Outdoor lovers often carry that passion over to their vacations. Instead of sitting on a beach, they’d rather be hiking a trail to experience a new vista in another part of the U.S. or overseas, or exploring different regions by bike.

If you fall into that category, check out these Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas guided service companies that offer active, adventure-style trips. They take care of the details, big and small, so you can just pull on those cycling shorts or hiking boots and launch your adventure.

Also, each of these companies offers custom trips — great for your next corporate outing, family reunion, or friends’ weekend.

One tip: Many guided trips are not refundable in the event you get sick or your flight gets canceled. Since these excursions can be pricey, it’s wise to invest in travel insurance just in case.

True North Expeditions
Backpacking, hiking, kayaking, camping, and yoga-based events throughout the Midwest.  

True North Expeditions

Whether you’re an experienced outdoor adventurer or just dipping your toe in the water, Illinois-based True North Expeditions has something for you.

Newbies to backpacking, as well those who want to brush up on their skills or test out new equipment in the safety of a group, should start with the Beginner’s Backpacking Bootcamp. The two-day, two-night trip helps guests gain skills to become confident, self-sufficient, and comfortable with their gear. You’ll hike 10 to 14 miles over 48 hours, stopping to camp at a backcountry site. You’ll also carry 30 pounds on your back.

Jennifer Potts, co-owner of True North, stresses the difference between casual hiking and backpacking. “When day hiking, you have the idea that you’ll be back at your car in a few hours. You carry a few snacks,” she said. “But backpacking is a different mindset: ‘For three days, I have to make sure I have enough food, pace myself, make myself take breaks.’ It’s very mental.”

True North offers rental equipment like portable stoves, tents, and walking poles, which is a nice way to avoid the investment in case it turns out backpacking is not your thing.

Backpacking trips with True North will take you places like Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park, located in the middle of Lake Superior, and sections of the Appalachian Trail.

The Red River Gorge trip in Kentucky is a yoga retreat mixed with backpacking, kayaking, and rock climbing. The company also offers yoga-only trips, meditation hikes, kayaking trips, and a Boundary Water Canoe Area experience in northern Minnesota, close to the Canadian border.

Three staffers are certified EMTs, and all are trained in either First Aid/CPR/AED or Wilderness First Aid.

Big Muddy Adventures
Guided Missouri and Mississippi river trips from hour-long paddles to multi-day expeditions.  

Big Muddy Adventures

The confluence of America’s two largest rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, which happens just north of St. Louis, is often underappreciated by locals. Big Muddy Adventures set out to change that perception more than 20 years ago, and judging by the ever-expanding interest in its river trips, the concept is working.
“This natural resource we all share is amazing,” said Matt Green, general manager at Big Muddy. “I can go paddle the two largest rivers in the nation and be back in time for dinner.”
But is it safe to be out on these rivers? It can be, if you’re a skilled paddler and know how to navigate barges, wing dams, and sandbars. For the rest of us, that’s where Big Muddy comes in. With years of experience leading groups on canoes, kayaks, and their signature 14-passenger voyageur canoes, they know every bend and current, and the safest places to launch and end journeys.
With a reputation for safety, Big Muddy continues to draw more people every year. Waiting lists for Full Moon Floats can be 200 people deep, and Rivertime Supper Clubs also fill quickly.
Multi-day paddling trips have grown in popularity, so much so that Big Muddy now offers over 10 expeditions. The Century Series is a set of three four-night expeditions taking place in March, June, and November. Each trip will travel over 100 miles on the Mississippi River, in different parts of Missouri, and guests can join for one, two, or all three. The French Corridor expedition will return this year and takes place on the Mississippi River, leading to historic Ste. Genevieve and includes French-inspired cuisine from chef Josh Galliano. Big Muddy is also offering less-intensive, two-night expeditions over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. These “stay-cation” trips include camping, swimming, cooking, and relaxing on an island on the Mississippi River, just a stone’s throw from the Gateway Arch.

Green says more trips are being added in 2023 to meet growing demand.

Alpaca Adventure Tours
Long-distance, fully supported, all-inclusive group bicycle tours.  

Alpaca Adventure Tours

Experienced cyclists who enjoy long trips — whether hundreds of miles or several thousand — will benefit from the camaraderie and support offered by St. Louis-based Alpaca Adventure Tours.

