It’s that time of year when you get the ‘best’ lists giving you ‘new’ ideas of where to go next year. But in an effort to not be like everyone else, I focused on my favorite type of travel – extreme travel. Check out Lonely Planet, AFAR, and the New York Times for the typical lists of where to go, but if you want something different – then stay right here.
I understand that many people aren’t excited when they see the term Extreme Travel, but I also know there are a group of people like me, however small, that do get excited by this concept.
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What is Extreme Travel?
I never wanted to be normal – I like to live my life at extremes. Granted – I’ll never be that skier skiing off ridiculous cliffs, or a climber sleeping on a little hammock on a ledge thousands of feet up. I’m not talking about that kind of extreme; I’m not that brave!
My extreme travel is not hazardous or involves great physical risk. If you want that kind of extreme travel, then check out The South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) hike in the Antarctic! It’s a fascinating father-son expedition embarking on the first-ever challenge to the South Pole powered solely by clean energy technologies; a 600-mile, eight-week journey on foot to the South Pole.
As much as I love following their progress and adventure, I’m not going to tell you to go out and do that type of extreme travel!
My Definition of Extreme Travel
It’s stuff I love, and most people probably consider it extreme. Extreme travel is often expensive and uncomfortable, but for me, it’s worth the journey and hardships because it’s just that exciting to me.
When I tell people I’m going to Fairbanks Alaska in the dead of winter they think I’m crazy and extreme, but for some reason, it calls me. I want to see what life is like there in the winter.
It’s a curiosity that drives me into these extreme landscapes, I want to see how people survive there and if I can survive there. And yes – I went and LOVED it!
7 Extreme Travel Destinations for Epic Adventures
So if you are up for a challenge and want an epic experience, try these extreme trips.
1. Antarctica’s Ross Sea – Antarctica to the Extreme
Approximately 40,000 tourists visit Antarctica each year, and only 500 of them come through the Southern Ocean to the Ross Sea. And that’s what makes this epic journey extreme; this is a place few people get to go.
Journey through the Southern Ocean from New Zealand arriving at historic Cape Adare in East Antarctica; this is the route of the famous explorers. Cook, Ross, Borchgrevink, Mawson, Scott, and Shackleton all made this same journey through the Southern Ocean multiple times to go deeper into Terra Australis incognita – the unknown southern land. And now, you too can follow in their wake, an Antarctica route few people take.
However, it will take an entire month of your time to get there and back!
Highlight – Ross Sea Antarctica
There are too many to mention. Watch my Antarctica YouTube Playlist to see what it was like. But if you ever dreamed of crossing the Antarctic Circle, being surrounded by 30,000 penguins, and seeing the most beautiful landscape in the whole world, then consider this extreme trip.
Best time to go to the Ross Sea:
January and February are really the only months you can make this journey due to the ice. The trip is 28 days from New Zealand to the Ross Sea.
How to Get to the Ross Sea
Heritage Expeditions Tours is one of the few companies that take this route! (Tell them Ottsworld sent you!). I have noticed that more of the cruise companies are starting to follow their lead. But know that Heritage was the one and only company doing this route for years and has an incredible amount of knowledge about all of the landings in that region of Antarctica.
More Antarctica articles
2. Churchill Canada for Polar Bears Who Are Curious to ‘See’ You
Viewing polar bears in the wild is a pretty standard bucket list item – like seeing the ‘Big 5’ in Africa. However, there are very few places you can actually view polar bears in the wild accessible to people, and the extreme town of Churchill Canada in Manitoba is one of them.
Every year as the bears wait around for the ice to form on Hudson Bay, people come north to have a ‘Polar Safari’ and see huge marine mammals roam around on land in the protected Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Unlike a zoo where an environment is created for the animal and then the animal is plopped down into it.
In Churchill, you are the one who is plopped down in the middle of their polar bear environment! That’s one of the many things that makes this trip extreme travel.
In addition, Churchill is located in a very remote part of Manitoba near the Arctic Circle. The only way to get there is to fly in as no roads connect Churchill to the rest of Manitoba.
Read about 3 ways to minimize travel disasters
Best time to go to Churchill to see Polar Bears
To see polar bears you should really go in October or early November. This is when the bears come to the coastline and wait for the ice to form on Hudson Bay so they can go back out on the ice and hunt.
