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City
The only time you’ll ever get to bike down the middle of 6th Avenue without a taxi driver trying to wing you is during the Five Boro Bike Tour, a 40-mile, one-day bike ride around New York’s boroughs. The challenging yet exhilarating route is completely car-free, which means you and a ton of other cyclists (read: 32,000 other cyclists) take over parts of the FDR Drive on Manhattan’s West Side and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Watch the city change from block to block as you ride north from the Financial District up to Central Park, through Harlem to the Bronx, winding through Queens to Brooklyn and, the coup de grace, arching over the river on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. You’ll never be so glad to see Staten Island.
Rappelling Kaieteur Falls in Guyana
First off, this trip of a lifetime would actually make history. The crown jewel of the rock-climbing, caving and hiking adventure in the Guyanese jungle is rappelling down the world’s largest single drop waterfall and being the first in the world to explore the cave behind it. Other groups have attempted though none have succeeded, but Epic Tomato’s pro expedition leaders and support team will ensure that you make it—with some prior training and rock-climbing practice, of course. Among the most powerful falls, Kaieteur drops over 700 feet from the sandstone cliffs, but the ride doesn’t end there. A helicopter drops you off on Mt. Roraima for a 1,500-foot belay ascent to the jungle floor (another first) followed by a few days’ trek that has you sleeping on treetop platforms. #braggingrights
Trekking the Haute Route in the Alps
Hikers have beaten their own path along the famous mountaineering/ski route across the Swiss and French Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt. Warm summer months see hardy trekkers making the 112-mile pilgrimage across glaciers, beneath icy peaks, past majestic Mont Blanc and the crooked Matterhorn and through the sleepy villages in the idyllic Valais canton. After between six and eight serious miles of hiking per day, you’ll be thrilled to refuel with raclette and settle in for a great night’s sleep at one of the many little inns along the way. The high-altitude trek can take anywhere from 10 days to two weeks, and includes some light climbing with the help of chains or ladders that have been installed. Travelers should be fit enough to carry about 20 pounds of weight with them. At least you’ll walk off all of the croute au fromage and plum tarts you’ll eat along the way.
Paddling the Selinda Spillway in Botswana
Most safaris have travelers bumping around in a jeep all day. If you want to get closer to the action, we’d suggest digging your paddle into Botswana’s Selinda Spillway. Great Plains Conservation, one of the continent's best safari outfitters, runs canoe trips through this wild area of the renowned Okavango Delta. While the trip is not for the lazy, it is perfectly suitable for all levels of paddlers, with some moderate hiking thrown in. Over the course of the five-day paddle, Botswana will unfold before the prow of your wide-bottomed canoe. Herds of elephants, antelope and buffalo collect on the banks, and the river also attracts the lions and wild dogs that Selinda is known for – along with its sunsets.
Glacier climbing in Iceland
This frosty playground is not for the meek — 11 percent of the country is covered in glaciers, and the largest one, Vatnajökull, is 4,600 square miles of icy terrain. Take your pick of adventures: walk behind the pounding Seljalandsfoss waterfall before exploring the geometric basalt columns and black sand beach at Reynisfjara, or go on a two-day trek to see the northern lights and crawl inside vibrant blue ice caves. When you need a breather (or want to avoid more slippery ice patches), hop on a helicopter for birds-eye views of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano or board a boat on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where you'll spot seals and other arctic wildlife.
RELATED: Choose Your Own Adventure
Surfing with pros in Peru
We can’t think of a better way to break a sweat than hanging ten with the best in the business. Sign up for one of Billabong's Surf-With-A-Pro seven-day camps, where you'll jet off to the coast of Peru and learn to catch gnarly waves. Bonus: Hunky pro surfers will teach you their tips while videographers and photographers film your moves. If that doesn't motivate you to get your body in bikini-ready shape, we don't know what will.
Hike the Appalachian Trail
Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is no easy feat – it takes anywhere from 5.5 to 7 months, actually – but that's why we're planting the idea now, and giving you some time to prep yourself before next spring. The 2,190-mile course winds up and down the East Coast, through fourteen states, with the majority of thru-hikers starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia and the real daredevils getting the hardest part over first at Maine's Mount Katahdin. If you're in need of hiking buddies or groups to train with (or you don't have half a year to devote to hiking and are just looking for weekend romps), the Appalachian Mountain Club has you covered with 12 different chapters. If ever you get the entire AT under your belt, you can always yoyo the trail (go down and back) or really go for gold hiking the Triple Crown – the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails. I mean, you will already be a third of the way there, right?
Whitewater Raft the Colorado
Adrenaline junkies look no further; rafting the Colorado – right through the thick of the Grand Canyon in a fury of white-capped rapids and unavoidable drops, rocky obstacles and split-second twists and turns – is a surefire way to get your blood pumping. Find your groove with Arizona River Runners as they host a number of exhilarating trips where you can choose oar-powered or motorized rafts, and an itinerary anywhere from 3 to 15 days (with the added option of hiking in and out of the canyon). The sculpted biceps of your dreams are just a few days of (strenuous) rowing away!