Outside magazine, June 1995
You may be imagining a plaid-shorts paradise with pastel-hued beverages served poolside, but we have something else in mind. Our kind of resort is a worn-in home base perched on the edge of all the things we like to do outside--be it paddle, climb, bike, hike, fish, or sail--that also swathes us in hard-earned indulgences. None of our top ten could pass for a youth hostel or backwoods fishing lodge; you won't find detached privies or gang showers. After a long day of serious calorie depletion, we're ready to slink into a hot tub, flop our weary bodies onto real beds, take in plush-chair views of the place that beat us up so well just hours before...and then begin plotting tomorrow's episode.
You might spend your first day on the Kennebec, the Penobscot, or the Dead River, which roil with arguably the best whitewater in the Northeast thanks to releases from power company dams. On the Kennebec, you raft 12 miles of Class III-IV water through a narrow gorge, building to a foamy climax at Magic Hole Wave, a recirculating hydraulic that'll stand a 16-foot boat on end (the trip costs $75-$105, including cookout lunch). Survive that, and you might try a guided 15-mile mountain-bike ride ($45, including lunch) on fairly flat forest roads--timed to watch the rafters flounder through Magic Hole Wave--which ends at a swimming hole beneath Moxie Falls. Or there's introductory rock climbing on a nearby 70-foot face ($75, including lunch); guided fishing for smallmouth bass on the Kennebec's headwaters, touted to be best in the world ($175, including lunch); or playing on a quiet stretch of river in an inflatable "duckie" ($25, including shuttle).
The six motelish lodge rooms and ten self-catering "logdominiums" each sleep up to six. Nothing too fancy, and you won't care: Everyone hangs and recounts adventures in the main lodge, a cathedral-ceilinged, pine-paneled hall with an outdoor deck and hot tub. Reruns of the day's rafting video are shown frequently, and nonpaddling deadbeats are resoundingly booed. The adjacent restaurant serves breakfast, burgers, and pasta; meals range from $5 to $14. Lodge rooms cost $45 per person, double occupancy; logdominiums are $25 to $40 per person. Call 800-765-7238.
THE PEAKS AT TELLURIDE
Telluride Sports, right in the resort (303-728-3458), stocks a selection of mountain bikes (rentals, $20 per day; $45 for a guided day trip) and can steer you to single-track loops like the 16-mile Deep Creek Loop or jeep roads in Uncompahgre National Forest; the classic ride is the 25-mile full-day trip over 11,750-foot Ophir Pass to Silverton. Fly-fishing for brown and rainbow trout is best on the nearby San Miguel River; call Telluride Outside (800-831-6230), which also runs raft trips on the Class III-IV Gunnison River and the Class III Dolores.
Back at The Peaks, you'll have the one-acre, four-level spa to explore, with a 25-foot indoor climbing wall, a Cybex weight room, and an indoor lap pool with a water-slide conduit to an outdoor pool. Rooms are big and Southwest-inspired; many have terraces. Legends of The Peaks restaurant serves up "Ranchlands Cuisine"--local lamb, free-range chicken-- as well as low-fat options (entrées, $7.50 to $30). Double rooms cost $230-$275 and include full use of the spa. Call 800-789-2220.
OTTER BAR LODGE
In spring high water, intermediate and advanced paddlers hone skills on Class III-IV rapids. When the water gets lower in June, neophytes start on Otter Bar Pond, beside the lodge, and graduate on the Presidio run of the Klamath River--a Class III rapid called Kissing Rock is the you're-a-kayaker-now finale. Mountain-bike programs, which run from August to October, entail guided frolicking on hundreds of miles of remote forest roads and single-track for all fitness levels (Specialized Rockhoppers with suspension are provided). The last gasp is up double-track to 6,000-foot Blue Ridge Mountain, where everyone overnights in an old lookout cabin. Bikers can also book a combo week that includes an introduction to paddling. Some guests spurn the thrill sports altogether for great hiking, river snorkeling, fall steelhead fishing, or volleyball games on the lawn.
Surrounded by vegetable and flower gardens, the four-bedroom ranch-style main lodge (some guests stay in two adjacent cabins) is unpretentiously elegant, with 12-foot picture windows and French doors. The antique-filled guest rooms open onto a communal deck with a hot tub and sauna. A week of kayaking, including all meals (served buffet-style in the cedar-walled dining room), classes, and a shared room, costs $1,290; a mountain-biking week is $1,200. Call 916-462-4772.
NANTAHALA OUTDOOR CENTER
The mountain-bike operation has lately boomed, as riders have discovered the 50 miles of single-track in the Tsali Recreation Area, seven miles from NOC, and the 300 miles of gated dirt roads in Nantahala National Forest. NOC runs "bike samplers" three days a week ($70 includes a guide, equipment, and lunch); the bike shop rents Specialized Rockhoppers for $25 per day. The docket also includes sea-kayak samplers on nearby lakes and rock-climbing samplers ($70), which begin on an artificial wall and move to a natural rock face for afternoon rappelling. Sign up for a short but wild raft trip ($25-$85), or rent a four- to ten-person raft ($17 per person) or a duckie ($30) and head out on your own. The huge Outfitter's Store stocks hard goods and sundries for all pursuits. Since Nantahala's cabins often fill with kayakers enrolled in courses during July and August, you might opt to stay in Nantahala Village (704-488-2826), three miles up the road; an old stone lodge there has 14 motel rooms ($70), and 43 cabins ($80-$225) sleep two to 13. Call Nantahala Outdoor Center at 800-232-7238.
LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH
A one-week package gets you one of the 23 hand-hewn log cabins, which sleep two to nine people, or a space in the new six-room Ridge Top Lodge; three hearty squares a day; and a choice of three programs. The Rancher Package ($2,600-$3,050 for two) pairs you with a mount for six days of guided rides. The Fly Fisher Package ($3,180-$3,600 for two) gets you an Orvis-trained guide and four days of instruction and fishing on several rivers, including the Gallatin (which stood in for the Blackfoot in "A River Runs Through It"). Sign up for the Naturalist Package ($2,300-$2,750 for two), and you might band birds, munch some edible plants, or prowl backcountry geothermal sites in Yellowstone. Whatever you choose, you can dabble with the others à la carte, hike on your own to places like Beehive Basin, a 9,000-foot cirque where you're likely to spot mountain sheep and the occasional moose, or latch on to a canoe outing on Cliff Lake.
Eating at Lone Mountain is a serious matter. The Dutch chef gives endemic ingredients a continental twist: buffalo medallions with lingonberry-forest mushroom sauce, venison with ginger brown sauce. Call 406-995-4644.
Kerfoot, now 89, lives in the original structure and occasionally regales guests with her pioneer stories. Her son's family manages the lodge as well as Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters, which runs three- to ten-day canoe trips in the Boundary Waters. A flotilla of canoes is kept on the beach for everyone to use, and guests can get maps for easy day trips, like an eight-mile paddle that begins at Larch Creek and involves three portages as it traces a historic voyageur route. Resident guides lead fishing trips by canoe or motorboat, and Trek mountain bikes can be rented ($15 per day) for riding on 75 miles of forest roads and numerous cross-country ski trails.
True to its roots, the pine-paneled main lodge is festooned with carved birds, Indian crafts, and voyageur artifacts; the big stone fireplace, shelves of old books, and huge windows overlooking the lake almost make you want to stay inside. Prices run about $100 a night per person, including all meals, which are heavy on local fish and game. Gunflint is 43 miles from Grand Marais up the Gunflint Trail. Call 800-362-5251.
TOPNOTCH AT STOWE RESORT AND SPA
Out-the-door hiking can lead four miles to the top of Mount Mansfield (4,393 feet) and a glorious view of most of New England, or let hooves do the walking: Horses are stabled in a 200-year-old barn for guided trail rides three times a day ($22). Fly-fishing can be good in the West Branch or south of town on the Little River; Topnotch can arrange for gear, guides, and lessons.
Besides the waterfall/whirlpool, the 23,000-square-foot spa has an indoor lap pool, a heated outdoor pool, and a Cybex weight room with all the trimmings. The two-tier main dining room serves "new Vermont cuisine"--local organic vegetables, venison, and trout with a citified spin (entrées, $15-$25), while the Buttertub Lounge has a lighter menu ($6-$14). Double rooms cost $178-$236; add $48 per person for breakfast and dinner. Call 800-451-8686.
STRATHCONA PARK LODGE
Of course, you can skip the tutorials and opt for hiking in the high country, where turquoise waterfalls tumble into glacial tarns. The classic day hike is the six-miler (one way) to glacier-fed Landslide Lake. There's mountain-biking on logging roads outside the park (rent a mountain bike at Pedal Your World, 604-287-2453, in Campbell River, 28 miles east, for $18 per day) and fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout on the lake.
The lodge's 12 waterfront cabins sleep two to ten and go for $57-$93 per night; chalet rooms with balconies overlooking the lake cost $36-$64. Mountains of wholesome grub--halibut, greens, vegetarian casseroles--are served buffet- and family-style in the Whale Room (three meals, about $20 per person per day). Call 604-286-3122.
Amid the orchestration, the beauty of the place is undeniable. Yes, a river runs through it. (A stream, actually; fly-fishing for fat browns is done nearby on the Provo River.) Ride horseback through the 6,000 acres, glimpsing deer and elk en route to 350-foot Stewart Falls, and then feast on lunch packed by the Sundance chef (two-hour ride, $45; lunch, $10). Or mountain-bike on 25 miles of private single-track to hook up with rides through Uinta National Forest (mountain-bike rentals, $10 per day; guides, $15 per hour). Or hike 8.3 miles through groves of aspen and pine, past cirques and glaciers, to the 11,750-foot summit of Timp.
And then there's the arts thing. It's not the film festival--that's in Park City, in January--but films from the festival screen on Fridays and Saturdays, and there's live summer theater (South Pacific this year). In the granola spirit, the Tree Room Restaurant uses local organic herbs, veggies, and critters in Harvest Menu dishes, which change weekly, such as campfire-style stuffed trout (entrées, $17-$23). Pizza and pasta are served in the Grill Room ($7-$15). Standard cottage rooms cost $125; one-bedroom suites cost $225. Sundance is 20 minutes northeast of Provo. Call 801-225-4107.
Catamaran's palm-tree-fancying owners have planted the eight-and-and-a-half-acre grounds in lush Polynesian gardens, and the South Seas theme carries over to the interior, with lots of colonial Hawaiian art and artifacts, not to mention a 15-foot waterfall in the lobby. The Atoll Restaurant follows suit, with dishes like opakapaka fish (entrées, $7-$20). Double rooms, $140-$195. Call 800-288-0770.
Bob Howells is the author of Backroads of Southern California and Backroads of New England (Gulf Publishing Co.).
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