Hike from beach to golden-sand, turquoise-watered beach in New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park; tromp from France to Italy to Switzerland while circumnavigating the Mont Blanc massif; or pedal through olive groves and orchards while sampling the locally grown goods in Catalonia. Each of these multiday, human-powered excursions from Macs Adventure caters to those who live for the hours they’re on the trail or in the saddle. Read: Pretty much everyone with a 303 or 720 area code.

No wonder the Scotland-based adventure travel company chose Colorado for its North American headquarters. “These are the people who share our value system,” says Macs founder Neil Lapping of Denver’s profusion of outdoor lovers. “They know that life is about adventures, not things.”

Neil Lapping, founder of Macs Adventure
Neil Lapping, founder of Macs Adventure. Photo courtesy of Macs Adventure

Lapping opened Macs in 2003, determined to bring that ethos of adventure to the travel market. He’d paid the bills as a sailing, windsurfing, and waterskiing guide in the Mediterranean before finally following his heart to Scotland. There, he cringed at the way people experienced (or didn’t) the castles, lochs, and highlands of his new home through the window of a Greyhound. “It didn’t matter if they were 18 or 80,” he says. “The bus would come through, they would all stop at the same viewpoint, take the same picture, and get back on the bus.”

With Macs, he set out to help travelers encounter the real Scotland on their own schedule through self-guided tours. Like any traditional adventure tour operator, Macs arranges for all accommodations (their lodging partners have always been almost exclusively smaller, local operations). Different from other operators, however, Macs provides guests with the hiking or biking route (not a guide), which allows travelers to start the day and stop for breaks when they want to (not when they’re told to). Macs guests can plan their trip with others, but there isn’t the forced group component found in standard adventure travel experiences where everyone becomes best friends—or doesn’t—as they spend days on end as one herd.

A woman hiking in New Zealand with bright-blue water in the background
Abel Tasman Track in New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Macs Adventure

“It’s a very different experience,” Lapping says of self-guided travel. Because there’s no large group and no tour guide managing a language barrier between the guest and the hotel or restaurant staff, “you’re forced to interact and muddle through. Then [you] have these interactions when the people at the table next to you lean over and say, ‘Where are you from?’ In your group of 15 or 20 people, no one ever leans over because you’re engaged with yourselves.”

Self-guided travel facilitates an often truer experience of the destination visited, not just a tour operator’s take on the highlights. Macs remains grounded in that self-guided ethos today, albeit while continuing to improve its offering with updates like a handy mobile app (rather than paper maps) and 24/7 support if a guest needs it. “We’re essentially an enabler for people to have their own experiences, in safety, in comfort,” Lapping says. “The trip is going to be great, and if something goes wrong, we’re there to support you.”

Success wasn’t immediate—“initially, it was a total disaster,” Lapping laughs—but with 2024 projections indicating roughly 40,000 people will join one of their 550 different trips across 40 countries, there’s no question Macs has arrived. “People want more from their vacations than sitting, whether that’s on a coach or a cruise,” says Macs’ chief growth officer Graham Horner. “They want to come off that trip feeling better and having achieved something. We offer that sense of achievement.”

Two people sitting along the Tour du Mont Blanc
Susan Oakes in the Italian Dolomites. Photo courtesy of Susan Oakes

Denverite Susan Oakes is just that type of traveler. Until 2018, she’d always planned her own (impressive) traditional vacations, whether it was tackling Cinque Terre with a four- and a six-year-old, spending two weeks in Scandinavia, or skiing in Japan’s Hakuba Valley. The research-heavy process of organizing a point-to-point hiking adventure—meaning different starting and ending trailheads—among Italy’s Dolomite peaks, however, proved especially challenging. Between the language barrier, the different rates, the required shuttles, and predicting how fast or slow her group would be moving, Oakes says it was incredibly time-intensive. When she stumbled on Macs’ multiple tour options (available at a “very reasonable” price, she says) during her internet search, she signed up. “Macs does everything important for you,” Oakes says, noting that cycling along Ireland’s untamed west coast and hiking across the terraced hillsides in Mallorca, Spain, will mark her fifth and sixth Macs trips since discovering the Italian tour. “They make all the reservations. They send you the information you need. You just do things at your own speed.”

The prevalence of people just like Oakes, in part, made Colorado a top contender when deciding where to set up Macs’ North American headquarters back in 2017. Colorado is where Macs’ customers are. “We saw a huge demographic of people who have grown up in the outdoors,” Lapping says, “and who wanted to do those activities in a different destination but didn’t want to do it on a group trip.”

A rocky coastline and blue ocean in Catalonia
Cap de Creus in Catalonia. Photo courtesy of Macs Adventure

Another key component in their decision-making process: Colorado’s reputation as a hub for adventure and a haven for those who pursue it. In other words, Lapping saw an opportunity for brand transfer. “If we were based in New York, New York, customers would be like, ‘Really? Are these guys genuinely, authentically people who share our values?’ ” Lapping says. “It’s the same way if a surf brand was based in California; it definitely helps their brand.”

Arguably the biggest benefit to landing in Denver, however, has been the ease of finding the right employees. Lapping admits that both Boston and Seattle were initially in the running, but after visiting Colorado, interviewing prospective colleagues, and learning that people here “live for experiences not things” (as evidenced by bike and ski racks that cost more than the cars they hang off), he knew he’d found the right fit.

Two people sitting along the Tour du Mont Blanc
Tour du Mont Blanc. Photo courtesy of Macs Adventure

Now, after weathering a global pandemic that put the kibosh on traveling beyond our backyard, Macs is reaping the rewards of that decision. In the past year, it’s seen a 236 percent uptick in U.S. clientele. Their office in Denver’s Curtis Park neighborhood has expanded from 11 employees to 40. And while overall growth in international travel, which UN Tourism reports will reach pre-pandemic levels this year, explains some of Macs’ success, Lapping says that opening a hub in the Mile High City has been integral as well.

After all, what better market and workforce to sell self-guided adventure travel trips than people who make their own plans each weekend to explore an outdoor playground? “People in Colorado get what we’re trying to build and share our values and passion for outdoor adventure,” Lapping says. “It’s been a great home for us.”