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17 Extreme Outdoor Sports to Try in California
Health & Fitness

17 Extreme Outdoor Sports to Try in California

Between the majestic mountains, green forests, and blue ocean waters, the Golden State is the place to connect with your inner daredevil.

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8 min read

May 24, 2021

When it comes to adventuring in the great outdoors, there’s no place more epic than California. Between the majestic mountains, electric green forests, and blue ocean waters, the Golden State is the best place to connect with your inner daredevil. Soar through the desert wilderness in dune buggies, kayak or raft whitewater, sway above the ocean on a hang glider, or combine all three during one legendary getaway. It’s time you discover the Golden State’s extreme outdoor sports opportunities. 

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The Action Sports to Try Next

1. Parahawking at Torrey Pines State Reserve 

Ever wanted to know what it’s like soaring with birds? Head to America’s Finest City and experience California’s best action sports opportunities at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Join tens of thousands of visitors who flock to this rustic wonderland for hang gliding and paragliding, and one-up them by trying something even cooler—parahawking.

Known as the ultimate flying experience, parahawking is a wild excursion that involves flying in a tandem glider with a trained bird alongside you. Torrey Pines Gliderport is one of the few places in the world to attempt this air adventure sport, so we highly suggest you try.

Also known as "Sunken Harbor", Wreck Alley consists of several ships intentionally sunk as artificial reefs and scuba diving attractions.

2. Scuba Diving the Shipwrecks at Wreck Alley

Ask any adventurer and they’ll tell you that one of the best things on your San Diego itinerary doesn’t involve land at all. Far beneath it, a much more spectacular experience awaits at the bottom of the ocean. Wreck Alley—a series of shipwrecks a few miles offshore—is an extreme water sports extravaganza.

Dive near the HMCS Yukon, a 156 foot long Coast Guard Cutter, and a 366-foot long Canadian Destroyer Escort. Thanks to the strong currents, chilly waters, and an occasional octopus swimming by, you’ll have one of the best stories about splashing around in San Diego.

Highlining and slacklining are increasingly popular activities in Joshua Tree that involve balancing and walking between two anchor points.

3. Slacklining at Joshua Tree National Park

With craggy rocks and spiky trees described straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, let Joshua Tree guide you to the art of slacklining. Hall of Horrors, Echo Rock, Real Hidden Valley, and Lost Horse are a few of the most popular sectors in this stretch of desert wilderness—all you need to do is channel your Zen-like concentration. Make your way across an inch-wide nylon line while balancing a hundred feet above the ground. Test your skills at this amazing adventure sport and let this SoCal national park provide you with the best experience to cross off your bucket list.

Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes, and spectacular rock formations. Each tributary canyon is vivid and unique.

4. Trekking Red Rock Canyon State Park

Soaring towers of white, red, and pink sandstone are a rarity in the Golden State, making Red Rock Canyon State Park a delightful exception to the rule. Located just 120 miles north of Los Angeles, this Mojave Desert gem boasts untouched wilderness, spectacular geological features, and views for days.

Climb the multi-colored cliffs, caves, and red rock towers at the underrated state park and admire rock formations on the mile-long Hagen Canyon Nature Trail. While the desert landscape doesn’t offer jet skiing or parasailing adventures, Red Rock Canyon State Park is an outdoor adventure sports playground just waiting to be explored. 

The South Fork of the American River is California’s most popular whitewater rafting river. Pack lots of sunscreen and gear up!

5. White-Water Rafting in Coloma

Scenic floats and adrenaline-pumping rapids—that’s what river-rafting in Northern California is all about. The South Fork American River in Coloma features tumbling cascades and unmatched scenery offering everything from family-friendly half-day floats to white-knuckle multi-day adventures.

If you’re new to white-water rafting, opt for Class II-III rapids, the easiest and breeziest way to spend an afternoon. But if you’re brave enough for strong rapids, the upper segments of the North Fork tell a whole other story. With summer right around the corner, this California extreme sport is the ideal way to cool off during the warmer months. 

6. Canoeing in Mendocino

Enclosed by old-growth redwoods, Mendocino’s Big River Estuary is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Expert paddlers flock to this destination to view playful river otters and a variety of birds while paddling along the waterway. Rent a locally crafted redwood outrigger from Catch a Canoe and Bicycles Too and travel across the waters at lightning speed. If you’re lucky, you’ll even have harbor seals accompanying you on your water sports adventure.

Land Adventure Sports

Mountain biking is fun and exciting, yet nerve-wracking and terrifying all at the same time. But we promise it gets easier—and more fun—with time.

7. Mountain Biking in Big Bear 

Less than 100 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake is a year-round outdoor playground. During the summer months, the sunny San Bernardino Mountains become a mountain biking mecca for locals and tourists alike. Among the extensive mountain biking trail opportunities in the area, Skyline Trail stands above the rest—the trail's 15 miles of flowing single-track are ideal for cycling no matter your skill level. From mellow beginner to black diamond, you’ll enjoy the adrenaline-pumping descent of this outdoor adventure sport.

