Best new adventure trips of 2009

BikeHike's trip takes travelers to Laos' north, where you'll explore its remote hills and villages by foot, bike, and kayak. Around the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, you'll ride elephants and mountain bike to some of the area's many waterfalls and villages. "The local people are thrilled to see us, especially because we are on bicycles, and they ride up beside us all of the time," says Sare. "We often get invited into local homes to taste local delicacies."

Heading further north, you'll kayak down the Nam Ou River. "The Nam Ou River winds through the mountains and is covered in thick, lush forest," says Sare. "Life on the river is abundant with fishermen in small wooden boats, women washing clothes, and happy children playing in the river. There are many great opportunities along the river for interaction with the local people." On several treks to visit hill tribes like the Hmong and Khamu minorities, you'll stay in homes with locals and learn about their farming practices, religious beliefs, and family life.

Trip planning: Departures include January 18, February 15, March 29, April 19, May 17, September 6, October 11, and November 22. Rates cover accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, activities and equipment, and guides. Airfare is extra. Round-trip April airfare from Los Angeles to Bangkok, Thailand starts at $1,066, including taxes, on Asiana Airlines. From Bangkok, you can fly to Luang Prabang for about $360 plus taxes on Bangkok Airways.

Family Desert Adventure in Copper Canyon, MexicoProvider: REI Adventures Length: Nine days Price: $1,999 ($1,699 for kids)

With its deep canyons, red and gold painted deserts, and fascinating Native American and Western culture, the American Southwest has long been a popular destination. However, few Americans realize that this landscape and a similar culture extends across the border and deep into Mexico, where it gets even more interesting. Even fewer people actually visit. If you go to the heart of Mexico's wild northwest, Copper Canyon, you'll discover a sprawling canyon system four times larger than the Grand Canyon, a Native Mexican culture still practicing ancient traditions which were long abandoned by Native Americans, and few trappings of mass tourism.

REI Adventures' new Copper Canyon trip, which was designed specifically with families in mind, showcases many of the region's highlights through a variety of activities. The journey begins with a train trip into the canyon on the famous Chihuahua al Pacifico line. "'El Chepe' is an awe-inspiring rail journey over bridges, through tunnels, and incredible canyon scenery," says Maureen Seeley of REI Adventures. "In less than 180 miles we gain nearly 8,000 feet while passing through coastal shrub, pine forest, and high desert."

Inside the canyon area—which is composed of not one but six separate gorges—you'll ride on horseback to a waterfall, hike along the rim of Urique Canyon (which is more than a mile deep), and go mountain biking through white rock pinnacles known as the Valley of the Monks. You'll also have the chance to interact with the native people. "The cultural experience is that of the indigenous Tarahumara tribe who still practice a traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small cabins of wood or stone," says Seeley. "We take the opportunity to visit a local boarding school for a brief look into the lives of modern day Tarahumaran kids."

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