12 Amazing and Affordable Adventure Vacations

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ADVENTURE TIME

Instead of paying an arm and a leg for a fancy hotel room in a tourist trap resort, get outdoors, have some fun, and take some chances on your next vacation. Some of the best and most exciting adventures are also surprisingly affordable.

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DESCEND INTO THE WORLD'S LONGEST CAVE SYSTEM

Price: $7 
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. (Try the free-climbing, lengthy crawls, wet areas, and tight openings of the "Wild Cave Tour" for $55, ages 16 and up only.)

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VISIT A VOLCANO

Price: $25 
Get up close and personal with the raw force of one of nature's most beautiful wonders at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It contains two of the grandest and most active volcanoes on record: Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, and Kīlauea, known more for its aggression and activity, spewing rivers of molten lava every day. Passes for $25 a vehicle are good for seven days.

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TOUR A SEA CAVE BY KAYAK

Price: $55 
A few hours from Chicago and Minneapolis is a natural wonder reminiscent of Pacific Coast rock formations -- in Wisconsin. 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.

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GO WHITEWATER RAFTING

Price: $77
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 company also guides multi-day trips.

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GO CASCADING IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Price: $89 
Cascading involves climbing up creeks to rappel or jump from amazing waterfalls. Natural landscapes, roaring water, dizzying heights, and death-defying jumps are all part of the package. A Ciguapa Falls tour includes 12 jumps of up to 30 feet and total river time of about 2.5 hours. (Expect some steep climbs, and know how to swim.)

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ZIP LINE ON CATALINA ISLAND

Price: $99 to $129 
Few activities are more exhilarating than racing through the air at 30 mph, far above one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world. Off the coast of California, adventurers travel nearly three-quarters of a mile on five zip lines 600 feet above sea level. Each stop includes an expert presentation about the geography, wildlife, landscape, and history of Catalina Island.

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WORK A CATTLE RANCH

Price: $129 a day 
Horseback riding is an adventure in and of itself, but the stakes rise as part of an active roundup on a working cattle ranch. The Two Creek Ranch in Wyoming, spanning more than 25,000 acres on the North Platte River -- next to the legendary Oregon Trail -- offers a full week of sorting, branding, calving, gathering, trailing, and shipping cattle.

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GO BIG-WAVE SURFING IN HAWAII

Price: $149 
Up to challenging the mighty Pacific Ocean while you’re in Hawaii? Private lessons from an expert make it possible at the legendary surfing mecca of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Spend less by choosing semi-private or group lessons.

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TAKE A MOUNTAIN BIKE TOUR

Price: $180 
Get lost in the rugged beauty of Arizona with a half-day mountain bike excursion that pedals through the majestic Sedona Mountains on some of the best-connected and most extensive bike trails in the country. Tours are private -- and geared for every body type and skill level -- but the bigger the group, the lower the price for each person.

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DIVE WITH SHARKS

Price: $195 
Real-life sea monsters, sharks are the ocean's apex predators -- and the brave can swim alongside them in waters off the Florida Keys. No scuba certification is needed, and all equipment comes with the package, including the cage that separates divers from prowling bull sharks, tiger sharks, mako sharks, reef sharks, and alien-esque hammerheads.

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JUMP OUT OF A PLANE

Price: $245 to $265 
What would a list of adventure trips be without skydiving? In Key West, Florida, skydivers reach speeds in excess of 120 mph, then float slowly to Earth once the chute is pulled. They may spot dolphins and tropical birds below while steering to a pinpoint landing. Packages come with instruction and equipment.

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LEARN TO HANG GLIDE

Price: $250 and up 
Operators compare the experience of soaring above scenic Lake Tahoe to "riding a motorcycle in the sky." After taking lessons in operating a powered hang glider and being in the pilot's seat in full control, participants come home with a license to fly an Evolution Revo trike, a sport aircraft registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.