The Grand Canyon
"We got up at 5 a.m. to head down," says Jillian Kelleher, from New York, who trekked into the Grand Canyon with her best friend. "After descending all day, then setting up our tent at 9 p.m., in the dark, we felt like Thelma and Louise—two women who could take on any adventure together."
The 24-year-old admits the idea of climbing the canyon was daunting at first. "But when you're out in the wilderness feeling exhausted and realizing everything you forgot to pack, you learn to let go of what you can't control, take in the sights and have a good time."
This immense gorge, carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, is 277 miles long and more than a mile deep in places. The rushing waters have cut channels through the rock over the years and exposed four eras of geological history.
When sunlight hits the sedimentary rock layers, especially at sunrise and sunset, the spectrum of colors—red, orange, yellow, and green—is spectacular. As you hike the canyon, you'll also stumble onto dazzling outcroppings and craggy cliffs, bright pink and yellow cacti and cool, dark caves (perfect for taking refuge from the sun).
The Trek: 2-plus days. Try the South Kaibab trail (6.8 miles) down and Bright Angel Trail (9.3 miles) up for a nice loop.
Book it: Phantom Ranch Reservations; call 928-638-7875 for campsites.
Cost: The self-guided hike is free. You pay only for lodging (dorm or cabin; $36-$97) and meals ($24-39) at the bottom of the canyon.
Includes: Bed linens and towels. Dorms have bunk beds, bathrooms, and showers; cabins have private baths.
Prime Time: High season is April through October; rainy season begins in July with August being the wettest month, making for slippery rocks on the trail.