Photo: Hiking in the Grand Canyon

O.A.R.S. leads a rafting trip down the mighty Colorado River, from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead. At stops along the way, travelers hike areas of the Grand Canyon such as the Kaibab Trail.

Photograph by Justin Bailie, Aurora Photos

By Margaret Loftus

United States: Blue vs. Gray

Good value

As the United States begins a four-year commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, legions of travelers will visit the battlefields. Assemble in Gettysburg with historians and interpreters who will guide you through the places and events in the mid-Atlantic that led up to the hostilities, most notably abolitionist John Brown’s infamous raid at Harper’s Ferry. Learn about the war’s early campaigns, including the Battle of Antietam, which had more than 23,000 casualties, distinguishing it as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. Civil War Tours: “The First Years of the Civil War,” 5 days; $812 (based on a group size of 15).

Mexico: Deep in the Canyon

Good value

Reaching the indigenous Tarahumara in Mexico’s Copper Canyon can involve a train ride on the Chihuahua al Pacífico and a rugged five-day hike through the Sierra Madre. Your reward is joining several traditional communities, some of whom live in caves and under cliff overhangs in the Copper Canyon much the way their ancestors did. Also celebrate a unique version of Holy Week, with colorful processions and ritual dancing. Journey Mexico: “Semana Santa Copper Canyon Hiking Trip,” 10 days; $2,490.

United States: Grand Canyon White Water

Marvel at the geological wonders of the Grand Canyon as you float, and sometimes speed—there are more than 40 major rapids—down the Colorado River on this classic rafting trip from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead, Arizona. Having operated here for more than 40 years, the outfitter boasts a stable of veteran guides and builds in time for exploring on foot. O.A.R.S.: “The Ultimate Grand Canyon Experience,” 15-19 days; $5,011 to $5,628.

Canada: Sail the Great Bear Rain Forest

Explore the central coast of British Columbia, one of the largest tracts of unspoiled temperate rain forest in the world, aboard a classic wooden schooner. Traveling under sail allows for a low-impact front-row seat to the Great Bear Rain Forest’s ecosystem, the star of which is the elusive white Kermode bear, known as the Spirit bear. Naturalists and First Nations elders provide commentary. Maple Leaf Adventures: “Great Bear Rain Forest Adventure,” 8-10 days; $4,900.

United States: Wild Triathlon

Physically challenging

This Alaska expedition delves deep into one of the more remote areas of North America, first to the East Arm of Glacier Bay National Park for five days of sea kayaking amid calving glaciers and humpback and orca whales. Next, don crampons to trek over snowfields to the headwaters of the Tsirku River, which you’ll raft through the heart of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve back to civilization. Alaska Mountain Guides & Climbing School, Inc.: “Glacier Bay Traverse,” 12 days; $3,400.

United States: Backcountry New England

New this year, good value

After more than 20 years of leading hikes in Europe, this Maine-based outfitter returns home with a hut-to-hut trek on a 180-mile system of trails and eco-lodges being developed in the western mountains. Climb 4,000-footers, meet up with parts of the Appalachian Trail, and cool off in alpine lakes. Distant Journeys: “Western Maine Mountains,” 8 days; $1,950.

Haiti: Providing Assistance

Good value; volunteer opportunity

Before the devastating 2010 earthquake, the port town of Jacmel in southern Haiti was known for its French colonial architecture, stunning seascapes, and thriving artist community. Lend a hand in its recovery by helping to build a vegetable garden at a children’s home and community school. In your downtime, visit the cascading waterfalls of Bassin-Bleu and Croix des Bouquets, a village outside of Port-au-Prince known for its metal sculpture. Elevate Destinations: “Elevate Haiti: Jacmel Community School Volunteer Build-out,” 15 days; from $800.

Canada: Inuit Odyssey

This cultural exploration kicks off in Montreal at an Inuit-owned arts cooperative, where you’ll be prepped on all things Inuit before flying to Nunavik in northern Quebec. Stop at Diana Island to scout for prehistoric-looking musk oxen. Then head to Kangiqsujuaq for an immersion into Inuit culture; here, you’ll pick mussels under the ice alongside locals, go dogsledding and meet the region’s top mushers, and hear traditional throat singing by Inuit women. ENF Canada: “Under the Snow and Ice,” 7 days; $6,067.

These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2011 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.

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