For the seasoned traveler

America and Canada contain vast tracts of unspoiled, unforgettable territory that most people never get to see. Visiting these special places can be an invigorating break from everyday life. It also can be physically challenging, involving long hikes and sleeping in tents. Still, many thrilling trips are well within the abilities of reasonably fit adults of any age.

Five of the most interesting and adventurous North American trips to start planning now for next year…

UNITED STATES

  • Alaska: Rafting the Hulahula River to the Arctic Circle. A small plane drops you high in the snow-covered Alaskan mountains north of the Arctic Circle. Expect an incredible sense of solitude when the plane departs, leaving your group of nine travelers and three guides alone. The scenery is breathtaking as the river descends from the mountain toward the coastal plain and the Arctic Ocean. Grizzly bears, caribou and exotic Arctic birds are common sights. The trip ends near the edge of the Arctic ice pack, where you can walk on the ice under the light of the midnight sun.
  • When to go: Mid-June, after the river ice breaks up but before mosquito season. This often puts you on the river at the peak of the caribou migration.

    Cost: Around $4,000 per person for a 10-to-11-day Hulahula rafting excursion. Tour operators include Arctic Wild (888-577-8203, www.arcticwild.com)… Arctic Treks (907-455-6502, www.arctictreksadventures.com)… and Kaktovik Arctic Adventures (907-640-6119). Camping gear, which can be rented from the tour operator, and the cost of travel to Fairbanks, Alaska, are not included.

  • California: The High Sierra with a mule. Crisp blue lakes, lush green valleys and snowcapped mountains surround you in one of the most striking natural landscapes in the continental US. The Sierras are just a four-to-five-hour drive from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, but unlike in the crowded Yosemite Valley, in the Sierras you will feel as though you have this undervisited area virtually to yourself.
  • The main physical challenge is the elevation. Carrying a 50-pound pack up the side of a high-altitude mountain is not most people’s idea of fun. Let a mule do the heavy lifting, and you will enjoy your visit much more.

    When to go: Mid-July or mid-to-late August are the best times to visit — mosquito season typically is at its peak in late July and early August.

    Cost: Mules can be professionally packed and led for about $200 per person per day. If you make camp at a single location in the mountains, you need only hire the mules and horses for the days you travel in and out, significantly reducing your cost.

    Contact High Sierra Pack Station for more information on pack mules in the western Sierras (559-285-7225 mid-June to mid-October, or 559-299-8297 from mid-October to mid-June, www.highsierrapackstations.com). Also available is an all-inclusive trip with your own cook-and-packer tour guide.

  • Colorado: Rafting through Dinosaur National Monument. Red rock canyon walls soar overhead as you float down the Yampa River, the only remaining major free-flowing tributary of the Colorado River system. The Yampa offers plenty of white-water thrills, but this trip is relatively safe and not overly physically demanding when led by an experienced river guide.
  • When to go: The best time to visit is in mid-to-late May, when the Yampa River flow is strong enough to submerge most of the rocks, making the river easier to navigate.

    Cost: O.A.R.S. (800-346-6277, www.oars.com), a well-respected river tour operator, offers several four-to-five-day Yampa River camping excursions featuring skilled guides starting at $675 to $953 per person. O.A.R.S.’s Yampa River “geology” trips are at the high end of this price range, but the presence of a professional geologist aboard the raft of these trips makes the journey much more interesting and informative.

    CANADA

  • Atlantic Coast: Exploring the islands of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Windswept beaches, dramatic sea cliffs and ocean views, picturesque villages and delicious lobster are among the highlights of the beautiful and varied islands off the Atlantic coast of Canada.
  • Few destinations this distinctive are also this accessible. An overnight ferry ride from Portland or Bar Harbor, Maine, can bring you and your vehicle to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. From there, most of the region can be explored by car, or you can park and hike. These islands feature many charming inns and bed-and-breakfasts.

    When to go: If you visit in mid-to-late May or in September, you’ll have the region’s ocean beaches virtually to yourself and the weather is still good.

    Cost: The ferry from Maine to Nova Scotia is $69 to $139 per adult and $115 to $200 for most vehicles. Other ferries are available to shuttle among the islands, though the ferries to some of the smaller islands don’t accommodate vehicles. Inn and B&B rates range from $40 to more than $100 per room.

  • Pacific Coast: Sea kayaking in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in the Queen Charlotte Islands off the Pacific coast of Canada was rated the best national park in North America by National Geographic Traveler magazine in 2005. The rain forest–covered islands are stunning, and the native people who inhabit the region still live successfully in very traditional ways.
  • When to go: Visit in July or the first week of August to maximize the odds of good weather — though some rain is likely any time of year in this region.

    Cost: Pacific Rim Paddling (888-384-6103, www.pacificrimpaddling.com) offers seven-day kayak/camping trips in the Queen Charlotte Islands for around $1,500. Tofino Expeditions (800-677-0877, www.tofino.com) and Ecosummer Expeditions (800-465-8884, www.ecosummer.com) offer 10-day trips for around $2,200.