How's this for a summer travel idea: Save energy, save money (if you want to), and get healthier, too. Fitness-conscious vacationers bored by the prospect of the beach have set off an explosion in trips that involve doing the sightseeing literally under one's own steam. All told, active travel accounted for an estimated $60 billion in vacation spending in 2007. Even graying baby boomers are kicking it up a notch—hiking the Appalachian Trail, paddling through the Everglades, biking the coast of Maine, trekking by horseback through Wyoming's wilds. "It used to be that adventure travel was very physical and risky, like climbing Mount McKinley," says Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association and coauthor of Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean, a guide for adventure-hungry boomers. You can still find trips like that, of course. But GordonsGuide.com, a Web resource for active travelers, features more than 10,000 trips with much wider appeal—half again as many as were listed in 2004.
The choices vary widely in terms of physical demands and comfort. At travel site iExplore.com, for example, trips considered "easy" involve nothing more than normal walking while sightseeing. A "moderate" rating might require three to five hours of physical activity daily. To go on a challenging trip, you must be fit enough to hike or bike for up to seven hours over steep or rugged terrain at elevations that sometimes exceed 10,000 feet. Typically, tour operators tailor activities to suit the group, offering more than one route to a destination, for example, and support vans to transport anybody who needs to take a break. Some offer deluxe lodging and meals to delight foodies; others put up tents at remote campsites and cook over the fire.
You won't fully enjoy even the easiest trips without some physical exertion, so if you haven't already, develop a workout routine well before your departure date. "Otherwise, better to hang out on the beach," warns Stowell.
Here's a sampling of options: