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Best Road Trip Ever: Active Vacations Across the Country

Ride shotgun with FITNESS for this sporty girl's guide to 10 of the most visited cities in America. Whether you want to get amped on adrenaline, hit the water, or burn off the local eats, try these heart-thumping picks for a perfect fit-away.

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Girl bouldering
Tim Soter
Tim Soter
Tim Soter
Tim Soter
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Tim Soter
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New York City

1. Scale a faux rock face at Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym, where you can take classes or tackle the 22,000 square feet of walls -- from beginner-friendly routes to advanced overhangs -- on your own ($25 for a one-day pass, brooklynboulders.com). To get a grip in Manhattan, head to the multichallenge wall at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers ($50 for a one-day pass, chelseapiers.com).

2. Dip your paddle in the Hudson River at one of the free kayaking locations in Manhattan -- Pier 40, Pier 96, or at West 72nd Street -- with walk-up excursions on evenings and weekends (downtownboathouse.org). Or head to Brooklyn for a row on the East River, at either Brooklyn Bridge Park (bbpboathouse.org) or Red Hook (redhookboaters.org).

3. Rollerblade in Central Park with Central Park Skate Patrol, which gives group lessons in skating backward and "swizzles" and free weekend lessons in stopping ($25 per group lesson, skatepatrol.org). Once you've honed your moves, roller-boogie with the Central Park Dance Skaters Association at the Skater Circle on weekends from 2:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. (Free, cpdsa.org).

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Portland, Oregon

1. Go kiteboarding in the Columbia River Gorge, an hour east of Portland in the town of Hood River. Radio-equipped helmets help instructors from Cascade Kiteboarding guide you as you catch wind and skim past the gorge's towering waterfalls. ($275 and up, cascadekiteboarding.com)

2. Zip-line along at Tree to Tree Adventure Park on nearby Hagg Lake for a close-up of the area's renowned leafiness. The six courses vary in difficulty: Beginners can go for the Tween Adventure Course, and adrenaline junkies for the Extreme Adventure Course, which includes 19 zip lines and 60 treetop obstacles like tightropes. ($35 and $45, tree2treeadventurepark.com)

3. Pedal like one of the locals on some of Portland's more than 315 miles of bikeways. Choose Portland Bicycle Tour's Essential Portland Tour to see the culture-rich Pearl District, the waterfront esplanade and more, or opt for its Portland Brewery Tour to sample a few of the almost 50 breweries. ($40, portlandbicycletours.com)

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Philadelphia

1. Keep your eye on the birds as you hike eight miles of trails on Hawk Mountain, a 2,500-acre refuge for such birds of prey as falcons, eagles, and hawks. Ninety minutes from Philly, the sanctuary's trails take you over boulder outcroppings and up to expansive views of the Appalachian Mountains. ($6 admission, hawkmountain.org)

2. Lace up your running shoes and hit the paths and single-track trails of the city's 10,200-acre Fairmount Park. You can weave through woodlands and past Victorian-era boathouses, historic mansions and the Philadelphia Zoo and end up at the Schuylkill River. (Free, myphillypark.org)

3. Paddle Penn's Landing on Saturday and Sunday afternoons on a 30-minute kayak escape from the city buzz ($8, delawareriverwaterfront.com). Or head to Manayunk Kayak Tours to paddle along the Schuylkill River and fill up on one of their three tours -- brunch, lunch, and happy hour -- that end at Manayunk Brewing Company ($40 and up, manayunkkayaktours.com).

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Denver

1. Go om in downtown Denver's Sunken Gardens Park, where open-air yoga classes with a changing lineup of live music and DJs are held on weekends all summer long. ($12 in advance, $15 day of; yogarocksthepark.com)

2. Navigate white water through Clear Creek Canyon, only 30 minutes from the city. The Clear Creek Rafting Company ranks its trips by the level of difficulty (from beginner to advanced), so you can decide how wet you would like to get as you float past bighorn sheep and other wildlife. ($47 and up, clearcreekrafting.com)

3. Mountain bike at Keystone Ski Resort, a summertime cycling mecca that's an easy 90-minute drive away. One hundred miles of downhill single-track trails, with easy, green slopes for beginners and massive drops on double black diamond runs, are accessible by ski lift. The resort also offers how-to clinics for newbies. ($39 for a one-day pass, keystoneresort.com)

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Las Vegas

1. Tear up dirt in Red Rock Canyon, just 30 minutes from Las Vegas. Choose a half- or full-day guided mountain-bike ride on Mustang Trail, a single-track path that leads through the Mojave Desert's Black Velvet foothills with views of beautiful rock formations and the city. ($130 and up, looktours.com)

