Rising income levels and falling travel and accommodation costs drove the adventure tourism market to the top of Mount Everest, accounting for $282.1 billion in 2021, and it's expected to more than double in the next 5 years.
All 50 states offer at least one attraction that appeals to more adventurous travelers, whether ziplining in North Carolina or body surfing in California. However, specific states have succeeded in promoting their natural and manufactured assets into worldwide interest for adrenaline junkies, excitement seekers, and extreme travelers.
A study conducted by travel site Time2Play ranks states based on the number of opportunities they offer more adventurous travelers. The shortlist is not limited to high-risk activities or extreme sports, however. The study also compared states according to attractions such as national historic sites, scenic roadways, theme parks, and green spaces.
Travel writer Bella Bucchiotti at xoxoBella says, “I'm always searching for new destinations that offer truly unique and unforgettable experiences. While all states have outdoor activities that attract adventure lovers, it's the ones that have a strong sense of identity and place that really catch my eye.
“I'm drawn to states that offer something different and memorable. For me, it's all about discovering a new perspective and experiencing something that I can't find anywhere else. A state's ability to offer a one-of-a-kind experience is what sets it apart and makes it a must-visit destination for any adventure seeker.”
While larger states such as California, New York, and Florida dominate most of the categories, the list as a whole does reflect a wide assortment of adventurous destinations from coast to coast.
Top States For Scenic Drives
California tops the list of states with the most tourist-friendly scenic byways, with 8 recommended routes. California is closely followed by three states renowned for their rugged mountainous terrain: Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.
These Pacific Northwestern states offer adventurous tourists the option of following well-established scenic routes or pursuing more extreme off-road adventures. It is still possible for extreme hikers and campers to reach undeveloped territory rarely experienced by humans.
Destinations For Extreme Adventures
California once again ranks first in the survey for those who seek the adrenaline rush of extreme sports or the thrill of cutting-edge theme parks. California contains 45 theme parks, including the original Disneyland and the more recent Universal Studios. Private companies also own and operate extreme attractions such as ziplining, bungee jumping, tandem parachuting, and hang gliding.
Other states making the shortlist for thrill-seeking tourists include Texas, Louisiana, New York, and Florida. Florida also boasts many theme parks and extreme sports attractions, notably Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort.
Best States for Sports Fans
With its 35 major sports venues, New York tops the list of the best states for sports enthusiasts. The state offers professional-grade outlets for sports, including tennis, football, baseball, basketball, and soccer, along with track and field and swimming. New York also has two iconic sports facilities: Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium.
Other states making the cut for sports fans include Texas and California, each with dominant baseball, basketball, and football professional teams. The iconic Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles both qualify as destination venues for die-hard sports enthusiasts.
Most Popular Destinations For Hikers and Campers
Maine's 89.5% forested coverage puts it at the top of the hiking and camping destination rankings. More adventurous travelers can still set up primitive campsites in remote forests while discovering all forms of wildlife.
Other states in the region making the shortlist are New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. They all feature vast swaths of undeveloped or barely developed green spaces, ideal for hikers and bikers who seek more challenging trails.
States With The Most Historic Landmarks
One popular travel adventure involves planning a route with as many national landmarks and historic locations as possible. The state of New York offers an incredible 275 recognized landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Empire State Building. Travelers can plan road trips incorporating many iconic and historically significant locations.
Other states with compelling historic landmarks and iconic destinations include Virginia and Massachusetts. Those states have close associations with the history of the United States, and government agencies have prioritized protecting and preserving those sites.
States Ranked Least Adventurous
The Time2Play survey also revealed the states with the fewest scenic byways, sports venues, and historical landmarks. Many of these states, including South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming, are in sparsely populated regions of the West or Plains states such as Kansas and Nebraska. North Dakota actually holds the lowest ranking in the survey, with only two scenic byways, 2 theme parks, and two major sports venues.
A state's focus on the tourism sector does play a role in the state's ranking in these types of surveys. Some states are perceived as more adventurous because they have successfully capitalized on their natural resources or historical significance. Logistics also factor into a state's overall excitement rating. California, Florida, and New York enjoy greater accessibility than landlocked states such as Kansas or Nebraska.
Beyond the Rankings: What Makes a State More Adventurous?
Kelsea O'Donnell, Chief Travel Planner of Out of Office Mindset, says, “When it comes to determining whether a state is good for adventurous activities, my top tip is to look for well-established infrastructure for adventure tourism such as guided tours, adventure sports excursions, and equipment rentals.
“While adventuring can be thrilling, it can also be intimidating, and states that have a solid foundation of reputable companies offering guided adventures help make it more accessible to everyone. Even if you do not want to take a tour, areas that have tours available typically have better-maintained paths and activities for maximum enjoyment.”
A rugged, mountainous state like Colorado seems more adventurous than a Midwestern state like Indiana. Both states offer historical landmarks and scenic travel, but Colorado's outdoors-oriented culture appears to attract more extreme travelers.
The level of investment in natural resources and a willingness to take risks with new enterprises is a significant factor in a state's level of adventure for travelers.