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8 Spots on Earth You Can Only Reach by Paddle

Breathtaking doesn't come easy. You can't reach these magical, magnificent places by either car or foot; you'll need a raft or kayak, a bit of effort, and, in some cases, a lot of nerve.

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Morag Prosser

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The 61 islands of the Galapagos are a dream destination for nature-loving paddlers. Most visitors travel through this UNESCO World Heritage Site on yachts or cruise ships; by taking to a kayak, you’ll get a very intimate look at the wonders of its islands (note: not every island can be visited). Kayaking the Galapagos is like “snorkeling from a boat,” according to one longtime guide. Here are just some of the many creatures that you might see: Dolphins (shown here), white-tip and hammerhead sharks, blue- and red-footed boobies, giant eagle rays, Galapagos penguins, finches, sea lions, sea turtles, fur seals, sea lions, and iguanas. Or, stay closer to home with these 12 island vacations in the US.

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Lori-Ann Murphy

Ambergris Caye, Belize

This Central American country is known for its beautiful beaches and reefs. This caye, or island, contains both, and it’s also full of intriguing channels, lagoons, and mangrove marshes to explore. Bring a fishing rod as the area is famous for its saltwater flat fishing (for bonefish, permit, or tarpon). And don’t forget your binoculars so you can gaze at roseate spoonbills, great horned owls, and, occasionally, saltwater crocodiles.

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Melanie Siebert

Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, US (Alaska) and Canada

Called the Tat, this 160-mile river—which contains Class III whitewater rapids—starts out narrow and then ends when it converges at a three-mile-wide spot with the Alsek River. You better like ice because you’ll constantly be surrounded by glaciers and icebergs; at one point, you’ll be able to see 27 different glaciers. Wildlife viewing is great, too, with mountain goats, moose, grizzly bears, and bald eagles roaming around. Most trips on the Tat take 8 to 10 days.

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Al Bukowsky

Middle fork of the Salmon River, Idaho

Cutting through the second-largest wilderness area in the country, this 106-mile fork begins in alpine territory and ends in canyon country. While it boasts more than 300 rapids, you should not rush through it. Adjacent trails have treasures to discover, including Native-American pictographs and hot springs; it’s also a prime place to catch cutthroat trout. A typical trip takes around six days. Don’t miss these 10 cheap travel destinations that feel like VIP adventures.

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Zachary Collier

Paro Chhu River, Bhutan

The rugged terrain of this tiny Asian country—which is roughly the size of West Virginia—encompasses many mountains and river valleys. Its highest peaks reach 24,000 feet. Led by a guide, a rafting trip on one of Bhutan’s four clear-flowing rivers offers an unforgettable perspective on the country’s rich Buddhist culture, since you’ll pass many monasteries and dzongs, or ancient temples. In this photo, a raft goes below a bridge hung with traditional prayer flags.

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Breck Poulson

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The vast majority of tourists to the Grand Canyon view its splendors from atop the landmark. But to truly appreciate its wonders, raft the Colorado and see it from the bottom-up. The Colorado winds through the Grand Canyon, and depending on where you join it, you can paddle through either 186 or 225 miles. It’s an extremely challenging trip that you should only take with a guide, containing more than 40 rapids rated Class V or VI. Fortunately, the rapids are often interspersed by sections where you can float for a few hours. There’s also excellent hiking off river, with waterfalls, creeks, and ancient Native American ruins within trekking distance. A typical raft trip can take 12 to 16 days. Check out more of our favorite bucket list ideas from each of the 50 states.

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Angus Nicol

Shetland Islands, Scotland

The Shetland Islands are the northernmost archipelago of the United Kingdom; London is nearly twice as far away from its tip as the coast of Norway is. One veteran guide describes the area as “a geology park”: Granite, limestone, and sandstone have been carved by the ocean into all variety of caves, arches, and pillars. Although the Shetland Islands consists of more than 100 islands, just 15 are inhabited. So instead of seeing people and houses while you paddle, you’re much more likely to spot dolphins, otters, whales, and the many birds that make this place their breeding grounds. Shown here is Muckle Roe, a favorite island of kayakers because of its many caves. Don’t have the funds for a European adventure? These are the most European towns in America.

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Nicole Mansfield

Little White Salmon River, Washington

This river may be only 19 miles long, but it packs in plenty of thrills: The humbly-named Little White Salmon is considered the most difficult regularly run river in the western U.S., so only class V (extremely experienced) kayakers should take it on under a guide’s supervision. Twisting through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest until it dumps into the Columbia River, the Little White Salmon contains scores of challenging boulders and waterfalls; shown here is its tallest waterfall, Spirit Falls, with a stomach-churning 30-to-35 foot drop.

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Chris Santella

A Trip Planner for Paddlers

All photos are from the new book, Fifty Places to Paddle Before You Die; other volumes in the series include Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die and Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die. Need more of a thrill? These are the 10 most extreme travel adventures on earth.