Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Swim in a Bioluminescent Bay
Gliding through glowing turquoise waters that light up around you is an experience like no other. Swimming in a bioluminescent bay allows you to immerse yourself in a dreamlike underwater spectacle that looks straight out of Avatar.
Only a handful of places around the world have these magical bays that are filled with microscopic bioluminescent phytoplankton. When disturbed, these tiny organisms emit a remarkable blue-green light. Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico is arguably the best place on Earth to swim with "dinoflagellates", as scientists call them.
As you wade into the warm Caribbean waters under a moonless sky, sparkling specks of neon blue start swirling around your legs and arms. Each gentle kick and splash creates a dazzling display of aquatic fireworks. Snorkeling face down, the underwater world transforms into a galaxy of stars. The glowing patterns are mesmerizing as fish dart by leaving swirling trails of light in their wake.
Kayaking through the bioluminescent waters of Mosquito Bay is also a popular way to stir up the light show. As your paddles break the surface, they ignite brilliant splashes of color. Local tour operators lead guided kayak trips at night when the bioluminescence is strongest. Floating silently through the mangroves, the entire bay lights up with your movement.
Other top spots to swim with bioluminescence include Jervis Bay in Australia, Mission Bay in California, and Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives. However, severe pollution has diminished the glowing plankton populations in many bays worldwide. Experiencing these ephemeral, vanishing underwater worlds should be on every nature lover's bucket list.
The bioluminescence in Mosquito Bay has also faced environmental threats from boating, construction and tourism. Strict regulations now limit access to the bay at night. But joining an authorized tour helps support the local economy while protecting this natural wonder.
What else is in this post?
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Swim in a Bioluminescent Bay
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Go Dogsledding Through the Arctic
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - See the Northern Lights Up Close
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Wine Country
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Trek to Base Camp at Mount Everest
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Mexico
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Climb Ayers Rock in the Australian Outback
- Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Hike to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Go Dogsledding Through the Arctic
Feel the frosty air nip at your cheeks as a pack of energetic huskies pull you across the sparkling Arctic tundra. Dogsledding through the white wilderness is a rare adventure that offers an intimate look into this remote polar world. Glide past icy boulders and snow-covered pines as your sled runners slice through fresh powder. Listening to the dogs' excited yelps and the sled's gentle creaking is a medley that defines this iconic northern experience.
Dogs have been a vital mode of Arctic transportation for centuries. They can sniff out seal breathing holes, pull heavy loads, and keep you warm at night. Today, enjoying an old-fashioned dogsled ride lets you connect with local indigenous cultures that still depend on their canine companions. Most popular destinations offer dogsled tours ranging from one hour to multi-day expeditions.
In northern Canada, dogsled across the Northwest Territories from Yellowknife under shimmering auroras. Or head north to Nunavut for even more frigid, off-the-grid adventures like traipsing over the sea ice. Come prepared with Canada Goose parkas and Sorel boots to embrace the subzero temperatures.
Alaska is another top spot for dogsledding with its abundance of snow. Glide through the boreal forest near Fairbanks as the dogs' paws kick up flurries. Journey deep into Denali National Park, glimpsing North America's tallest peak in the distance. For more remote treks, dogsled to Inuit villages on the North Slope close to the Arctic Ocean.
Across the Atlantic, Greenland offers a dogsledding paradise. The world's largest island has over 15,000 registered sled dogs, one for nearly every resident! Cruise across the Greenland Ice Sheet as your Inuit guide recounts tales of this extreme environment. Or visit during the summer months to meet cute puppies and witness the unbridled energy of the offseason.
To experience the ultimate Arctic dogsled expedition, head to Svalbard. This Norwegian archipelago lies just 600 miles from the North Pole. Embark on multi-day journeys, sleeping in trapper tents and ice fishing for dinner. Pass massive glaciers and keep an eye out for wandering polar bears. Svalbard is a dogsledder's dream with endless snowy fjords and valleys ripe for exploring.
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - See the Northern Lights Up Close
Few natural wonders inspire awe and wonder like the dazzling dance of the Northern Lights. When solar winds hit the upper atmosphere, they collide with gases to create an ethereal light show in shades of emerald, violet and crimson that ripple across the night sky. Seeing the aurora borealis up close is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you mesmerized.
