What does value mean for adventure travel? It certainly entails paying a reasonable price, but it also means choosing an outfitter that's experienced, safety-conscious, and respectful of the environment and culture encountered on the trip. When I'm climbing a mountain or rafting a river with a company, I want to believe my guides know what they're doing, the equipment is reliable, and they aren't going to cut corners to save themselves a few bucks.
The quality of the experience is also important, and sometimes it's worthwhile to spend a little extra for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When you've come home from a vacation and you feel like it was worth every penny—that's the best bargain you can get. Here are 10 trips that promise to leave you satisfied.
Raft the Grand Canyon
Price: from $895
"The region is, of course, altogether valueless. . .It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed," wrote Lieutenant Joseph Ives after an unfruitful expedition to the Grand Canyon in 1857. The U.S. Government sent him to explore the Colorado River and determine if it could serve some military benefit, but his party was deterred upon reaching the gaping chasm of the Grand Canyon, a geological formation so immense and terrifying it proved insurmountable.
Today, a raft trip through the canyon is among the crown jewels of adventure travel. Every year more than 22,000 rafters run the canyon, each person having waited more than 10 years for an individual rafting permit or having paid hundreds or thousands of dollars to go with a commercial outfitter. While no rafting trip through the Grand Canyon can really be considered cheap, some options are better values than others.
Canyoneers, the oldest commercial rafting company operating in the Grand Canyon, has among the most affordably priced trips. The company started in 1938 using wooden boats to navigate the rapids, an amazing feat at the time. Now Canyoneers runs three- to 14-day trips in both motorized craft and rubber rafts. Depending on the length of the trip, you'll run either the upper or lower canyon, or, better yet, the full 280 miles, from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead. This summer, the Sandra, one of the company's restored orginal wooden cataract boat, will accompany row trips.
"Both [the upper and lower canyon] are beautiful and have excellent rapids, however, the lower portion (being longer) does have many more rapids," says company Co-owner Joy Iris Staveley. "The full trip is always our recommendation when time and money permits." Trip prices for next year range from $895 for a three-day upper grand motorized trip to $3,250 for a 14-day full canyon rowing trip.
Rates include all rafting and camping equipment, Phantom Ranch lodging where noted, all meals and beverages, professional guides, and ground and jet-boat transfers where noted. Trips are scheduled April through September. Booking one year to nine months in advance is recommended. The closest major airports to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are in Phoenix (240 miles away) and Las Vegas (280 miles away).