While visitors should certainly respect the untouched beauty of the U.S. National Parks, that doesn’t mean we must only admire from afar. Parks are for playing, after all. Here are a few ways to travel deeper in six of the country’s most beautiful natural monuments.
Take a Dory through the Grand Canyon
What better way to experience the vastness of the Grand Canyon than to actually go into the Grand Canyon? If you’re a thrill-seeking individual, then you might want to check out O.A.R.S Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch trip. This weeklong adventure takes participants down the Colorado River in traditional wooden fishing boats, rather than the oft-photographed inflatable rafts. However, this is no lazy-river cruise. With over 19 major rapids to paddle through and days filled with hikes to some of the Canyon’s most incredible natural wonders, physical fitness is a must. And while the trip does not cater to the faint of heart, those that brave it can say that they’ve more than just seen the Grand Canyon; they’ve done it. Rates start at $3,022 per person.
Cycle through Bryce and Zion
Bikers and non-bikers alike can pedal their way through two of the country’s most vibrant national parks with this long-standing Backroads tour. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have completed a century (or even know what that means) to join this weeklong trip. The Bryce and Zion Bike Tour allows participants to choose their level of challenge each day; “easy” rides start at 24 miles, while “advanced” rides can be up to 85 miles. Spend your nights crashing at casual but comfortable lodgings, your afternoons feasting on Backroads’ esteemed picnic lunches, and your days, quite literally, on the road. Rates start at $2,598 per person.
Cruise, Trek, and Fly Through 5 of Alaska’s National Parks
Thanks to Alaska’s stunning coastline, cruises have fast become one of the best ways to see the state’s natural offerings. However, if you’re looking to go beyond just the coast, you might want to check out John Hall’s National Parks of Alaska tour. This 12-day itinerary takes guests through five of the state’s most glorious national parks by land, air, and sea. Fly over the Wrangell Mountains, sail past the Hubbard Glacier, and hike through the heart of Denali. Go as luxury or as basic as you want when it comes to rooms, but with so many incredible things to do, we bet you won’t be spending much time on-board anyways. Rates start at $10,039 per two-person stateroom.
Follow in Lewis and Clark's Footsteps
If you’re looking for something between a cruise and a kayak, check out Adventure Smith’s 62-person riverboat journey down the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Do as intrepid American explorers Lewis and Clark did, and explore your way through the terrain they first encountered in the eary 1800s. This trip caters to rock enthusiasts with its onboard geologist and offers nature lovers the chance to spend their time on the ship listening to a hydrophone or watching a live underwater camera stream. After dining on Food Alliance certified local fare, guests can spend their weeklong voyage visiting Lewis and Clark’s campsites, hiking to historic farms, and kayaking under waterfalls. Rates start at $4,750 per person.
See the American West with Ken Burns
If you’ve ever dreamt of experiencing life like an old-school cowboy, then you might want to check out Tauck’s eight-day adventure through the American West. And while esteemed nature documentarian Ken Burns doesn’t join the tour, he did team up with Tauck to design the experiential itinerary. Expert guides will lead participants on raft trips down the Jackson River in the Grand Tetons, through the thousands of geysers at Yellowstone, and into the historic towns of Wyoming. Most nights are spent at high-end lodges. But because you can't be a cowboy without the cattle, at least one night and day is spent at a functioning ranch, complete with horse riding, s’mores making and star gazing. Rates start at $3,690 per person.
Trek Through the Great Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains was the most visited national park in the country last year, and for good reason: the mountainous terrain not only provides incredible views of unspoiled Appalachia, but it’s also one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. If you’re decently fit and like to experience a place from the ground up, check out the Wildland Trekking Company’s three or five-day Appalachian Hiking Experience. Knowledgeable guides lead small groups on daily six- to eight-mile hikes through the park’s most beautiful and oftentimes most isolated natural spots. While hikers rough it during the day, these tours come complete with comfortable lodgings in town, along with local restaurant meals. Wildland provides the packs, poles, and picnics; all you need is your hiking boots. Three-day treks start at $1,155.