Unlike catching a glimpse on your Alaskan cruise or from the outskirts of Reykjavik, venturing into the remote Arctic wilderness provides unobstructed views of the entire celestial spectacle from horizon to horizon. Take a late-night snowcat ride onto the SnoCat Aurora Camp in western Iceland. The vehicle takes you far from the light pollution of town onto Langjökull glacier. Settle into your private, glass-domed igloo tucked into a snowy valley between two peaks. From your heated bubble with plush blankets and a steaming cup of cocoa, you have front row seats as the lights dance for hours. Witness the way they shimmer and swirl, racing from side to side in great arcs across the blackness.
For more active aurora hunting, join a Northern Lights walking tour in Finnish Lapland. Crunch through the snow beneath towering pines and watch your guide point out constellations using a laser pointer. As green wisps begin coloring the sky, your group switches off headlamps to let your eyes adjust. In the silent winter darkness, stand transfixed as the undulating aurora brightens overhead. Catch a glimpse of rare red hues at the fringes. With no obstructions or winter cloaks of clouds, Lapland’s clear skies offer ideal aurora viewing from late August through April.
In northern Norway, experience Indigenous Sami culture while chasing the lights. Homestay with a reindeer-herding family and listen to their ancient folklore detailing the fires in the sky. Your hosts teach you how the Sami have navigated using the stars for generations. At night, scan the horizon from reclining leather seats in a transparent lavvu tent. As the lights dance, learn how to harness reindeer and try lasso throwing before sitting down for a traditional meal of reindeer stew.
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Wine Country
Few adventures epitomize luxury and indulgence like soaring over endless vineyards in a hot air balloon at sunrise. Whether it’s the epic views, thrill of flight or champagne celebration, a wine country balloon ride should top any romantic getaway or special occasion bucket list.
Drifting high above the patchwork vineyards as the sun peeks over the horizon is when the magic unfolds. Watch the valleys, forests and fields paint themselves in golden hues. Up here you gain a new appreciation of the endless tidy rows of vines in autumn colors winding between quaint villages and historic chateaus. The wind whooshes by as you suspend in a giant cane basket with 360-degree views. Looking straight down, cars and people turn to miniatures while grand manor homes look like Monopoly pieces. It’s an extraordinary way to admire the fruits of the region’s centuries-old winemaking tradition.
One of the most iconic wine ballooning destinations is Napa Valley, California. As cabernet grapes awaken under the rising October mists, your adventure begins just after dawn. Climb aboard for a gentle hour-long float between Calistoga and Yountville. Pass directly over legendary vineyards like Domaine Chandon and Opus One. Wave to workers tending the vines. Then toast your ride by sipping the valley’s fine sparklings at a private catered brunch with fellow aeronauts.
For Old World elegance, book a hot air balloon ride over Burgundy’s rolling hills and vineyards. Watch the sunrise illuminate the spires of Beaune and dramatic chateau rooftops. Identify the medieval walled towns and abbey perched on the hilltops. Then sip exceptional wines during your post-flight breakfast at a small estate. This unique perspective highlights Burgundy’s grandeur and timeless beauty.
Tuscany’s idyllic landscapes are also best admired from above. Dozens of balloon companies operate between Siena and Florence taking travelers aloft over a patchwork of cypress trees, olive groves and the famous sea of vineyards. Marvel at how the soft morning light showcases the emerald expanse of farmland and the terrain’s endless curves and swells. Wave to farmers beginning their days. Then gather under billowing canopies to sample Brunello and nibble biscotti.
For sweeping views of South Africa's vineyards, head to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Sunrise balloon flights reveal the Cape Wineland's mountainous valleys carved by rivers and the quaint Dutch architecture of wine estates settled since the 1600s. Watch the long shadows retreat across vineyards planted with Pinotage and Chenin Blanc grapes as you drift peacefully. Wildlife like baboons, wildebeest and ostriches may be spotted roaming the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Trek to Base Camp at Mount Everest
With its towering presence and perilous slopes, Mount Everest captures the imagination of adventurers and armchair travelers alike. Trekking to Everest Base Camp allows you to step into the footsteps of legends, inhaling the thin air they breathed while preparing for their death-defying summit attempts. This journey takes you into the heart of the highest mountain range on Earth for up close views of the Himalayas’ mightiest peak.