8. Riding ATVs at Pismo Beach

Riding quads at Pismo Beach is a local’s favorite pastime—so join in on the fun. Experience miles of gorgeous shoreline firsthand while driving around on an ATV. The adrenaline rush, towering sand dunes, and thrill of adventure makes this one of California’s most popular extreme sports. Rent your four-wheeler at Arnie’s ATV Rentals or Steve’s ATV Rentals and hit the sands in style. 

Finishing races is important, but racing is more important. Live your NASCAR dreams and speed on the tracks in Monterey.

9. Getting Behind the Wheel in Monterey 

You may know Monterey as home to mouthwatering restaurants and pristine beaches, but did you know that this NorCal charmer is home to the most iconic road racing tracks in the country? Fulfill your NASCAR fantasies at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a historic track hosting popular car shows every year. Rent your dream race car from Exclusive Track Days or Lesher Motorsports and feel the adrenaline course through your veins as you push every limit imaginable—you’ll understand why auto racing is one of the best extreme sports in the world. 

Water Adventure Sports 

Water skiers, wakeboarders, jet skiers, and pleasure cruisers flock to Castaic Lake during the summer months and on hot fall weekends.

10. Jet Skiing in Castaic Lake 

It’s true, the ocean is where most people go for adventure sports in California, but Castaic Lake is where the best extreme sports reside. In addition to float tubes, kayaks, and non-gas-powered boat tours, this SoCal gem boasts some of the best jet skiing in the country. In fact, the water adventure sport is so famous here, it even has its own designated area. Splash around the lake far from the fishing boats and let the wind overtake your body and soul. 

11. Diving along the Los Angeles Coast

Adrenaline junkies gather—the Pacific calls for an awesome adventure. Catalina Island is an hour-long ferry ride away from Los Angeles and arguably the best shore dive destination in California. Make your way to the warm waters from Casino Point Dive Park and venture into the mighty ocean to explore the rocky reefs. With bustling marine life that consists of nudibranchs, angel sharks, and Catalina’s famous resident—enormous black sea bass—prepare for a diving adventure your grandchildren will hear about. This extreme water sport is going to be the most memorable one yet. 

Standup paddleboarding in San Francisco is not just great fun, it's also great exercise and a fantastic way to experience the City by the Bay.

12. Standup Paddleboarding in San Francisco

They say full-body workouts are best when paired with fresh air and the ocean. Don’t believe us? Go stand-up paddleboarding—a challenging yet fun way to get your body moving and explore the scenic Bay Area. Rent a paddleboard and learn the ropes with City Kayak to spend an unforgettable day on the water.

13. Kayaking in Otter Bar Lodge 

Tucked away deep in the Klamath National Forest—where the mighty Trinity Alps meet the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area—Otter Bar Lodge is your perfect off-the-grid playground for extreme sports in California. This white-water camp brings you an immersive experience like no other, with the tranquil waters serving as your comforting refuge. And speaking of comfort, the deluxe accommodations are the cure to an action-packed day on the rough waters. Soak in the sunshine and kayak along the Salmon River for a memorable experience.

Air Adventure Sports 

Embark on the adventure of a lifetime and go parasailing in San Diego. Experience the thrills of this extreme sport and soar high in the sky.

14. Parasailing Adventures in San Diego

If high altitudes and extreme aerial activities get you going, then a parasailing adventure is right up your alley. Reach the clouds in America’s Finest City with San Diego Parasail Adventures. The best thing about this air adventure sport is how it blends powerboat rides with ballooning and involves parachuting and gliding for kicks. Feel your heart pounding a million beats per second as the San Diego sun showers you with positive vibes.

15. Rock Climbing in Malibu Creek State Park

Whether you’re an avid rock climber or a beginner, at Malibu Creek State Park, you're in for an epic adventure. The 8,215-acre area boasts fantastic climbing routes that you just can’t miss. Mount Gorgeous (aptly named, indeed) is one of the top rock climbing spots in the whole park, with plenty of elevation and canopy shade when needed. Learn the basics with Rock N Rope Adventures and marvel at the display of wildflowers from high above.

Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Go skydiving in Santa Cruz for an experience you'll always remember.

16. Skydiving in Santa Cruz

Regarded as one of the top extreme sports in California, skydiving belongs on your bucket list. Taste the sweetness of flight at 120 miles per hour while Santa Cruz vistas stretch out beneath you far and wide. One fall with GoJump Santa Cruz is all you need for a sensational experience unlike any other. Hurry up and book now for a hair-raising adventure you’ll never forget.

17. Ziplining through Tahoe National Forest

Imagine hanging on to a rope as you swing through the forest, merely secured by a safety harness. Do we have your inner daredevil intrigued? Opt for one of the best adventure sports in California and zipline through miles of rustic wilderness at Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks. Featuring several tree platforms tied together by a variety of bridges, ladders, and ziplines, this thrill-seeking adventure will leave you feeling as free as a bird.

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