In Alaska, people fly small planes just to pick up their mail. During your stay at Tordrillo, the same small planes will be dropping you off at remote fly-fishing holes and atop steep, deep ski descents, possibly – thanks to Alaska’s 24-hour summer daylight – in the same day. This 5,600-square-foot base camp lies at the foot of the Alaska Range and can be accessed only by a scenic, 70-mile floatplane trip from Anchorage. Fly fishermen get a chopper lift up the creek with an inflatable kayak and rod, and then get picked up downriver. The more adventurous get dropped onto the massive Triumvirate Glacier to paddleboard around the icebergs on Strandline Lake (as Laird Hamilton did during his stay). “You often wonder whether there has ever been a person there before,” says Mike Overcast, a Tordrillo guide.
After a dinner pulled straight from the Talachulitna River, a whiskey at the pounded-copper bar, and a soak in the lakeside cedar hot tub under the midnight sun, the hefty price tag will feel worth every penny [$1,300 per person plus activity costs for two days, one night; tordrillomountainlodge.com].
Red Reflet Ranch (Ten Sleep, Wyoming)
Arriving at the distinctly modern Red Reflet Ranch feels as though you’re stumbling upon the type of hideout you’d see in a James Bond flick. It’s that striking. The name Reflet (pronounced Ref-lay) is French for reflection, and each luxurious guest lodge is situated so that when you wake up in the morning, all you can see are the endless red rock canyons that surround the area. Besides being a luxurious and gorgeous resort to put up your boots for a few days, Red Reflet is at its essence a phenomenal place for guests to immerse themselves in all those rugged activities that are so quintessentially western. We couldn’t get enough of them.
It may be luxurious and fancy pants, but, to be clear, Red Reflet ain’t no Mickey Mouse dude ranch. This place is home to real cowboys doing backbreaking labor. To get a taste of what that means, we jumped into the mix of a cattle drive to try and help out. It turns out that moving a couple hundred stubborn Black Angus a few miles down a dusty road isn’t easy after all. Fortunately, a few hours of following their stinky, methane-spewing butts was blessedly cut short by the dinner bell. Arriving at the dinner table dusty and sweaty is encouraged – it means you earned your cowboy badge of honor. In a matter of moments, you forget all about your sore heinie as you sink your teeth into mouthwatering, locally-grown-and-raised food. Yet despite the delicious grub, the view as you chew is what it’s all about. Situated just above a lake, the giant open-air dining room makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.
We’d be remiss not to point out that one of the highlights of our experience is that it came with built-in buddies: owners Laurence and Bill Kaplan, who would give ‘The World’s Most Interesting Man‘ a run for his money. They’re both pilots (they fly in guests on their on-site airstrip), they’ve traveled the world, they speak multiple languages, and they run charitable organizations. Yet their true love is this ranch, and it’s apparent. The couple accompanied our team for every meal, came along on all the activities, and treated us like part of their family. Checking out was actually tough, because it felt more like saying goodbye – that’s saying something [from $1,300 for 3 nights 4 days, all-inclusive; red-reflet-ranch.net].
Triple Creek Ranch (Darby, Montana)
Tucked into a cozy corner of the Rockies in Western Montana, Triple Creek Ranch is a curious attraction in a decidedly rugged part of the country: an adults-only, high-end luxury experience (from a chi-chi Relais & Châteaux member, no less). You’d think that you were in a flashy ski resort as you drive up to the log cabin main lodge, but despite all the finery and elegance, at heart it’s truly a down-to-earth cattle ranch with real cowboys and real cows.
Montana is of course best known for two things: its capital-B Big Sky views and out-of-this-world fly-fishing. Since staring at the sky, no matter how gorgeous and Big, can tend to get a little boring after a while, we opted to test out the area’s other main attraction and grab a rod and cast a line into a nearby river. Within minutes, our guide had a gorgeous trout in hand, and we had to pause to admire its beauty before setting it free again. Before we’d barely had a chance to cast another line he had brought in another – turns out he’s a fly-fishing ninja. Despite our own pathetic record, we did rediscover that the magic of fly-fishing isn’t all in catching fish, though, but rather just being outside, forgetting about the hustle and bustle of daily life and slowing down to admire the beauty surrounding us. (At least that what we non-fish-catching ninjas say.)