Just reaching Base Camp at 17,600 feet is an incredible achievement requiring weeks of trekking through Nepal or Tibet. The hike follows steep paths that cut through flower-filled valleys and windswept passes draped in Buddhist prayer flags. Crisp skies grant unobstructed views of the snowy ridgelines and glaciers surrounding you. The thin air makes the trek extremely strenuous, but the payoff is huge.
Arriving at Base Camp is both humbling and energizing. Look up in awe at the imposing Lhotse Face that Everest climbers must traverse before pushing towards the peak. Take photos of the bustling tent city lined with flags from the 60+ countries adventurers hail from. Breathe deeply and savor being present in such a remarkable spot.
With growing popularity, the Everest Base Camp trek now sees over 50,000 hikers annually. While some criticize the crowds, others welcome the communal atmosphere and friendships formed along the route. Trekking with an experienced guide provides valuable insight about the mountain’s climbing history and Sherpa culture. A guide also helps time the hike to witness puja rituals at ancient monasteries along the way.
Weather is another key factor for Everest Base Camp treks. Post-monsoon fall and pre-monsoon spring offer ideal dry conditions and clear skies. However this coincides with summit attempts, making the peak trail quite busy. Those seeking more solitude often opt for winter treks despite the intense cold. No matter when you go, evenings spent swapping stories with fellow trekkers in teahouses will become lifelong memories.
One of the most rewarding parts of trekking to Everest Base Camp is giving back to the resilient communities that make these adventures possible. The 2015 earthquake and recent pandemic have taken immense tolls on the region. You can help rebuild teahouses, schools and trails along the way. Porters also appreciate warm gear, medical assistance and fair wages. These small gestures empower locals who cherish the mighty Himalayas as their backyard.
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Slipping into the warm Mexican waters, you steady your breathing through the snorkel. Out of the blue, an enormous spotted silhouette glides beneath you. Nearly 18 feet of gentle giant - a majestic whale shark - is swimming straight towards you! Having one of these magnificent creatures approach feels like making eye contact with Mother Nature herself. Mexico's shores offer once-in-a-lifetime encounters with these elusive ocean leviathans.
The largest fish on the planet, whale sharks migrate long distances between rich feeding grounds. Their routes often lead along Mexico's Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Thanks to protections in places like Holbox Island and La Paz Bay, whale sharks now congregate here relatively unfazed by human presence. This allows for unbelievable up-close encounters.
Dozens of tour operators run ethical whale shark tours in Mexico. On a typical excursion, small groups head out on motorboats to locate the sharks' massive forms beneath the surface. Spotters stand on the bow looking for telltale swirls and shadows. When they find a shark swimming calmly near the surface, you'll quietly slide into the water with mask and snorkel. Then comes an experience that leaves seasoned divers in awe.
Approaching a 30-foot long whale shark is intensely thrilling and humbling. Their dappled grey skin swims by just feet away as they open their mouths filtering gallons of plankton-rich water. These gentle giants move with grace, often curious about the bubble-blowing creatures nearby. They may alter course to glide straight beneath you, giving the feeling of awe-inspiring insignificance as you're fully shaded by their tremendous size. Yet the sharks radiate tranquility, unfazed by people drifting alongside them.
Snorkelers lucky enough to have a whale shark encounter describe it as surreal, incredible, breathtaking. The intimacy and beauty of these brief relationships become core lifelong memories. While each interaction only lasts a few minutes before the shark dives deeper, tours often locate multiple individuals. This multiplies your chances of having whale sharks approach while you float weightlessly above them.
The best time for Mexico's whale shark tours runs May through September when they congregate to feed. Holbox Island off the Yucatan Peninsula claims fame for the most predictable sightings, though they're not guaranteed. Boats motor three hours offshore towards feeding hotspots, hoping to encounter sharks basking at the surface. In La Paz further south, the sharks swim closer to shore so sightings occur quickly once boats reach their habitat.
