Leading North American small group tour operator Austin Adventures, a name synonymous with active, multi-sport, guided tours featuring many of America’s National Parks, responds with both the obvious and unexpected.
“Even the die-hard do-it-yourselfer gets it that vacationing in a National Park these days may result in many frustrations that could lead to a disappointing experience. Enormous entrance lines, crowded parking lots, limited access to certain trails, congestion at concessions and, literally, no room at the inn or in the dining rooms are just a few of many challenges,” said Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures. “The pandemic has released a pent-up demand for experiencing the wide-open spaces that make our Parks so attractive and healing.”
Acadia, Arches, Glacier, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Parks all set visitor records for attendance last year. Experts predict the 2022 season will break these numbers. As a response to the deluge, eight U.S. National Parks/Monuments will require prior reservations to enter in 2022, and many others are seeing limited space and competition for access.
“The best way to enjoy the Parks to their fullest is to sit back and let the pros do the planning, logistics and guiding. On paper, it can seem like going guided costs more than a do-it-yourself visit, but an important item to factor in is your time,” Austin adds. “When going guided, your time is not being wasted on hours of planning or in long lines searching for parking, lodging or dinner reservations.”
For four decades, Billings, Montana-based Austin Adventures has endeared itself to the National Park Service and its dining and lodging vendors. Today Austin Adventures’ clients reap the benefits of these long-term relationships. When these privileged swaths of wilderness are seemingly overrun with visitors, Austin Adventures’ guests are enjoying lesser-populated trails and vistas, and they are tucked into preferred lodges and restaurants and kept away from the daytime hordes that can tarnish the backcountry experience.
Kasey Austin Morrissey, Director of Operations & President, USA, is a second-generation member of the Austin Adventures’ team with vast National Park insight. From her experience, she has identified the challenges and can’t-miss experiences in several of the nation’s most beloved National Parks and often compares the pros and cons of do-it-yourself-planning vs. professionally guided tours.
When vacation planning, a common experience is getting too bogged down in the vast amounts of information online. About Yellowstone she writes: “The immense hours of research and time that it takes to curate the perfect itinerary can be daunting and often leave you feeling more lost than when you first started clicking away. Google can give great guidance, but it can’t engage back with you to uncover your exact needs, and offer the perfect trip based on your desires!”
According to Morrissey, most travelers miss out on a huge aspect of Grand Canyon National Park’s allure. With only 1% of visitors hiking below the rim, there’s a world of opportunity for those who choose to go guided. She states, “a guided tour can take you and your small party from exploring the glorious underbelly of the canyon … to spotting prolific wildlife roaming the grasslands and mesas above.” (For additional tips please see Morrissey’s full article, DIY vs Guided Tour: How to Visit the National Parks)
Following are five points Kasey Austin Morrissey makes when discussing the advantages of guided tours over do-it-yourself planning:
- The logistical pressure of accessing the parks is off the guest’s shoulders. The tour guides manage reservations for entrance into the parks, permits, parking, etc. and navigate around road closures and areas under construction.
- Quality lodging and dining experiences are not left to chance. Figuring out which restaurants to go to is a real challenge. Tour operators remove this stress thanks to their knowledge, connections and staff working behind the scenes who can secure coveted reservations.
- A tour operator will help maximize your time while on the trip. Travelers can focus on the experience and reconnect with their partner/family/friends and make lasting connections with new acquaintances (often an unexpected benefit)!
- While do-it-yourself trip planning could cost less money, you risk overlooking stand-out features of a destination. The right tour is more inclusive than most people realize. This means that out-of-pocket expenses can be limited to just bar tabs, guide gratuities and souvenirs.
- As educators and local experts, trip guides bring the region to life in a way that’s hard to replicate on your own. Switching gears in the wilderness, they are also incredible chefs who prepare picnic lunches and surprise snacks on the trail. They’re safety specialists, sources of local lore and customs, staunch environmentalists and amazing traveling companions who can be great role models for kids.
Anticipating a strong surge of interest in National Parks, Austin Adventures has expanded the number of National Parks its guides will navigate in 2022 to 14. Most offer both “Adult-Only” and “Family Focused” itineraries and departures:
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
- Death Valley National Park, California
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Joshua Tree National Park, California
- Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Zion National Park, Utah
In addition to pent-up demand for active travel, Austin Adventures’ growth can also be attributed to its alliance with Active Adventures of New Zealand. Active Adventures’ unique hiking, biking, and kayaking experiences in New Zealand, South America, Europe, the Himalayas, and Africa are now available via the Austin Adventures’ website.
About Active Adventures & Austin Adventures:
With over 60 years of combined experience, Active Adventures and Austin Adventures set the standard for inspiring, all-inclusive, small-group adventures in the most breath-taking regions of the world. Their teams across New Zealand, North America, Peru, Nepal and the Netherlands ensure every detail is looked after. Hand-picked guides with a wealth of experience and local knowledge lead the way as guests enjoy exclusive accommodations, top-notch dining and unique activities showcasing the best of each region.
Each of their 100+ trips are crafted to perfection, encouraging guests to not only challenge themselves physically but also to take a deep dive in the local way of life in every destination. For more information, please visit activeadventures.com and austinadventures.com.