City breaks and languorous weekend retreats have their place, but for true rejuvenation, there’s little more life-affirming than a test-your-mettle challenge. From the entry-level to the elite, the close to home and the far, far away, the bucket list adventures below will stay with you long after you’re back at your front door.
The adrenaline fix is temporary. The bragging rights? Those last a lifetime…
Three Bucket List Races To Push You Out Of Your Comfort Zone
1. Patagonian Expedition Race
Mixed teams of four compete every year in this 500km non-stop adventure race through the mountains, ice fields, fjords, islands, steppes, forests and peatlands of southern Chile. Competitors are tested on their skills in five sports – mountaineering, trekking, trail running, mountain biking and kayaking – but it’s race strategy and teamwork that are most crucial of all. The 2022 edition is due to take place in November
2. Tough Mudder
Ice baths, mud crawls, tightropes, monkey bars, climbing ropes… taken one at a time, the obstacles in a Tough Mudder race don’t seem so bad. But with 30 of them distributed along a 15km course, you’ll quickly realise why teamwork is vital. There are races all over the Australia, as well as in the US and Canada. Or go in at the top by signing up for World’s Toughest Mudder, an annual 24-hour race, this year hosted by Alabama. This bucket list item is what all of your functional training has been leading up to…
The sport started life as a bet between Swedish friends who wanted to do an archipelago pub crawl without using boats. Pubs are no longer a fixture – but you’ll have earned a drink by the time you finish. Swimrun competitors alternate between multiple running and swimming legs, keeping their running shoes and wetsuits on throughout. Similar biathlon and aquathon events take place around Australia.
Secret Scottish Summer Surf Spot
4. Isle Of Tiree
The white-sand beaches of this tiny Inner Hebrides island face all directions so, whatever the sea conditions, you’ll almost always get surfable waves. ‘The Hawaii of the North’, Tiree enjoys some of the highest levels of sun in the UK. Surf schools Blackhouse Watersports and Wild Diamond cater for all abilities, and is a true bucket list treasure.
Three Unmissable Mountain-Biking Destinations
5. Slickrock Trail
This legendary 10-mile (16km) trail across a beautiful lunar landscape, near Moab, Utah, has become something of a cliché in the mountain biking world. But that’s because it truly is a classic. You need to flick quickly between the gears as you grind up and down the short but steep climbs, following the painted white lines. Fortunately, the sandstone rock offers adhesive grip for bike tyres. Unfortunately, however, if you take a tumble, it’s going to leave a mark…
6. BikePark Wales
Dozens of new mountain bike parks have sprung up over the past couple of decades in the hillier regions of Wales. BikePark Wales, near Merthyr Tydfil, remains one of the best. There are 40-odd trails, of differing levels, with a mixture of swooping turns, tight forest tracks, gnarly rock sections, drop-offs and some very taxing jumps. Vans regularly drive riders and their bikes to the top of the hill.
7. Ischgl Ironbike Marathon
Known as one of Europe’s toughest mountain bike races, the Ischgl Ironbike Marathon is held every August in Austria. It sends riders 71km across the Silvretta mountain range, on a mixture of asphalt, gravel and single-track trails, with 3200m of ascent in all. The views should almost take your mind off your burning legs and lungs. There are also three shorter races at 58km, 45km and 25km, plus an accompanying festival.
The Most Underrated Bucket List Sea-Kayaking Spot
8. The Dalmatian Coast
With its crystal-clear turquoise waters, Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is peerless as a kayaking destination. Paddle through its hundreds of islands, secluded beaches, ethereal caves, olive groves and vineyards via the shorelines. Make time for some excellent Adriatic Mediterranean ‘refuelling’ stops.
Two Breathtaking Bucket List Caving Adventures
9. Gaping Gill
Abseil into the biggest subterranean cave in the UK, the 100m-deep Gaping Gill in north Yorkshire, which also has the highest unbroken waterfall in England. Twice a year, in the summer, Craven or Bradford potholing clubs will winch you down for a fee. Otherwise, you’ll need a very experienced caver to guide you through the long, circuitous passages of the underground route. Your superhero origin story starts here.
10. The Vercors Massif
Beneath the Vercors Massif, near Grenoble, in the French Alps, are several vast networks connecting myriad underground caves – up to 4000 of them, by some estimates. Vercors Aventure offers guided potholing trips for all levels, taking you through “labyrinths formed by underground rivers and lakes”, with plenty of stalactites and stalagmites along the way.
The Coolest Free-Solo Climbing Spot
11. Ha Long Bay
Getting your kicks needn’t compromise safety. The unusual cup shape of many of the limestone islets in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay means even beginners can free-solo climb (that’s without ropes), knowing that if they fall, it will be into deep water rather than on to hard earth. (This is known as deep-water soloing.) Cat Ba Ventures, based on Cat Ba Island, offers boat trips out to the best climbs.
The World’s Most Brag-Worthy Hiking Trails
12. Corsica’s GR20
Like a sleeping dragon, the Mediterranean island of Corsica has a spiky, mountainous backbone – and it has the power to set light to your quads, too. The GR20 long-distance footpath runs along it for 177km, from Calenzana
to Conca, soaring higher than 2000m at its most spectacular sections. To complete it requires a lot of hiking, a bit of scrambling, nights in mountain refuges and a sturdy pair of knees. The world record is 30 hours. For the rest of us, set aside up to a fortnight.
