Whether you want an experienced guide for an active-sport trip or an educational but leisurely program that takes the planning out of your hands, tours can be ideal for all ages and life situations—families, outdoor enthusiasts, and retirees.
Many trip organizers specialize in only one type of activity, while a few companies guide several kinds of active trips. (In some cases, these larger companies also act essentially as a clearinghouse or agent for smaller trip outfitters.) Be sure to sign on with a reliable outfitter; getting stuck with a shoddy operator can be disappointing, uncomfortable, and even dangerous. Some sports—white-water rafting and mountaineering, for example—have organizations that license or certify guides, and you should be sure that the guide you’re with is properly accredited.
American Alpine Institute (AAI). One of the premier rock-climbing and mountaineering schools in the United States, AAI offers courses all over the world in all types of climbing, from trekking and backpacking to high-altitude ascents. 1515 12th St., Bellingham, Washington, 98225. 360/671–1505; 800/424–2249; www.alpineinstitute.com.
Backroads. Arguably the best-known adventure travel company in the country, Backroads organizes trips to destinations all around the world—including the national parks of the West, Southwest, and Rocky Mountains. 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, California, 94710–1800. 510/527–1555; 800/462–2848; www.backroads.com.
The Great Canadian Adventure Co.. This company organizes trips into Canada’s wilds, including those in Banff and Jasper national parks. 6714 101 Ave., Edmonton, Alberta, T6A 0H7. 780/414–1676; 888/285–1676; www.adventures.ca.
Off the Beaten Path. This company organizes trips throughout the U.S. and the world—including the national parks in the Rockies, desert Southwest, and Pacific coast—that combine outdoor activities with learning experiences. Their various National Parks Guided Group Journeys hit Arches, Canyonlands, Big Bend, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, and Zion national parks, among others. 7 E. Beall St., Bozeman, Montana, 59715. 800/445–2995; www.offthebeatenpath.com.
REI Adventures. The outdoor outfitter conducts trips to the national parks, among other destinations. Examples include hiking in Arches, Capitol Reef, or Death Valley; cycling in Zion and Bryce Canyon; kayaking in Yellowstone or Grand Teton; rock climbing in Joshua Tree; and backpacking in the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, or Yosemite National Park. 253/437–1100; 800/622–2236; www.rei.com/adventures.
Sierra Club Outings. The travel arm of the iconic environmental organization, which was founded in 1892 by John Muir, organizes a variety of active trips (some of them service-oriented “volunteer vacations”) to the national parks, including Grand Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains, North Cascades, Olympic, Mount Rainier, and Yellowstone. 85 2nd St., 2nd fl., San Francisco, California, 94105. 415/977–5522; www.sierraclub.org/outings.
Timberline Adventures. Through Timberline Adventures, you can book hiking and cycling trips into virtually all of the Western parks, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Big Bend, Capitol Reef, and Zion. 505 Stacy Ct., Suite F, Lafayette, Colorado, 80026. 303/664–8388; 800/417–2453; www.timbertours.com.
The World Outdoors. This guide company offers hiking and multisport trips in Arches, Banff, Big Bend, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion national parks (and other places around the world). 2840 Wilderness Pl., Suite D, Boulder, Colorado, 80301. 303/413–0946; 800/488–8483; www.theworldoutdoors.com.
Those in their golden years can join special tours, some of which are quite adventurous.
Road Scholar. This branch of the not-for-profit group Elderhostel, Inc., sends adult travelers on educational and adventurous trips all around the world. They’ve got offerings in many national parks, including less-visited parks like Big Bend, Channel Islands, and Lassen Volcanic. 11 Ave. de Lafayette, Boston, Massachusetts, 02111–1746. 800/454–5768; www.roadscholar.org.
Walking the World. This tour company offers adventure travel for the 50+ crowd to U.S. and international destinations—including Arches, Capitol Reef, and Rocky Mountain national parks. 970/498–0500; www.walkingtheworld.com.
If you want to concentrate solely on one park, contact the park directly to learn about organized tours they may have. There are also an array of tour companies that focus on specific parks.
Grand Canyon Tour Company. This operator provides tours of the park—by bus, helicopter, or plane—from nearby Las Vegas. They also offer guided rafting, hiking, and overnight camping trips in the park. 795 E. Tropicana Ave., Las Vegas, Nevada, 89119. 702/655–6060; 800/222–6966; www.grandcanyontourcompany.com.
The Yellowstone Association Institute. The field institute of this nonprofit offers educational seminars and guided one-day and multiday tours and trips for adults and families in Yellowstone, ranging from backcountry expeditions to “Lodging and Learning” experiences. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 406/848–2400; www.yellowstoneassociation.org.
Tours with Accessibility
Access Tours. This group leads eight-to-12-day trips into U.S. and Canadian national parks (and other Western destinations) for people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility impairments; trips can be customized for small groups. Driggs, Idaho, 208/787–2338; www.accesstours.org.