A Grand Adventure

By Elissa Leibowitz Poma
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 30, 2006

Q. Can you recommend a guided adventure tour for hiking and backpacking to the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch? I'm 22 and looking for a group suitable for my age.

D. Cetlin, Potomac

A. With a desert climate and cliff-side switchbacks that can make even the most experienced hiker queasy, a descent into the Grand Canyon can be a challenging venture. Many trips require that you rough it, with tent camping, no shower facilities and simple meals. And after all of that, you still have to hike back up. For an undertaking of this sort, youth helps, but fitness level is much more important.

For its five-day "Ultimate Hike" through the Grand Canyon, AOA-Adventures (866-455-1601, ) of Scottsdale, Ariz., says participants must "feel confident" walking 10 miles daily. Guides lead you on a descent past the Navajo and Havasu falls and onto land inhabited by the Havasupai tribe. Cost is $1,625 per person double.

Phantom Ranch -- said to be the only spot in the Grand Canyon where hikers can cross the Colorado River -- is explored as part of a five-day backpacking trip through the nonprofit Grand Canyon Association's Field Institute (866-471-4435, ). Described as an "ambitious hike for beginners," the trip is $450 per person.

The National Park Service maintains rustic dormitories and cabins from $55 a night at Phantom Ranch. It's the only non-campground lodging below the canyon's rim. Booked up to a year in advance, the site is mostly used by independent backpackers and by tour groups on mules. Adventure tour outlets generally don't overnight there, preferring to set up camp in less crowded spots. Info: 888-297-2757.

For a huge variety of jaunts through the Grand Canyon and throughout the West, consult Sierra Club Outings (415-977-5522, ).

Are there any bus lines that provide day trips to Atlantic City from the D.C. area?

Joan Blum, Crofton

Lady Luck is on your side: Several companies run day trips to the New Jersey casinos -- and offer onboard bonuses to boot.

Eyre Tour and Travel (301-854-6600, Ext. 3213, ) runs a bus from Rockville, Norbeck, Burtonsville and Ellicott City to the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino each Friday through Monday. Cost is $29 round trip ($27 for Ellicott City departures). You get back $20 in coins and receive a $5 food coupon for use at the Trump Plaza. (The bus companies say the bonuses are subject to change at any time.)

Golden Ring Travel (410-391-8700, ) runs a daily bus from Pikesville, Catonsville, Baltimore and Edgewood, and on Wednesdays and Sundays from Pasadena, and stops in Baltimore County. Cost is $28 round trip, and you get your choice of bonuses: $30 in casino coins if you disembark at the Sands Casino Hotel, $25 in cash for going to the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort or $20 cash for Bally's Hotel and Casino.

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