13. West Highland Way
From the suburbs of Glasgow all the way to Fort William, the West Highland Way twists for 154 km through some of Scotland’s most beautiful countryside, including Loch Lomond (a notoriously difficult section of the walk), the Trossachs National Park, Glen Coe, the Mamore Mountains and the foot of Ben Nevis. Avoid midge season (any month without the letter R in its name), if you can, and look out for golden eagles on the higher sections.
14. Appalachian Trail
Many have attempted it, but far fewer have completed it. “The granddaddy of long hikes” is how travel writer
Bill Bryson described the Appalachian Trail, a 3540-km footpath running up the eastern side of the US, all the way from Georgia to Maine. The current trail record is 41 days, but ‘normal’ hikers need several months. No plans for
a sabbatical? Tackle the stretch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Two Trail Runs That Will Test Your Mettle
15. The Fan Dance
If it’s good enough for the SAS, it should certainly be challenging enough for the amateur runner. Part of the Special Forces selection process, the Fan Dance is a 15-mile (24km) fell-running route up and over the top of Pen y Fan (in the Brecon Beacons) – which, at 886m, is the highest mountain in southern Britain. Recruits are timed as they speed-march (or yomp), carting heavy equipment. Whether you do it independently or as part of an organised trip, just remember: the battle is won in your head.
16. Pikes Peak Marathon
If you prefer running on the flat, look away now. Rising from 1900m above sea level, this often narrow, winding and rocky marathon – which takes place in Colorado in September – rises steeply to Pikes Peak at 4300m above sea level, with an average gradient of 11 per cent. At the summit, runners turn and head straight back down to finish the 42.2km course. The weather can change rapidly on the mountain, and lightning strikes are a risk above the treeline. Not for the faint of heart.
The World’s Most Out-There Bucket List Dive Experience
17. The Silfra Fissure
If you’ve ticked off wreck dives and reef dives, how about slipping between two continents? The Silfra Fissure in Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park, east of Reykjavík, is the point at which the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Iceland’s clear waters and otherworldly rock structures make its three dive sites – Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral and Silfra Lagoon – popular with scuba divers and snorkellers. With temperatures of 2ºC-4ºC, you’ll need a good dry suit.
The Most Photogenic Via Ferrata Routes
18. Bocchette Centrali
Via ferrata – that is, scrambling up steep cliffs, ladders and steps, wearing a harness and attached to a steel cable – is the closest you can get to mountain climbing without all the training and kit 101s. The sport’s spiritual home is the Dolomites, in northern Italy, with hundreds of climbs available, many on former First World War military supply routes. Bocchette Centrali might be the most famous route, and with the most spectacular views, too. Not one for those who are fearful of heights, mind.
If you’re in the UK, a Lake District slate mine that offers damn good via ferrata experience. The more challenging route – a three-hour climb up Fleetwith Pike – tests you with vertical ladder climbs, overhanging descents and mountain-edge exposure. Just don’t drop your camera.
The World’s Toughest Scrambling Route
20. Cuillin Ridge
The British Mountaineering Council calls it “the Holy Grail of British scrambling”. The Cuillin Ridge, a mountain range on the Isle of Skye, offers narrow crests, spiky outcrops and more than 20 peaks. It’s normally attempted from Gars-bheinn in the south to Sgurr nan Gillean in the north, with 4000m of ascent and descent. Ropes are needed at the trickier sections – a play-around at your local climbing wall, this is not. For the best chance of success, set aside two days, wait for good weather and hire a guide.
The Ultimate Bucket List Weekend Adventure Challenge
21. National Three Peaks Challenge
Outdoorsy types know that Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike are the highest mountains in Scotland, Wales and England respectively. Serious outdoorsy types attempt to climb all three in 24 hours, including the drives in between – a feat known as the National Three Peaks Challenge. And it’s a challenge indeed; get ready for over 3000m of ascent. Those who are less masochistically minded do it in mid-summer for maximum daylight – and fewer sodden, slippery descents.
The Ultimate Distance Runner’s Bucket List Bootcamp
22. Kenyan Running Camp
Learn how to do it ‘the Kenyan way’. Tour operator Kenya Experience stages two-week running coaching camps for all levels in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Based in Iten, the town 2400m above sea level that has spawned some of east Africa’s greatest runners, you’ll benefit from training runs of different distances, along with workouts, seminars, a swimming pool and home-grown food from local chefs. Now that’s living the high life.
Two Alternative Bucket List Winter Sport Challenges
23. The Haute Route
The most famous long-distance ski touring route in Europe, the Haute Route stretches some 180km from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland, winding around some very dramatic peaks, including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Skiers must be exceedingly fit (you’ll need to carry your kit and clothing) and willing to rough it in mountain refuges along the way. Mountain Tracks offers guided trips.
If gunning down the slopes has started to feel just a little too easy for you, consider adding, well, an actual gun into the mix. Demanding both impressive cardiovascular fitness and seriously steady hands, the sport of biathlon requires you to shoot a rifle at a target while your heart is still hammering from a gruelling cross-country ski run. At Méribel ski resort in the French Alps, trained instructors teach both disciplines to all levels.