Ready for your next national park adventure? Look no further than these top ten outfitters and experiences.
America’s national parks, a combined 84 million acres, are collectively almost the size of Germany. Each park is vast and complex, in both geography and history. It could take a lifetime to see them all. Thankfully, many of the country’s best tour operators can help navigate these landscapes with unique packages that provide ultimate experiences—and memories to last.
Part of what makes a great outfitter is the expertise held by its guides. The best are leaders in their field, who bring knowledge and know-how to the itineraries they lead, whether it’s a historical walking tour of Yosemite, downhill skiing in Grand Teton, or scaling Mount Rainier. Look for tours that offer plenty of sightseeing, and the chance to progress at one’s own pace—be it on foot, bike, boat, horseback, or simply kicking back at base camp.
Itinerary: Summiting Mount Rainier
Outfitter: RMI Expeditions.
At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the fifth-highest peak in the Lower 48. It’s also an active volcano with massive glaciers hanging off its frozen flanks, making it one of the most ambitious and spectacular climbs in North America. In addition to ski mountaineering and ice-climbing trips, RMI Expeditions guides four- and five-day climbs of the peak that provide instruction on trekking with crampons and using ice axes, while offering a chance to experience a true expedition-style summit attempt. rmiguides.com; from $1,042.
Itinerary: Exploring Alaska’s National Parks
Outfitter: Alaska Wildland Adventures
The outfitter leads multiday tours through Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks, as well as other Alaskan protected areas. Kayak around glacial fjords, spot sea lions and humpback whales, hike the tundra, mush a dogsled explore forests on horseback, and bed down in backcountry wilderness lodges. Book a long trip to Denali to increase your odds of seeing North America’s highest peak, which is shrouded in clouds 85 percent of the time in summer. alaskawildland.com; from $3,695.
Itinerary: Biking Acadia
Outfitter: VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations
Named a World’s Best tour operator in 2015 by Travel + Leisure readers for the sixth consecutive year, VBT remains a trailblazer in leading small-group walking and cycling trips through some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. One classic route is a relaxed six-day ride through Acadia National Park. Guests cycle along the famous car-free carriage roads, dine on Maine lobster, shop in Bar Harbor, stay overnight at historic inns, and take in the sights at Cadillac Mountain, Little Cranberry Island, and Sand Beach. vbt.com; from $1,845.
Itinerary: Skiing Grand Teton National Park
Outfitter: Exum Mountain Guides
Exum Mountain Guides lead backcountry and downhill ski and snowboard tours in the Wyoming park’s varied terrain, with routes through open glades, basins, and ridges that allow for spectacular views of the mountains—all blissfully free of crowds. For a full immersion into winter sports, look into one of their other classes on building avalanche survival skills or ice climbing in a designated ice park. exumguides.com; skiing day rates from $175 per person for a group of four.
Itinerary: Touring Utah’s Canyon Country
Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek
Looking to embark on an epic journey, but strapped for time? The “Adventure Weeks” itinerary from active-travel outfitter Mountain Travel Sobek fills an odyssey’s worth of experiences into seven days or fewer. Explore not one but three national parks on this tour, which stops at Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef, packing in day hikes, leisurely picnics, and nonstop sightseeing. mtsobek.com; from $3,295.
Itinerary: Photographing Wildlife (Various Parks)
Outfitter: Natural Habitat Adventures
This outfitter’s deep commitment to adventure travel and ecotourism has earned it a place on Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operators list for multiple years. Some of its best tours center around wildlife photography in places like Alaska’s Denali and Kenai Fjords; the southwest heavyweights of Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon; and Yellowstone. On field visits with local naturalist photographers, participants can track and capture images of wildlife, sunrises, sunsets, and unique park features (such as Yellowstone’s geyser basins and limestone terraces). nathab.com; National Parks photography tours from $4,695.
Itinerary: Biking Glacier National Park
Outfitter: Trek Travel
Going-to-the-Sun Road, which follows a dizzying path along a mountainside in the heart of Glacier National Park, is considered one of America’s most spectacular routes. Most experience it from a car, but a cycling tour lets you breathe in the fresh mountain air along the way. On Trek Travel’s six-day tour through the park, riders will bike through the lake-filled Blackfeet Indian Reservation, spot bighorn sheep on moderate mountain climbs, and raft down the Middle Fork Flathead River. trektravel.com; from $2,999.
Itinerary: Horseback Riding in Rocky Mountain National Park
Outfitter: Sombrero Ranches
Visitors have been exploring Rocky Mountain National Park’s mountain trails, rolling fields, and rushing streams on horseback since the park’s creation in 1915. Sombrero Ranches runs six stables across northwest Colorado, each utilizing a different set of paths. Rides from Moraine Park Stables, inside park boundaries, follow Big Thompson River through open meadows to see tranquil lakes, picturesque waterfalls, and possibly even a few wild residents, such as elk, moose, or the rare bobcat. sombrero.com; two-hour rides from $55 per person.
Itinerary: Rafting and Stargazing in Big Bend
Outfitter: Big Bend River Tours
Big Bend National Park, in west Texas, was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2012, in recognition of its pristine night skies free of light pollution. Winter, when the air is dry and clouds are scarce, is prime viewing season. Multiday rafting excursions with Big Bend River Tours follow the Rio Grande through dramatic canyons and splashy rapids and include overnight camping in the Texan wilderness, where the sky is on full display. bigbendrivertours.com; two-day canyon tours from $340 for two people.
Itinerary: Kayaking the Grand Canyon
Outfitter: Current Adventures via Arizona Raft Adventures
You might be surprised to learn that the Grand Canyon is actually a river valley, shaped over millions of years by the flow of the Colorado River, which courses throughout it. Current Adventures takes Class-IV-experienced kayakers on two-week trips through the Colorado River’s white-water rapids, while novice riders can paddle behind in rafts. The hours on the water are interspersed with hikes and picnics along rocky trails, the stomping grounds of bighorn sheep and mule deer. currentadventures.com; 14-day tours from $3,950.