The Homeland Advantage

Ten go-now getaways that are short on hassle but long on adventure—no passport required

Superior Mushing
Boundary Waters, Minnesota

Everyone knows northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the place to practice your J-stroke. But long after the last canoe has been portaged, the lakes freeze solid to create the best mushing terrain south of Alaska. On the Beargrease Special , a January 28–February 2 trip with Ely-based White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures, professional mushers will show you how it's done. First, watch as the pros set off on the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, a 400-mile race along Lake Superior. While the race is on, you take the helm of a six-dog sled, geeing and hawing for 25 to 30 miles a day past moose, bald eagles, and gray wolves in Superior National Forest. At dusk, park the canines and dine on cold-weather delicacies like pork schnitzel with chipotle apple brandy sauce. Then take a quick peek at the blaze of stars—there's no civilization for miles—before shutting up the yurt and piling on the blankets for a cozy night's sleep. From $1,545 for the five-day trip, based on double occupancy, including lodging, food, equipment, and guides; 800-701-6238, www.whitewilderness.com

Caribbean Breaks

Rincón, Puerto Rico

Rincon Beach
Palm-lined Rincon Beach (PhotoDisc)

With some of the biggest swells in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico's northwest coast is like Oahu's North Shore—only smaller. If you've brought your own board—and know how to wield it—hit the break at Tres Palmas, just north of the town of Rincón, where February swells can bring faces up to 30 feet. The beaches south of town tend to see smaller waves year-round. Whether you're just getting wet or you're a longtime surfer, Rincón Surf School (787-823-0610, www.rinconsurfschool.com) offers one-to-five-day courses with seasoned coaches. Most students stay at the nearby Rincón Surf and Board Guesthouse (from $20; 787-823-0610, www.surfandboard.com), a sprawling hilltop spread with suites, private rooms, and dormitory-style bunks—plus a poolside tiki bar that serves a tasty breakfast of fresh pastries and local fruit. Or splash out at the posh Horned Dorset Primavera resort (doubles from $490, including two meals; 800-633-1857, www.horneddorset.com), where the yoga classes, massage therapists, and seafood—blackfin tuna with hibiscus sauce or grilled mahi-mahi with pesto coulis—will have you rested and ready for the next day's lesson.

Vintage Velo

Sonoma and Napa Valleys, California

Les Mars Hotel
Les Mars Hotel (Les Mars Hotel)

Lance might rethink his retirement when he hears about Getaway Adventures' Napa and Sonoma cycling trip—a veritable Tour de Vin ($950, including bike rental, hotels, and meals; 800-499-2453, www.getawayadventures.com). Getaway Adventures has been leading bike tours in the Sonoma and Napa valleys since 1991, and they get it just right on this four-day, 156-mile sip-and-spin excursion. The ride winds north from Calistoga to the wildflower-filled meadows of Sonoma Valley—and, along the way, several flights of cabernets and zinfandels at Frank Family Vineyards. The road kicks up the Valley of the Moon to Bodega Bay, but a sampling of crisp chardonnays at Matanzas Creek Winery is the perfect reward. Day four follows the rugged Pacific coast to Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, leaving plenty of time for a bubbly toast or two at Korbel Champagne Cellars. At trip's end, in Healdsburg, if you haven't had your fill—or you're too tipsy to ride home—book a night at Les Mars Hotel (doubles, $425–$995; 877-431-1700, www.lesmarshotel.com), the town's newly opened boutique inn. The 16 guest rooms have soaring ceilings, roaring fireplaces, canopy beds, and mountain views. Plus there's a library where you can settle in with a book and—what else—a glass of vintage merlot.

