There's a lot to be said for the easy get-out-of-town escape: You roll out a map at five o'clock on Friday, choose a point an hour or two away, pack the ice chest, and throw everything in the car with the dog. Sweet freedom. But be honest: You keep going back to the same spot, don't you? This summer, break out a bigger map, one that has all your dream getaways on it. In the pages that follow, we present a varied menu of tasty adventures, whether you're looking for epic bragging rights, a quiet escape for two, an easy-to-reach nexus for a group gathering, or a wild road trip. With the Internet awash in last-minute-travel sites and package deals, the choice is yours. All it takes is two or three days to kick the lazy-summer habit, so extricate yourself from that inflatable pool toy and let the weeds live another day: Now's your chance to steal away to someplace completely different.
» Extreme Relaxation: When nothing but epic downtime will do
» The Road-Trip Cure: Because sometimes you've just gotta roll
» The Group Dynamic: Amazing places for a harmonic convergence
» Wilderness Therapy: Lose (and find) yourself in the great wide open
» Just Hit Escape: Point, click, go. Plotting a last-minute getaway is almost that easy.
» The Hub Club: Where you can find the season's best airfares
» Fast Cultural Fix: Go international without going far
» Bragging Rights: Be the hero of your Monday-morning meeting
» Saturday-Night Special: Even when you're short on time, you can go long on adventure
» Romantic Hideouts: Feel the love, without the heart-shaped bathtub
The Road-Trip Cure
Because sometimes you've just gotta roll
a. Connecticut River Byway, New Hampshire and Vermont
Set your watch to Norman Rockwell time on back roads along the Connecticut River that were designated a 500-mile national scenic byway last September. Starting in Brattleboro, Vermont, two hours from Boston, trace the river north along the VermontNew Hampshire state line while hiking in numerous state parks, fishing, and exploring historic towns. Stopping points are the Lauren, a Woodstock, Vermont, inn that opened in May, and, farther north, the 14-room Inn at Mountain View Farm, in East Burke, Vermont. GREAT ESCAPE: Paddle a section of the placid Connecticut near Lancaster, New Hampshire, that's part of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, inaugurated in June. DETAILS: Connecticut River Scenic Byway Council, 603-826-4800, www.ctrivertravel.net. The Lauren, doubles from $210; 802-457-1925, www.thelaureninn.com. Mountain View Farm, doubles from $155; 800-572-4509, www.innmtnview.com.
b. Red Rock Country, Utah
Ditch the Vegas neon as fast as you can jump into a rental car: It's only two and a half hours from the Strip to the iconic red-rock cliffs and canyons of Zion National Park. Make yourself at home at the stylish Desert Pearl Inn, in Springdale, and spend a day hiking the park's 120 miles of trails. Then head 90 minutes southeast to explore Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, a little-visited gem in northern Arizona, before looping back to St. George to climb Sticky Revelations, a classic three-pitch 5.10, at Prophesy Wall. GREAT ESCAPE: The Red Mountain Revitalizera full-body treatmentat Sagestone, Red Mountain Spa's new facility, which opened in January. DETAILS: Desert Pearl Inn, doubles from $133; 888-828-0898, www.desertpearl.com. Red Mountain Spa, doubles from $478, all-inclusive; 800-407-3002, www.redmountainspa.com.
c. The Wild Coast, Oregon
For a quick dose of rugged Pacific shoreline, drive northwest from Portland to Astoria, on the mouth of the Columbia River, and stay at the new 46-room Cannery Pier Hotel, set on 100-year-old pilings. Then round Oregon's northwest corner and hug the coast for about 200 miles on U.S. 101 to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. En route, stop for surfing near the Columbia River and deep-sea fishing off Newport. Just south of the dunes, head east to I-5 to return to Portland. GREAT ESCAPE: Watch storms roll in from the six-room Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast, near Yachats, 172 miles south of Astoria. DETAILS: Cannery Pier Hotel, doubles, $269; 888-325-4996, www.cannerypierhotel.com. Heceta Head Lighthouse, doubles, $251, including breakfast; 866-547-3696, www.hecetalighthouse.com.
