Best Tours in North America
Photograph by Jed Weingarten, National Geographic Stock
By Margaret Loftus
United States: Rivers Wild
Carving through more than 100 miles of the largest federally designated wilderness area in the lower 48 states, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Idaho, is prime family-rafting territory. Natural hot springs, pioneer homesteads, Indian rock art, hiking trails, and, of course, top-notch white water captivate kids and adults. The outfitter, known for a knack with children—a “river jester” keeps them entertained—offers two special departures for families with kids ages 8 and up. ROW Adventures: “Middle Fork Salmon Rafting,” 6 days; from $1,845.
Mexico: The Real Deal
Chiapas has long been a neglected stepsister to the country’s tourist hot spots of Acapulco, Cancún, and neighboring Oaxaca, but its beauty and charm are starting to get some buzz from travelers seeking auténtico Mexico. This trip shifts the focus to what you may have been missing, from the traditional backstrap weavers of San Lorenzo Zinacantán to the little-visited archaeological sites of Bonampak and Yaxchitlán and the ruins of Palenque, known for its standout examples of Maya architecture. Journey Mexico: “Chiapas: A Journey Through Mexico Less Visited,” 7 days; from $2,090.
United States: Cycling the Blue and the Gray
Visiting Civil War battlefields needn’t involve musty coach buses and dry accounts only a reenactor could appreciate. Here’s a trip that commemorates the war’s sesquicentennial with a bike ride from Leesburg, Va., to Gettysburg, Pa., taking in story-filled battlefield tours and landmark towns along the route. Bonuses: Blue Ridge mountain vistas and overnights at luxurious and historical inns, like the Red Fox in Middleburg, Va. Wilderness Voyageurs Outfitters: “9-Day Civil War Tour,” 9 days; $2,850.
Cuba: Door Opening
One of a handful of operators to score permits from the Treasury Department to take U.S. residents to Cuba after the Obama administration eased travel restrictions to the nation last year, the company has teamed with Christopher Baker, an expert on Cuban culture and author of six books about the island, to craft an expedition built around visits with civic leaders, artists, and other locals. Austin-Lehman Adventures: “The Real Cuba,” 9 days; $4,498.
United States: America’s Great Game
You don’t need a tour operator to show you Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, but you’ll want one to maximize your time spent in each with a mix of action—hikes, biking, horseback riding, and rafting—and animals, including grizzly bears, wolves, and bison. Groups max out at 24 people (more than we like on guided trips) but a higher guide-to-guest ratio than the industry standard and nights at the parks’ historic lodges keep the feeling intimate. Tauck: “Yellowstone & the Tetons: American Safari,” 8 days; $3,990.
Canada: Rockies Ramble
Backpack among the bighorn sheep, grizzlies, and nearly 10,000-foot peaks in the remote Willmore Wilderness in Canada’s Alberta Province, the less crowded—but no less spectacular—neighbor to Jasper National Park. Sierra Club Outings: “Remote Canadian Rockies Ramble, Alberta and British Columbia,” $1,695; 12 days.
United States: Western Expedition
This small-ship expedition follows 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark from Portland, Oreg., to Lewiston, Idaho, with a decidedly 21st-century emphasis on regional foodways and sustainable farming. Cruise east through the deep Columbia River Gorge, where you’ll hike near Multnomah Falls to the Snake River for a jet boat ride over the rapids to Hell’s Canyon. (Disclosure: The company is a partner to our parent organization, the National Geographic Society.) Lindblad Expeditions: “Columbia and Snake Rivers Journey: Harvests, History, and Landscapes,” 7 days; from $3,990.
Canada: Teenage Dream in the Arctic
Smack in the center of a Venn diagram (where Arctic, subarctic, and boreal species roam and grow), the wetlands of Churchill, Manitoba, are an ideal laboratory for monitoring the effects of climate change. Here’s a chance for science-minded teens to get in on the fieldwork, helping the pros count and maybe even trap and release fish, frogs, and tadpoles. Earthwatch: “Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge,” 11 days; $3,595.
These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2012 for the outfitters’ commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.