Especially now that summer’s upon us, there’s nothing quite like catching the wind in your hair, reaching out for the next rock hold high above the valley floor, or whizzing down some woodsy trail on your finely tuned mountain bike… well, almost nothing.
The outdoors are unpredictable, after all. Sometimes the sun is too hot, not hot enough, or hiding behind soggy clouds. Weather aside, maybe you don’t have enough saved for another skydive. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to explore, Little Mermaid-style, under the sea, but you’re deathly afraid of sharks or, worse still, located nowhere near the ocean. As great as the outdoors are, braving them means dealing with all of these potential risks and unknowns.
Lucky for us, humans are meddling creatures. Rather than leave well enough alone, we’ve found ways to recreate natural features like ski hills, coral reefs and even whitewater rapids. By engineering our own adventures, we bring a degree of control and predictability to even the wildest adrenaline sports (plus make them accessible whenever and wherever we want—mountain biking in January, anyone?). Many of these adventures are great for first-timers who aren’t yet confident in their skills, or who aren’t quite ready to invest in pricey gear, like a full SCUBA setup. Others just offer made-to-order adrenaline rushes and you-can’t-believe-it thrills.
We’ve rounded up 12 of the greatest man-made adventures on the planet, including awe-inspiring (and safe) wildlife encounters, outdoor thrills brought indoors and amazing “natural” features that were deftly built with human hands.
From a transplanted marshland safari in the heart of the Netherlands, to a cool indoor ski center under the steaming Dubai sun, all the way to a barnacled sunken warship teeming with marine life—here are some of the wildest man-made adventures available.
Best rooftop “hangout”—CN Tower, Toronto
Got a head for heights? If so, Canada’s CN Tower—the tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere—is a heart-pounding must-see. Opened in August 2011, its ‘EdgeWalk’ experience allows thrill-seekers to dangle over the edge of a five-foot ledge encircling the tower’s roof, 1,168 feet above Toronto’s bustling streets. The 360-degree galvanized steel frame uses 36 protruding arms to support the bold walkers that venture its ledge. This one definitely brings new meaning to “Look ma, no hands!”
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Best indoor biking—Ray’s MTB Park, Cleveland
Ray’s MTB Indoor Park is the perfect playground for honing bike skills in the off-season. Whether simply improving your balance for tight turns on the road, or opening up the chest, knees and elbows to stick bumpy dirt courses, this cavernous, two-story industrial complex is sure to satisfy. The 130,000-square-foot wonderland brings the singletrack indoors with fresh lines each season, always keeping in play great pump tracks, jump lines, foam pits and, above all, expertly-crafted flows.
Best artificial reef—U.S.S. Oriskany, Florida
In 2006, the U.S.S. Oriskany came out of retirement 22.5 miles off the coast of Florida. Its new mission: provide barnacles and sea creatures with a murky new home and, in the process, divers of all skill levels with fresh adventure. The aircraft carrier is 911 feet long, and weighs 32,000 tons, making it the largest ship intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. The Oriskany sits in about 215 feet of water, which means divers will first encounter her tower at around 84 feet. Below, they can explore the historic decks, hangars and sunken corridors of the Vietnam-era ship in the relative comfort of clear, warm Gulf Stream waters.
Best safari—Oostvaardersplassen, Netherlands
This 22-square-mile nature preserve is an artificial marshland reclaimed from the sea by clever Dutch engineers. A series of dikes protects the area, and grazing species such as red deer, ponies and graylag geese stem overgrowth, keeping the space open for endangered bird species. Safari seats are limited, however, as only 400 excursions—including photo safaris, cycling trips and ranger-led animal-spotting walks—are organized annually, so as not to disturb the fragile ecosystem. The assembled bird population includes egrets, cormorants and herons, as well as ravens and white-tailed eagles—creatures that otherwise wouldn’t breed locally.
Best indoor skiing—Ski Dubai, Dubai, UAE
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With five snow-packed slopes (the longest of which is 400 meters) and the world’s first indoor black diamond run, Ski Dubai defies its sub-tropical environment. The massive facility is 25 stories high, and can accommodate 1,500 guests. It boasts ski, snowboard and toboggan rentals and a 3,000-square-meter snow park that’s just for play. Despite average summer temperatures of 104 degrees and an average humidity of 80-90%, this impressive complex keeps its cool.