Lose (and find) yourself in the great wide open
a. Canoeing on Attean Pond, Maine
This is the kind of isolation you fantasize about when you're stuck in traffic: More than 15 uninhabited islands break the cool, black waters of Maine's Attean Pond, where you'll find 28 miles of spruce-and-maple shoreline. Launch a canoe from Attean Landing, three and a half hours north of Portland, and paddle west about four miles to Hodgeman's Beach to pitch a tent on a broad and sandy strand just west of a small bay popular with moose. Don't miss the 1.5-mile hike to the top of nearby 2,200-foot Sally Mountain for views west into Holeb Pond, or drift out to cast for salmon and trout. ACT OF NATURE: Get up early and float a quarter-mile from Hodgeman's to Supper Island, a rocky, uninhabited 200-by-80-foot speck perfect for catching the sunrise. DETAILS: Cry of the Loon Outdoor Adventures, in Jackman, offers canoe rentals ($20 per day) and can outfit you with food and most camping gear for a self-guided tour; 207-668-7808, www.cryoftheloon.net.
b. Bear Valley Hot Springs, Boise National Forest, Idaho
Not so secret that they're hard to find, not so popular that they're overrun, Bear Valley Hot Springs consists of seven glassy pools set amid lodgepole pines and burbling creeks in Idaho's Frank ChurchRiver of No Return Wilderness Area. Hike through elk-and-moose terrain for 3.5 miles along the Bear Valley Creek Trail, near Fir Creek Campground, 30 miles northwest of Stanley and three hours from Boise. Your reward: a grassy meadow and choice base camp for round-the-clock soaking. The first pool is practically scalding (about 130 degrees), but they cool as you move toward the creek. A mile's hike farther downstream will bring you to the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. ACT OF NATURE: Most folks day-hike to the pools and leave by dusk. Come nightfall, soak the evening away with only Orion's gaze to keep you company. DETAILS: Salmon-Challis National Forest, Middle Fork District, 208-756-5100.
c. Badlands, South Dakota
The joke says if you've seen one tree in South Dakota, you've seen them both. And that's a great thing. About 40 miles east of Rapid City, the storied American plains funnel into Badlands National Park, a sea of overwhelming emptiness punctuated by bizarre earthen pinnacles. From primitive Sage Creek Campground, within a 64,000-acre wilderness area about 21 miles northeast of the town of Scenic off Route 44, blaze your own trail along the dry Sage Creek and pitch your tent in the shade of a cottonwood (there are actually plenty). ACT OF NATURE: Wake up one morning and you may find that the park's herd of 800 buffalo has moved in; they, along with blue herons, coyotes, and pronghorns, frequent the area. DETAILS: Water is scarce in the park, so pack it in; no permit required, but check in at the visitor center if you plan to overnight in the backcountry; 605-433-5361, www.nps.gov/badl.
Just Hit Escape
Point, click, go. Plotting a last-minute getaway is almost that easy.
I'm sitting in my office on a Thursday afternoon when I suddenly get the urge to see water. Immediately. An ocean, a harbor, some whitewateranything to contrast with the Kansas prairies outside my window. Last-minute-travel Web sites tout tantalizing possibilities, but now I need to know: Is it truly possible for me to be in Miami or Cancún or Ibiza by this time tomorroweven out of a small-market airport like Wichita? Ahead on my deadlines and feeling adventurous, I open a browser and begin to investigate.
Keying in Site59.com, which specializes in turning unused flights and hotels into last-minute bargain packages, I imagine myself surfing the waves of Mazatlán, paddling around the San Juan Islands, hiking to the remote hot springs of Iceland. Perplexingly, however, my initial search yields a string of Site59 bargains to places like Omaha and Grand Rapids and Moline, Illinois. Do people really take last-minute vacations to Moline, Illinois? An ironic part of me wants to fly there for the novelty of visiting a place that sounds less interesting than where I live.
Before long, I find two promising leads for a last-minute three-day weekend, including hotelSan Francisco for $386 and Portland, Oregon, for $389. I ponder the happy prospect of swilling beers and sailing the waves of San Francisco Bay or kayaking and sleeping under the stars along the Oregon coast. Unfortunately, last-minute online travel planning is a fickle game: The San Francisco ticket automatically doubles in price if you're traveling solo and don't want a red-eye flight; the Portland ticket is gone before I can even check the details. My best bet, it turns out, is a $511 flight to Oakland, including three nights in a hotel.
Since I'm just getting started (and since Oakland doesn't feel quite as sexy as San Francisco), I try out the comparative-airfare search tool at Mobissimo.com. Punching in a few international destinations, I discover that Reykjavík and Dublin are out of my price range, but Belize is doable, at $730. With visions of scuba splashing in my head, I click through to Orbitz.com (Mobissimo doesn't sell tickets directly), where I discover the dark side of the Belize ticket: two 15-hour overnight layovers at the Atlanta airport. I calculate that I'd end up spending more time in airports and airplanes than in the water. Suddenly, Oakland doesn't seem all that bad. Returning to Site59, I discover that the $511 fare to Oakland has expired. Such is the hard lesson of spur-of-the-moment travel planning: Don't let a deal sit.
