Whether you're a connoisseur of extreme adventure, an eclectic outdoorsperson or a resort-weary vacationer seeking to test wilder waters, the adventure travel industry wants your business. And the thriving industry--witness the proliferation of self-anointed adventure outfitters and tour companies--offers lots of options, regardless of your thrill threshold or athletic prowess.
The same generation that once packed tennis camps and stirred drinks in rickety beach houses now seeks to kayak pristine coastlines, gallop horses through wilderness, bicycle back roads and otherwise go where no neighbor has gone before. And you can just imagine how their children spend their vacations.
You'll have little trouble finding a guide or group to lead you into Adventureland. Pursuing broader appeal, many guides are shedding the image of arrogant, novice-spurning curmudgeon (although these types still exist) and embracing all comers, including beginners. Or you can go it alone, boosting the adrenaline quotient and unfettered privacy that make many adventure trips so attractive.
Below we detail 12 domestic trips, categorized by the risk, effort and potential discomfort involved, as follows:
Adrenaline Addict: For those who court death laughing.
Repeat Adventurer: You've done it before, you'll do it again.
Suburban Thrill Seeker: Sweating's okay. No bruises, please, and hot showers are a plus.
Entry-Level Adventurer: It's time to get off the beach chair and visit the world, yes?
So get off the couch and start booking. Just don't blame us if you never take a traditional vacation again.
CLIMBING MOUNT McKINLEY (a k a Denali), the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet above sea level, and snow-laden year-round. Not all ascents are super-technical, and though climbers may lack extreme mountaineering experience, they "must be in the best physical shape of their lives" and be able to carry 50- to 70-pound packs during high-altitude climbing, cautions one outfitter. Severe storms may keep climbers tent-bound for days.
Reward: Unfathomable views, exhilarating glacial river crossings.
Best for: Experienced alpinists and well-heeled adventurers who are at least minimally familiar with climb-ing equipment, knots, etc.
Length: 16 to 30 days
Prerequisites: Completion of rigorous three- to six-month training regimen, including cardio-endurance activities, like cycling, running or swimming. You should be able to run six to eight miles in one hour or cycle 60 miles in under four hours, and know how to use a harness, ascender, ice ax and crampons.
Fly to: Anchorage
Cost: $3,500 to $5,000
Contact: Mountain Trip, 907-345-6499, www.mountaintrip.com; Alaska Denali Guiding, 907-733-2649; National Outdoor Leadership School, 907-745-4047, www.nols.edu; American Alpine Institute, 360-671-1505, www.mtnguide.com; Alpine Ascents International, 206-378-1927, www.alpineascents.com or www.mountainzone.com/aai/denali.html; Rainier Mountaineering, 253-627-6242. General Web site: http://homepage2.rconnect.com/kbayne/denali.html
WHITE-WATER RAFTING THE UPPER GAULEY RIVER, Fayetteville, W.Va. Exhilarating and frightful plunge down one of the world's premier rafting rivers. One section brings five consecutive Class V rapids (the most difficult that rafts tackle). The river is dam-released in fall (see dates below) and is usually runnable in spring and summer. Book as far in advance as possible.
Reward: Attaining new adrenaline highs and coming down to tell about it.
Best for: White-water thrill seekers with at least some river experience (although novice rafters can take on the Lower Gauley).
Length: One to three days. Dam-release dates for 1999: Friday through Monday, Sept. 10-13, 17-20, 24-27 and Oct. 1-4 and 8-11
Prerequisites: Ability to paddle hard, repeatedly, even when terrified. Outfitters set age/experience mandates depending on time and section of river you run.
Cost: One-day runs start around $115 (two- and three-day trips also available). Most outfitters can arrange lodging, or you can camp (there are numerous private campgrounds, plus Babcock State Park, 304-438-3004).
Drive to: Fayetteville, W.Va.
Contact: Class VI River Runners, 1-800-252-7784, www.whitewaterinfo.com; Extreme Expeditions, 1-888-463-9873, www.go-extreme.com. Other Web sites: www.wvwhitewater.com; www.wildtravels.com.