Virgin Beaches

Maho Bay, St. John

St. John's
St. John's North Shore (Corel)

Don't rule out the U.S. Virgin Islands: While cruise ships belch a carnival of tourists onto the shores of neighboring St. Thomas, tiny St. John remains mercifully unscathed. Thank American financier Laurance Rockefeller for that: After buying up a major hunk of the island in the 1950s, he built a private resort on Caneel Bay, then donated 5,000 acres of his remaining tropical paradise, which forms the cornerstone of today's Virgin Islands National Park. Sample the bounty—from silent, palm-studded beaches to coral reefs teeming with sea turtles and rainbow fish—on one of Arawak Expeditions' Adventure Week packages (from $1,125, based on double occupancy, including meals, lodging, gear, and guides; 800-238-8687, www.arawakexp.com). Local guides lead kayak trips into the blue-green waters off Honeymoon Beach and Henley Cay, hiking ventures to jungled, pre-Columbian petroglyphs, and a strenuous mountain-bike ride (well, harder than lolling on the beach) to the top of 1,277-foot Bordeaux Mountain. Home base is the Maho Bay Camps eco-resort, on St. John's north shore, where each roomy platform-tent cabin is naturally cooled by lush foliage and outfitted with twin beds and a private deck.

Rouge-Rock Adventure

Sedona, Arizona

Rouge Hotel and Spa
Rooftop Terrace View

From crystal-toting vortex hunters to canvas-schlepping artists, Sedona's three million annual pilgrims can't be wrong: Arizona's canyon-guarded oasis is a slice of desert inspiration. If you're feeling more perky than pensive, Coconino National Forest's swell of sandstone is just as good for climbing as for contemplating, and the slickrock rivals anything in Moab. After a hard session of walking meditation—some call it hiking—on sandy, juniper-lined trails, the chic Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa (from $199, based on double occupancy; 928-203-4111, www.sedonarouge.com) is the perfect place to unwind even further. Opened in June, this sumptuous retreat blends Old World Mediterranean decor (brightly painted Moroccan furniture, ornate iron balconies, and ancient Tunisian vases) with 21st-century luxury (flat-screen TVs, goose-down comforters, and rain-spray showers). Work out the kinks at the full-service spa with a hot-stone massage and a reflexology session, then sink into an overstuffed leather armchair at Reds, the hotel bistro, for the house-specialty brick-oven sea bass with baby fennel.

Peaceful Valley

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park
Winter White Yosemite (NPS)

In the summer, it's difficult to savor Yosemite's splendor through the throngs of sunburned tourists and snarls of metro-worthy traffic. But as soon as the snow begins to stack up, the video cameras and RVs head south with avian consistency, leaving a silent Yosemite Valley. Take in the enormous views on Yosemite Cross Country Ski School's one- and two-night cross-country ski trips from Badger Pass to 7,200-foot Glacier Point (one night, from $160; two nights, from $240; 209-372-8444, www.yosemitemountaineering.com). You'll ski ten and a half miles of groomed beginner and intermediate trails through lodgepole pines and red firs, with eerily empty views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the Sierra Nevada, before reaching the top of the granite cliff. Then bunk down at the Glacier Point Winter Lodge, a comfortable stone-and-log cabin, for a fireside meal. After dinner, slip out of the hut and patter through fresh snow with moonlit views of the valley. Sure, you've seen Yosemite before, but you've never seen it like this.

Historic Ramble

Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee

Natchez Trace Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi Development Authority)

If history is a guide, the Natchez Trace is worth the trip. The Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes walked this 444-mile path centuries ago, famed explorer Meriwether Lewis mysteriously died while taking the route toward Washington, and thousands of ambience-seeking sojourners have completed segments of the tour since the track was named a national scenic byway in 1996. Now, after 67 years of work, the entire length of the historic trail has been preserved as the Natchez Trace Parkway, a snaking two-lane scenic drive from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Autumn is prime time for this southern road trip, when the black gums burn red and the hickories blaze gold. Start your journey in downtown Natchez with an indulgent southern breakfast of sausage, biscuits, and grits at the 1888 Wensel House B&B (doubles from $95; 888-775-8577, www.1888wenselhouse.com). Then hop in your car and peel back the top for a leisurely drive past antebellum homes, prehistoric ceremonial mounds, and the graves of unknown Confederate soldiers. Need to stretch your legs? Spend an extra day in an 1830s log cabin at the Ridgetop Bed & Breakfast (doubles $95; 800-377-2770), where you can hike the trails on the property's 170 wooded acres, canoe the nearby Buffalo River, or saddle up for a horseback ride with Natchez Trace Riding Stables (931-682-3706, www.natcheztraceridingstables.com).