Another exceptional perk of Triple Creek is that as an actual ranch, there are horses ready for the riding. And one activity offered to us, that ended up completely humbling one non horse-whispering writer, was what is called “team penning” (we’d never heard of it, but it’s all the rage on the luxury circuit). To the uninitiated, the idea is you jump on a horse and plow into a small herd of calves in an effort to remove certain or another of the little buggers. It’s kind of like blasting an eight ball into the balls on a pool table, but way harder. Our cowboy guide yells out certain numbers (their ears are tagged) and we clumsily maneuver our horses, pathetically trying to get these wily little calves to run into the pen. It’s incredibly frustrating but we can’t wipe the smiles of our faces. Much respect to the real cowboys who do this for a living.
For dinner we’re invited into the kitchen to witness the chef prepare a fresh trout. It’s like watching an artist create a masterpiece, simple yet very elegant. We almost didn’t want to eat it, it looked so pretty, but our taste buds took over and we tore into it like a pack of hyenas. With service like this who needs to be a fishing ninja? [from $950 per couple, completely all-inclusive; triplecreekranch.com]
The Point (Saranac Lake, NY)
A century ago the Carnegies, Vanderbilts, and other big-name New Yorkers used to escape from city mayhem to their private Adirondack “great camps“: elaborate log cabin complexes on wilderness estates that had buildings for various purposes, from providing sleeping quarters to storing sporting equipment. The Point was one such great camp, built from 1930-1933 as a home for William Avery Rockefeller (John D.’s nephew) by the genre’s leading architect of the time, William Distin. In 1980 new owners transformed the four-building timber-and-stone retreat into an 11-guest room lakefront sanctuary for high-paying company, but preserved the historic (and high-end) feel. Old leather books and big-game noggins line the honey-colored spruce- and white-pine walls, and windows look through towering birch and pine woods to Upper Saranac Lake. The lodge keepers still use old-man Rockefeller’s original fridge – a five-by-six-foot cooled cupboard with multiple doors. Authentic antiques from his time, including a buffet table and candelabras, grace other rooms.
The resort adjoins New York State’s 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. Commandeer a canoe from the boathouse and paddle the 4,725-acre lake or, come winter, cross-country ski its frozen surface. Ideal for the anyone who likes to wear a tux and feels comfortable sharing a communal table with Manhattan intellectuals, Texas CEOs, and other gentry at twice-weekly black-tie dinners.
More information: From $1,500 a night for two, including meals and drinks; Year-round, except for April [thepointresort.com].
Kasbah du Toubkal (Morocco)
Crowning a roadless bluff in Morocco’s High Atlas Range, this fortress-like inn, which was built in the 1940s as a summer home for a local ruling family, sits above a remote village on the flanks of North Africa’s highest peak, 13,665-foot Mount Toubkal. Restored in the 1990s in the spirit of a Berber hospitality center, the 11-room inn has carved doors, exposed-beam ceilings, and a Turkish bath. Guests hike in (a 10-minute trek from Imlil); mules carry luggage.
In the three-bedroom Garden House, a 40-foot glass wall brings guests face to face with the mighty Mount Toubkal. In terms of outdoor activities, Kasbah’s local guides lead treks into the surrounding High Atlas, including two- and three-day Toubkal ascents. It’s ideal for anyone who seeks an exotic – but refreshingly casual – off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Chances are you’ve seen a park lodge patterned after this one. Architect Robert Reamer broke from the traditional hotels of his day (Victorian, clapboard, frilly) to create a palatial log-and-stone building whose elegant rusticity has come to define the “parkitecture” of America’s park lodges. Standing seven stories above its namesake geyser, the 386-room Old Faithful Inn originally opened its doors in 1904 to Northern Pacific Railway passengers seeking a cushy landing pad in the country’s most famous wilds.
Four levels of balconies overlook the 76-foot-high massive stone fireplace and chimney (built from 500 tons of local rhyolite) that dominate the lobby beneath a 92-foot log ceiling. This is the ideal place for the guy who wants the classic first-time Yellowstone visit his dad had. Here’s a tip: Outwit the hordes by catching a pre-breakfast eruption of your geyser neighbor, then sign up for a half-day hike with a park ranger to explore the backcountry’s lesser known geothermal wonders, waterfalls, and bison stomping grounds.
