I get emails from readers at this time of year asking about places for an Active Outdoors summer getaway. I'm happy to help. But I always try to get people to think beyond their past experiences and step just a little outside of their easy comfort zone. That's where the real fun begins.
Most people think the usual for vacation getaways: hotels, motels, condos, cottages, B&Bs. They all have their advantages. But when your primary purpose in life is to get outdoors and play, there are other, better choices. Tents, lean-tos and self-service backcountry cabins, for example.
But for all of these you need gear (pads, sleeping bags, stoves, cookware, etc.) and some skills to make the experience as much fun as it can be. You also need to be willing to tolerate, ahem, outdoor plumbing -- if there's any plumbing at all. Some people love that, but some people want "real" beds, indoor plumbing, someone else to cook for them, etc. Go figure.
If you aren't a tent or lean-to person (or someone in your family isn't), yet you are looking for a reasonably priced, very outdoor-oriented getaway this summer, consider exploring the middle-ground between primitive and the hotels, motels, condos and cottages that happen to be on a road near something outdoorsy.
Specifically, I'd suggest the lodges and huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Adirondack Mountain Club, and Maine Huts and Trails. I've sampled them all, have seen some beautiful places, met some wonderful, like-minded people, and have always had a blast.
AMC huts and lodges
The AMC Huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire have been around for a long time -- 125 years, as a matter of fact. My personal history with them goes back to the days when I would stop by and peek in enviously as I passed, but could never afford to stay. My kids weren't yet in double digits age-wise when we first did one of the AMC huts. That was considerably more than half a lifetime ago for them, and they still talk about it. We continued doing them together until they headed off to college.
The eight huts are spaced out about an easy day's hike apart along the Appalachian Trail, some of them are quite close (a mile and a half) to a road.
What to expect at a hut? Well, you get a roof over your head and four solid walls. A bunk with warm wool blankets, if you need them (bring your own sheets or a sleep sack). Clean composting toilets and sinks with running water.
There's also company of some friendly, outdoorsy people, including the "croo" who answer your questions, keep the place clean and running smoothly -- oh, and cook you an incredible dinner and breakfast. All you have to carry is a very light pack with your sleep sack, toiletries and a lunch.
For a first hut visit, I'd suggest Lonesome Lake, Zealand or Carter Notch; those are the easiest to reach.
AMC also has several full-service lodges that are road-accessible, but still set in beautiful places with outdoor opportunities right outside the door. Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch, N.H., and the gorgeous Highland Center in Crawford Notch, N.H., offer private rooms with double beds, family rooms, and bunk rooms. All but the bunkrooms include sheets on the beds.
Cardigan Lodge in Alexandra, N.H., has breakfast and dinner included with your stay and you can get lunch as well. Both of these host lots of programs to teach outdoor skills.
Up in Maine, Little Lyford Pond Camps and Gorman Chairback Camps have cabins, bunk rooms and a main "lodge" building, where they serve breakfast and dinner and put out the fixins for a great lunch. A third camp, Medawisla, is currently closed for renovation.
Maine huts and trails
Using the word "huts" to describe the four properties of the Maine Huts and Trails is a little misleading. Spectacular wilderness lodges is more accurate. The four "huts" are spaced along nearly 50 miles of trail in the wilds of Maine. Two of them are on water, Flagstaff Lake and the Grand Falls. None of them are road-access, although each has an access point that's comparatively easy. You bring a sleeping bag and personal gear, the huts all have indoor plumbing, showers. They offer private rooms, family rooms and bunk rooms.
I've only visited one of the four huts, the newest, Stratton Brook, and that was in winter. The setting was spectacular; the food was excellent, so was the company.
Most New Englanders stick pretty close to New England for their getaways, but the Adirondacks should be on everyone's radar screen. Adirondack Loj and Johns Brook Lodge are both full-service in the summer months.
Marilyn and I stayed at the Adirondack Loj this past March. We loved it. It was friendly, homey, and the food was great. We barely touched the hiking potential, and Heart Lake is right outside.
We haven't seen Johns Brook yet, but you can bet we're going to get there sometime this summer.