Before October, they are still further inland and not around the bay where you can see them.
Churchill Polar Bear Highlight
Riding in the safety of a tundra buggy and seeing the curious bears in their habitat come right up to the vehicle at times. They were comfortable with the specialized tundra buggies. Plus – polar bears are curious – they have no fears of coming up to the buggy, standing up, and putting their front paws on it as they peer into your eyes!
Luckily the tundra buggies sit high off the ground so the bears are unable to get within reach.
How to go to Churchill
Frontiers North is the premier provider of this experience – check out Frontiers North’s offerings here. They have offices in Churchill and their staff lives there during the summer/fall. They are a wealth of information and they have a number of different trips.
3. Paddle Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park – One of America’s Least Visited Parks
Situated where the Alaska range collides with the Aleutian range, Lake Clark National Park is a back-country park; meaning there are no roads or campgrounds, and only one hiking trail. The only way to move around the park is by foot, kayak, raft, boat, or small plane. It consists of over 4 million acres making it twice the size of Yellowstone National Park and larger than the state of Connecticut. This is not a place where you want to go alone if you don’t know what you are doing!
You might think that remote camping is something I do all the time, but it’s not. I love adventures, but I get to do a few real hard-core adventures because I don’t have the experience or the gear to do them normally. So I contacted the experts in remote wilderness adventure, Alaska Alpine Adventures. AAA knows Lake Clark NP, and it really knows Twin Lakes, the turquoise crowning jewel of the park. Their Twin Lakes Paddle Tour was named one of National Geographic’s Tours of a Lifetime and for good reason.
I’ve done a lot of travel to amazing places in my life and this by far was one of the most beautiful, extreme, rugged (yet pristine) places I’ve ever experienced.
The best time to go to Lake Clark National Park
Even in the summer months between May and September, it’s a little challenging to get there since you’ll have to arrive by float plane. But it’s totally worth it. It’s really only possible to visit in the summer months.
Lake Clark Highlight
Having the float plane drop you off and knowing they weren’t coming back for 5 days! You are truly dropped in the wilderness. I loved using the inflatable kayaks on the lake and learning all about Dick Proenneke, it felt like a pilgrimage into the real wilderness.
How to Go to Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park
Alaska Alpine Adventures is the premier outfitter and guide operation for Lake Clark. They know the backcountry of the park like no one else. They provide all of the equipment (kayaks, tents, food) so you can just enjoy the wilderness. This is the exact tour I took – Alaska Alpine Adventures Twin Lakes Paddle Tour
Read about my trip: Journey into the Wilderness of Lake Clark National Park
4. Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk – Canada’s Extreme Far North
Most people go to the Arctic by ship cruise in the summer – it’s the most accessible, however, Canada’s Northwest Territory is more accessible than you think. It’s accessible in the summer and the winter, which makes it even more unique.
And if you are looking for real authentic Arctic experiences, Canada’s Arctic is just as stunning and culturally rich to visit as the popular Arctic countries. There are no roads connecting communities in the Canadian Arctic. Instead, you use the water systems as boat highways in the summer and the ice highways in the winter.
This is extreme travel, you go all the way up to the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk! They’ll furnish the warm gear you need for reindeer herding, snowmobiling, igloo building, and more! And be prepared to have a warm welcome from the locals!
The best time to go: April to herd reindeer! It’s still freezing there in April, but it’s at least doable then.
Highlight: Tundra North will teach you how to build a real igloo and then you can take pride in your work and sleep it in overnight in the Arctic; a truly extreme experience! My other highlight was driving on the Arctic Ocean on the ice roads that connect these remote Arctic towns.
How to go: Tundra North Tours is an incredible company operating out of Inuvik and will show you an authentic Arctic experience.
Read about more Artic adventures
5. Road Trip to Tolar Grande Argentina – A Place You’ve Likely Never Heard Of
Ever wanted to go offroading on Mars? I have a place then for you – Tolar Grande in Northern Argentina. A magical landscape in a little-known and little-traveled region where vicuña and flamingos roam. This whole area is a giant salt flat with little turquoise oases, red deserts, conical sandstone mountains, and virtually no people.
