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Two and a half years ago Mr. P and I were starting to seriously train for a Tour du Mont Blanc when he injured his foot pretty badly - it took more than two years to heal and frankly we're not sure he'll ever be able to do anything that rigorous.  But we haven't given up on the idea of a long hiking vacation where someone totes all our stuff around for us.  We've just lowered our expectations and are now looking at things in the easy-moderate category rather than moderate-strenuous.

Thing is, we've never done any sort of travel with a group.  Our usual travel mode is to cobble together our own itinerary and do as we will, when we will, so I'm a little leery of signing up for a group activity like this.

So here's my question: do any of you have any direct experience with tours through REI, Nat Geo, or MTS?  (I think maybe MTS is behind all of these anyway.)  What are they really like?  Are charming local accommodations really trashy little dumps?  Is authentic local cuisine anything that will really appeal to foodies?

Of course we're primarily interested in the hiking part, it's just that the other things have to be good enough.

The word adventure is in quotes in the title because I don't really think a 10 day trek across Scotland equates to the hike to Mt Everest base camp, but honestly we won't be capable of doing the latter.

Any info greatly appreciated.

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Several years ago, I went on a 9-day trek through the Columbia River Gorge with these folks, and I cannot recommend them highly enough:


This type of vacation was exactly what I had in mind.  Features:

  • Both a long and short hike option each day.  Sometimes there are even more options, varying levels of difficulty, elevation, and technical terrain.
  • Highly knowledgeable guides who choose ideal, uncrowded trails.  That was a key benefit to me, I did not want to have to fuss with maps, navigation, and droves of people, I just wanted to enjoy hours of gorgeous scenery.  The trails they chose nailed that requirement.  You could walk on your own, but have the safety and navigation benefits of being in a group.
  • Zero chance of getting lost.  They explain the trails, and the lead and follower guides are not about to leave anyone behind.
  • The guides pack lunch in their bags for everyone.  They had deals with local markets that opened ridiculously early just for them.  They would shoot out at 5 or 6AM, procure the lunch items focusing on locally grown produce and wares, and be back in time to start the hikes.  Each day, midway through the hike, the guides would lay out the picnic lunch.  Delicious, delightful, diverse, and refreshing; the kinds of food I would bring along if i did not mind all the pack weight.
  • The country inns were, for the most part, charmers.  One night we stayed at a grand log cabin on a mirror-sheen lake, probably one of the most pristine settings I've seen in the US.  Another night we stayed at a place that was a bit more worn, but comfortable, and had a grand dining hall.  Without exception, the group meals at night were from carefully and mindfully chosen local ingredients, often simple, but always good/great to outstanding.  Breakfasts were hearty and perfect for hiking fuel.  Lunches were always abundant, fresh, and flavorful, with the added bonus of not having to set up or clean up.  And trust me, unless you are used to hiking over ten miles a day for consecutive days, you'll be over the moon about any food as long as it's good quality ingredients.
  • The transports (minivans or buses) were comfortable.  Not at all scary/rickety like I've encountered when hiking in other countries.
  • The other patrons all seemed to be there for the same reason I was, to enjoy nature.  Most were couples or friends.  I've heard of other group hiking scenarios where the patrons were there to party or to hook up, and this was not at all that.

New England Hiking Holidays handles the logistics beautifully, hiding the planning details so you can instead focus on expansive natural beauty.  The guides have a good sense of which people in the group want more independence, and which want to be chatty, you can be either and have a fulfilling and keenly memorable vacation.

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My only experience was more on the budget side.  We did a guided hike of the Laugavegur trail in Iceland three years ago with Ferdafelag Island (http://fi.is/en/home/) and really loved it.  At the time, cost for awesome guides, luggage towing, transport, and hut accommodations was about $50/day per person.  It's not luxurious, but was a steal at that price.  The huts are basic hostel type accommodations, but well maintained.

Laugavegur is definitely more on the moderate-strenuous side of things (glacial river fordings, walking on loose rocks), but they also offer some tours that are less strenuous and focus on day hikes.  Their website is a bit sketchy and we didn't have much luck with email, it seems to be better to call them to figure things out (Skype or Google Voice makes the international call charges a non-concern).

I think generally, it's better to research a specific region on tripadvisor and see it there are good companies for the area.  They can often offer more information and offer more appealing itineraries than the nationals that outsource to them.

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