HIKING AND CAMPING IN THE GRAND CANYON. It's a strenuous, steep hike--about 5,000 feet down to the Colorado River and back up--in desert climate, where your water supply and protection from elements dictate life and death (officials conduct an average of 400 search-and-rescue missions yearly). Plan ahead to secure required permits (520-638-7888) if you opt against a guide.
Reward: Tackling a natural wonder on its terms and enjoying crackling desert scenery and, perhaps, such wildlife as mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes and desert bighorn sheep.
Best for: Serious hikers, preferably with some desert camping experience, who appreciate fragile, hostile environments.
Length: Two nights, three days.
Prerequisites: Strong legs, good balance and the ability to pace yourself--and your water supply.
Fly to: Phoenix, then drive two hours (or fly a shuttle) north to Flagstaff, then another 90 minutes to the Grand Canyon.
Cost: From about $1,120 for two, including round-trip air fare to Phoenix ($398), rental car, gas, food and permits ($20, plus $4 per person per night); guided trips start at around $575 per person, not including air fare.
Contact: Grand Canyon Tourist Center, Back Country Office, 520-638-7875, www.thecanyon.com/nps/index.htm.
Guides: Canyon Dreams, 520-525-9434, www.canyondreams.com; Discovery Treks, 1-888-256-8731, www.discoverytreks.com; Grand Canyon Trail Guides, 520-638-3194, www.grandcanyontrailguides.com; High Sonoran Adventures, 1-877-472-6399, www.highsonoran.com; Sky Island Treks, 520-622-6966, www.skyislandtreks.com; Canyon Rim Adventures, 1-800-897-9633, www.canyonrimadventures.com.
HORSE-PACK TRIP into western U.S. back country to camp, fish and/or hang out, or base at a central camp and combine riding with activities like mountain biking, hiking and archery. Some combo trips include white-water rafting, and many firms customize group trips.
Reward: Hone (or acquire) equestrian skills while soaking in fresh air and postcard scenery. Dictate adrenaline intake by how fast you run your steed.
Best for: Would-be cowpeople and lovers of horse travel, western vistas and quiet starlit nights. Some outfitters run singles or family trips.
Length: Three to seven days.
Prerequisites: A willingness to camp, eat in the wilderness and commit to days away from civilization. Also, an understanding of what consecutive days of horseback riding does to your butt.
Fly to: For companies listed below, Colorado Springs, Colo., then drive 75 miles; Reno, Nev., then drive 90 minutes; or Albuquerque, N.M., then drive about 200 miles.
Cost: $500 to $1,000, depending on length and style of trip, plus air fare.
Contact: Adventure Specialists, Colorado pack trips, 719-783-2519, www.gorp.com/adventur/colo.htm; Reid Horse & Cattle Co., Sierra Nevada Mountains, Calif., 530-283-1147, www.reidhorse.com; Derringer Outfitters & Guides, in the Apache, Gila and Cibola National Forests, N.M., 1-888-760-8131, www.wild-horse-ranch.com.
CANOEING AND CAMPING in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park (2 million-plus acres on the Minnesota-Canada border). Experience wilderness paddling and primitive camping on pine-rimmed lakes and streams. You won't be annoyed by power boats, because motors aren't allowed (nor are cans or bottles). Wildlife viewing (moose, wolves, bear and eagles) and fishing (smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike and trout) are legendary.
Reward: Self-sufficiency and privacy in remote pristine wilderness.
Best for: Experienced back-country campers who relish days on peaceful waters.
Length: Three to seven days (though there's no maximum stay limit).
Prerequisites: The ability to exist and subsist far from civilization.
Fly to: Ely, Minn.
Cost: From as low as $1,000 per couple (one week), including round-trip air fare to Ely, Minn., of $376 (on Northwest), canoe rental, food and $10 per person park user fee. Guided trips, including gear, food and airport pick-up, start at about $485 per person for five days.
Contact/more information: Wilderness Inquiry, 1-800-728-0719, www.wildernessinquiry.org; Canadian Waters, 1-800-255-2922, www.canadianwaters.com; Anderson's Canoe Outfitters, 1-800-777-7186, www.anderson-outfitters.com; Canadian Border Outfitters, 1-800-247-7530, www.gorp.com/cbo; Canoe Country Outfitters, 1-800-752-2306, www.canoecountryoutfitters.com or www.northernnet.com/cco/index.html. Web sites: www.bwcawilderness.com; www.boundarywatersjournal.com.