By this point I'm dead-set on going somewhere for the weekend, even if it has to be Moline. Trying not to panic as afternoon stretches into evening, I surf over to Travelocity.com's Last Minute Packages link (which is operated by Site59 but sometimes posts better deals). Here, I find a $323 flight to Albuquerque, including a three-day car rental. Unfortunately, Albuquerque doesn't have much in the way of waterthat is, unless you count the three-day rain forecast from Weather.com (always a useful tool for researching your last-minute destinations). Expanding my search criteria, I discover a $422 flight to San Francisco, returning Tuesday, including a four-day car rental. Chastened by my earlier hesitation, I brandish my credit card and book it.
A day and a half later, after some frenzied packing, I spend a gorgeous afternoon sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge with some old friends on a 36-foot sloop chartered from OCSC Sailing, in Berkeley Marina. The following day, I meet up with my cousin to see her new baby; in the evening, I take my rental car for a spin and meet friends for dinner in downtown San Francisco.
Was it worth it? On the one hand, this is not the easiest way to travel: I had to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and spend much of Friday (and Tuesday) in transit. On the other hand, it's not every weekend that I get to enjoy sea breeze in my face as I round Angel Island in the late afternoon and catch sight of the San Francisco skyline.
Fast Cultural Fix
Go international without going far
a. Azores, Portugal
A four-hour flight from Boston puts you in the middle of the Atlantic amid the whitewashed walls and stone-trim houses of São Miguel, the largest of the Azores' nine islands. A Portuguese protectorate and stopover for Columbus, the Azores teem with rolling green hills and throwback coastal villages. Base yourself at the Hotel São Pedro, a 19th-century colonial Georgian manor house built on the water in Ponta Delgada, the island's largest town. Rent a bike for a ride along the wave-whipped southern coast or make the five-mile hike from Vista do Rei to Sete Cidades, a small village at the base of a volcanic crater about 40 minutes outside of town. SHOCK IT TO ME: In Furnas, an hour east of Ponta Delgada, order cozido, a meat-and-veggie dish slow-cooked in a geyser. DETAILS: Azores Express flies to Ponta Delgada twice a week; 800-762-9995, www.azores-express.com. Hotel São Pedro, doubles from $150; 011-351-296-301-740.
b. Quebec City, Canada
There you are fingering a plate of poutine in the Quartier Vieux-Port, watching ships slip past the châeau, whenSacré bleuit hits you: You're practically in Paris, and you haven't crossed the Atlantic. Reserve a 19th-century suite at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, a 94-room boutique hotel, shop for Charlevoix cheeses on the Rue Saint-Jean, then cycle to the Plains of Abraham, the fields where the Brits beat the French in 1759 during the "conquest" of Canada. By the feel of this city, you might wonder who really won. SHOCK IT TO ME: Once dodgy, the Saint-Roch district is on its way to becoming Quebec City's hippest 'hood. Check out the Boudoir Lounge, a locals club near Rue Saint-Joseph, and you might be the only étranger there. DETAILS: Auberge Saint-Antoine, doubles from US$124; 888-692-2211, www.saint-antoine.com. Rent bikes from Cyclo Services, US$45; 418-692-4052, pages.globetrotter.net/cyclo.
c. Guadalupe Valley, Mexico
Mexican wine? Yup. Head two hours south of San Diego into Baja's green Guadalupe Valley to find a dozen boutique wineries with shady patios for sipping blends of nebbiolo, syrah, and mourvèdre. At 1,400 feet in the cool Sierra de Juárez, the Moorish-style Adobe Guadalupe is a cheerful hacienda with six guest rooms, a brick wine cellar, and a working vineyard. From there you can set out on horseback through the hacienda's 60-acre vineyard to Monte Xanic, a neighboring viñedo. Back at the inn, get a grape-skin massage before a four-course meal that includes salmon and stuffed pears. SHOCK IT TO ME: Try a shot of Mezcal Lucifer, made in Oaxaca exclusively for the hacienda. DETAILS: Doubles from $168, including breakfast and wine tasting; 011-52-646-155-2094, www.adobeguadalupe.com.