Tolar Grande itself is a small mining village nestled in the Puna Salta at 11,000 feet above sea level. To reach this town from the city of Salta, you have to travel 220 miles through small hamlets and high mountain passes where the winds howl. But it’s all worth it to get to your base in the little mining village of Tolar Grande (with only 1 basic hotel), surrounded by landscapes that your eyes have never seen before.
Best time to go: In the Southern Hemisphere summer October to February.
Highlight: Driving through the Devil’s Desert as the sun was going down and the whole landscape turned orange. It was a dirt road that wound around conical hills making you feel like you were in a Mars rover on another planet! The landscape photography on this trip is incredible!
Read about my trip: I haven’t actually written about this yet – but I will in February! In the meantime, you can watch the video I shot with my Gopro5 to see what the trip is like!
How to go: I did my tour with De Altura with a focus on photography and adventure!
6. Staying in Gers in Mongolia (not a Ger camp…a real Ger)
For the last 8 years when someone asks me what my favorite country to travel to is, I always answer Mongolia. It won my heart a while ago when I went to the Gobi Desert for 2 weeks and spent time staying with and learning from local Ger families. The culture and the barren landscape were so extremely different from anything I had experienced at that point and I felt as if I had just come across this hidden gem.
Eight years later it’s not as ‘hidden’, but it is still a gem. And to get the most out of it I advise you to rough it and meet and stay with locals as opposed to luxury or semi-luxury ger camps and fancy hotels…what fun is that? And it’s certainly not extreme travel!
I played volleyball in the desert with local families, danced with Mongolian men under a full moon, milked goats and camels, rode horses, and learned how to bake Booz – the Mongolian dumpling. All of this was done in a true Mongolian Ger while camping with locals with no electricity or plumbing; extreme travel.
The best time to go: The summer months mid-June to September. July is great for attending the local Naadam festivals too!
Highlight: Meeting the families who were so excited to share their culture, peeing in the middle of the desert, driving in a country where there are no roads, and going to village festivals!
Read about my trip: Modern Nomads
Authentic Cultural Travel in Mongolia
How to go: I have utilized Ger to Ger on multiple trips I love them so much. It’s not easy travel, you are roughing it, but it is my authentic travel!
7. Cruise to Wrangel Island Across the Top of the World
As I set foot on the Wrangel Island tundra the earth beneath me moved. It was like walking on a sponge, soft and light; almost delicate feeling. However, the tundra was anything but delicate. I had just set foot on an island that only a few hundred people had ever seen or walked on. A visit to Russia’s Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean is truly a unique, once-in-a-lifetime, extreme, experience (I don’t think I could fit in any more goofy adjectives…but it’s just that good!).
Wrangel Island is a part of Russia’s Far East. It sits above the Arctic Circle about 87 miles north of Russia. It is home to an extraordinary amount of animal and plant diversity, the greatest in the high Arctic. It’s referred to as the Polar Bear Maternity Ward because it had the largest density of denning of polar bears anywhere in the world, averaging between 300-350 maternity dens each year on the island, and even more on Herald Island.
While I was there, the polar ice had just receded and the bears had come ashore now for a few months. You’ll also find muskoxen, snow geese, snowy owls, arctic foxes, and remnants from the last mammoths that walked the earth. And the best part is it’s relatively unknown. There’s only one way to get to this little Arctic island – by expedition ship – and there’s only one that goes there.
Best time to go: July/August is really the only time boats can get there.
Highlight: I went for the polar bears, but was blown away by the incredible birdlife on the bird cliffs along Russia’s coast – I had never seen anything like it in my life. But seeing the polar bears across a lake or on land while we were only about 50 feet away was incredible.
Read about my trip: Travel to Wrangel Island
How to get there: Like the Ross Sea adventure, the only company that will take you to Wrangel Island is Heritage Expeditions. This is not a luxury cruise – it’s an expedition cruise so be prepared for a few hardships while you do this extreme travel! (tell them Ottsworld sent you!)
Are you ready for your extreme adventure in 2018?
Are you tired of the same old destination lists? Check out Everything-Everywhere’s list of the Ultimate Arbitrary List of Places to Visit! It’ll make you smile.