Follow in the Footsteps of These Famous Explorers

07 Dec Follow in the Footsteps of These Famous Explorers

These legends left lasting legacies in their wake, from the first aerial film of Mt. Kilimanjaro to a fourteen-foot fiberglass kayak to the theory of evolution. Find the right expedition, and you too can venture to the territories that inspired them.

Martin (1884-1937) and Osa (1894-1953) Johnson, Plains of Africa

During the first half of the 20th century, American adventurers Martin and Osa Johnson popularized safaris and an interest in African wildlife conservation for generations of Americans. The couple earned their pilot licenses and they were the first to film Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya from the air. They also captured now classic aerial scenes of large herds of elephants, giraffes, and other animals moving across the plains of Africa. Osa’s autobiography I Married Adventure was the best-selling nonfiction book of 1940 and is still in print today.

I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson, 1940 edition.

I Married Adventure, 1940 edition. ©Sobebunny

Follow in their footsteps: Explore the East African Grasslands in Tanzania and Kenya with Bushtracks Expeditions



John Colter (1774-1812), Yellowstone and the Tetons

Widely considered to be the first mountain man of the American west, John Colter became an integral member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition after answering the call for “good hunters, stout, healthy, unmarried men, accustomed to the woods and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree.” Later, he became the first-known person of European descent to enter the region that later became Yellowstone National Park and to see the Teton Mountain Range.

John Colter, ©Yellowstone Net

John Colter, ©Yellowstone Net

Follow in his footsteps: Learn Backcountry Leadership from NOLS in the Teton Valley, or take the “back way” to Yellowstone National Park with Off the Beaten Path Travel

©Off the Beaten Path


Fanny Bullock Workman (1859-1925), Himalayas

Fanny Bullock Workman reached new heights for women as one of the first female professional mountaineers. Notably, she spent eight seasons exploring unmapped glaciers and peaks of the Himalayas. A noted champion of women’s rights and women’s suffrage, she once unfurled a “Votes for Women” flier at a 21,000-foot plateau and had her husband snap a now-iconic photo. She also wrote about her adventures, publishing eight travel books with her husband.

Fanny Bullock Workman standing on Silver Throne plateau, Karakoram, Kashmir, Asia. (Library of Congress)

Fanny Bullock Workman on Silver Throne plateau, Kashmir. ©Library of Congress

Follow in her footsteps: Discover Himalayan kingdoms with GeoEx



Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962), Canadian Arctic

Vilhjalmur Stefansson was born in a remote Canadian Icelandic community about a hundred miles north of Manitoba. He went on to become an anthropologist and explorer, including commanding the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-1918), in which more than 100 people worked to outline the edge of Canada’s continental shelf and discover some of the world’s last major land masses, including the Lougheed, Borden, Meighen, and Brock Islands.

A Vilhjalmur Stefansson portrait from the George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, ©George Grantham Bain collection, Library of Congress

Follow in his footsteps: Seek polar bears with Natural Habitat Adventures

Dogsledding in the Canadian Arctic. ©Natural Habitat Adventures.

Dogsledding in the Canadian Arctic. ©Natural Habitat Adventures


Charles Darwin (1809-1882), The Galapagos Islands

At the time of his visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835, naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin had not yet developed the ideas that would later make his name synonymous with the theory of evolution. It was only after he studied the biological specimens he collected amongst the islands that he realized the full significance of the difference among Galapagos species.

Charles Darwin, from The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887)

Charles Darwin, ©The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin

Follow in his footsteps: Discover the Galapagos with Lindblad Expeditions

©Lindblad Expeditions

©Lindblad Expeditions


Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), Cape Town

After a three-year journey from 1577 to 1580, English sea captain Sir Francis Drake became the first Englishman to lead an entire circumnavigation of the world. He was the most renowned seaman of the Elizabethan era and described Cape Town as “the most stately thing and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”

Sir Francis Drake, from Buckland Abbey, Devon

Sir Francis Drake, ©Buckland Abbey, Devon

Follow in his footsteps: Explore Cape Town with Micato Safaris

© Micato Safaris

Walter Kirschbaum (Birth Year Unknown-1972), Colorado River

After learning to kayak in his native Germany and winning the 1953 world championship in the sport, Walter Kirschbaum became the first paddler to kayak all the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He and his wife built the 14-foot fiberglass kayak he used to accomplish the feat in their attic in Denver, Colorado.

Walter Kirschbaum kayaking through a rapid on the Colorado River, 1960. Courtesy American Southwest Virtual Museum.

Walter Kirschbaum kayaking on the Colorado River, 1960. ©American Southwest Virtual Museum.

Follow in his footsteps: Raft through the Grand Canyon with O.A.R.S.

Colorado River, Grand Canyon. © O.A.R.S.


Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), Patagonia

King Charles I of Spain selected Portuguese sailor and naval officer Ferdinand Magellan to search for a western route to the Maluku Islands, known at the time as the “Spice Islands.” The expedition Magellan organized headed south through the Atlantic Ocean to Patagonia and navigated the narrow passage later dubbed the Strait of Magellan, allowing the ship to successfully reach its destination. Although Magellan was killed during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines, his expedition returned home to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe.

Ferdinand Magellan, ©The Mariner’s Museum Collection

Follow in his footsteps: Discover Patagonia with Backroads




Happy exploring!

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Libby Zay
Libby Zay is an award-winning travel writer who has contributed to three Latin American guidebooks and many other travel and lifestyle publications. She is obsessed with the great American road trip and has traveled coast-to-coast seeking out roadside attractions, historical sites, and national parks. A researcher and guide by nature, she loves to swap stories, advice, and tips; chat with her on Twitter @libbyzay or read more at
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