Vancouver Island, British Columbia | French Alps
Darjeeling, India | Queenstown, New Zealand
Sardinia, Italy | Julian Alps, Slovenia | Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
The French have a thing about extreme sports–perhaps inspired by extreme landscapes. The three-day, 31-mile trip around Vanoise National Park, just south of Chamonix and Mont Blanc, provides a full dose of the latter. Linking the GR 55 (GR for Grand Randonnée, a European trail longer than 31 miles), GR 5, and connecting trails, the route circumambulates a chain of heavily glaciated mountains towering over meadows, farmhouses, and villages nestled in deep valleys. Pack light: The first day includes nearly 5,000 feet of climbing to the Refuge du Fond d'Aussois. Spend your last night at the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise below a hanging glacier. Follow the GR 5 back to the trailhead at Pralognan-la-Vanoise.
Climb cliffs up to 2,500 feet high on an iron ladder installed in the rock around Le Grand Bornand, La Clusaz, and Thones. Beginners should hire a guide at paraglidingholidays.com.
Pedal hundreds of miles of trails around La Clusaz and neighboring towns, from easy roads to super-technical singletrack.
Drop through class III rapids in narrow gorges on the Giffre River in the Samoens Valley, where tight turns demand an experienced guide and active paddling. paraglidingholidays.com
Rappel over waterfalls and slither down rock waterslides on a guided tour of one of more than 40 gorges near Vanoise National Park. paraglidingholidays.com
Guidebook and map
100 Hikes in the Alps, by Vicky Spring and Harvey Edwards (The Mountaineers Books, $15); Parc National de la Vanoise map (mapsworldwide.com, $17)