1. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, British Columbia: Paddle with Spirits
The 138 rain forest-covered islands of Gwaii Haanas are tailor-made for kayaking, but it's the numinous presence of the local Haida people that makes a trip here so transcendent. The best option for exploring the park, which is accessible only by air or sea, is with the Pacific Rim Paddling Company; it offers one-, two-, and three-week-long sea kayaking trips. Highlights: a soak in natural hot pools overlooking Juan Perez Sound and a visit to SGang Gwaay, North America's largest collection of standing totem poles in their original location. Along the way you'll stop at ancient Haida villages cared for by Haida watchmen, who serve as hosts. This will probably be the only human encounter you'll experience.
Vitals: Pacific Rim Paddling Company has trips ($1,450 a week; www.pacificrimpaddling.com). For park info, visit www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/gwaiihaanas/index_E.asp.
2. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington: Circle a Giant
Walk around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail and you'll see the Cascades all right—in one massive 93-mile (150-kilometer) nutshell. A trek, certainly, but on it you'll pass through soaring old-growth forests, climb to tree line to witness wildflower shows, stare down a dozen or more glaciers, and cross the foamy rivers they feed. All the while, there'll be the hulking presence of Rainier. Numerous access points, trail camps, and food caches make logistics a breeze. Figure on two weeks to complete the loop, but weekend-length sections can be done with a car shuttle.
Vitals: For reservations ($20) and permits (free), visit www.nps.gov/mora/trail/wonder.htm.
3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota: Ride into the Sunset
The Old West clichés just keep on coming during a mounted traverse of the 96-mile (154-kilometer) Maah Daah Hey Trail (roughly translated from the Mandan Indian language as "be here long"). Prairies roll to the horizon. Wildly eroded badlands look foreboding and forbidden. Varmints lurk around every bend: coyotes, prairie dogs, and eagles. And needless to say, a fella can get lonely out there. The trail links the north and south units of Teddy's park, traveling through the Little Missouri National Grasslands in between. To do the whole thing right you'll need about a week—and a penchant for solitude.
Vitals: Little Knife Outfitters leads five-day pack trips ($625; www.littleknifeoutfitters.com). For park info, visit www.nps.gov/thro.
4. Mingan Archipelago National Park and Reserve, Quebec: Sail Among Megaliths
Easter Island has nothing on Quebec's Mingan Archipelago, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where wind, waves, and ice have hewed water-bound pinnacles, grottoes, archways, and cliffs into surreal sculptures. You can motor or paddle about the 40 or so islands, but it's better to sail. After a weekend (or a week) as an ocean inhabitant you'll feel a kinship with the scads of gray seals, minke whales, and countless seabirds you've encountered daily.
Vitals: Expedition Agaguk offers five-day trimaran trips ($867; www.expedition-agaguk.com). For park info, visit www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/qc/mingan/index_E.asp.
5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming: Bag a Trophy Peak
There's a reason Grand Teton is a symbol of North American mountaineering: It's an archetypal sawtooth peak and it's a heck of a challenge; topping out at 13,770 feet (4,197 meter) requires scaling at least six highly exposed technical pitches. To prepare, join the preclimb ground school offered by Exum Mountain Guides, where you'll get rope work and climbing technique down pat. Then sign on with an Exum guide for a trip to the top.
Vitals: Exum Mountain Guides (www.exumguides.com) runs two-day instructional courses ($260) and two-day ascent trips ($410).Pick up the June/July 2006 issue for 50 top adventures in the national parks; how to move to Montana; the best ten-day Brazil vacation; 11 instant weekend escapes; and new watches, cameras, and sunglasses for summer.Subscribe to Adventure today and save!
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