When tourists in New Zealand want adventure, they go to Queenstown. When Kiwis want to escape, they head an hour north to tiny Lake Wanaka, a town of 5,037 right next to Mount Aspiring National Park that’s emerging as the country’s Jackson, Wyoming. Lake Wanaka is surrounded by the Crown Range and the Southern Alps, and sits on the shore of New Zealand’s fourth-largest lake. There are two ski resorts, Treble Cone and Cardrona, roughly 20 miles away; more than 20 mountain-bike trails in Sticky Forest, five minutes north of town; endless mountainous road cycling; and 74-square-mile Lake Wanaka for sea kayaking, sailing, fishing, and swimming. The Wanaka Homestead (doubles, $143), just a few hundred feet from Lake Wanaka, has an alpine-lodge feel and is an easy walk to town. Or splurge at the Whare Kea (doubles from $1,158), an elegant lodge on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park that offers everything from backcountry heli-skiing to fly-fishing. Cyclists: sign on to Active New Zealand’s eight-day Zone ($2,999), a challenging trip that starts in Christchurch and crosses the South Island’s two major passes: 3,018-foot Arthur’s and 1,850-foot Haast. The last two days, you’ll bike the 40 miles from Wanaka to Queenstown.
Durango an adventure-sports capital? Go in April and you’ll see why. Within an hour of town, you can ski spring corn, nordic-ski around an alpine lake, kayak the Animas River, catch fat trout, hike a thirteener, ride 10,000-foot passes on a dizzy-making scenic byway, and mountain-bike blue-ribbon singletrack. Packed with college students and young transplants, the populace is uniquely devoted to the pursuit of fun, which might explain the four microbreweries and outsize nightlife for a town of 16,000 three hours from an interstate. Stay at the Rochester, a historic hotel that has a full breakfast and free cruiser bikes for guests (from $129). Large groups can base-camp at the Treehouse, a downtown vacation rental with a hot tub, views of the mountains, and singletrack right out the back door (from $1,400 per week for up to ten).
Did we mention the 300-plus days of sunshine?