13 Adventures for Thrill-Seeking Senior Travelers
For many, 70 is the new 50, and boomers who have been pushing the envelope -- and themselves -- since they were kids are not willing to stop just because they're older. For these hardy souls, many adventures await. Some require physical stamina; some require courage; and some just a sense of wonder. Here are 13 thrills throughout North America that range in price from about $25 a day to once-in-a-lifetime splurges.
The 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine. Very fit hikers may be able to conquer it in a season, but others can opt for shorter treks. Although there's no fee or permit required, a few state and national parks and forests along the way charge for permits or campsites and the average cost of "thru-hiking" the trail is estimated at about $2 a mile, plus gear. The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association has a directory of hikers who can offer advice, and it sells an invaluable guide (free to members).
Paddlers can find delightful treks along waterways throughout the country, and parks in just about every state offer someplace to dip an oar for a day or days on end. Canoe rental costs vary by park, and many parks have camping areas, cabins, or lodges also at reasonable prices. For those who are more ambitious, Row Adventures provides an opportunity to travel the Missouri River in long canoes the way Lewis and Clark did. Five-day trips include meals and tent accommodations for $1,400.
For folks visiting New Orleans, bayou tours offer an up-close look at a unique ecosystem with a wide swath of wildlife, including water snakes, minks, egrets, eagles, and, of course, alligators. The trips are taken in swamp boats, which are flat, open vessels seating about 22 people. Tours through companies like Cajun Encounters are usually two hours long and generally cost $25 to $30 a person, or up to $50 with hotel pickup.
Thrill-seekers can get an adrenaline rush and unparalleled views at the same time with zip lining. It's scary but safe. River Riders Family Adventure Resort in West Virginia offers an easy "canopy" tour where the zip line is only 65 feet off the ground and there are two guides on every line. The outfit also has a self-guided aerial adventure park for more-adept zip liners who want a more challenging experience. Canopy tours start at $69, and two-hour stints at the adventure park start at $44.
Tropical reefs are far from the only destinations for scuba diving. Experienced divers can rent a charter boat and explore several underwater sites off North Carolina, including the wreck of the tanker Papoose, which was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942. Full-day charters cost about $130 a person, and equipment rental is also available.
Hot air ballooning is popular in the West, where there is a lot of sky and not a lot of trees, but it's possible to find balloon rides in most states. Trips are perhaps most spectacular at sunrise and sunset. Rainbow Ryders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers a three- to four-hour sunrise tour for $139. In Michigan, Sky Adventures celebrates with champagne at the end of each one-hour flight, which costs about $190.
Former president George H.W. Bush went skydiving for his 90th birthday, so age alone doesn't determine whether someone can take such a leap of faith. It's simply a question of nerve, and there is someplace to skydive in every state. Tandem skydives -- where an instructor jumps with a beginner -- cost about $200 per jump. Skydive Twin Cities near Minneapolis offers a second jump for $125 for those who didn't get enough excitement the first time.
For people who like to ski, the Rocky Mountains have a unique allure. The season is long, the snow is ideal, and some resorts have special deals for seniors. Ski Colorado's Rocky Mountain Super Pass+ grants access to several resorts in Colorado and one in Alaska at a reduced price of $479 for skiers over 70 (compared with $599 for a regular adult pass).
Anybody can make this iconic road trip in a car or RV, but doing it on a motorcycle adds a "Born to Be Wild" feel. For $149 to $349 a day, the tour company EagleRider rents out motorcycles, takes care of hotels, carries luggage, and even provides a guide. The full trip takes 15 days, but it's possible to do parts of it rather than the whole thing.
History buffs up for a working vacation can join an excursion organized by the not-for-profit Road Scholar to help restore and preserve historic sites like Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. In addition to the restoration projects, participants enjoy lectures, performances, and field trips. The cost for a six-day trip, which includes accommodations and meals, starts at $645.
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A bike tour is a wonderful way to see a new place. Traveling at a slow pace makes it easy to savor the scenery. The travel company Backroads offers a six-day bike trip in the Canadian Rockies that includes exquisite views and easy riding options for those who are not avid cyclists. The cost is about $3,000 and includes meals, accommodations, and use of a bike.
A touring company specifically for active seniors, ElderTreks provides small-group adventures all over the world. The trips don't come cheap, but contact with locals and wildlife can make them once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In North America, the company offers a tour of the St. Lawrence River (starting at $3,600 for 10 days) and a cruise of remote wilderness areas in southeast Alaska (from $4,250 for seven days), both of which include whale watching.