Backpacking the John Muir Trail
Every mile on this classic American ramble along the spine of the Sierra has a highlight. If you're not marveling at sheer granite cliffs or clear alpine lakes, you'll be stopping in grassy meadows to admire the surrounding 14,000-foot peaks. The 15-day, 146-mile hike begins at Florence Lake, near Kings Canyon National Park, and travels south through some of the Sierra's classic must-see sections, including Evolution Creek, which teems with golden trout; 13,159-foot Forester Pass, the highest pass on the Pacific Crest Trail; the high-alpine lakes of the John Muir Wilderness; and the seldom visited Golden Trout Wilderness. Why go with a guide instead of hoofing it on your own? For one thing, a small mule train will follow behind your group, carrying food, tents, and 15 pounds of your personal gear. And with Muir Trail veteran and ecologist Jay Ericson as trip leader, you'll get plenty of beta on the trail's history and wildlife. By the time you exit the wilderness in Sequoia National Park, you may be tempted to turn right around and head north again.
High Point: The summit attempt on 14,494-foot Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48.
Low Point: Pack animals can be slow on the trail—expect them to show up with your flask of Jack and stash of Snickers an hour after you've set up camp.
Travel Advisory: Buy a California fishing license and bring your pack rod—you'll be passing through some of the Sierra's premier trout-fishing territory.
Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek (888-687-6235, www.mtsobek.com)
When to Go: August and September
Price: From $3,990
Allagash Waterway Canoe Trip
On a map, the Allagash Waterway—92 miles of interconnected rivers, lakes, and ponds in northern Maine—looks like a snake that has swallowed a couple of unlucky frogs. This remote swath of North Woods wilderness will swallow you up, too, as you paddle two-person canoes for a week and set up waterside camps next to 1,222-acre Umsaski Lake and deep in boreal forests full of moose and bears.
Outfitter: Wilderness Inquiry (800-728-0719, www.wildernessinquiry.org)
When to Go: July
Ski-Mountaineering Powder Steeps and Glaciers
Your mission on this two-week tour of the remote Neacola Mountains, about 100 air miles southwest of Anchorage in Alaska's Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, is all about first ascents and descents. First you'll ski through unnamed peaks before deciding, along with your guides, which spires to summit. Then you'll make base camp on a glacier and set out for downhill action rivaling that of any heli-ski operation.
Outfitter: Alaska Alpine Adventures (877-525-2577, www.alaskaalpineadventures.com)
When to Go: May
Sea-Kayaking Queen Charlotte Strait
Well north of the waterways of Johnstone Strait, you'll paddle tandem kayaks for six days among the sheltered bays and islands of Queen Charlotte Strait, a wild archipelago full of humpbacks and bald eagles, with B.C.'s snowcapped mountains in the distance. After dodging whale flukes, seals, and curious porpoises, you'll set up camps on the pebbly, driftwood-strewn beaches of secluded islands like Bell, Hurst, and Nigei.
Outfitter: Sea Kayak Adventures (800-616-1943, www.seakayakadventures.com)
When to Go: August and September
Biking and Hiking Glacier, Banff, and Jasper
This eight-day international ride-athon not only covers 42 miles of Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road but also takes in 177 miles of Banff and Jasper national parks' Icefields Parkway for a firsthand look at the massive glaciers that spill out of the Canadian Rockies. In between, you'll stay in stately park lodges and hotels and hike the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.
Outfitter: Bicycle Adventures (800-443-6060, www.bicycleadventures.com)
When to Go: June to September
Price: From $2,576