Beyond the sharks themselves, these tours showcase Mexico's stunning marine environments. Passing sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins and even humpback whales are common bonuses. The turquoise seas, rocky islets and sandy beaches provide spectacular scenery. After working up an appetite, indulge in fresh ceviche and Mexican beers to recount your amazing whale shark experience.
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Climb Ayers Rock in the Australian Outback
Rising abruptly from the flat red expanse of Australia's Outback, Ayers Rock [also known as Uluru] beckons outdoor enthusiasts looking to conquer a natural wonder. This iconic sandstone butte stands an impressive 1,142 feet high, dominating the surrounding desert landscape. While climbing Uluru has long been a rite of passage for visitors, as of 2019 the route was permanently closed out of respect for the sacred site's cultural significance to Anangu people.
For generations, eager climbers donned hiking boots at dawn to make the steep 1.6 mile ascent up the rock face. They climbed metal chains drilled into the sandstone, inching upwards to glimpse the sweeping 360 degree views from the summit. The journey took 2-4 grueling hours with the unrelenting Australian sun beating down. Upon reaching the top, a sense of accomplishment washed over climbers who just completed one of the most challenging and exposed hikes around.
The impressive panorama showcased the contrast between Uluru's flat top and steep, striped sides. Looking outward, the sun-scorched bush stretched endlessly in all directions. From above, the curious paths worn into the rock told tales of Aboriginal Dreamtime when ancestral beings traveled through the area. Gazing upon these features honored the deep spiritual connection that Uluru's traditional owners feel.
In 2017, after much controversy, the Anangu people and national park's board voted unanimously to ban the climb. Out of respect for the site's sacred nature as a place of ceremony, culture and creation, they determined tourists could no longer tread over the culturally-significant upper routes. The last legal climbers ascended Uluru on October 25, 2019 before the trail permanently closed.
While the climb's closure disappointed some, most climbers report feeling relief upon returning safely down the treacherous rockface. Climbing Uluru was extremely dangerous with over 35 deaths since record keeping began. Blazing heat, sheer drop offs, and smooth surfaces resulting in falls made accidents common, especially when climbers lacked experience or got disoriented. Local Anangu wished to prevent further loss of life on their sacred place.
Chasing Waterfalls and More: 10 Unique Outdoor Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List - Hike to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon
Tucked away in a side canyon off the more popular Bright Angel Trail resides one of the Grand Canyon’s hidden gems – the breathtaking Havasu Falls. This magical oasis deep inside the Havasupai Reservation provides one of the most rewarding adventures in the Southwest. The unforgettable journey combines backcountry hiking, swimming in turquoise pools, and an immersive experience into Native American culture that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Getting to Havasu Falls requires dedication – it’s a trek totaling 15+ miles each way from the trailhead outside Grand Canyon Village. The well-maintained trail switchbacks steeply down the canyon some 4,000 vertical feet before reaching the village of Supai near Havasu Creek. Here, camping permits must be shown before continuing the final two miles to the falls over relatively flat ground. Most hikers opt to turn the trek into a multi-day backpacking trip, spending a night at the campground in Supai. Wise hikers also build in an extra day to allow for delays like missing the daily 11am mule train from Supai village back up to the rim trailhead.
The outstanding scenery along the hike down makes all the effort worthwhile. As you descend towards the inner gorge, the sheer red and orange cliffs close in providing epic views. Crisscrossing the canyon floor, Havasu Creek appears as a vivid blue-green ribbon snaking through the Vishnu Schist rock. Approaching Supai village, small waterfalls dot the walls of the side canyons. Finally reaching Havasu Falls themselves, the thundering 100ft cascade blows you away, as do its perfectly swimmable pools in stunning shades of turquoise and cobalt.
For many hikers, the chance to experience Havasupai culture adds to the magic. The indigenous Havasupai people have called these canyons home for over 800 years. In Supai, be sure to check out the cafe, general store, heritage center, and post office where the distinctive blue-green mailboxes represent the brightly colored waters. The Havasupai are extremely welcoming to respectful visitors. However be sure to follow all photography rules and policies to protect tribal privacy.