Bellota Ranch: $275-$325 per night, double occupancy, including meals, transportation from Tucson, riding, and all activities 520-296-6275, www.bellotaranch.com
The best adventure lodges are those where you show up a stranger and leave as family. So it is at Bellota Ranch, a homey, horsey oasis in the wild chaparral country above Tucson, where the small staff (ranch manager, wrangler, and a cook) takes the saying "make yourself comfortable" to pleasing extremes.
Room & Board: Surrounded by 60,000 acres of working cattle land and wedged between the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountains, Bellota manages to be sprawling and intimate. The 1930s hacienda, plastered in white stucco, surrounds a sunny courtyard. The eight guest rooms have cozy ranch touches like brick floors, patchwork quilts, Mexican-tiled bathrooms, and kiva fireplaces. Guests and staff eat together in the country kitchen, and no one ever goes hungry with stick-to-your-ribs cowboy fare like buffalo burgers; between meals, you're urged to graze from the bottomless jar of chocolate-chip cookies.
Out the Back Door: With its surefooted quarter horses and vast Coronado National Forest acreage, Bellota has a stellar riding program. Kean Brown, the laconic, perpetually sunburned wrangler, leads morning and afternoon range rides. Once you've demonstrated that you can control your horse, you're free to find your own way into the creosote- and sage-studded hills. There's a handful of mountain bikes for spinning out your horse legs along miles of empty roads, and the 790-mile-long Arizona Trail traverses the property, butin laid-back Bellota fashionthe only mandatory post-ride activity is soaking in the outdoor hot tub.
Saga Eco Camp: $80 per person per day, including food, transportation, and use of outboard motorboats 011-91-33-2226-0123, http://ecoclub.com/saga/
SAGA ECO CAMP
Chilika Lake, India
Established in 2002, the Saga Eco Camp is still so new that even most locals don't know where it is. That's what happens when you build your tiny beach resort among a handful of fishing families on a tropical island in India's largest lagoon425-square-mile Chilika Lake, tucked beneath the 1,500-foot Eastern Ghats hills of Orissa and draining into the Bay of Bengal.
Room & Board: Lodging matches the Robinson Crusoe vibe, as guests stay in 11 spacious and breezy wall tents (with finished floors and flush toilets) that sleep four, scattered among palms and cashew trees. In an open-air, thatch-roofed dining hall, chef Raju serves up fresh seafood dishes, including crab masala and local prawns, as well as island-grown organic veggies. Purists may complain about the diesel generator, which runs for three hours each evening, but hey, it keeps the beer cold.
Out the Back Door: Take a motorboat 20 minutes to the mainland town of Barakul and rent a sea kayak from Orissa Tourism's Water Sports Complex ($5 an hour) to explore Nalaban Island, a bird sanctuary. Paddle alongside rare Irrawaddy dolphins while keeping an eye out for Siberian cranes. Or head for the narrow spit of land that divides the lagoon from the ocean, park your kayak, then hike a half-mile through the jungle, until you arrive at an empty white-sand beach that stretches a dozen miles in both directions. What next? Bodysurf endless breakers, then lie in the sand and play dead.
Charit Creek Lodge: $54 per adult per day, including dinner and breakfast 865-429-5704, www.charitcreek.com
CHARIT CREEK LODGE
A true wilderness retreat takes pride in what it doesn't have. At Charit Creek Lodge, there's no electricity (kerosene lanterns are everywhere), no phones (the only thing ringing at mealtime is the dinner bell), and most notably, no traffic (access is by foot, bike, or horseback).
Room & Board: This cluster of two log cabins and a rustic main lodge is set in a gorge at the convergence of two creeks and is surrounded by the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Each of the buildings began as part of a 19th- or early 20th-century homestead. In the main lodge, built around an 1819 hunting cabin, two dorm-style rooms sleep up to 12 each in double-size bunks. The cabins, which also sleep 12 each, have screened porches with rockers and share a separate bath house. Classic country mealsbaked beef with gravy, chicken and dumplings, biscuits and grits for breakfastare served family style.