2. Find your balance on a Lake Mead stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) tour. Local outfitter Awesome Adventures picks you up in Las Vegas and takes you out on the reservoir -- the largest in the United States -- with options to fish or snorkel. Afterward, opt to either explore Valley of Fire State Park or go on a Hoover Dam kayak tour. ($139, awesomeadventureslasvegas.com)

3. Do yoga among the dolphins at the Mirage Hotel, where classes meet in the quiet underwater viewing area in Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Zen out at the one-hour weekend classes as dolphins peep at you and your fellow posers from their pool. ($50, mirage.com)

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Miami

1. Snorkel for free at local Hollywood North Beach Park, where you'll spot tropical fish, barracuda, tarpon, and maybe even some nurse sharks in the sparkling blue waters. Or travel south to take an eye-popping snorkel tour of the coral reefs of Biscayne National Underwater Park. ($45, including equipment; biscayneunderwater.com)

2. Try stand-up paddleboarding in Matheson Hammock Park on Biscayne Bay on boards from Adventure Sports Miami (rentals are $30 for the first hour, $20 each hour thereafter, or $80 for a half day; adventuresportsmiami.com). For yoga devotees, balance on your board and feel the burn with SUP Yoga Miami at Key Biscayne's Crandon Park. ($75 for a 90-minute class, including equipment; sup-yoga-miami.com)

3. Salsa dance at the South Beach mecca Salsa Mia, swiveling your hips to Miami's unofficial pastime. Perfect your moves at Friday-night classes, which begin at 8:30 and spill over into Bongos Cuban Cafe afterward, complete with live music. ($40 for a one-night pass, salsamia.com)

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Houston

1. Saddle up on the Cypress Trails, 20 minutes outside Houston. You'll be matched with the perfect horse by Cypress Trails Wranglers and led through wooded trails on a one-hour jaunt or a longer picnic ride to Pundt Park. ($50 and up, horseridingfun.com)

2. Hang ten in nearby Galveston's northernmost surf spot on the Gulf of Mexico. The waves can be choppy, but the small rolls are beginner-friendly and paddling out is a welcome respite from the heat. ($50 for two hours, c-sicksurfing.com)

3. Explore Hermann Park with a hike in its 80-acre natural area flanking Brays Bayou, or go golfing on the Hermann Park Golf Course -- only $19 for a round Monday through Thursday. (houstonparks.org; hermannparkgc.com)

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Chicago

1. Dive into history and see Lake Michigan's storied shipwrecks with N'Pursuit Adventure Charters. Bring your own scuba gear or rent it from Underwater Safaris ($70, uwsafaris.com) and explore one of nine wrecks, like the David Dows, a five-masted schooner that sank in 1889 ($100 and up, npursuitcharters.com).

2. Bump, set, and spike at the more than 150 beach volleyball courts that line Chicago's lakefront. Drop in on a game or bring friends to challenge other beachgoers. (Free, chicagosocial.com)

3. Summit the sand on the Indiana Dunes, an hour's drive from the Windy City. Hike as many as 70 miles of trails along 15 miles of Lake Michigan coastline and climb Mount Tom, which, at 192 feet, is the highest dune. (Free to $10 for a one-day car pass, indianadunes.com)

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Atlanta

1. Pedal over the roots and rocks of Blankets Creek's nationally renowned seven biking trails. Start on the easy Mosquito Flats and Mosquito Bite trails before taking on the 4.2-mile intermediate-level Dwelling Loop, the trail system's most popular trail. (Free, sorbawoodstock.org)

2. Boulder like a pro at Boat Rock, a nearly mile-long field of massive egg-shaped granite boulders sitting in the middle of an Atlanta suburb. Open sunup to sundown, the climbs are great for beginners and experts alike and are just a few minutes from downtown. (Free, seclimbers.org)

3. Shoot the Hooch -- the Chattahoochee River, that is -- and escape the summer heat and humidity by canoe, kayak, raft, SUP or, best of all, inner tube. Scenic trips along the meandering river vary in length from one and a half to eight miles. ($20 and up for rentals, shootthehooch.com)

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San Diego

1. Catch waves at Mission Beach with the help of Pacific Surf School, which offers group and private lessons to wannabe wahines while also teaching the etiquette of how to share the waters of California's busy coastline. ($55 per group lesson, $85 per private lesson; pacificsurf.org)

2. Snorkel with leopard sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, garibaldi, and all the other marine life in La Jolla Ecological Reserve. The two-and-a-half-hour Kayak and Snorkel Tour explores the La Jolla sea caves and cliffs and gives you a peek at the reefs and kelp beds below. ($49, bikeandkayaktours.com)

3. Cruise the shoreline along Mission Bay with a bike from Kruiser King ($8 per hour and up, kruiserking.com). Begin by dodging Rollerbladers on the boardwalk at Mission Beach, then follow the four-mile bike path along the bay; tack on several more miles by touring Fiesta Island before you head back.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2013.

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