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 21 thrills throughout North America that range in price from about $25 a day to once-in-a-lifetime splurges.
HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
One of the most famous trails in the world, 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).
BEAR-WATCHING IN ALASKA
With a population of about 2,200 grizzlies, Katmai National Park in Alaska offers some of the best bear-watching anywhere. The Brooks Camp area has three viewing platforms where visitors can safely watch bears fish for salmon along the Brooks River. Peak viewing times are July and September. Admission to the park is free, and Senior Pass holders enjoy a 50 percent discount on camping fees.
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 grandparents, there's a 20 percent discount.
MAMMOTH CAVE TOUR
A subterranean adventure awaits in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky is home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the most extensive cave network in the world — 400 miles have been explored and many more have not. Descend into its depths on a variety of guided tours starting at $7 for adults and $5 for children, with more challenging excursions at higher prices. For Senior Pass holders, however, tickets are half price.
WILDLIFE SWAMP TOUR
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 $56 with hotel pickup. Cajun Encounters offers a $2 discount for seniors.
Definitely a bucket-list experience, whale-watching cruises are one way to get up close and personal with the Earth’s biggest mammals. But the trips don’t necessarily have behemoth-sized price tags. For example, tour provider Oceanside Adventures in California charges $39 for adults and offers a $5 discount for seniors.
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.
Many people consider whitewater rafting the ultimate thrill. Lewis and Clark River Expeditions in Jackson, Wyoming, offers four-hour trips on the Snake River in rafts that generally hold eight to 14 people. The cost is $84 for each adult. The company also guides multi-day trips.
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.
The American Queen Steamboat Co. offers Mississippi River cruises focused on topics like Mark Twain and the popular music of the '50s and '60s. Nine-day trips start at $2,000, and prices include pre-cruise hotel stays, wine and beer with dinner, and shore excursions.
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
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 $149 per person. In Michigan, Sky Adventures celebrates with champagne at the end of each one-hour flight, which costs about $190 per person.
SEA CAVE KAYAK TOURS
A few hours from Chicago and Minneapolis is a natural wonder reminiscent of Pacific Coast rock formations — in Wisconsin. Even beginners can tour the sea caves of the Apostle Islands by kayak, paddling through tunnels and watching the sunset from the water under sandstone archways after emerging from hidden wraparound caves. Tours start at $55 per person.
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 $209 per jump on weekdays. Skydive Twin Cities near Minneapolis offers a second jump for $150 for those who didn't get enough excitement the first time.
CAPE COD DUCKMOBILES
Can't decide between land and sea? You don't have to with the Cape Cod Duckmobiles in Hyannis. The tourist attraction employs authentic military amphibious vehicles that tour downtown Hyannis (with historic commentary), then proceed to view a Cape Cod lighthouse, beaches, and waterfront properties. Tickets are $15 for seniors.
ADVENTURE TOURS WITH GRANDCHILDREN
Nature and history buffs up for a very active vacation with their grandchildren can join an excursion organized by the not-for-profit Road Scholar. Participants can explore the Northwoods of Wisconsin, dig for dinosaur fossils in Wyoming, or find out about life in Colonial Virginia. Trips start at $649 for adults.
SKIING THE ROCKIES
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.
ROUTE 66 ON A MOTORCYCLE
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 about $300 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.
GRAND CANYON MULE RIDES
Introduce your grandchildren to the majesty of the Grand Canyon with a North Rim excursion that won't break the budget. Grand Canyon Trail Rides offers a one-hour mule ride for ages 7 and older ($45). Longer and more elaborate tours are also available for kids 10 and up ($90).
CANADIAN ROCKIES BIKE TOUR
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 $3,200 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 circumnavigating Newfoundland (starting at $5,000 for 11 days) and a heli-hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies (starting around $3,900 for seven days).
A scenic railroad trip can be an adventure all it own. Breathtaking scenery in remote areas you can’t see from an interstate can be a wonderful eyeopener highlighting the country’s vast beauty. With a dining car available, it isn’t exactly roughing it, but it can still be exciting and romantic. One big plus: Seniors get a 10 percent discount on Amtrak.