All-American Adventures in Wonderlands

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Don’t just see the world, seize it. From paragliding the Grand Tetons to cave exploring in Kentucky, these six wild adventures in the U.S. turn vacations into calls to action.

> Descend Into Mammoth Cave   

Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave system in the world, boasts chambers big enough to fit a symphony orchestra, waterfall-like flowstone formations, and giant pillars that look like ancient shrines.

> Hike the Zion Narrows 

The Zion Narrows, in Utah, is often dubbed a natural cathedral, for its soaring red-sandstone cliffs and the almost spiritual reverence its voluptuous curves inspire. Most visitors walk up the canyon a couple of miles, experiencing sections as narrow as 30 feet, and then turn around, but for a more secluded experience, start at the top of the canyon and hike the whole 16-mile stretch in one or two days.

> Paraglide the Tetons

Visitors can rock climb up, ski down, or hike around Wyoming’s piercing Tetons, but nothing compares to the view from the air. Access your inner falcon on a tandem paraglider ride that rises to over 10,000 feet.

> Go Wild on the Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Coast Trail is reveling in the spotlight, thanks to the memoir of one devoted through-hiker, best-selling Wild author Cheryl Strayed. But there’s only so much a book—or movie—can reveal about a 2,650-mile route that stretches from Mexico to Canada and beelines straight through some of the West’s most bewitching landscapes.

Passing rolling desert, granite peaks in the Sierra Nevada, glass-still lakes in Oregon, and Washington’s rounded volcanoes, hikers gain a visceral sense of scale. “You go back to the simplest form of living, and you realize that everything you thought you needed to survive, you don’t,” says April Sylva, a long-distance hiker who completed the trail last year. “You start to see the world and humanity in a different way—with a whole new appreciation.”

> Summit Longs Peak 

At no later than 3 a.m., start ascending the 4,885-vertical-foot, 7.5-mile Keyhole Route to the top of Colorado’s Longs Peak. After negotiating giant boulders and steep granite faces, climbers arrive at the 14,259-foot apex before afternoon thunderstorms tend to roll in—the only window of time to take in Rocky Mountain National Park’s sun-drenched glory.

> Bobsled/Skeleton Lake Placid 

Wedged between a professional driver and a brakeman, novice bobsledders careen around ten turns at the Olympic Sliding Center, in Lake Placid, New York, reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour and g-forces in excess of two. Too tame? Pilot your own skeleton with your chin mere inches from the ice.

This piece, written by Kate Siber, is an excerpt of what first appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow Kate on Twitter @katesiber.

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