Out the Back Door: Charit Creek Hiking Trail, the most direct of four hiking paths to the lodge, is a 0.8-mile descent that takes you from a Fork Ridge Road parking lot to the base of a bluff, past a waterfall (in wet weather), and across a wooden bridge. Once you're at the lodge, the day-hike opportunities include 130 miles of trails lined with mountain laurel and wildflowers. Hike four miles to access 80 miles of the Big South Fork River for fly-fishing. (Bring your own gear; the catch is bass and trout.) Or tackle the river's Class III-IV whitewater on a full-day raft trip through the 11-mile Gorge section with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge: From $275 per person per night, including two daily safari drives, meals, and drinks; 888-882-3742, www.ccafrica.com
LAKE MANYARA TREE LODGE
Lake Manyara, Tanzania
By the time you arrive at Tanzania's Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, in Lake Manyara National Park, jostling in a truck for two hours after the 40-minute flight west from Arusha, you're likely to have encountered elephants, Cape buffalo, and the legendary climbing lions that ascend umbrella acacias to escape rapacious tsetse flies. So when lodge manager Frances Majambele announces visitor rule number one"No one walks alone after dark without an askari," an armed guardyou'll pay attention. Hyenas frequent camp almost every night, and elephants, leopards, and lions are commonbut then again, that's why you're here.
Room & Board: Ten cottages on stilts sit at eye level with resident giraffes, safely above the toothy riffraff. Cradled in the boughs of old-growth mahogany trees, these very private wood-and-thatch cottageseach with a canopied bed and bleached hardwood furnishingshave private treetop showers with views of the lake, the tropical forest, and the 1,500-foot cliffs of the Great Rift Valley escarpment. Hit the viewing deck for the lodge specialty, a frozen gin and tonic, before sampling exotic dishes like wildebeest marinated in local red wine and plantains baked in a tandoor.
Out the Back Door: Both at dawn and in late afternoon, guests jump into an open-top Toyota Land Cruiser and head for the acacia woodlands and Maji Moto Hot Springs on 125-square-mile Lake Manyara's western shore. You're on the lookout for elephants, leopards, lions, and buffalo, but the show-stealers are the immense flocks of flamingos that paint the water and sky pink.
Boonville Hotel: Doubles, $95-$250 per night, including breakfast of coffee, juice, and scones; 707-895-2210, www.boonvillehotel.com
Drive two hours north of San Francisco, past Napa and Sonoma, and you'll encounter Boonville, a former logging town in the Anderson Valley founded in the 1850s. The region's rolling hills and redwood forests blend with orchards and vineyards, home to a mix of country folk and well-heeled sophisticates. Funky Boonville, a town of less than a thousand, and the instantly likable Boonville Hotel are decidedly low-key counterpoints to the stuffier wine country down south.
Room & Board: Once a roadhouse, the 139-year-old, two-story, salmon-colored hotel still beckons passersby with its spacious verandas, wooden rockers, and inviting hammocks. Everything about this place exudes comfort, from the ten rooms (including a studio and a bungalow) with downy duvets and Shaker-style furnishings to the homespun restaurant serving local pinot noir and rib-eye steak with polenta. Alongside the airy dining room and bar, the yard overflows with roses, sunflowers, and a cook's garden of berries, herbs, and rhubarb.
Out the Back Door: Grab a kayak and a guide in the coastal town of Elk, 16 miles away, and follow a five-mile out-and-back route: Paddle beneath Wharf Rock arch, heading north past coves, caves, and a bird and seal rookery, and riding open-ocean swells on the way back to Greenwood State Beach. Closer to Boonville, hike two miles through virgin redwood groves in Hendy Woods State Park and swim in the Navarro River where it flows beneath a white wooden bridge just outside the park.
Comino Hotel and Bungalows: $50-$82 per person per day, including breakfast and dinner. An extra $18 per person per day covers lunch, Maltese wine, and use of canoes and kayaks. 011-356-2152-9821, www.cominohotels.com
COMINO HOTEL AND BUNGALOWS
Comino Island, Malta
The minute you step off the ferry from the northwestern edge of Malta and onto Comino Island, you'll feel that shipwrecked sense of isolation. This craggy, two-square-mile member of the Maltese archipelago might be home to four farmers and a lodge, the Comino Hotel and Bungalows, but the sea reigns here. A swirl of turquoise and sapphire Mediterranean wraps around the island, luring you back offshore to explore the coastline's hidden caves.
