Unique Bucket List Ideas for Travel in the Southwest

Unique Bucket List IdeasIn the 2007 film “Bucket List”, two terminally ill men (portrayed by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson) share a hospital room and define a list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.” Looking out over the Pyramids of Egypt, the character played by Morgan Freeman says to the character played by Jack Nicholson, “You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.  Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not. ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?'” Certainly words to live by!

As we continue our Baby Boomer Travel Series where we first discussed the fulfillment of Senior Tours, and how you;re never too old for an adventure. We then listed the 15 benefits of Hiking and followed that up with an article about the joys of Multigenerational Vacations.

Today is all about the Bucket List.

We all have bucket list goals and aspirations, things we have always dreamed of doing or experience in our lifetime. And here’s the really good news: You don’t have to travel to the far corners of the earth to find your share of adventurous experiences.

For instance, there are plenty of unique bucket list ideas to be found in the southwest corner of the United States, across Arizona and beyond. You may find yourself riding a bike, a horse, or a raft; engaging in some canyoneering or bird watching; picking up nature photography tips; learning some intriguing new things about history and geology; maybe even doing some wine tasting. You can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, rafting tours, canyoneering, photography workshops, and more – all against the backdrop of the iconic Arizona Sonoran Desert and the stunning canyon country of northern Arizona and southern Utah, including the famed Grand Canyon.

25 unique bucket list ideas in the southwest which can be enjoyed by travelers of all ages.

1. Rappel down a waterfall at Salome Jug, a thrilling canyoneering adventure – In central Arizona’s Sierra Ancha Mountains, water has carved a spectacular gorge cut through pink granite. CenterFocus Experiences offers a 1-day canyoneering tour of Salome, where you can safely soak up the natural beauty and experience a slot canyon unlike any other place in the world. A two-mile hike will lead to the spectacular oasis of Salome Jug. After partaking in one of nature’s grandest natural water parks for several hours, the highlight of this trip is rappelling down a stunning waterfall into a clear sapphire-colored pool. Enjoy this 3-minute cyber journey of fantastic Salome Canyon:

2. Explore Kartchner Cavernshttp://azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA/. Experience a stunning limestone cave in southern Arizona with world class features. This unique cave has a variety of minerals and formations seen nowhere else in the world. Kartchner’s calcite formations continue to grow in Kartchner Caverns, a live cave due to water percolating from the surface.

Unique Bucket List Ideas - The Wave

The Wave

3. Walk the Wave – The Wave, located in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument at extreme northern Arizona, is one of the few places in the world left untouched by man. Here you can explore this breathtaking beauty of this world famous feature as well as other jaw-dropping sandstone formations. The heart of the earth is laid bare in this region and few places are as spectacular. The multicolored Vermillion Cliffs rise as much as 3,000 feet, an escarpment dominated by its massive and thick Navajo Sandstone face. CLICK HERE to check out our Sedona Tour Page for more info

4. Whitewater Rafting at Salt River Canyonhttp://www.raftingsaltriver.com/trips. The majestic 2000-foot deep Salt River Canyon offers one of the most exciting one-day whitewater rafting trips in the West. The canyon features the serenity of the Narrows, beautiful volcanic cliffs and the lushness of the upper Sonoran Desert. You may explore side canyons such as Cibeque Creek and observe thundering waterfalls and over 200 species of birds. In the spring, wildflowers carpet the desert.

5. Mountain Biking in Moab, Utahhttp://www.moabadventurecenter.com/trips/biking. Moab’s red-rock landscape is a place unlike any other on earth. One of the best ways to appreciate it is to mountain bike it’s slick-rock trails. From the beautiful red-rock terrain of the canyon country to high altitude riding in the nearby La Sal Mountains and everything in between, it is possible to ride here year-round. Besides mountain biking, Moab is the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and other parks and monuments are close by. Professionally guided mountain biking tours can be found in Moab.

6. Sky Dive Arizonahttp://www.skydiveaz.com. Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, Sky Dive Arizona’s skydiving center is the largest in the world. They combine an excellent staff, state of the art gear, great amenities and perfect weather year-round. After only a short briefing, participants will freefall from 13,000 feet for one minute. After the parachute opens, instructors will offer guidance as you fly the parachute together. A tandem jump is a terrific way to experience the thrill of skydiving while under close supervision by an experienced teacher.

7. Kayak the Gila Box. The Gila River, east of Safford Arizona, is one of the best kept secrets in the southwest. Gila Box Riparian National Conservation area, truly an oasis in the desert, contains cliff dwellings, historic homesteads, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and over 200 species of birds. This remarkable watery refuge offers great a kayaking experience in the spring. A 23 miles stretch of the river twists and turns through rolling desert hills and high-walled canyons. There are exciting class 11 rapids interspersed throughout and excellent camp spots are present along the river.