Teetering on the edge of Africa’s most famous caldera, Ngorongoro features stone-and-thatch suites that were conceived by architect Silvio Rech and designer Chris Browne to evoke the mud huts of a traditional Maasai village. Unique is a Versailles-like interior (think chandeliers and freestanding porcelain baths), which eschews the camplike theme of typical safari lodges. Out in the wild, pot lions, elephants, and other Big Fivers abound during the lodge’s daily game-viewing drives across the crater’s 12-mile-wide floor. The ideal place to stay if you want a front-row seat to one of the most wildlife-dense regions in Africa.
More information: $1,000 a night, including meals and excursions; Year-round [ngorongorocrater.com].
Hotel Salto Chico, Patagonia
Chilean architects Germán del Sol and José Cruz employed varying ceiling heights, curving stairs, and angled walls to create a minimalist all-white lodge that complements its stark Patagonian location among 9,000-foot granite peaks, glacial fields, and gray-blue lagoons. Every one of the 49 rooms has mountain, lake, or waterfall views.
In the Bath House, three walls of windows surround an indoor pool that overlooks the frigid Lake Pehoé below, giving swimmers the illusion of a Patagonian plunge. Nearby, adventure abounds in Torres del Paine, Chile’s 600,000-acre national park. Make sure to hike around the base of the Cuernos del Paine or kayak the Serrano River. This is the ideal place for the guy who longs to see Patagonia’s savage peaks and finds comfort in clutter-free quarters.
More information: From $3,760 for four nights, including meals, activities, and airport pickup. [explora.com]
King Pacific Lodge (British Columbia, Canada)
The floating lodge is not uncommon in British Columbia, whose western coast is fringed with thousands of densely forested islands and more than 16,000 miles of shoreline. For decades fishermen have followed salmon runs from floating shacks on rafts, and loggers still access remote swaths of woods from their barge-top mobile homes. But King Pacific is the grandest floating lodge of all.
Vancouver-based Creekside Architects helped design the 17-room, 20,000-square-foot lodge – which was constructed in 1999 from native pine, fir, cedar, and stone – to feel airy and open, with soaring atriums and oversize windows. In the lodge’s Great Room, red cedar walls – accented by massive pine columns and fir beams – and floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of KPL’s utterly wild setting: a placid harbor surrounded by endless waves of spruce, cedar, and fir forest.
Cast to salmon on unnamed streams, sign up for heli-hiking forays into the Great Bear, or sea kayak pristine shorelines. If it’s September, join a guided trek to look for the rare white kermode (or “spirit”) bear. Every May a tugboat pulls the navy barge on which KPL stands to the tangled shores of Princess Royal Island, where it remains tethered for the summer. The uninhabited, 568,000-acre island lies smack in the heart of the recently protected Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact tract of temperate rain forest on the planet. Miles from the nearest town, KPL ferries in all guests on a floatplane.
More information: From $4,800 for three nights, including flights from Vancouver, meals, and activities; May through September [kingpacificlodge.com].
Bay of Fires Lodge, Tasmania
It takes a 14-mile, two-day hike to reach this 10-room coastal hideout that was built in 1999. Everything at the lodge is sustainable, solar-powered, and eco-friendly: Green architect Ken Latona set the lodge long and low amid casuarina pines to keep all man-made presence to a minimum on this wild stretch of beach in Tasmania’s Mount William National Park. Take a kayak to the unspoiled shoreline and dip into its numerous secluded coves. If you want a real escape that leaves no trace, without roughing it, then this is the place for you.
More information: From $2,125 for three nights, including meals, gear and guides; Late October through April [bayoffires.com.au].
The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island (GA)
Accessible only by boat, this 10,000-acre private barrier island is a rare example of a virgin maritime live-oak forest. Jump on a beach cruiser – modified to carry fishing rods – and pedal 40 miles of trails and seven miles of beach; then enjoy a traditional Lowcountry seafood boil[from $550; littlestsimonsisland.com].
Dunton Hot Springs (Dolores, CO)
The 19th-century gold and silver miners who built – and later abandoned – this 800-acre cabin community nestled at just under 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains had it good: 103-degree mineral springs, trout fishing, classic Rocky Mountain views. And nothing’s changed: German hotelier Christoph Henkel restored this ghost town in the ’90s, retrofitting the 12 hand-hewn cabins with old rifles and buckskin bedspreads and turning the old saloon into a place where guests – never more than 44 – enjoy free-range local lamb and wine around a communal dining table.
More information: Rent a cabin or luxury tent with meals included [from $350 a person]; or rent the entire town [$19,000; duntonhotsprings.com].