Room & Board: The 95-room limestone hotel features an expansive terrace, a seaside pool, and two small sandy beaches. The 45 bungalows, each with a balcony overlooking the sea and some large enough to sleep five people, are perched atop an adjacent bay just beyond the hotel, with their own pool and restaurant. The menu changes daily and includes fishlike baked acciola (a Mediterranean version of amberjack) and the steak-like grilled denticias well as Maltese rabbit stew.
Out the Back Door: Scuba-dive in the underwater caves of Santa Maria Bay or check out the coral reef off Cominotto, an even smaller neighboring island, with certified instructors from the hotel's PADI Dive Center. Sea-kayak less than a mile to Rabbit's Nest, a protected bay with 100-foot limestone cliffs; a secret staircase set into the cliffs takes you to a 17th-century watchtower constructed by the Knights of St. John to monitor seafaring invaders.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Mount Victory Camp Tents, $75 per night, double occupancy; bungalows, $85; $10 per additional adult. Bring your own food. 866-772-1651, www.mtvictorycamp.com
MOUNT VICTORY CAMP
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Brand-new Mount Victory Camp presents guests with a pleasant Caribbean quandary: what to do first? Just beyond your tent flap are the mountains and valleys of St. Croix's wild northwest corner, crisscrossed with hiking and biking trails and garnished with mango trees. A 20-minute walk away is a sugary white-sand beach, with a coral reef a few flipper kicks offshore and calypso beach bars for post-swim.
Room & Board: Co-owner Bruce Wilson, a transplanted New Englander who's lived on the island for 40 years, has turned this onetime Danish estate into a 15-acre back-to-the-earth outpost, complete with chickens, horses, and 300 fruit trees. The three platform tents and two bungalows are positioned for ocean and hillside views and built of hurricane-felled teak and mahogany. Each has a kitchenette, and guests share a central pavilion for lounging and a bathhouse with hot running water. Swigs of Mount Victory's infamous Mama Juana herbal rum tonic, purported to improve health, come with the deal.
Out the Back Door: Hop aboard the 42-foot glass-bottom Renegade, run by Big Beard's Adventure Tours (340-773-4482, www.bigbeards.com), for a sailing excursion to Buck Island Reef National Monument, where you'll snorkel through underwater grottoes. Or kayak the craggy north shore with Virgin Kayak Tours (340-778-0071) launching in the very bay where Christopher Columbus moored his ships more than 500 years ago.
Boulder Mountain Lodge: Doubles, $85-$109 per night 800-556-3446, www.boulder-utah.com
BOULDER MOUNTAIN LODGE
If public lands were appraised like prime real estate, you wouldn't find a swankier address than Boulder Mountain Lodge's. It neighbors the vast 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion national parks are practically down the street, with Glen Canyon and Lake Powell as nearby attractions. You won't encounter an adventure base camp that better hews to the rule of location, location, location.
Room & Board: Frolic in the ocher-and-ecru desert like a Monkey Wrench Gangster by day and retire to sweet comforts like sleigh beds topped with hefty down comforters in the 20 guest rooms by night. The lodge's three wood-and-stucco metal-roofed buildings adjoin a bird sanctuary in a grassy oasis along Utah 12, the most remote thoroughfare in the continental United States. (The town of Boulder, population 180, was still receiving mail by mule train in 1941, the last spot in America to do so.) Mealtimes are savored at the lodge's Zagat-endorsed Hell's Backbone Grill, with clever offerings like Southwestern-French chocolate-chile cream pots for dessert.
Out the Back Door: Hike to Calf Creek Falls, a 126-foot waterfall that blasts into a perfect swimming hole (the trailhead for the five-mile round-trip is a 20-minute drive from the lodge). The cliff-hugging trail follows a clear stream full of brook trout and passes Fremont Indian pictographs wallpapered onto red sandstone. Road riders, however, will prefer the vigorous climb up the eastern shoulder of 11,124-foot Boulder Mountain or the 31-mile paved portion of the Burr Trail, a rolling, mind-bending route leading south from the lodge's doorstep to Capitol Reef National Park.
Killarney Lodge: $134-$259 per person per day, double occupancy, including meals and gear 705-633-5551 (May to October), 416-482-5254 (November to April), www.killarneylodge.com
Cabin Fever: Grab your paddle and go!
