Adventure doesn’t have to mean inaccessible destinations or complicated planning sessions. If you’re craving some time off the beaten path but want the convenience of easy-to-reach transportation, try one of these transit-friendly outdoor experiences. They’re all reasonably close to an airport, so you can focus your energy on enjoying the beauty of these spots and revelling in your intrepid accomplishments.
Trek Scotland's Highland-Like Pentland Hills
Airport: Edinburgh Airport (EDI)
Normally, undertaking a trek in Scotland’s Highlands requires extensive planning to contend with remote locations, sketchy communication, complicated transportation links, and expensive lodging options. It’s worth it, of course, but there’s also a little-known way to find that same experience just outside Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh.
The Pentland Hills Regional Park boasts rolling hills, iconic wildlife, and green peaks similar to the Highlands that can be enjoyed along a 20-mile route of both marked and unmarked pathways. The Pentlands stretch west from Edinburgh and are of interesting mixed use: on a trek, you’ll likely find hillwalkers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and farmers with sheep that graze on public lands.
To get there, take the Airlink 100 from Edinburgh Airport downtown to Shandwick Place, then hop on the bus at Edinburgh’s North Bridge. You’ll get off at the base of the hills—you’ll know them when you see them. Because of Scotland’s generous right-to-roam laws, you’re free to enter the park anywhere you can, and you can follow the Pentlands’ paths or walk around on your regard. Near the top, you’ll find varied terrain: smooth paths with impressive views of the city, trails with vistas over the Firth of Forth, and cobbled steps leading to even higher ground. There are small villages along the bottom of the hills where you can catch transportation back to Edinburgh. On the way back, you can stop in Roslin, home to the famous 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel.
Camp by Boat on California's Anacapa Island
Airport: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
This chunk of volcanic island, part of Channel Islands National Park, is a rugged shapeshifter: some visitors claim its size and landscape seem to change with differing lighting and weather. The five-mile long island consists of three islets between which visitors can travel only by boat.
Trips to Anacapa Island can be arranged year-round, and the rocky shores are a popular place for camping and bird watching. This is truly remote, though—there are no goods, services, accommodations, or potable water on the island, so be prepared to be fully self-sufficient once you hop on a boat at the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, just north of Los Angeles. From Los Angeles International Airport, it’s simplest to book a shuttle for the scenic trip to the harbor, but it’s possible to navigate the longer, more complicated public transportation options: a shuttle to a train to a cab.
Ski Snowy Slopes Just Outside Tokyo
Airport: Tokyo International Airport (HND) or Narita International Airport (NRT)
It’s easy to find adventure just minutes after arriving in Japan, a country known for its bullet trains and efficient transportation. In fact, Tokyo—the hub of Japan's railway network—is so well-connected, it’s possible for an extended layover in the city to take place on the ski hill. Make your way from either airport to Tokyo Station, and you'll be just an hour and a half away from the snow-packed slopes of Gala Yuzawa.
Getting to the popular ski resort is simple. It's served by its own bullet-train station, and you can buy tickets and rent equipment only a few steps from the stop. Yuzawa can be crowded, but it also has everything you need for a winter adventure. The complex is home to ski slopes and lifts, Kanjiki (traditional Japanese snowshoe) routes, sledding hills, a whirlpool and spa, and five restaurants.
Cycle Airport to Airport Along Cuba's Northwestern Coast
Airports: José Martí International Airport (HAV) and Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport (VRA)
Hurricane Irma had devastating effects in Cuba, but the country is already making plans to rebuild its tourism infrastructure. When it’s safe to do so, a visit to the island can help support its continued redevelopment.
Travel to Cuba most often looks like all-inclusive resorts and pre-planned tours around Havana. It is not easy (or common) to travel independently here, but that also makes it a prime place for unconventional adventures. A number of bicycle rental shops will pick up and drop off wheels in convenient locations for tourists. Find a shop, get a bike, and start the leisurely ride from Havana to Varadero or Matanzas, where public transportation can take you from downtown cityscapes to the flat roads between small towns. The route also connects the José Martí International Airport and the Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport, making a one-way cycling trip a breeze.
The ride between Havana and Matanzas is just over 60 miles and can be completed in two or three days, depending on your speed and fitness level—and the number of stops you take for icy cold beer. Perhaps the most challenging part of the ride is accessing fuel: food can be hard for tourists to organize outside the resort bubble, but it’s not impossible. Bring your favorite granola bars from home and look for pizza shops along the way.
Hike Through New York City's Hidden Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Airport: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
More than 330 bird species have found sanctuary just outside New York City, building their own Eden at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge inside the Gateway National Recreation Area. Jamaica Bay, which sits on a peninsula only minutes from JFK International Airport, is the only wildlife refuge administered as part of the National Park System. Because of its concentrated ability to monitor migrations, the refuge draws birders year-round. Along with the guarantee of fascinating bird sightings, visitors can wander through preserved landscapes such as salt marshes, mudflats, forest, and wetlands.
Jamaica Bay is easily reachable from New York City and the nearby airport, which was developed on much of the same marshland that the birds now call home. The refuge can be accessed by shuttle, public bus, or the subway from the city. Park officials ask that visitors stay on trails and paths, and there are strict rules in terms of wildlife interaction.
Ride the Great Southern Rail from Adelaide to Darwin
Airports: Adelaide Airport (ADL) and Darwin International Airport (DRW)
See the red soil of Australia from the ground on The Ghan, a train line that stretches from Adelaide to Darwin. This interstate passenger train follows the route of ancient camel drivers and provides out-of-this-world views. From the comfort of your seat, you can enjoy the heart of the Australian desert, spotting the Uluru monolith and the region’s aboriginal rock art. The train trip takes three or four days without any stops, but the excursions are also worth your time. You can step off the train to hike through the desert, fly in a helicopter, or participate in a camel trek.
Both the initial and final train stations on this route are close to airports—Adelaide Parklands Terminal is just three miles from Adelaide Airport and Darwin Railway Station is about 10 miles from Darwin International Airport. Train packages vary in price and can include everything from base-level carriages to full-meal service (though reviews of those meals are varied, so passengers may wish to pack their own food).