Its longest trip spans the country, from Seattle to Portland, Maine. That tour covers 3,600-plus miles and takes 70 days to complete. It also has a 65-day, 3,000-mile East Coast ride from Maine to Key West. Most nights are spent in hotels, so the trips aren’t cheap, but they’re certain to be memorable.

For those who can’t fathom taking that much time off work or being in the saddle for so long, Alpaca provides transportation, support, and camping services for shorter rides such as RAGBRAI, the week-long ride across Iowa. Alpaca also supports rides on the Katy Trail and Natchez Trace, and it has added Bike Across Kansas this year.

Alpaca provides more than the typical SAG support on its rides. Co-founder Steve Jaboor is a former bike shop owner (West County Cycles) and, when necessary, will change out drive trains and derailleurs and re-fit riders to their bikes with different stems and saddles for a more comfortable ride.

The company namesake, a pack animal, references the fact that: “We’re there to carry your luggage, do the heavy lifting. We’re doing all the work, and you’re doing all the fun,” Jaboor said.

The alpaca theme carries over to the company’s logo and vehicles. Sporting sunglasses, the alpaca seems to be saying: “Just chill, Dude. I’ve got this.”

Fit 4 Adventure
Trips in the U.S. and abroad: running, hiking, yoga, kayaking, skiing, cycling, scuba diving, and more.

Fit 4 Adventures

If you’re up for a physical challenge in a spectacular location, Fit 4 Adventure staffers are ready to make it happen. Its team of travel and outdoor experts are equipped to whisk you off to a super cool place like Iceland, Patagonia, or Spain and immerse you in local culture, food, and outdoor experiences.

“We have a ‘go’ mentality,” said co-owner Nick Tilley. “Our trips are very active, but we leave space for people to rest and recover. It’s a delicate balance. We don’t want to burn people out, but it’s an active vacation and we want to deliver that.”

Guests tend to bond on these trips, and some stay in touch and do other Fit 4 Adventure trips together, Tilley said. “Life-changing, mind-blowing experiences help develop these really close bonds of friendship and shared experience.”

Bonding also happens with the guides, said Tilley. The company has a lot of repeat clients, and he thinks a big part of the reason is that, unlike large travel companies, at Fit 4 Adventure “you’ll see our guides again.”

Fit 4 Adventure was established in 2000. Last year, three employees, including Tilley, took over ownership. Terrain Magazine readers will recognize his name as a frequent contributor who writes about everything from personal adventures to gear reviews.

Tilley kicked his career in medical sales to the curb in his mid-20s after realizing he needed to be outdoors, exploring new terrain (pardon the expression) and discovering new cultures. After two years of backpacking on several continents and blogging about it, he returned to his St. Louis roots and ruminated on how he could turn his passion into a livelihood. He found his answer at Fit 4 Adventure.

“It’s easy to get buried in the details, so I have to stop and say: ‘This is my dream job.’ It’s awesome to stop and realize that,” he said.

37 North Expeditions
Year-round river trips, hikes, and more in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks.

37 North Expeditions

If you like paddling, goats, yoga, or hiking you’ll be a happy camper with 37 North Expeditions. This guided services company based in Springfield, Missouri, offers creative combinations of activities that owner Danny Collins says helps engage people in the group. It’s good for our mental health to be outside, and even better when it includes a social element, he says.

Hiking with goats and then finishing the day at a local winery is one of the unique pairings offered. A veterans’ support group provides the goats, with a portion of your fee donated to the organization. Another trip includes a sunset hike, stargazing with astronomers, and a gourmet campfire dinner. Or check out cave kayaking plus a brewery visit.

Collins says 37 North Expeditions is busy year-round, noting that winter and spring in northwest Arkansas are warmer than in St. Louis, so there are more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. His personal favorites are the paddling trips. The company has its own fleet of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards; having good relationships with state parks and landowners allow the trips to explore rivers and creeks that standard outfitters do not.

“The heart of our Ozarks experience is our rivers,” Collins said. “We run almost every one of the rivers, including sections that not many people go on. We try to avoid those incredibly crowded rivers.”

Before founding the company in 2018 with his wife, Cristina Bustamante, Collins worked as an expedition manager at a National Geographic lodge in Ecuador. He and his wife both left careers in architecture to answer a calling for outdoor adventures, and they haven’t looked back.

Author: Terri Waters is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Fit 4 Adventure tours Mont Blanc.