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Adventure Spas: Backcountry Bliss
Utah's Red Mountain Spa heralds a welcome trend: action retreats that push you—then pamper you. 
Text by Robert Earle Howells   Photograph by Red Mountain Spa  

Photo: Woman in yoga pose
STEADY FLOW: Sitting in sukhasana (a yoga pose), at Utah's Red Mountain Spa

Honest, I tell myself, I've earned the treatment I'm receiving at the hands of Peggy Williams. Didn't I just hike seven miles (11 kilometers) of red-rock bluffs at a clip only beats below my maximum heart rate, swim a half-mile in a lap pool, attend a stretching class that employed a Fitball with baffling creativity, walk the gentle Lava Loop trail with my wife at sunset, and make three treks to a don't-you-dare-call-it-spa-cuisine dining room, all in the course of 12 hours at Red Mountain Spa? Now masseuse Peggy is working her certified fingers deep into my hamstring, and all is right with the world.

If you're like me and consider spas to be an embarrassing indulgence (cut to: stir-crazy man in a sauna, glistening with sage oil, pacing like a caged lion), try the adventure version. Red Mountain, for instance, challenges visitors with serious forays such as hiking (at every level of challenge), mountain biking, rock climbing, and flatwater kayaking amid the rugged, ocher glories of southern Utah's Sundance Kid country. It boasts all the trappings of a spa—rooms with piped-in New Age music where therapists perform bodywork and skin-care treatments, a slick gym with a weight room and exercise classes led by peppy hardbodies—but stir-craziness never enters the equation. Straight out the spa's front door is the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and the trails of Snow Canyon State Park. I mountain biked circuits around a whoop-de-do loop called the Bear Claw Poppy Mountain Trail and hoofed it for three hours exclusively on slickrock in a nearby area known as Sand Cove, ascending steep fingers of red Navajo sandstone, crossing corrugated folds, and dropping into narrow canyons and deep bowls.

The right adventure spa provides a rhythm any outdoor jock can appreciate: Get inspired (dazzling natural beauty), get knackered (hiking, riding, climbing, paddling), and get blissed (fawning attention and fine food). Red Mountain's "adventure cuisine" was a far cry from mung beans and tofu burgers—the hearty menu included red meat, red wine, a tasty microbrew called Wasatch Polygamy Porter, even a healthful version of cheesecake.

My stay at Red Mountain, in fact, was revelatory. After signing up for a test called METAbeat, I had my fitness level scientifically analyzed by Brad Crump, health-services manager at Red Mountain. He hooked me up to a heart-rate monitor and breath analyzer, put me on a treadmill, and revved my heart, checking my oxygen-processing ability at various stress levels. The stats prove I'm plenty fit for my age, but I could be more aerobically efficient. Diagnosis: I overtrain. "You've built up a tolerance to lactic acid," Crump said, which isn't unusual for busy people who think they have to exercise harder to make their brief time count. "You don't," he chided me. "Try going for an hour a couple of times a week at 70 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. You'll burn more fat and train your body to use oxygen more efficiently."