Be the hero of your Monday-morning meeting
a. Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
From afar, these western-Pennsylvania highlands look like wimpy rows of 3,200-foot mountainettes. From the saddle of a road bike, they are impossibly steep hills that inflict a crippling lactic burn. Spend a weekend conquering two 75-mile rides on quiet country roads too skinny for centerlines, muscling your way up 12,000 vertical feet on a dozen hills, some as steep as 15 percent. From the town of Ligonier, an hour southwest of Pittsburgh, you'll spin past dairy farms and knock out no fewer than six 500-foot climbs before finally wobbling back to town to cool your quads in a rustic cabin overlooking Mill Run Creek. Set out again in the morning for another 75 miles and another half-dozen climbs. YOU DID WHAT? Release the brakes and you'll top 60 miles per hour on the two-mile descent off Chestnut Ridge. DETAILS: Laurel Highlands Cycling Tours offers custom weekend packages for about $375 per person; 724-261-7797, www.lhct-cycling.com.
b. Mount Jefferson, Oregon
Here's a little 10,495-foot secret: About two and a half hours southeast of Portland, in the shadow of Mount Hood, sits Oregon's second-highest volcano, Mount Jefferson. One of the state's most remote wilderness peaksit's an eight-mile hike to the baseJefferson is still within reach for time-strapped mountaineers, offering five glaciers, airy ridges, and sections of vertical rock that make the climbing far more thrilling than the standard slog up Mount Rainier. Set out early to make camp at 7,800 feet on a rocky bench overlooking the Jefferson Park glacier; the next morning's alpine start puts you on slopes that gradually increase to 65 degrees or more, as you traverse the gaping bergschrund to the bottom of the summit pinnacle. From there, you'll have three to four pitches of 5.5-rated rock climbing to the top. YOU DID WHAT? Go ahead and snap your glory shot, but don't jump for joy on the summit: It's barely wide enough for one person. DETAILS: Timberline Mountain Guides runs three-day trips for $600 a person; 541-312-9242, www.timberlinemtguides.com.
c. The Crestones, Colorado
Seventy-five miles southwest of Colorado Springs, the Sangre de Cristos boil up into arguably the state's most impressiveand technically challenging14,000-foot peaks. Your mission: Climb the daunting 14,191-foot Crestone Needle and 14,294-foot Crestone Peak in one day, via a classic mountaineering traverse. Set out from the South Colony Lake Trailhead, about ten miles southwest of Westcliffe, for a two-mile tromp to your backcountry camp near the South Colony Lakes. (If you don't have a 4x4, you'll have to park at the lower trailhead, for a five-mile approach.) Get an early start on the Class III scramble to the Needle's summit, then downclimb 500 feet along Class IV rock (rappel it to be safe) and work your way up another couloir to the summit of Crestone. YOU DID WHAT? On Sunday, hike 14,064-foot Humboldt Peak, about a mile northeast of the lakes, for a trio of fourteeners in one weekend. DETAILS: Pick up a copy of Gerry Roach's Colorado's Fourteeners (Fulcrum, $20) for maps and route descriptions. San Isabel National Forest, 719-553-1400, www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc.
Even when you're short on time, you can go long on adventure
Clifton Inn's Main House
Weekends are like brain cells: You only get so many in this life, and none should be wasted. My two-year-old son is not quite potty-trained, but he's already mastered the philosophy. Ask him to choose between going to a party or going camping on Saturday and he responds, as should we all, "Can't we do both?" On the day in question, we hit a lunchtime birthday barbecue at a local park, then drove to a campground in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness in the afternoon. By sunset our tent was pitched, the kids exhausted, the wine opened. And in the morning, I went for a trail run through the aspens instead of sifting through a week's accumulation of junk mail. We were home 24 hours after leaving.
Naysayers will advise against such overnight adventures, claiming the drive is too far, the time too short. Ignore them. While they head to Blockbuster on Saturday night, you'll be stoking the campfire, soaking up the starlight, and planning a Sunday morning you'll rave about all week.
Follow this three-step plan for perfect overnight getaways: (1) You must spend more time at your destination than you spend getting there and back. Break this rule when the road trip is the destination. (2) Keep your bags packed. Nothing kills a quick escape like spending half the morning digging through gear. Store camping equipment in one place so you can grab and go and unpack just as quickly. (3) Plan time to relax. Don't let the compressed schedule make you feel harried. The best weekend trips even short ones should leave you feeling exhausted and rested all at once. To help you achieve the feeling, we've gathered our top five overnight escapes from big cities.
From New York City
Cold Spring, New York (60 miles north)
Paddle the Hudson River to the ruins of a 1901 Scottish-style castle on Bannerman Island, with Hudson Valley Outfitters ($120; 866-865-2925, www.hudsonvalleyoutfitters.com). The Pig Hill Inn (doubles from $150; 845-265-9247, www.pighillinn.com) is a short walk from both the river and the train station.
