The Most Extreme Vacation Destinations

From rocky-topped mountains to surf-friendly shores, these are the five can't-miss locals for the madman inside all of us.
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From rocky-topped mountains to surf-friendly shores, these are the five can't-miss locals for the madman inside all of us.
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The never-ending quest for the roughest bike trail, the greatest powder, the meanest white water, and the steepest climb just got a little easier. We’ve graciously marked out the action sports hot spots to hit and those to avoid. Just don’t pull a header, bro.

Mountain Biking
Pass on: Moab, Utah
Go to: St. George, Utah
Why: Moab may have the roller-coaster Slickrock trail, but during peak seasons the erstwhile mountain-biking mecca can get as crowded as I-75 during rush hour. St. George, a 90-minute drive northeast of Vegas, has riding as good as Moab’s—on trails like Gooseberry Mesa—but none of the crowds. “Our friends love Gooseberry so much they’ll drive all the way from Orange County to ride there,” says Monique Sawicki, a former 24-hour mountain-biking national champ. Just don’t plan on any liquid recreation in St. George, the home of one of the largest Mormon polygamist sects in the world. Come for the riding; stick around to pick up an extra wife or two.

Snowboarding
Pass on: Whistler, British Columbia
Go to: Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Why: With world-class snowboarding and legal gambling,Lake Tahoe is a hedo­nistic paradise. So why cross the border to Whistler? After all, the soaring Canadian dollar has eliminated any financial advantage. “The south shore of Tahoe is one of the best places to snowboard in the world,” says X Games legend Jimmy Halopoff. Crash ’n’ dine in luxury at casinos like the MontBleu, Harrah’s, or the Lakeside Inn, then party all night and hop the free shuttles to Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Sierra, where you’ll discover some of the fluffiest powder this side of Medellín.

Kayaking
Pass on: Buena Vista, Colorado
Go to: Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Why: “Pagosa Springs has some of the best sections of river in Colorado,” says Evan Stafford, coauthor of White Water of the Southern Rockies. Don’t believe us? Try the lines on the Buena Vista stretch of the Arkansas River—nearly 330,000 vacationers clogged its waterways last year, making it the world’s most rafted river. And the Springs has Class V junkies covered with the rock-riddled West Fork of the San Juan River. Once the water is out of your lungs, chill out on the mellow town stretch.

Climbing
Pass on: Yosemite Valley, California
Go to: Red River Gorge, Kentucky
Why: Just an hour from Lexington, Kentucky lies one of the country’s great untapped climbing destinations. The Gorge features a wealth of one-pitch (roughly 100-foot) sandstone climbs for all skill levels. “The Red is the place to be if you’re a sport climber,” says professional climber Joe Kinder. And unlike the multi-day 3,000-foot climbs at Yosemite, at Red River Gorge you’ll be done just in time to break open a bottle of Maker’s Mark at day’s end.

Surfing
Pass on: Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii
Go to: Sayulita, Mexico
Why: With its raging meth epidemic, the North Shore of Oahu is not the paradise of years past. But the small town of Sayulita has hosted in-the-know surfers since the ’60s. “Back then we drove from the States,” says Jeff Wilson, director of Quicksilver Travel, a surf tour operator, “but now you fly into Puerto Vallarta, and it’s only 45 minutes to Sayulita.” You won’t get lei’d on arrival, but there are two perfect waves outside of town: a long, gentle right break that’s ideal for beginners and a steeper left-hander for when you’ve grown a pair.