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Breathe in the Great Outdoors

Breathe in the Great Outdoors

Ahh ... fresh air just feels good, whether it's to boost our moods, increase energy or improve our overall health. And, it's certainly gained a lot more appreciation in the last several years.

When in-person, indoor activity was limited, the great outdoors came to the rescue again and again. Today, incorporating outdoor adventure into our travel plans is not only commonplace, it's become the centerpiece of many itineraries. Around the U.S. and beyond are destinations that offer plenty of opportunities to experience natural beauty, exhilarating recreation and world-renowned landmarks.

Let's explore some top outdoor spots.

YOLO in Yosemite!
Yosemite National Park, located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, is known for a host of breathtaking sights, including giant sequoias, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Half Dome and more. A wide-open national park, it's ideal for groups of almost any size. There are guided tours in and out of Yosemite daily, provided by Incredible Adventures and Yosemite 360 Tours, to name a couple. These can be done in a single day, or span several, depending on operator and group interest.

Another must-do while in Yosemite is booking a rafting trip on the Merced River. Whether it's heart-pumping whitewater rafting or a scenic, leisurely float, there are several area outfitters to suit your desire, such as Whitewater Excitement, Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions, Sierra Mac River Trips, OARS and Curry Village Raft Rentals.

If land is more your group's speed, consider mule or horseback riding with Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures or Wawona Stable. However you spend your time in Yosemite Mariposa County, it promises to be memorable.

Behold the Black Hills & Badlands
South Dakota is home to incredible natural wonders, diverse wildlife, native culture and expansive night sky viewing. Within the Black Hills & Badlands region, there are six national parks and monuments for groups to visit. See the curious and colorful rock formations and rolling grasslands of Badlands National Park and check out the nearby observatory for stargazing. Take in the magnitude of Mount Rushmore National Monument with a ranger program or self-guided tour. Venture below ground with a cave tour at Wind Cave National Park or stay topside to watch the bison, elk and other wildlife roam. There's more caving to be had at Jewel Cave, one of the longest caves in the world.

Also of interest is Devils Tower National Monument, a geologically captivating and culturally significant geologic formation found in the Black Hills. A stop at Custer State Park is also recommended, where your groups can enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, fishing and more. To get the most out of your trip, seek the help of Black Hills Adventure Tours, Black Hills Tour Company or GeoFunTrek Tours.

Consider Colorado
The Centennial State is teeming with views of the past, with a number of sites and activities presented by History Colorado. Whether rural or urban, each is located within an hour and a half of a national park or historic railroad, or in the heart of a cultural center. Of interest to groups wanting to take in the outdoors is the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, with its Naturescape playground and Ute Ethnobotany Garden, plus a city-wide trail system with picnic areas and walking paths that are linked to the complex.

There's also the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park, located 45 miles west of Denver, with unique offerings, such as themed train rides, mine tours and gold panning demonstrations. For another dive into Colorado history, plan an afternoon at El Pueblo History Museum in Pueblo, where groups can explore an archeological site, an immersive 1840s trading post, and exhibitions focusing on the cultural and ethnic groups of the region.

Feel the Awe of 'Aquastar'
Michigan, surrounded by the glorious Great Lakes, is the launching place of the Aquastar, a passenger boat formerly known as The Port City Princess that runs May through October. Docked in Muskegon and offering private charter and public cruises on Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan, this newly renovated and upgraded vessel is the perfect way to embark on a Mitten State expedition. Sunset, full moon, brew sampling, live music and fireworks cruises are just some of what's available; plus, there's even a "Flip Flop Parrot Head Cruise" for Buffett fans. The Aquastar is helmed by Coast Guard-certified captains and features two decks, a full-service bar and dance floor, onboard restrooms and a state-of-the-art sound system.

While near the lakeshore, don't pass up a day at Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park, where your group can zipline, wheel luge, learn archery fundamentals, rock climb and hike miles of trails.

Play in Puerto Rico
Sparkling beaches, lush forests, magnificent mountains ... There's a reason Puerto Rico is referred to as the Island of Enchantment. Captivate your group with outdoor activities galore, whether it's in the air, on the ground, in the water or atop a horse. Take a guided walking tour of Old San Juan or a rainforest hiking tour in El Yunque National Forest. Zipline at Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park. Or, traverse a bioluminescent bay at night by glass-bottom boat or kayak.

Horseback riding is also an option, whether on the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico with Esperanza Riding Company or in Rincón on the main island, through Pintos "R" Us. Either way, you'll see sandy beaches, majestic cliff overlooks and beautiful ocean vistas. And, there are watersports as well, including boating and snorkeling in La Parguera, about two hours from San Juan, or Fajardo, a small town on the Island's east coast.

Navigate Niagara Falls USA
More than just the "Honeymoon Capital of the World," Niagara Falls is a favorite spot for taking in some fresh air and outdoor enjoyment, albeit misty at times! Start your visit at Niagara Falls State Park, where Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil Falls can all be viewed from the Observation Tower. Groups can also board Maid of the Mist for a refreshing boat ride or the Niagara Scenic Trolley for a guided tour of the park. Also encouraged is a trek to the Cave of the Winds, where your group can descend into the Niagara Gorge and experience the power of the Bridal Veil Falls from the Hurricane Deck.

For an unparalleled thrill, see the falls from above with Rainbow Air, Inc. Helicopter Tours or on the waves with a high-speed jet boat ride through Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. Other popular outdoor things to do while in the region are birding, fishing, hiking, golfing and biking.

Whatever location you choose to take your group, it's sure to be unforgettable!

Written by Allison Kay Bannister, Contributing Writer for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the Mar/Apr '24 issue of Groups Today.

 Photo Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico. 


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