The best and most affordable tours in this hugely popular market, from novices to hard-core trekkers
Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley CA 94710-1800 (phone 800/GO- ACTIVE or view the Web site at backroads.com)%20recently/ joined forces with British Coastal Trails. Backroads is better known as a bicycling operator, but it will also take you walking throughout the U.S. and to over 40 destinations on five continents, on tours that range from the walk-and-camp variety (which still tend to be rather expensive--over $225/night) to those using elegant inns for hikers' overnights (which are no doubt expensive--approximately $500/night). Among the least expensive walking vacations are Backroads' camping itineraries in places such as the Canadian Rockies, Utah's Bryce Canyon, Washington's San Juan Islands, and the Canadian Rockies.
The luxury-loving Butterfield & Robinson, 70 Bond Street, Suite 300, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5B IX3 (phone 800/678-1147) is another outfit known primarily as a deluxe bike operator, but one that has its share of walking tours too. Walking tours are offered in Europe's most chic areas (as well as in a few spots in North America, Asia, and Africa). Butterfield only uses top-quality lodgings and charges its traditionally high prices ($5,995 per person for seven days strolling the vineyards and hilltowns of Tuscany, is typical). Also online at butterfield.com/.
Hiking holidaysSierra Club, the non-profit lobbying group with 750,000 members, is more than a mighty arm of the environmentalist movement. It's also an inexpensive tour operator with wilderness based adventures throughout the U.S and abroad. While the majority of its overnight hiking trips are in California and other areas of the West Coast, it offers a handful of options east of the Mississippi. Tennessee is home to swelteringly hot summers, but mid-September is a lovely time to get outside and hike around the Volunteer State. In 2002, Sierra Club had a five-day hiking trip in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area in remote northern Tennessee just after Labor Day. The trip costs $475 per person, and all food and cooking supplies are provided. You'll need to bring a tent or arrange to share one on most of Sierra Club's hiking vacations. Trip offerings vary from year to year, but a typical U.S. weeklong backpacking trip costs between $500 and $700, including all meals. The group hikes a manageable 25 miles total amidst beautiful gorges, rolling hills, and rushing creeks. To find out more about Sierra Club, visit sierraclub.com/, or call the Outing Department at 415/977-5522.
Despite its name, Knapsack Tours says that backpacks are never needed on its 10 to 12 tours each year, with destinations such as Switzerland, Yosemite National Park, the Canadian Rockies, Montana, Washington State, and France, Italy and New Zealand. Either vans carry your luggage or you keep all your belongings at a base camp or other lodgings and head off on foot each day. Daily hikes are three to six hours long, and there are usually a few options to choose from (moderate to strenuous). Prices are kept down by the use of modest lodgings (tents, dorm-style, mountain huts, or simple hotels) appropriate (in our opinion) to the unpretentious nature of the activity. Occasionally singles can share rooms; if not, there is a $100 singles supplement. A five-day package with daily hiking in Yosemite led by naturalist guides, three meals a day, and a mix of dorm and camp accommodations (real toilets and hot showers every night) starts at $575/person. Five-day trips in Washington's Olympic or Montana's Glacier National Park, both of which include cabin or bunkhouse accommodations (no camping or tents to worry about), begin at $780. Find out more by contacting Knapsack Tours, 2586 Chinook Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598 (phone 925/944-9435 or fax 925/472-0536, e-mail KThiking@aol.com, or check out the Web site knapsacktours.com/ ).
Active Journeys is a good outfit for tours that combine kayaking and rafting with hiking throughout Europe, and a few spots in the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. While all of these tours are "active," by no means do you need to be a mountaineer or world-class athlete to participate; each trip offers a variety of activities for persons at different levels of fitness. This is not a company aimed at the budget traveler, but many of its more active vacations average out to just $130-150 night. Some of its self-guided hiking tours seem to be especially good values. An eight-day hike in the lovely Cinque Terre region of Italy starts at $990, including standard tourist hotels, breakfasts, maps, and luggage transfers. A 15-night coast-to-coast hike in England (from St. Bees Head, on the Irish Sea, to Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire) costs $1,525 with accommodations, maps, and luggage transfers. There are also hiking vacations offered in Argentina's Patagonia region, several spots in Canada including the Rockies and the eastern provinces, Australia and New Zealand, Mexico, Kenya, and all over Europe. Some itineraries should only be attempted by serious hikers, while others can be managed by casual walkers, so be sure to find out ahead of time what kind of a vacation you are signing up for. Find out more at the Active Journeys Web site (activejourneys.com/, by e-mailing email@example.com, or calling 800/597-5594.