CAMPING IN THE UTAH DESERT (driving between campsites), using the state's 22 million acres of Bureau of Land Management public space and numerous national and state parks. You're far from modernity, but you can stuff your car with amenities and spend days gawking at parched beauty and nights counting stars. Generally, camping is first-come, first-served, except at state parks (reservations: 1-800-322-3770).
Reward: Staring at endless horizons of pastel mesas, canyons and bluffs, and grasping the daunting vastness of the U.S. Southwest.
Best for: Desert aesthetes who can handle a few days of grunginess.
Length: Four days to whenever.
Prerequisites: Planning proficiency--so you don't run out of water or fuel--and dry climate survival skills (drink water, use sunscreen and prepare for cool nights).
Fly to: Salt Lake City ($356; about 200 miles from north entrance of Canyonlands National Park) or Grand Junction, Colo. ($398; about 120 miles to Canyonlands).
Cost: About $1,230 per couple for one week, including air fare to Salt Lake City, car rental, food and supplies, plus park and camping fees (camping on BLM land runs $5 to $8 per night; national parks cost $5 to $10 for a one-day pass; state park fees run about $5 per day, a few dollars more if you're camping within the park).
Contact: Utah Travel Council, 1-800-200-1160, www.utah.com; Utah State Parks and Recreation, 801-538-7220; BLM Moab field office, 435-259-6111.
HIKING PART OF THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL, which stretches 2,160 miles from Maine to Georgia. Carry food and bedding and sleep in tents or three-walled shelters. Difficulty range: Easy to rugged.
Reward: Stepping on one of the country's most renowned trails amid beautiful forest.
Best for: Nature lovers--including children--who savor trail days.
Length: Two to four days.
Prerequisites: Reasonable physical health, with some experience hiking fair distances and eating and sleeping unassisted by restaurants and lodges.
Drive to: Montibello, Va., and find the trailhead on Fish Hatchery Road, between town and the trail. Arrange a shuttle with local hiker Jim Tennant (804-525-1860), who asks for use of your car during your hike (he'll also accept other compensation). For the Carolina route, drive to Hot Springs, N.C. (near Asheville), and locate the trailhead off of Serpentine Road (U.S. Route 25/70). Then catch a shuttle--from Bluff Mountain Outfitters (828-622-7162)--to Max Patch Road to start.
Cost: $81-$115 for two, including gas ($16-$50), food ($40) and shuttle($25).
Contact: Appalachian Trail Conference, 304-535-6331, www.atconf.org.
SEA KAYAKING IN MAINE along coastal lagoons, estuaries and islands, and camping or staying in cottages/lodges. No prior experience needed for most voyages, and instruction is provided.
Reward: Acquire or improve paddling skills in crystal waters and clean air while learning local history.
Best for: Coastal nature mavens and people seeking eye-level aquatic encounters.
Length: Two to seven days.
Prerequisites: Willingness to spend a few hours at a time in a kayak and, often, camp at night. Some tours set a minimum age of 16.
Fly to: Portland or Bangor. Different tours leave from different spots.
Cost: From as low as $550 per couple for two-day trip, including air fare, equipment, food and camping fees (cottages cost more). Some outfitters charge a small fee for sleeping bag and pad rentals.
Contact: Loon Bay Kayaking, 1-888-786-0676, www.cyberway.com/cafe/kayaks; Maine Sport Outfitters of Rockport, 1-800-722-0826, www.mainesport.com; World Within Sea Kayaking, 207-646-0455, www.worldwithin.com/index.html; Maine Island Kayak Co., 1-800-796-2373, www.maineislandkayak.com.
BIKE TOURING through scenic country in one of numerous U.S. sweet spots, bunking at cozy inns (popular states include Vermont, Michigan, California, New York, Virginia and Wyoming). Whatever your skill, there's likely a tour to fit your pace. Many firms arrange everything (bikes, lodging, meals, extraneous activities) and even shuttle your luggage between towns. Other resources (guidebooks, Web sites, etc.) simply suggest routes.
