Winter Weekend Getaways: Chill Factor
Escape the cold or revel in it—12 big adventures, doable in three days or less.
Text by Robert Earle Howells Photograph by Scott Markewitz
PLANET POWDER: Backcountry skiing in Wasatch-Cache National Forest is a Utah rite of passage.
ROCKIESWinter-Cast for Trout, Colorado
No self-respecting fly fisherman lets a little thing like winter get in the way of tossing a nymph into a mountain stream. The fishing guides at the Lodge at Vail understand—and encourage—such obsessiveness with their Reel Winter trip ($1,797 for two; www.lodgeatvail.com), a three-day fly-fishing trip that includes lodging, gourmand-worthy meals, and a half day of guided fishing on the free-flowing, trout-stuffed Eagle River. For an emergency post-fishing warm-up, crack open the house-provided bottle of single-malt Scotch.
Escape Las Vegas, Nevada
Just a half hour from Sin City is singletrack central: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is laced with folds of flaming ocher sandstone and more than a hundred miles of smooth-sailing desert trails at all levels of challenge. Make a weekend of it by teaming up with Escape Adventures ($390; www.escapeadventures.com), which houses riders at the historic Bonnie Springs Ranch, the only hostelry in the preserve, and guides them along the 15-mile (24-kilometer) Old Spanish Trail, a precipitous path hugging the base of a 2,000-foot-high (610-meter-high) red-rock fault line.
Ski the High Uintas, Utah
The backcountry section of Utah's 1.2-million-acre (485,623-hectare) Wasatch-Cache National Forest is so resolutely vehicle free that forest service employees had to airlift in the area's newest yurt. Boundary Creek Yurt ($50; +1 307 789 1770) is one of five huts set high on the slopes of the Uinta Mountains two hours north of Salt Lake City. Skiing distances between the woodstove-heated yurts range from two to six miles (three to ten kilometers), and the trail, which penetrates thick lodgepole pine and Engleman spruce forests, rarely dips below 8,000 feet (2,438 meters).
Mush the Boundary Waters, Minnesota
The mushing mavens at White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures in Ely, Minnesota, urge aspiring dog drivers to "gee" and "haw" their own well-trained team of six huskies ($895 for four nights; www.whitewilderness.com); no sitting back and letting a guide do the work. Mushers are based at a yurt on remote, inappropriately named August Lake in boreal Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, where they spend days plying the conifer-covered hills and nights ogling the unsullied skies and northern lights.
Paddle a Lone Star Trail, Texas
Dialed-in Texas kayakers don't just sightsee on the Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trail near Aransas Pass. They fish. The trail is a series of loops ranging from 1.25 to 6.8 miles (2 to 11 kilometers) amid 700 acres (283 hectares) of black mangrove trees. "The water is so clear and shallow that you can see oyster shells, sea grass, and the tails of redfish rooting around for food," says Jennifer Thomas, co-owner of Slowride Guide Services and Kayak Rentals, in Aransas Pass ($55 a day for kayak rental; www.slowrideguide.com).
Crawl Into an Ice Cave, Wisconsin
Ice doesn't get any cooler than in the sea caves of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in northern Wisconsin. "Icy curtains cover red sandstone walls, and icicles shoot out at odd angles from the cave roofs," says park chief Neil Hauk.
Some grottoes are huge; others are duckwalk only. The one prerequisite: Lake Superior must be frozen enough for you to walk or ski offshore; call the Apostle Islands Ice Line (+1 715 779 3397) for conditions. At night, dig into the five-course feast ($49; www.rittenhouseinn.com) at Old Rittenhouse Inn, in Bayfield.
Bunk in a Lighthouse, California
North of ultraquaint Mendocino, grassy bluffs give way to the ultrawild headlands of Point Cabrillo—a lonely, wavepounded promontory crowned by a century-old lighthouse and lightkeeper's cabin. The lighthouse's Fresnel lens was restored in 1999, and now the cabin is back in order too, doubling as a rustic bed-and- breakfast ($177; www.pointcabrillo.org). Come dusk, when day hikers retreat to their cars, guests have three-plus miles (five-plus kilometers) of bluff-top trails all to themselves.
Hike an Oasis (or Four), California
The "springs" in Palm Springs refers to the stunning oases situated on Cahuilla Indian land adjacent to the low-desert resort town. To hike all four palm-lined pools in a single weekend, start with the three—Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon, and Andreas Canyon—accessed via well-marked trails near the Trading Post, at the end of South Palm Canyon Drive. The fourth, Tahquitz Canyon, which passes a 60-foot (18-meter) falls that served as Shangri-la in the Frank Capra film Lost Horizon, is just a two-mile (three-kilometer) hike from the visitors center near downtown.
Float With Bald Eagles, Washington
The action on a rafting trip down Washington's Skagit River isn't in the water; it's over it. Winter is a veritable national symbol convention in the Skagit River Bald Eagle Reserve, where raptors from points north gather to feast on spawned-out salmon. To float the river in style (post-paddle massage, anyone?), sign up
for the Salish Lodge & Spa eagle-watching tour ($713; www.salishlodge.com), which combines a meet-and-greet with 400 balds with two nights' stay alongside 268-foot (82-meter) Snoqualmie Falls.
Kayak From Key to Shining Key, Florida
Paddlers on Florida Bay near Key Largo will almost certainly spot dolphins, tarpon, and sharks. And they'll likely come across manatees and crocodiles. But the real reason to kayak this quiet corner of Everglades National Park is the number of humans you'll view: zero. Florida Bay Outfitters rents boats ($50 a day; www.kayakfloridakeys.com) and provides intel (a tidal chart is essential) for a primitive camping tour of the bay's turquoise, tropical waters. Ambitious paddlers can mount a flatwater trip that traverses four keys in a long weekend—Indian Key to Little Rabbit Key (11 miles [18 kilometers]), Little Rabbit Key to Johnson Key (8 miles [13 kilometers]), and Johnson Key to the mainland at Flamingo (8 miles). For a less demanding option, paddle across Blackwater Sound into the Boggies channels and on to North Nest Key (11 miles [18 kilometers]). Either way, there's ample opportunity to play castaway.
Climb an Icicle, New Hampshire
In February, ice floes outnumber rock-climbing routes along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire's White Mountains. For the requisite gear, guide, and skills to climb the 60- to 100-foot (18- to 30-meter) falls and the multipitch routes on 1,250-foot (381-meter) Frankenstein Cliff, sign up with Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School (www.emsclimb.com) in North Conway. A two-day clinic ($360) includes the uses of ropes, axes, and crampons; instruction for any skill level; and two nights at Nereledge Inn, a 1787 farmhouse turned cushy B&B. After front-pointing your day away, sample the organic, nitrate-free pepperoni pizza at Flatbread Company (www.flatbreadcompany.com)—a prime spot to replenish calories and courage.
Skate a Five-Mile Rink, Ontario
Tired of ice-skating in circles to the sweet sounds of elevator music? Scoot up to Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway, a perpetually groomed expanse of ice nearly five miles long that doubles as the world's longest seasonal skating rink. From February 2 to 18, the frozen byway is the nexus of festivities (music, ice sculptures, snow volleyball) for Ottawa's annual Winterlude. Rentals are available at both ends of the canal, warm-up huts offer open fires, and four "beavertail" stops dole out the area's signature pastry, deep-fried and dredged in cinnamon and sugar. Just a 25-minute drive from the canal, the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa ($234; www.wakefieldmill.com) is a draw in its own right: The 27-room converted mill is set on the wilderness doorstep of 89,200-acre (36,098-hectare) Gatineau Park (laced with X-C ski trails). Subscribe now and save!