Polynesian Bounty

Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai
Kauai Swimming Hole (Hawaii CVB)

Though the origin of the name Kauai is hazy, some speculate that it means "season of abundance." If so, no wonder: Hawaii's oldest island has miles of precipitous coastline strewn with tangled forests; steep hillsides planted with coffee, squash, and pineapples; and the highest annual rainfall on the planet—5,148-foot Mount Waialeale receives an average of 460 inches a year. Austin-Lehman Adventures explores the bounty on its new Hawaiian offering, Kauai: The Garden Isle. The six-day adventure packs in everything from a rugged hike to 200-foot Hanakapiai Falls, on the Na Pali Coast, to a screaming 3,500-vertical-foot, 12-mile mountain-bike descent from Waimea Canyon to the Pacific coast. The accommodations live up to the island's abundance: The 356-room Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club has elaborate tropical gardens, a 26,000-square-foot hibiscus-shaped pool, access to world-class surfing on Kalapaki Beach, and a spa renowned for its open-air massages overlooking Nawiliwili Bay. From $2,848, based on double occupancy, including meals; trips begin December 25, 2005, and January 1, 2006; 800-575-1540, www.austinlehman.com

Island Chic

Honolulu, Hawaii

Halekulani Hotel
Halekulani Hotel

Be a movie star—or at least play one on vacation—with the definitive fashion-forward excursion to the Halekulani Hotel (doubles, $4,000; 808-931-5005, www.halekulani.com), on Honolulu's famed Waikiki Beach. This 88-year-old luxury resort has teamed up with fashion mogul Vera Wang to create the first designer-branded digs in Hawaii. The 2,135-square-foot Vera Wang Suite bears all the marks of an authentic label: fine-china settings in the formal dining room, silk linens in the master-bedroom suite, and antique elm furniture flown in from the South Pacific and Asia—all personally chosen by Wang, of course. The 642-square-foot lanai, a huge stretch of private deck with expansive views of Waikiki Beach and the Diamond Head volcanic crater, can second as your own private catwalk. There's supermodel-worthy service, too: VIP passes to the symphony, museums, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts; 24-hour in-room made-to-order meals; private in-suite spa therapies; butler service; individual master surfing instruction with the hotel's director of surfing; and a personal limo to get you to those 5 a.m. surf sessions. To the beach, Jeeves!

Deep Key Fishing

Islamorada, Florida

Cheeca Lodge and Spa
Cheeca Lodge and Spa

Islamorada—a seven-square-mile length of sand and scrub in the 1,700-island Florida Keys archipelago—gets sloshed with waves from both the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay (known to locals as "the backcountry"). The island's waters are stuffed with a staggering 600 species of fish and the only tropical coral reef in the continental U.S. Push off from Cheeca Lodge & Spa's 525-foot pier—a nod to the island's stretch geography—with the Backcountry Fishing Package ($900 per couple for three days and two nights) and cast for marlin, snapper, sailfish, and wahoo from a privately guided boat. If you'd rather swim with the fish than hook them, you can practically brush flipper to fin with angelfish, parrotfish, spotted rays, and green moray eels at Alligator Reef and Cheeca Rocks, two nearby dive sites. On the shore, the recently renovated property is just as stunning as the aquatics, with 27 beachfront acres highlighted by a spa that focuses on indigenous treatments, four waterfront restaurants (the chefs will prepare your catch-of-the-day), and 201 guest rooms and suites with oversize bathtubs, mahogany beds, and giant windows with sweeping views of the Atlantic and the resort's 27 palm-swept acres. Doubles from $250; 800-327-2888, www.cheeca.com

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