Tour ideas from the National Parks Conservation Association
The National Parks Conservation Association has a little-known program called ParkScapes that organizes tours of some of the most fascinating locales in the U.S. national parks system.
ParkScapes is reserved for NPCA members ($15; includes subscription to National Parks quarterly magazine). NPCA partners with professional tour guides, so you know what that means: professional tour prices. If you're into camping and backpacking because they're so doggone cheap (you know, after you buy $2,000 worth of gear), you might go into to acute sticker shock when you see the fees, but they aren't out of line for specialized tours of this kind.
Three ParkScapes tours that are worth a look:
Where: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
When: June 5-11 2010
Cost: $6,295 per person double occupancy; $895 single supplement
What you get: Six nights in intimate luxury inns, six days visiting some of the top locales in the Great Smokies. Among the stops: Cades Cove, Newfound Gap on the Appalachian Trail, the Appalachian Bear Center.
Special guest on the tour is Dr. Michael Pelton, who led the longest-ever study of black bears in the region (bear sightings are possible at Cades Cove). Another highlight: see the display of the rare synchronous firefly and discuss it with the scientist who discovered it.
This might seem crazy expensive to couples who haven't got 12 grand lying around (plus whatever it costs to get you to where the tour opens and closes); if you do, though, it might be a great idea for a second honeymoon (or that first you never had because you were roughing it in the Tetons).
Where: Isle Royale National Park, Lake Superior
When: July 24-31 2010 (second departure July 31 to August 7)
Cost: $3,195 per person double occupancy; $500 single supplement
What you get: While the tour opens and closes along the shores of Lake Superior in the far northeastern corner of Minnesota, the middle three days and nights of the tour are spent entirely on Isle Royale.
Isle Royale is one of the top backpacking destinations in the Midwest. Whether you're hiking or kayaking at the island -- home to long-range studies of moose and wolves -- you'll be in one of the wildest areas in the middle of the United States, and you won't have to sleep on the ground.
Where: Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Mount Rushmore
When: Sept. 18-29 2010
Cost: $2,819 per person double occupancy; $1,000 single supplement
What you get: 11-day bus tour of the grandest destinations of the U.S. Mountain West.
Any of the stops on this tour deserves a week to do it up right, but if you're the one who got stuck doing the driving on all your previous Western vacations, it might be cool to let somebody else drive for once.
If you decide to go
Look into trip insurance -- if you have to cancel at the last minute, you could be out a large chunk of change. Guides have to maintain these policies because it's difficult to fill open positions near the travel date.