Unique Bucket List Ideas - Gila River

Gila Box

8. Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon ride in Albuquerquehttps://www.rainbowryders.com Rainbow Ryders takes people out on daily hot air balloon rides in Albuquerque, for every occasion and any size group, year-round. Flying safely for over 30 years, they are the official hot air balloon ride operator at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. One of their most popular rides is the Dawn Patrol Flight. It takes off 30 minutes before sunrise, providing a superb viewing platform to watch the desert and city of Albuquerque come to life and the sun light up the sky. Hot Air Ballooning is one of the best ways to appreciate the stunning desert landscape of New Mexico!

9. Take a jeep tour in Sedona – One of the best ways to enjoy the unbelievable red-rock vistas of Sedona is to take a PINK JEEP TOUR. These scenic off-road tours offer high adventure amidst some of the most stunning canyon country landscapes in the southwest. Their most popular trip is called the Broken Arrow Tour, offering four-wheeling on the red rocks themselves. 360-degree views of sculpted canyon cliffs, stunning wilderness, and unbelievable scenic beauty are included in this unique bucket list experience in the southwest! The company offers tours of ancient ruins and scenic rim trips.

Unique Bucket List Ideas - Sedona

Sedona

10. Sailing Lake Pleasanthttp://gosailaz.com/rent-a-sailboat. Lake Pleasant, located less than 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix, is the perfect paradise for sailing, as well as a multitude of other water sports. The marina offers sailboat rentals along with sailing instruction. Lake Pleasant’s consistent winds, clear water, and scenic high desert location is an unbeatable combination.

Unique Bucket List Ideas - Buckskin

Buckskin Gulch

11. Backpack Kanab Creek in the Grand Canyon – Journey to one of the world’s great wonders and explore hidden springs, see spectacular country, embrace Native American archeological sites, and learn the secrets of the magnificent Kanab Creek Wilderness. On this amazing backpacking adventure, you’ll witness some of the most incredible scenery on earth. Backpack your way through this powerful landscape featuring expansive vistas, airy heights, plunging depths, towering pinnacles, sheer-walled buttes, spires, mesas, temples, and a vast multitude of labyrinthine topography. CLICK HERE to visit our Grand Canyon Tour Page

12. Hike Buckskin Gulch – Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon on the planet and considered one of the top hikes in the world. Simply put – it’s gorgeous. This is a rare and beautiful place, quite possibly without peer anywhere in the world. Almost every list of “great hikes in the world” includes this trip. The 1000 foot red-rock canyon walls and a peaceful river will be our constant companions throughout this epic journey. CLICK HERE to check out our Sedona Tour Page for more info

13. Rock-climb Finger Rockhttp://www.southwestdiscoveries.com/arizona-day-trips-finger-rock-trail. Superlative landscapes, beautiful sunsets, grand views and an exhilarating short climb to a lofty stone pinnacle are the drawing cards of Tucson’s Finger Rock Trail. Late fall through spring are the best times to pull off this trek. Although you begin your hike on the Finger Rock Trail your goal is to scale Finger Rock itself. Hike for approximately 3 miles to a saddle, then leave the established trail and head off to the northwest, down a gully then up a sketchy route, climbing another 1,000 feet. After an hour and a half of scrambling and bushwhacking, you will be at the foot of Finger Rock, a slender pillar of lichen encrusted granitic gneiss which juts up 250 feet in spectacular fashion. To ascend the Finger, some technical skills are in order. Make sure at least one person in the group is an experienced rock climbing guide or contact Pangea Mountain Guides. For an exciting glimpse of one of the top five Arizona Day Trips and this astonishing trek, turn up your speakers and enjoy!

14. Climb Mt. Humphreys – Arizona’s highest peak is Mt. Humphreys, topping out at an impressive 12,637 feet. Located in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness in northern Arizona, the scenery here is superb. The area is named for the Hopi Gods, or Kachinas, whom according to Hopi belief reside on the mountain at least part of the year. The best time of year to hike Mt. Humphreys is early fall when stands of aspen on the lower slopes of the mountain transition from lime green to golden-colored hues. Thriving stands of alpine Douglas Firs, Engelmann Spruce, and Bristlecone Pines flourish here. Near the peak, hikers will enter into what is the only tundra in Arizona. Above tree line the only plants that can survive the harsh conditions are small shrubs and wildflowers which huddle close to the ground next to rocks. When you reach the top of the mountain, you will feel as if you’re standing on top of the world! Off in the distance on clear days, the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert can be observed.

