Destinations

7 high-flying adventure travel moments to step out of your comfort zone

Helicopters coming in for a landing atop Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, AlaskaHelicopters coming in for a landing atop Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Perspective is everything.

The world looks pretty amazing from up high. From climbing atop bustling cities to landing on remote glaciers and biking through the sky, these adventure travel vacations aren’t your run-of-the-mill excursions. We’ll guide you to some of the best high-flying experiences around the globe.

Hot-air balloon rides in Château-d’Oex, Switzerland

Hot air balloons launch early in the morning to take advantage of light winds and stable airHot air balloons launch early in the morning to take advantage of light winds and stable air — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Admire the Swiss Alps from above during a morning flight with Ballons Château-d’Oex. Where you float depends on the wind, but the view is always magnificent. Listen carefully and you might hear the jingling of cowbells below.

Balloon flights lift off from the charming village of Château-d’Oex year-round and typically last an hour to 90 minutes. Dress in layers and wear a hat or cap; the balloon burners give off a good amount of heat.

About an hour’s train ride from Montreux, Château-d’Oex is often called the alpine capital for hot-air ballooning. The annual Festival International de Ballons takes place here at the end of January.

Biplane rides over wine country, Sonoma, California

Passengers strap in for biplane aerobatic maneuvers over wine countryPassengers strap in for biplane aerobatic maneuvers over wine country — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Cheers to one-of-a-kind views of Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine country!

Vintage Aircraft Co. offers short flights in a 1942 World War II biplane. It’s cozy, but two thrill-seekers can fit in the front, open cockpit. The pilot is buckled behind you.

On the longer 40-minute flights, weather permitting, you can choose your view. The Wine Country Tour soars above rolling vineyards. The West to the Pacific option delivers ocean vistas, and the Spires of the City experience offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.

Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, Australia

BridgeClimb Sydney opens day and night for adventureBridgeClimb Sydney opens day and night for adventure — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Reach new heights and get your steps in climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

With 1,332 stairs to tackle to get to the top, it might sound like a crazy idea at first, but more than 4 million people have conquered BridgeClimb Sydney. With 360-degree views of the city skyline, including landmarks like the Sydney Opera House, it’s a walk you’ll never forget.

Thrill-seekers wear a jumpsuit and a harness with a cable that essentially clips you onto the bridge from the moment you step out on the span to when you’re back on solid ground. No personal items are permitted on the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb. That means no camera or cell phone, and be prepared to take off jewelry like watches and bracelets. (Rings, small earrings, glasses, and sunglasses are OK.) Free lockers are available for you to store your personal belongings.

Choose from four climb options. All go to the summit, but some are longer in duration. Climbs happen rain or shine. Children must be 8 years old to climb. The oldest person to make the trek so far was 100.

Seaplanes over Taku Glacier Lodge, Juneau, Alaska

Everyone has a window seat on the seaplane flight to Taku Glacier LodgeEveryone has a window seat on the seaplane flight to Taku Glacier Lodge — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Century-old Taku Glacier Lodge is just a short 15-minute flight from Juneau, but seaplane pilots at Wings Airways opt for the 25-minute route, passing over a handful of massive glaciers before splashing down at the historic lodge.

Once on the ground, adventure travelers have a couple of hours to take in stellar views of neighboring Hole-in-the-Wall glacier, hike on old-growth forest trails, and watch for bears, in between dining on salmon hooked a short stretch down river. You can even sip on a drink chilled with glacier ice.

Built in 1923, Taku Glacier Lodge served as a hunting and fishing camp, before becoming the home of pioneer Mary Joyce, one of Alaska’s best-known female dog mushers.

Sky bikes at Mashpi Lodge, Quito, Ecuador

Going for a bike ride through the sky at Mashpi Lodge comes with breathtaking viewsGoing for a bike ride through the sky at Mashpi Lodge comes with breathtaking views — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Pedaling through the clouds is an everyday occurrence at Mashpi Lodge, thanks to the Sky Bike that dangles nearly 200 feet above Ecuador’s Chocó-Andean Cloud Forest.

Built for two, one person pedals while the other takes advantage of the free ride through the treetops, making it a fun possibility for adventuresome families. Wildlife opportunities abound: Since Mashpi Lodge opened in 2012, 18 new species have been discovered on the more than 7,000-acre property.

The magical jaunt takes about 10 minutes each way. Riders can trade the easy pedaling responsibilities on the round-trip adventure across the forest.

Helicopter rides above Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska

Seeing Mendenhall Glacier from a helicopter is a pinch-me momentSeeing Mendenhall Glacier from a helicopter is a pinch-me moment — Photo courtesy of Mary Swift / iStock Via Getty Images

Any glimpse of Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier is thrilling, but seeing it from a helicopter — then landing on top of the massive river of ice so you can take a walk — is one of those pinch-me moments.

All the gear you need to stay safe and warm, from a rain jacket and pants to a helmet, ice axe, boots, and crampons, are provided by guides with NorthStar Helicopters. The flight route to the glacier flies by quickly, but it’s hard to be disappointed once you step on the ice.

After a quick and informative lesson about how to walk on the icy terrain, explore the glacier surface with plenty of stops for brag-worthy photos. As an added perk, guides lead bundled-up adventurers to where you can dunk your hands in glacier water and scoop up a cold drink.

Cable climbing at Castle Hot Springs, Morristown, Arizona

Arizona's first Via Ferrata cable climbing course at Castle Hot SpringsArizona’s first Via Ferrata cable climbing course at Castle Hot Springs — Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

The dreamy geothermal hot springs get most of the attention at desert oasis Castle Hot Springs, a USA Today 10Best winner for Best All-Inclusive Resort. But those who want to explore new heights should take on the Via Ferrata cable climbing course.

Italian for “iron road” or “iron way,” the elevated activity uses ladders, metal rungs, and steel cables bolted to the rock. This allows adventure seekers to safely scale a 400-foot-tall peak and take in stellar Sonoran Desert views.

The course also includes a stroll across a 200-foot-long aerial walkway hung 150 feet above a canyon floor. A perfect addition to a memorable adventure vacation.

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