By Brittany Anas
Traveling is exciting in and of itself. But those travelers who like to infuse their trips with a little extra adventure are oftentimes rewarded with exclusive views. Encourage your tour-goers to strap on snorkeling masks to witness a magical underwater world teeming with aquatic life. Or, nudge them to lace up those hiking boots so that they’re spoiled with panoramic views their quads earned. You can also help them chart territory the motorcoach can’t cover by planning a paddle excursion, where intrepid types can gain access to otherwise hard-to-reach caves via a kayak.
Hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, biking, safaris, rafting and cultural tours all fall in the adventure travel category — an area of travel that continues to garner more interest. That’s according to a study conducted by Travel Leaders Group, a travel agency company, in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Perhaps most noteworthy? Interest in adventure travel isn’t confined to one demographic bracket. The average age of adventure travelers is expanding and interest is equal between men and women.
Ready to add some adventure to your next trip you plan? Here’s a few itinerary adds worthy of the highlight reel.
Crystal River, Fla: Swim with manatees
No need to travel all the way to the Caribbean for an epic snorkeling adventure. A fantastic, bucket list-worthy water adventure happens each winter in the Sunshine State. Travelers can shimmy into wetsuits, pull on snorkeling masks and hop into the water with West Indian manatees, the slow-moving, 1,000-pound docile sea creatures that graze on aquatic plants. Much like humans, these gentle giants are escaping cold weather to relax in balmy Florida. Between November and April, hundreds of manatees migrate from the chilly waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the headwaters of Crystal River, which is about 90 minutes north of Tampa along Florida’s west coast. Temperatures in the headwaters at Kings Bay, where the manatees hang out, are consistently 72 degrees, and the area includes manatee sanctuary sites. The manatees are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and each swim session begins with a tutorial so travelers can get an overview on “manatee manners” and learn how best to interact with them. Other ways travelers can see the manatees in their natural habitat is by kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. For those who have mobility issues or don’t want to get in the water, take them to the boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa.
Travel tip: While the headwaters practically turn into a manatee manor in the winter months, hundreds stick around in the warmer, summer months, too. Because of this, tours are available throughout the year.
Group travel tip: Several outfitters guide trips in the area, and some like Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees can accommodate large groups up to 52 people by sending two boats out; it’s largest, the Manatee Queen, which can take 34 passengers and another boat that can hold 18 people.
Best season: Winter
More information: Discovercrystalriverfl.com
Saguenay Fjord in Quebec: Hike along a fjord
The Saguenay Fjord was sculpted by retreating glaciers, leaving behind dramatic cliffs that keep guard over a deep blue waterway. Adding to the beauty of this Canadian national park is its appeal to a variety of adventure travelers. For those who are looking for light adventure, the Navettes Maritimes Du Fjord is an environmentally friendly vessel that makes stops in postcard-perfect villages that dot the fjord and exude charm. The retractable windows and roof on the boat make it ideal for spotting belugas. Travelers who want to push their adrenal glands into overdrive can take a via ferrata route in the park, harnessed in and crossing a suspended footbridge that’s 92 yards long and anchored between rock walls. For a happy medium, though, take a hike along the Sentier de la Statue trail, which is 4.7 miles total and takes about three to four hours depending on your pace (and how long your let your jaw drop at the lookout points along the trail). The pinnacle of the trail is an iconic Virgin Mary statue that dates back to 1870 and was commissioned by a merchant who fell through the fjord’s ice with his horse, pulled himself out of the water and pled with the Virgin Mary to give him 10 years more to live.
Travel tip: This region is known for its blueberries. You can sample the produce in its pure form, or in juice, dipped in chocolate or even a blueberry beer. But one suggestion? Try adding the berries to your s’mores for a sweet punch.
Group travel trip: Navettes Maritimes Du Fjord offers discounts for groups of 20 more that ride on the water vessel. For especially large groups or events, boating charters are available from May to October and outside of regular operation hours.
Best season: Summer
More information: Sepaq.com
San Luis Obispo County, Calif.: Hike along dramatic bluffs and paddle through coves
Along the central coast, and in between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this parcel of California is a playground for adventurers (as well as foodies, wine enthusiasts and beach lovers). Montana De Oro State Park will gladly star in your vacation photos, with coastal bluffs that lead to tide pools and wildlife cameos that include black-tailed deer, dolphins and otters. It’s a hotspot for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding with an impressive network of single-track trails. For an unforgettable adventure, head to Shell Beach in the northern neighborhood of Pismo Beach and rent a kayak from a local outfitter. You can maneuver through otherwise inaccessible coves and possibly spot seals and dolphins.
Travel tip: Save room for at least one fresh seafood meal in Morro Bay. Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant serves plump, delectable oysters — raw, barbecued or rockefeller and often has live music. The restaurant also offers views of Morro Rock, an ancient and picturesque volcanic rock that we’d nominate for the official county postcard.
Group travel tip: Slo Cal’s visitor bureau makes it easy to plan group travel, with sections of its website dedicated to group attractions and group travel and the team will assist in planning at no cost. (More information: slocal.com/travel-trade/)
Best season: Weather is ideal year-round.
More information: Slocal.com