This leads to my second revelation: I can slow down and still play hard. I can balance my love for the outdoors with better indoor habits. Instead of my usual monkish diet, I can add some indulgences. And yes, I can even enjoy anointment with aromatic oils without jeopardizing my hard-core cred.
Stats: Red Mountain's Red Rock Adventure Package starts at $4,840 per person for four nights and includes meals, guided hiking, a day-trip to Zion National Park, and a 50-minute Swedish massage (
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort & Spa • Tofino, British Columbia
At Clayoquot's Bedwell River Outpost, on Vancouver Island, you can camp in a tent beside the Bedwell River near its outflow into Clayoquot Sound. Camping here, however, means a wood-frame canvas tent replete with heater, Adirondack furniture, queen-size bed, and plush duvets. And "mess tent" means gourmet four-course dinners just a short stroll down a cedar-plank walkway—your link to the other 20 tents, the wood-fired hot tub, and three massage tents on platforms overhanging the Bedwell River Estuary. Treatments are straightforward, but you'll never have your muscles worked over in a more glorious setting. Earn it by mountain biking upriver on singletrack and decommissioned logging roads or kayaking to Flores Island, where a four-mile (6-kilometer) hike on the Wild Side trail leads to a First Nations village. Spirited horses and wranglers are on hand for exploring the forests of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. But the big draw here is the fishing—steelhead and rainbow upstream, salmon on Clayoquot Sound.
Stats: A three-night stay at Clayoquot ( costs $4,178 for two people and includes round-trip shuttle flights from Vancouver, meals, beer, wine, and cocktails, activities, and a one-hour massage.
Spring Creek Ranch • Jackson, Wyoming
Spring Creek's thousand-acre ranch rests on a butte at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), overlooking Jackson Hole Valley and a view of the Grand Tetons. The grounds include a network of trails and a stable of horses for easy morning hikes and rides, and the formula here is to hook up guests with well-vetted local guides. Filing a request at the concierge desk in the Ranch House gets you picked up at the front door the next day. Green River Outfitters, for instance, mounts all-day horseback rides through classic Teton meadows and up tight forest trails to a backcountry wood-fired sauna near a frigid waterfall ($200). Teton Mountain Bike Tours tailors rides to your taste—such as the classic Snake River half-day ($60). The Hole Hiking Experience customizes a half-day hike ($75) or a full-day romp in the Teton backcountry with a nontechnical peak-bagging option ($145). There's also Snake River paddling and rafting, winter downhill skiing (a free shuttle runs to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort), and a maze of cross-country skiing trails.
Stats: Digs at Spring Creek range from rooms beside a stocked trout pond ($320 a night) to luxurious private homes ($2,250 a night during summer; $1,600 in winter). Their aptly named Wilderness Adventure Spa ( has everything from deep-tissue massage ($120 an hour) to the quasi-masochistic Thai massage, plus more sedate offerings such as seaweed wraps and salt glows.
The Lodge at Woodloch Hawley,  Pennsylvania
The spanking-new 58-room Lodge at Woodloch sits on a private lake surrounded by 75 acres (30 hectares) of pine, oak, and maple trees—a world unto itself in northeastern Pennsylvania's mountainous Lake Region, only two and a half hours by car from New York City and three from Philadelphia. An all-inclusive stay here gets you flatwater paddling on Lake Teedyuskung or on quiet stretches of the Delaware River, hiking to the crest of 500-foot (152-meter)Tusten Mountain (just over the New York State border), or mountain biking on the Simpson Rail Trail to a fresh backcountry swimming hole. Guests can opt for guided sorties, or they can ride and paddle at their own whim. In winter, the woods crawl with snowshoers and cross-country skiers who beat back the chill in lodge hot tubs, where heated WaterWalls deliver instant—and copious—hydromassage.
Stats: For $400 a night, the Lodge at Woodloch ( provides gourmet meals, guided outdoor activities, and a selection of body and skin spa treatments.
ALTERNATIVES • Rejuvenating Breaks From the Action
Somewhere near your favorite field of play is a rustic pit stop, ideal for recuperating after a hard day outdoors. Take an hour—or a night—to recharge your batteries at one of these hidden retreats.

Esalen Institute Big Sur, California This seat of the human-potential movement has the world's most desirable hot tubs: naturally heated pools perched cliffside, overlooking the pounding Pacific Ocean. Soaks are open to Esalen's workshop attendees only ( The vibe is California-groovy, so clothing is optional.

Ten Thousand waves Santa Fe, New Mexico The burble of flowing water permeates Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style spa partway up the road to Santa Fe's ski mountain in the Sangre de Cristo range. Drop in anytime for a soak in the communal teakwood baths ($15), a Flowing River Stone Massage ($139), or to pass a night's repose in a Zen-appointed Airstream trailer ($99;

Sundara Inn & Spa Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Ultra-organic Sundara Inn & Spa ($199 a night; is an avatar of class among the dells' ancient sandstone formations on the Wisconsin River. Paddlers who take out here are rewarded with a five-stage Purifying Bath Ritual (included) before the ayurvedic bodywork ($65) even begins.

The Whiteface Lodge Lake Placid, New York The doors of Whiteface's spa are open 24/7. This Gilded Age hideaway, surrounded by woods on the Lake Placid shore, typifies the rustic opulence of the Adirondacks' old elite. Today bikers and hikers can recuperate with an hour-long Trail Trekker reflexology treatment ($125; or overnight by the fire in a one-bedroom suite ($295).

Cover: Adventure magazine

Our November 2006 issue features the best new adventure travel trips; an exclusive look inside Iran; a Greenland global warming report; backcountry spas; digital cameras; travel Web sites; weekend getaways; and more.

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