Woonsocket, Rhode Island
(52 miles southwest)
Cycle historic tow paths along the Blackstone River, and back roads through mill country, in northern Rhode Island's bucolic Blackstone Valley as part of a two-day, 70-mile self-guided bike trip mapped out by Cycle New England (from $149 per person; 508-868-9056, www.cyclenewengland.com). The trip includes route maps and a night at the Pillsbury House (800-205-4112, www.pillsburyhouse.com), a Victorian bed-and-breakfast.
From Washington, D.C.
Charlottesville, Virginia (115 miles southwest)
Go for a trail run beneath the oaks and tulip poplars of the 20-mile Rivanna Trail, which wraps around this town, home to the University of Virginia. The fern-flanked path feels like wilderness, and you're never far from a bookstore or a cappuccino or a clear mountain swimming hole. Stay at the newly restored 14-room Clifton Inn (doubles from $295; 888-971-1800, www.cliftoninn.net), on 100 riverside acres.
San Juan Island, Washington
(102 miles northwest)
From the Zen fountain and kimono wall hangings to the Asian-fusion breakfasts (try the orange-blossom scones), the new Dragonfly Inn (doubles, $195, including breakfast; 360-378-4280, www.thedragonflyinn.com) owes its inspiration to Japan's traditional ryokans. Set on 15 wooded acres, the inn is four miles from Roche Harbor, where San Juan Safaris ($75; 800-450-6858, www.sanjuansafaris.com) starts its orca-watching kayak trips. To save time, take the 30-minute flight on Kenmore Air ($221 round-trip; 800-543-9595, www.kenmoreair.com) from Seattle to Friday Harbor, a few miles from the inn.
Delafield, Wisconsin (115 miles north)
Ding your bike bell at sandhill cranes on the 52-mile-long Glacial Drumlin State Trail ($4; 262-646-3025, www.glacialdrumlin.com), a rail trail that meanders through rural Wisconsin's wetlands. Hybrid bikes rent for $20 a day at the Bicycle Doctor (262-965-4144), in Dousman. Stay at the red-brick Delafield Hotel (doubles from $250; 262-646-1600, www.delafieldhotel.com), a 38-suite luxury inn that opened in April.
Feel the love, without the heart-shaped bathtub
a. Kamalame Cay, Andros Island, Bahamas
For high-powered lovebirds who want to elope on Friday but be back for their conference calls on Monday, the ultimate unforgettable pleasure-jaunt is east of Miami at Kamalame Cay. The collection of 19 perfect villas and rooms occupies its own 97-acre isle off the Bahamas' least populated island, Andros. Hang out on your shady veranda or stroll to the new over-water spa, with massage rooms open to sea breezes. And if you decide against casting on Andros's famed bonefish flats or diving the nearby 140-mile-long barrier reef, call it fodder for the anniversaries you'll inevitably come back for. TIME FOR TWO: Borrow a pair of snorkels and trek inland to one of the island's many blue holes. DETAILS: Twenty minutes from Nassau, which has daily flights from many East Coast cities. Doubles from $561, all-inclusive; 242-368-6281, www.kamalame.com.
b. Huelo Point Lookout, Paia, Maui
Maui and romance are practically synonymous, but take the seclusion factor up a notch at Huelo Point Lookout's Rainbow cottage, on the island's north shore. The entire first floor is encased in glass, with views out to the Pacific and gardens of coconut and papaya, and a spiral staircase leads to the loft, with its king-size bed under skylights. While holing up may be tempting, pry yourself away for a hike around 10,023-foot Haleakala or for windsurfing at Hookipa Beach, a 20-minute drive west. TIME FOR TWO: Come dusk, take to the hot tub, surrounded by heliconia, wild ginger, and night-blooming jasmine. DETAILS: Seven major airlines fly into Maui's Kahului Airport; from there, it's a 45-minute drive to Huelo Point Lookout. Rainbow cottage, from $285; 800-871-8645, www.maui-vacationrentals.com.
c. Fincastle Vineyard & Winery, Fincastle, Virginia
Heading north out of Roanoke on Route 11, lined with up-and-coming vineyards and sporting vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you'll be charmed even before you arrive at Fincastle. This white-clapboard farmhouse-turned-winery, which started commercial bottling in 2001, opened its tasting room two years later and debuted two English-country guest rooms in May. Spend the day canoeing the nearby James River, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or biking the Blue Ridge Parkway. TIME FOR TWO: Before breakfastlocal free-range eggs and baconstroll through the vineyards, when the sun has just risen over the trees. DETAILS: Three hours from Richmond. Doubles from $125, including breakfast; 540-591-9000, www.fincastlewine.com.