Lake Placid Lodge (Lake Placid, NY)
This iconic rustic getaway for East Coast urbanites is a couple miles down the road from the village of Lake Placid and Whiteface Ski Resort, but it remains the only luxury accommodation on the lake in the heart of the Adirondacks, and feels completely cut off. Cabins sit just two feet from shore, with picture windows framing Whiteface Mountain and 6 million acres of birch and maple wilderness. Explore it by canoe or on the Jackrabbit Trail – with a staff naturalist, or Maggie, the resident golden retriever who knows the surrounding trails better than anyone [from $475; lakeplacidlodge.com].
The Sequoia High Sierra Camp (Giant Sequoia National Monument, California)
It used to be that hikers wanting a shower, hearty meal, and warm bed in the Sierra backcountry had to win the lottery – literally – for a spot at a Yosemite High Sierra Camps. Then Tennessee businessman Burr Hughes bought 40 acres of red fir and lodgepole pine from Giant Sequoia National Monument and five years ago opened this private camp perched 4,000 feet above Kings Canyon. The concept is similar, only cushier: canvas bungalows with plush king beds, cabernet and lamb shanks, and views of two national parks (Sequoia and Kings Canyon).
At 8,500 feet, the camp is reached by a three-quarter-mile hike in from the access road. And from 10,365-foot Mitchell Peak – a three-mile ascent that Hughes calls one of the best hikes in the West – you get a stunning panorama across to the highest peaks of the Sierra, which will make you feel like you actually did win the lottery [from $250; sequoiahighsierracamp.com].
Phantom Ranch (Grand Canyon, Arizona)
Reached by foot, mule, or river, this mostly dorm-style retreat is the only lodging below the Canyon’s rim. Trek to Roaring Springs waterfalls, tackle Class III rapids on the Colorado, or hike to Yaki Point for the best sunset in the entire Canyon.
More information: Reservations are available 13 months in advance and are not available online. [from $44; grandcanyonlodges.com].
AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch (Bretton Woods, NH)
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center at Crawford Notch is exactly what most of us are looking for in a wilderness lodge: a simple place to rest up after big days in the backcountry. Eight trailheads fan out into the rugged White Mountain National Forest, and every guest has access to the well-stocked L.L. Bean gear room. Plus, you can learn some skills while you’re there: Staff teaches year-round outdoor courses, from map and compass to “mountain leadership” [from $80; outdoors.org].
Trout Point Lodge (Kemptville, Nova Scotia, Canada)
Locals call this corner of Nova Scotia the “empty quarter.” Situated at the confluence of the Tusket and Napier Rivers, it’s surrounded by the 400-square-mile Tobeatic Wilderness Area – one of the largest protected areas in Eastern Canada – and the night sky here is so dark that an astronomer is on staff at Trout Point to guide guests through the stars. But the real charms of this cozy, 100-acre forest retreat are earthbound: the white spruce log and chiseled granite main lodge, surrounded by water on three sides, where a Celtic guitarist and fiddler jam beside a roaring stone fireplace; renowned Cajun and Acadian cooking classes (learn some smoking and curing techniques); and naturalist-led kayak and hiking trips through old-growth boreal forest (ask about Billy’s Hill, a six-hour paddle-hike-combo) [from $200 a night; troutpoint.com].
Spring Creek Ranch (Jackson, Wyoming)
This thousand-acre wildlife sanctuary, 1,000 feet above Jackson Hole, abuts Wyoming’s largest river, the Snake, and the fly-fishing is world-class. After a long day angling for cutthroat trout, stop by the four-star Granary restaurant for elk tenderloin, and for floor-to-ceiling views of the Grand Teton [from $175; springcreekranch.com].
Amangiri (Canyon Point, Utah)
Amangiri’s stunning bunker-like buildings blend so perfectly into the surrounding sandstone mesas and stratified rock pillars, you’ll be quickly convinced that soaking in a pool wrapped around a rock escarpment is how wilderness ought to be experienced. But after lounging on the rooftop of your duplex suite, hike a three-mile loop trail to explore a cave with ancient petroglyphs, or kayak up Lone Rock slot canyon on Lake Powell, a 20-minute drive away. If you want to explore the more beaten path in Bryce, Zion, or the Grand Canyon – all within a two-hour drive – take the resort’s complimentary BMW 650i convertible [suites from $1,050; amanresorts.com].