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
Killarney Lodge sits beside the Lake of Two Rivers on the quiet southern edge of Algonquin Provincial Park, prime timber-wolf territory. You're more likely to see a moose than to spot a single tail hair from the elusive carnivore. But if you're struck with the impulse, you wouldn't be the first guest to paddle out onto the lake and bay at the moon.
Room & Board: Prime spots to idle include the vicinity of the woodstove in the guest lounge of the lodge, which was built in 1985 of dark-stained logs and trimmed in red to mimic the surrounding 1930s cabins spread around a 12-acre peninsula that juts out into the three-mile-long lake. The 30 pine-paneled cabins each have one or two bedrooms with lakefront decks and a private bathroom. The lodge's menu changes every day, but you can always count on a fish optionlike the pan-fried pickerel, an Ontario stapleat dinner.
Out the Back Door: Each cabin comes with a 15-foot Kevlar canoe, which you can paddle two-thirds of a mile across the Lake of Two Rivers and portage a thousand yards to the seldom-paddled Provoking Lake, accessible only on foot. Serious paddlers with plenty of training can attempt a one-day circuit that covers 25 of the park's 930 miles of canoe routes. There are also two mountain-bike trails near the lodge, an easy six-miler and a more technical 16-mile ride.
Top 10 Hideaways
Tu Tu Tun Lodge, OR
Access & Resources
Tu Tu' Tun Lodge
Doubles cost $145$375. A daily meal package ($53 per person) includes breakfast and a four-course dinner. 800-864-6357, www.tututun
Gold Beach, Oregon
Tu Tu' Tun Lodge
The Tu Tu' Tun Lodge (pronounced too-TOOT-in) borrows its name from the Tututui, a band of Indians on the Lower Rogue whose name means "people by the water." It's a fitting title for this elegant Rogue River hideaway, seven miles inland from southern Oregon's craggy coast on a grassy knoll just above the river.
ROOM & BOARD: Each evening, a school bell summons guests to gather around the giant river-rock fireplace in the main lodge and nibble on hors d'oeuvres such as shrimp kebabs and home-smoked salmon and cheeses. What follows is a four-course, apple-and-mesquite-grilled feastincluding chinook salmon and bread baskets brimming with hot lemon-cranberry popoversprepared by longtime chef Margaret Pohl. The 16 guest rooms and two suites come with river views and beds piled with pillows.
OUT THE BACK DOOR: The Rogue River, famous for its fly-fishing, sees consistent runs of Chinook and steelhead salmon. Local guides take guests upriver to the Wild and Scenic section that's accessible by permit only. You can also borrow one of the lodge's six sea kayaks to paddle the river among otters and beavers, or explore the rugged, mostly undeveloped coastline that stretches about 20 miles in either direction from the town of Gold Beach.
Cabañas Andina: $250 per angler per day, including meals, lodging, guide, license, and transportation. Non-anglers pay $85, including half-day excursions and use of mountain bikes. 011-54-29-7242-6187, www.cabandina.com
San Martín de los Andes, Argentina
Cabañas Andina sits in the heavily forested mountains above the hip Patagonia ski town of San Martín de los Andes, in the lake countryand piscine paradise800 miles southwest of Buenos Aires. A skilled angler with a little luck could cast from his bed and hook a brown trout in the Quilquihue River, which flows just yards from the cabins and dining hall.
Room & Board: Guests stay in one of 17 simple, roomy log cabins set among groves of cypress and beech overlooking Lake Lolog. The stylish red-brick main lodge provides plenty of lounging space, and the kitchen cranks out an elaborate offering of smoked venison, lamb barbecue, and a free-flowing array of Argentine wines.
Out the Back Door: Once you've fished the home waters of Lake Lolog from the lodge's boat and waded into the Quilquihue, your guide will take you on day trips to fish the nearby Malleo and Chimehuin rivers, famous for trout. Or go trekking in neighboring Parque Nacional Lanín, which encompasses the spine of the towering 12,000-foot Andes along Argentina's border with Chile. Day hikes in the park around Lake Huechulafquen will take you past 150-foot-tall monkey puzzle trees and lead to lookouts from the shoulder of Volcán Lanín, a 12,389-foot, snow-capped cone that dominates the Andean skyline.