Best wave pool—Wave Garden, Basque, Spain
Wave Garden uses a revolutionary wing-like sled, which, when towed beneath the water, creates glassy curls, tubes and rolls that build in height and muscle as they accumulate. Unlike other artificial waves, it generates real moving waves instead of standing waves, making it the closest and most versatile imitation of the ocean out there. A 5-plus-foot wave will ripple for over a mile-and-a-half when unobstructed by shore or obstacle. So far, the tech has only been installed in a top-secret testing facility in Spain’s Basque Country (open only to the pros), but once it’s perfected, it will be transferable to any lake, lagoon, reservoir, or pond. Surf’s up, always!
Best artificial freefall—SkyVenture, Nashua, N.H.
No ripcord. No parachute. No airplane? That’s right, in the vertical wind tunnel at this New Hampshire “indoor skydiving” facility, massive turbines blast an updraft of air at more than 150 miles per hour, which is enough to counteract terminal velocity (the max speed of a human body falling belly-downwards) and make you float. It only takes 20 minutes of training before your first flight and reportedly feels like the real deal, only without that stomach-in-your-throat falling sensation and the justifiable fear that, though beautiful, this is the last thing you’ll ever see.
Best actual freefall—Bungee Jumping Royal Gorge Bridge, Colorado
Hanging 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River, the Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest bungee jump in the world by more than 300 feet. That allows jumpers plenty of freefall time, not to mention a few long moments to consider your mortality. Don’t feel like taking the plunge? The bridge also offers visitors the chance to freefall 100 feet—and up to 50 mph—on the Royal Rush freefall tower. Editor’s note: The bridge and park are currently closed due to fire damage (August 2013).
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Best via ferrata—Mountain Torq, Borneo, Malaysia
This via ferrata (Italian for “road with iron”) definitely demands some iron from its adventurers, too. Built on the side of Borneo’s 13,435-foot Mt. Kinabalu, it’s the second highest via ferrata in the world (starting at 12,388 feet). Climb up the big peak without worry, as you’re secured to its steep walls with a series of fixed cables, stemples, ladders and bridges—including what may be the world’s highest elevation suspension bridge. This mountain pass, which includes the option to hike to the summit, was designed to join otherwise isolated routes, accommodating rock-crawlers of all abilities.
Best artificial wildlife encounter—Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta
Lucky for divers, the plankton-munching whale shark—the world’s largest fish (at longer than a school bus!)—doesn’t bite. At the world’s largest aquarium, encounters are guaranteed to anyone interested through the Journey with Gentle Giants Immersion program. While the experience isn’t exactly wild, this is the only aquarium outside of Asia to have them. The massive 6.3-million-gallon tank housing these goliaths is also home to car-size manta rays, hammerhead and sand sharks, and goliath groupers, just to name a few sea creatures you might encounter on a 30-minute dive.
Best climbing wall—Ice Factor, Glencoe, Scotland
This Scottish compound is the largest indoor ice-climbing facility in the world, providing ice climbers of all levels a controlled environment in which to brush up on their ice-picking technique (it’s a precise balance: too much force and you’ll crack the ice; too little, and you won’t have enough of a hold to climb). The frosty façade is so massive the designers had to pour a 15-meter thick concrete slab to hold up the 500 tons of man-made snow comprising the routes. Each of the 25 lines are hand-packed and manipulated to simulate outdoor conditions, where routes change shape constantly due to unpredictable weather. The room is kept below freezing, with a rotating heat loop that recreates natural freeze and thaw cycles. For fair-weather types, Ice Factor also has an indoor bouldering area, an outdoor climbing tower and a roped climbing wall.
Best manmade whitewater—Chatahoochee River, Columbus, GA
Imagine throttling down the frothy waters of the Amazon, Congo or Colorado River, only to step off the shore to a sprawling city, plush with all the comforts of home. Okay… maybe this water’s not that big, but the longest urban whitewater rafting adventure in the world is no easy undertaking. The 2.5-mile course runs straight through the heart of downtown Columbus, opening with five Class III rapids and cranking up to Class IV+ by the end of the wash cycle. Though the Chattahoochee was always there, it only this year got a world-class whitewater run that pumps a powerful 13,000 cubic feet per second at its peak.