Reward: Powered-up legs, front-row views of pastoral countryside, motion without fossil fuel expenditure and outdoor vacationing with indoor sleeping.
Best for: The pedal set, especially fans of quaint towns and small inns.
Length: Two to 10 days.
Prerequisites: Sound fitness. At a minimum, recent experience pedaling a bicycle continuously for 10 or more miles.
Fly/drive to: Pick a state.
Cost: Varies widely. One touring group, VBT, has six-day packages starting at $945, not including air fare. If you own all your gear and plan your own trip, you'll pay for food and lodging, plus getting to the starting point (a four-day, three-night ride in rural Virginia could be done for $400 or less per couple).
Contact: VBT, 1-800-245-3868, www.vbt.com; Bike Vermont, 1-800-257-2226, www.bikevt.com. Scenic Cycling Adventures (primarily western states), 1-800-413-8432, www.scenic-cycling.com; Michigan Bicycle Touring, 616-263-5885, www.bikembt.com. Other Web sites: www.wildtravels.com; www.tamassee.com (books and maps).
RENTING A RUSTIC CABIN from Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which owns 28 properties. Most cabins lack plumbing and electricity, but contain beds, blankets and kitchen items (you cook on wood stoves or fireplaces). Some sites require you to leave your car and hike in. Activities include hiking and hard-core relaxing. Pets allowed at most cottages.
Reward: Relative solitude in forested hills with a roof overhead.
Best for: Serenity seekers--singles, couples, families--who want Appalachian purity without pitching a tent.
Length: Two to three days.
Prerequisites: Desire to chill out, use an outhouse, go unplugged.
Cost: $10 to $55 per night, depending on site. Reservations are accepted up to one month prior to the date of use.
Drive to: Distances range from 50 to 129 miles from D.C.
Contact: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, 703-242-0693, for the following hours only: Monday through Thursday, 7 to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday, noon to 2 p.m.; www.patc.net.
CAMPING IN BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK, on Bahia Honda Key, Fla., which holds some of the Keys' only white-sand beaches, framed by tropical hardwood forest. Snorkel or scuba, fish, and eye birds and epic sunsets. If you get too hot or itchy, flee to Key West, 37 miles south.
Reward: Think Robinson Crusoe with an escape clause. Tropical beauty punctuated by the lapping blue Atlantic Ocean, in striking distance of civilization. Technicolor snorkeling by day, shimmering moonbeams by night.
Best for: Beach freaks who know how to camp.
Length: Three to 14 days.
Prerequisites: Ability to pitch a tent and mix cocktails without getting sand in the glass.
Fly to: Miami and drive out U.S. Highway 1 to park entrance at Mile Marker 37 (about 130 miles from airport).
Cost: About $580 for two or three days, including $180 air fare to Miami, rental car, provisions and camping fee ($23.69 per night).
Contact: Bahia Honda State Park, 305-872-2353.
A week at a secluded FLY-FISHING LODGE IN MONTANA. Fish by day, gab by night (often over gourmet meals), repeat. Montana's lodges--and those elsewhere in the West--have improved with fly-fishing's popularity. Most access streams on private land, giving clients access to better fishing than is found in more heavily fished public waters. Because lodge quality still varies, ask for references before booking.
Reward: Battling feisty trout amid the splendor of rolling high country, blooming wildflowers and rugged seclusion.
Best for: Serious anglers, but also suitable for couples (even if one half doesn't yet fish).
Length: One week.
Prerequisites: A willingness to relax in gorgeous country and cast for fish.
Fly to: Bozeman, Missoula, Butte, Great Falls or Helena, Mont.
Cost: About $2,500 for a quality lodge, including air fare (six-night, five-fishing-days packages start around $2,000, including meals, drinks, lodging, equipment, guide services and airport transportation).
Contact: Destinations, 1-800-626-3526, www.destinations-ltd.com; the Complete Fly Fisher, 406-832-3175, www.completeflyfisher.com. General Web site: home.att.net/goflyfishing.
CAPTION: If you want an adventure that's not totally over the top, try a horse-pack trip into Colorado back country.
CAPTION: Adrenaline Addicts only: Consider hiking the Grand Canyon, above, or tackling the white-knuckle rapids on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia (left).