WHETHER YOU'RE A GEEK or a technophobe, recent advances in technology make it amazingly easy to find your way on land or water. The latest GPS chips have been shrunk to the size of a dime, and manufacturers are using the extra space to create handier and simpler navigation devices with enhanced display features and built-in extras tailored to specific outdoor pursuits. Likewise, the latest phones and two-way radios are smaller and more powerful than ever. Best of all, GPS and communication technologies are converging in a new breed of multipurpose devices that will reduce your overall gadget load. Whatever the adventurea backcountry climb, a remote paddling expedition, or just an afternoon trail runthe tools presented here are guaranteed to keep you tuned in.
The Perfect 10
Susitna River Lodging, Alaska
Susitna River Lodging
Doubles (suites in the lodge) start at $99 per night; cabins that sleep up to five people start at $119.
THE PRIVATE PLANE SWOOPED LOW, buzzing us like a fighter jet in Top Gun and drowning out the marriage vows. But that's life in Alaska. When you're 120 miles north of Anchorage, 270 miles south of Fairbanks, and a thousand miles from anywhere else, lots of people own small planes and are happy to show them off. (In this case, the grandstander was a tardy guest.)
A friend's mid-September wedding was being held at Susitna River Lodginga cluster of four cedar-sided, two-bedroom cabins and a main building with a wraparound deck, all tucked into a birch forest near Denali National Park. Just before the ceremony, my husband turned and experienced another only-in-Alaska moment: flower girl Sophie Anton, age six, jumping up and down on a juicy dead salmon that had washed up on the riverbank (under threat of having to take a bath, she finally abandoned tickling it with her bare toes).
Susitna is unusual as an affordable-for-families Alaska lodge with remarkable sporting accessit's walking distance from Talkeetna, a town that serves as a staging area for mountaineers preparing to climb 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. The 2.5-acre property faces the wide gravel bars of the Susitna River, where the silver salmon run had recently ended and bald eagles feasted on the spawned-out carcasses.
Sportfishermen come to catch rainbow and Dolly Varden trout, Arctic grayling, and five species of Pacific salmon; kids love the half- and multiday whitewater rafting trips offered on the Class II-III Chulitna River and adults get a thrill on the Class IV Talkeetna River. Experienced backcountry skiers can have a field day on McKinley's Ruth Glacier, less than an hour's flight away. Viewing the raw, jumbled power of the Alaska Range was enough for us, thoughthat and tickling dead fish with our toes.
The Perfect 10
Lake of the Woods Mountain Lodge, Oregon
Lake of the Woods Mountain Lodge and Resort
Doubles cost $80-$269 per night.
Lake of the Woods
A POTENTIAL HAZARD of staying at Lake of the Woods Mountain Lodge and Resort: Your kids might grow gills. From the moment you arrive, the lake is the epicenter of the action, which might include morning swims from gravel beaches, rock-skipping competitions, fishing for browns and rainbows, and long circumnavigational paddles. Surrounded by towering firs and pines in the southern Cascades, the 15 brown clapboard cabins that radiate around the lake from the main lodge, general store, and marina give the place a 1940s-fishing-camp vibe.
But there are dry-land alternatives: miles of easy and moderate trails, many lined with purple asters, for hiking and mountain biking under the gaze of the perfectly symmetrical 9,495-foot Mount McLoughlin. My favorite is the 9.3-mile High Lakes Trail to the lunar landscape of the Brown Mountain lava flow. And the sedate seven-mile trail that runs around the lake is good for taking in the dramatic views of the surrounding Rogue River National Forest.
On our last day we stuffed a basket with snacks, hiked deep into the dense forest, and stayed there so long we practically grew antlers.
Mountain Meadows Guest Ranch, Montana
Mountain Meadows Guest Ranch
Doubles start at $199 per night per adult, $99 per child, including all meals, activities, and shuttle from Bozeman.
I'D JUST PLUNGED MY FORK into a yolky eggs Benedict when Alex, my seven-year-old breakfast companion, posed a question: "Have you ever seen deer guts? They smell baaaad." In any other setting, this might seem strange. Not so in Mountain Meadows Guest Ranch's corner of Montana, 52 miles south of Bozeman, where elk far outnumber humans and a curious young traveler can collect a lifetime's worth of gross-out facts in a single day.
Alex had spent the previous afternoon poking through buffalo turds while exploring Yellowstone National Park, whose northern boundary is 18 miles from the lodge. Park excursions, horseback riding, mountain biking, and Class II-IV rafting on the Gallatin River quickly fill guests' days (in winter you can snowshoe, and downhill and cross-country ski), but home base is equally appealing. I got a little kick out of the cowboy-chic decorations, like the carved bear lamps that light up the seven-bedroom lodge, but I got an even bigger kick out of the view of the Spanish Peaks through the giant picture windows.
After breakfast, Alex and I took turns distracting the pet goat, Charlie, so a shy llama could eat from our hands. "He'll need a nap after all these cookies," Alex said. Turns out we did, too.
The Perfect 10
Turtle Beach Inn, Florida
Turtle Beach Inn
Doubles cost $140-$175 per night; cottages, $195-$250 per night or $850-$1,600 per week.
AS WE SET FOOT on a deserted two-mile stretch of white Gulf of Mexico sand along Florida's "Forgotten Coast," a startled bald eagle leaped up from his fish breakfast and flapped away into the pines. My wife, our four- and six-year-old sons, and I then tried to catch some fish of our own. Using a seine strung between two poles, we waded into the 70-degree water and scooped up jellyfish, tiny baitfish, squid, and a baby octopus that the boys named Inky.
Two hours southwest of Tallahassee, in a blink of a hamlet called Indian Pass, the Turtle Beach Inn comprises two multifamily cottages and a beach house with four guest rooms, all on stilts and nestled beneath tall slash pines and sabal palms. We came to explore this remote nub of Florida's Panhandle and to see a beach so clean and untouched that loggerhead turtles nest and hatch here each summer. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, three miles from the inn, was rated No. 1 in 2002 by coastal geologist Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach. So we gamboled the park's maze of bulbous and stark-white dunes, snorkeled, and raked a few scallops. But the highlight was renting two double sea kayaks and paddling atop the transparent waters, looking down on the lush sea life we'd scooped into our net.
That night we walked up the road to the crusty Indian Pass Raw Bar, a converted gas station, to linger over gumbo, spicy shrimp, and some of Florida's sweetest oysters. All the boys talked about, though, was capturing tomorrow's lunch.