TRAVEL: GREAT VIEW, LESS SWEAT

Last summer, Rona Maynard and Paul Jones knew they wanted to hike British Columbia's Gulf Islands. They just weren't eager to sleep in cramped tents, lug heavy gear and eat Chef Boyardee out of a can. So the Toronto couple, both in their early 50s, signed up with Randonnee Tours (800-465-6488, randonneetours .com), which advertises a "balanced approach to travel." For $1,400 per person for six nights, they got everything they needed: meticulous trail guides, three-course breakfasts, rooms at cozy B&Bs, and private water taxis between the islands. "We're busy people who travel to relax," says Maynard. "And dealing with ferry schedules is not our idea of relaxation."

Randonnee and other companies have discovered that travelers will happily pay extra to skip any hardship associated with the great outdoors. Once upon a time, adventure travel meant roughing it and dealing with what nature threw your way--thunderbursts, bunions, an encounter with an unfriendly moose after the sun went down. Today, it's Backcountry Lite: you can still venture into the heart of Alaska, just as long as you're back by dusk, and the Zinfandel's really delightful.

This travel niche has taken off in recent years, as adventure-seeking tourists have stuck closer to home. It's also remained popular with professionals who are shorter on vacation time than cash. Outfitters set up guests at quaint inns, shuttle them to the trails, ply them with gourmet meals and ferry their gear from place to place.

The trips try hard not to skimp on adventure. Vermont's Country Inns Along the Trail provides access to the 270-mile Long Trail in the Green Mountains ("Hiking Gourmet"; $700 per person for five nights; inntoinn.com). After a day of climbing, guests can unwind over afternoon tea and biscotti. GORPtravel (877-440-4677, gorptravel.com) guides hikers through the ice-carved landscapes of Montana's Glacier National Park, with its waterfalls, valley views, and tur-quoise glacial lakes ($1,695 for six nights). And with the Sierra Club's "Autumn in Stehekin Valley" (Sept. 19-25, $895; 415-977-5522, sierraclub.org/ outings), travelers wind their way along the gorges surrounding Washington's remote Lake Chelan, then kick back at a rustic lodge known for its sumptuous homemade pies.

Swanky hiking trips are especially popular with large families, which tend to include a mix of couch potatoes and less athletic types. Marc Laxineta, a veterinarian in Murrieta, Calif., turned to The World Outdoors (800-488-8483, theworldoutdoors.com) when planning a vacation for 10 relatives whose ages ranged from the teens to the late 40s. The company planned a five-night trip through Colorado's backcountry ($1,295 per person). The family stayed in a collection of lodges in the backcountry near Vail. Although the huts didn't have running water, the guides brought along solar-powered showers for the group. Laxineta was especially impressed when the guides helped him find the perfect perch from which to shoot his family's rafting trip. "You pay a bit more than doing everything on your own," he says. "But it's worth it." And he's got the pictures to prove it.