15. Horseback Ride at Triangle T Historic Ranch – Dragoon, Arizonahttp://www.azretreatcenter.com/. Surrounded by huge granite rocks nestled in Arizona’s beautiful Texas Canyon, horseback riding here is magical. Plan to stay at least one night at the ranch. Triangle T is a historic ranch and the quaintness of the casitas is a part of the experience. At night, the star-gazing is amazing. In addition, the ranch offers great hiking, biking, and birding. Trail rides can last for 1 or 2 hours or all day, either on or off the ranch. All-inclusive riding programs are available and a swimming pool and Jacuzzi are included in the amenities.

16. Explore the Green Room, Havasu Canyonhttps://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/havasupai.htm Some of the most incredible waterfalls in the world are located at Havasu, a side canyon deep within the heart of the Grand Canyon. Few people have heard of a place of intricate underwater caves, the Green Room at Beaver Falls. To reach this hallowed spot, hike approximately 13 miles on a well-defined trail and plan to camp overnight in the canyon. While Beaver Falls itself isn’t as spectacular as Havasu and Mooney falls, it has some cool features. There is a huge pool of water at the bottom which you can swim in. This is where you can access the Green Room. It is best to be accompanied by another hiker who has experienced the Green Room before. There are plenty of small waterfalls to splash around and about 50 yards downstream from Beaver Falls, there is a cliff about 60 feet high you can jump off of. A permit is required to visit Havasu Canyon which can be obtained from the Havasupai Tribe.

Unique Bucket list ideas | Havasu

Havasu Cascades

17. Discover Keet Seel, a once in a lifetime archeological experience – https://www.nps.gov/nava/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm. One of the most awe-inspiring Anasazi (“ancient ones”) ruins in the southwest is situated at Navajo National Monument in Arizona. The trip encompasses a rugged three-day hike to mysterious ruins of a long-vanished civilization. To explore the ruins, advance reservations and obtaining a backcountry permit are required. The price of admission involves a 17-mile round-trip hike on a primitive backcountry trail with an elevation loss and regain of 1000 feet. During the warmer months, hikers may choose to day-hike or stay overnight in the designated campground near Keet Seel. There are guided tours of the ruins at 8:15 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.; Bring at least 1 gallon of water/person/day. The ranger on site at Keet Seel will guide you through these amazing ruins.

18. Canoe through Stillwater Canyon, Canyonlands National Park. The experience of canoeing through remote back country solitude at Stillwater Canyon on the Green River is incomparable. Follow in the paddle strokes of Major John Wesley Powell, the one-armed explorer who in the mid-1800’s journeyed through Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Paddling on the calm waters of the Green River is one of the best ways to experience the privacy of this stunning flat water wilderness at your own pace. TAG-A-LONG EXPEDITIONS of Moab, Utah, can help you organize and outfit your canoe camping trip, including the vehicle shuttles.

Unique Becket List ideas | Green River

Green River

19. Attend a Nature Photography Workshop at Aravaipa Canyon – Besides the Grand Canyon, Aravaipa Canyon comprises one of the finest adventures in the Southwest. The canyon, a protected riparian area, is truly a desert paradise with perennial streams, towering canyon walls, lush vegetation, and lots of wildlife. What makes this gorge so unique is its beautiful wilderness characteristics, including the lack of any well-defined trails. For adventurous wilderness photographers looking to add dramatic photos to their portfolio, this workshop is supreme. Get your cameras ready for stunning Aravaipa Canyon where you can take part in a Nature Photography Workshop and canyoneering experience not to be missed. You’ll learn how to capture images of multi-colored canyon walls, foliage, springs and flowing streams with camera in hand. On this tour, you’re sure to capture pictures that will last you a lifetime. CLICK HERE to check out our Aravaipa Canyon Nature Photography Workshop Page

Unique Bucket List Ideas | Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa Canyon

20. Explore Kentucky Camp Ghost Town, Arizonahttp://www.kentuckycamp.org. Take a trip to the past at Kentucky Camp, a small gem in the rolling foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson. A good dirt road transports you to a late 1800s mining camp where you can enjoy a secluded picnic with panoramic views. Kentucky Camp was built in 1904 as the headquarters of the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company. Investors planned to collect water from the Santa Rita Mountains for hydraulic gold mining but the venture was abandoned following the mysterious death of the chief engineer during the following year. The property became a working cattle ranch for the next 50 years. The Coronado National Forest acquired the site in 1989 and since then, volunteers have worked to preserve the site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A unique feature is its collection of five century-old adobe buildings. The ten room headquarters building is one of the largest surviving adobe buildings of its era. A gold processing building hints at the original purpose of the site. A three room adobe building is available for overnight rental.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

