There are plenty of rock solid reasons that college degrees in adventure guide services exist. Spend a day or two on any of the following trails, and you’ll completely understand why hiring an experienced guide may be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.
Picture towering, 10,000 feet-tall snowcapped peaks rising straight up out of the flat prairie and you have the Grand Tetons. Unlike most mountain ranges, the Tetons have no foothills so their height seems that much more impressive, and intimidating. But if you hike them with Jeff or Diane from Teton Backcountry Guides, you’ll be in good shape to reach the top of a 10,352-foot peak and then do another seven miles. The company’s “strenuous tour” is an all-day adventure, and during the 3,000-foot climb you can expect some rock scrambling and snow traversing. Your guide will provide proper hiking gear and instruction as well as interpretation of the surrounding wilderness. If you’re lucky, they may even serve you some homemade brownies, or even better, the company’s famous backcountry bananas foster.
Rates: from $295 for a group of three
Recover: Stay at Snow King Resort in the heart of Jackson just outside of Grand Teton National Park and treat yourself to a post-hike herbal wrap at the on-site spa.
Since it involves a ride up on a gondola, level of difficulty is not the reason you’ll want a guide for your hiking adventure on Colorado’s 10,570-foot-tall Mount Werner. Instead, you’ll want a guide, also known as a Steamboat Springs ambassador, because after your hike he’ll feed you from a fine dining mountaintop menu that includes dishes such as roast tenderloin with caramelized onions, fresh lump blue crab salad and grilled portabella mushrooms with an aged balsamic glaze. Of course he’ll also give you interesting background information on the mountain. For example, it was once known as Storm Mountain, before it was renamed in 1965 in honor of Buddy Werner, a Steamboat Springs native and three-time Olympic skier. He’ll also be able to educate you on the Yampa Valley’s flora and fauna as he leads you from viewpoint to viewpoint on the mountain’s Vista Nature Trail loop.
Rates: $39 per person
Recover: Hike in and hike out while staying at the award-winning Sheraton Steamboat Resort conveniently located at the base of Mount Werner.
When it comes to Yosemite, John Muir definitely deserves founding father status. The Scottish-born world famous naturalist was the catalyst in the creation of this National Park, and His namesake trail runs 211 miles between Yosemite Valley and Mount Whitney (the highest point in the Lower 48). One of the most worthwhile sections is the 58-mile journey from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley. This classic hike is best done with the help of Sierra Mountain Guides who secure all necessary wilderness and hiking permits and provide camping gear, backcountry meals and a spare cache of food and supplies along the way.
What sets this outfitter apart from others is its signature style of fastpacking– an ultralight, efficient mode of hiking allowing you to cover more ground in less time. In four days, your guide can lead you from the endearing mountain town of Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley’s captivating cliffs, domes, gables, spires and waterfalls. Along the way your guide will help you summit two of the Sierra Nevada’s most famous mountains: Half Dome and Clouds Rest.
Rates: from $740 per person
Recover: After several nights of camping on the trail, return to Mammoth Lakes and crash at the Westin Monache Resort which boasts Westin’s signature Heavenly Bed® and Heavenly Bath.®
It’s hard to believe hiking the world famous 26-mile Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is akin to taking the express train. Sure, it takes the better part of a day before you reach the Lost City, but if you take the longer and less crowded Salkantay Trek (i.e. local train), then you’re looking at a four or five-day hike. This “backway” to Machu Picchu is the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail. It climbs nearly 6,000 feet over the course of 37.5 miles, but because of the high altitude (it tops out at 15,200 feet) and the challenging terrain, it’s not advisable to go alone. Yes, it’s easy to find local guides in Cusco, but to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, go with a trusted tour operator like U.S.-based Austin Adventures who partners with local Peruvian guides.
Guides who lead the company’s seven-day, six-night lodge-to-lodge adventure vacation educate travelers on altitude acclimation and take care of all of the logistics—most importantly, hauling luggage. They also come in handy for preparing hot meals on the trail, securing camping permits, providing historical and cultural context and finally, pointing out the Andean Condors that you may otherwise miss.
Rates: from $3,090 per person
Recover: After a long day of hiking, soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi at Colpa Lodge and admire the stars from the best seat in the Andes.
Unless you have 4WD or AWD, you have no business even driving to the trailhead of this 8-mile hike found in Montana’s most dramatic mountain range, the Beartooths. Navigating the bumpy, winding dirt road that takes you to the trailhead is best done with someone from Beartooth Mountain Guides behind the wheel. For this particular hike, your experienced guide will steer you far from the beaten path and lead you up steeper sections that take you past moon-like boulder fields and wildflower-strewn alpine meadows. Along the way, you’ll learn all about the mountain’s ecology and geology.
If your guide is Austin Hart, one of the owners of Beartooth Mountain Guides, you’ll also hear some quality tunes. The highlight of this 2,400-foot climb is summiting Spirit Mountain (elevation 12,283 feet). One of the perks of descending with a guide is the increase in your chances of spotting the mountain’s resident goat population. Another perk is being rewarded at the end of the hike with cold refreshments stashed in a nearby creek.
Call it a hike, or call it a climb, but one thing is for certain, Trap Dike is not just a walk in the woods. That’s why it appears on the bucket list of many of the Northeast’s most serious hikers. Deemed the Adirondack’s “best trek” and “best alpine adventure” by the Adirondack Almanack, Trap Dike is one of the High Peaks’ most popular, and challenging, trails. Unlike other open rock slides in the Adirondacks, Trap Dike is in a formidable canyon and there are some serious vertical sections which can require ropes and technical support.
That’s why it pays to go with a licensed and insured guide from High Peaks Mountain Guides, who has been leading hikes in the region since 1983. The company’s safety record and reputation is the best in the region, and they know Mount Colden—the eleventh highest peak in the High Peaks—better than anyone in the area.
Rates: from $300/day
Recover: Get a lakefront room just up the road from Mt. Colden at Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort where your furry, four-legged hiking friends are always welcome.
There’s a reason a sign at the summit of Window Peak once read, “Good Job You Crazy Bastard.” This 13-mile hike just outside of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert’s Santa Catalina Mountains is breathtaking in more ways than one. The hike culminates when you reach the granite window overlooking the city, but before you have those breathtaking views, you have to put in some serious miles. Between crossing a boulder-filled ravine, climbing a mile-long series of steep switchbacks and completing a final scramble, this hike definitely requires you to be in excellent physical condition.
If you want to hike away with the most rewarding and memorable experience, it also requires a local guide who can coach you through the more challenging sections while teaching you about the resilient species that somehow survive in this mind-blowingly beautiful but rugged environment. Perhaps the best people to pay to go with are the guides on Miraval’s Outdoor Adventure Team. They lead group hikes for guests and can help you conquer 4,260 feet of intense elevation gain and still have you back down in time for your afternoon spa treatment.
Rates: from $55 per person
Recover: Relax after a long day of hiking by unlacing your boots at Tucson’s legendary Miraval Resort & Spa. The luxury wellness resort offers hikes year round but will be featuring special programming during its Spring Hiking Week March 23-28.