21. Experience Antelope Canyonhttp://www.antelopeslotcanyon.com. Antelope Canyon is located in Page Arizona, near Lake Powell, in the center of the Southwest’s Grand Circle. Tours can be arranged through Navajo owned and operated Antelope Slot Canyon Tours by Chief Tsosie. You’ll be filled with awe by the breathless Antelope Canyon and other spectacular adventures in the vicinity. Antelope Canyon provides a visual and photographic extravaganza of light, shadow and color, unrivaled by any other place in the world. Sunbeams dance from intricately carved red canyon walls to the sands on the floor of the canyon.

22. Bird Watching in the Chiricahuashttp://www.cavecreekranch.com/birds.html. Southeast Arizona is world renowned for bird watching and Portal, Arizona, nestled in the beautiful Chiricahua Mountains, is a hub for this activity. In fact, some of the best birding in the U.S. is located in the Chiricahua’s. The checklist in here presently is at 375 species, not including 13 species considered hypothetical. This represents half of all the birds occurring in the continental U.S. This part of Arizona is the most biodiverse in North America, according to Rick Taylor, founder and director BORDERLAND TOURS. In his 1995 book A Birder’s Guide to Southeastern Arizona, published by the American Birding Association, “the sheer size and topographic diversity of the Chiricahua region make it possible for most birds to find appropriate habitat.”

23. Immerse yourself in the history of the Old West at Cochise Strongholdhttp://cochisestronghold.com/history. When you venture into Cochise Stronghold, you’ll take a trip back in time. It is the homeland of the Chiricahua Apaches of southern Arizona and northern Sonora Mexico and you will be retracing the steps of its historic residents, deep into the heart of this impenetrable mountain range. Cochise Stronghold is located in a magnificent, rugged canyon that served the famous Apache Indian leader, Cochise, as a refuge against his enemies. Visitors entering the Stronghold pass in the shadow of rocks that quite likely served the Apache warrior as perches for his lookouts. The haunting and fantastic shapes into which the forces of nature have carved those rocks helps make a visit to this location truly extraordinary. There is no better place in the southwest to take in the history of the old west than this unforgettable place.

24. Wine Tasting at Wilcox, Arizonahttp://www.willcoxwines.com. A world-class wine producing region in Arizona? you bet! Wilcox became Arizona’s second federally-recognized wine-growing region, formally known as an American Vinicultural Area, a designation that puts Wilcox on the same national list of recognized vinicultural areas that include Napa Valley, Calif., Paso Robles, Calif., and Willamette Valley, Oregon. Located just 60 minutes from Tucson, the Wilcox region produces 74% of the wine grapes grown in Arizona. In addition to the wines, the picturesque natural beauty and national parks of the area combine to make it an incredible bucket list experience.

25. Hike the Arizona Trailhttp://www.aztrail.org. The Arizona Trail should be on everyone’s adventure bucket list. This National Scenic trail extends more than 800 miles across the entire length of Arizona and links mountains, deserts, national forests as well as history, communities and people. It showcases the state’s diverse vegetation, from cactus-studded dry lands to moist boreal forests. And as an added bonus, the Arizona trail takes travelers through the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The Grand Canyon is a showcase of billions of years of geology and that alone makes the Arizona Trail one of the most magnificent of any long distance hiking tracks in North America, comparable to the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. The adventure of a lifetime is waiting for you on the Arizona Trail!

*To gear up for the Arizona Trail or any of the other Unique Bucket List adventures in the southwest, visit SUMMIT HUT. They sell outdoor, backpacking and hiking gear at great prices online or at their two stores in Tucson, Arizona. Summit Hut has one of the best selections of adventure gear and apparel of any retail store in America. Their staff’s knowledge and willingness to help is unparalleled. The employees are down to earth folks who share their passion for the outdoors, adventure, and gear.

UP NEXT: Top Baby Boomer Travel Blogs for Senior Adventures.


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About the Author

Mitch Stevens has been leading hiking and backpacking outings throughout the southwest for over ten years. As a Sierra Club hiking leader, writer and photographer, he has promoted the enjoyment and conservation of our remaining wild lands. Born and raised in New York City, Mitch came to discover the great outdoors and fall in love with Arizona’s special places. Through his countless trips across the state and region, Mitch made it his mission to encourage fellow hikers and enthusiasts to protect the beauty of the desert. Now, he continues to embrace his fascination with the desert beauty by creating and leading multigenerational tours throughout the southwest. His experience coupled with his passion for the great outdoors make him a unique tour guide and outings leader.

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