Nature’s summertime delights are now in full swing. Extended daylight encourages rambling hikes. Refreshing breezes rush past bikers coasting down scenic, winding descents. Warm water beckons swimmers and paddlers alike. And seasonal fruits and veggies are at their mouthwatering peak. Don’t let the sunniest of seasons pass you by. To help you plan an easy, long-weekend escape, we’ve suggested a few distinct, all-American natural playgrounds—one for every style of traveler.
Out ’n’ About Treesort
The scene: It’s hard to imagine getting closer to nature than sleeping in a tree—even when you’re comfortably set up in one of Out ’n’ About’s whimsical, cabin-style tree houses. Owner Michael Garnier built the first arboreal aerie in 1990 and has since labored with love to create nine more. The rustically furnished tree abodes range from Swiss Family (a four-person “complex” with adult and children’s quarters connected by a swinging bridge) to the Suite (a spread that boasts a full bathroom with claw-foot tub). At 37 feet, Treezebo is the tallest perch, accessible only by the Mountain View Treeway, a complex pathway consisting of staircases, platforms, and two suspension bridges. All the tree houses are heated and some have sinks and toilets; there’s a full-bathroom “facilitree” on the ground.
Green factor: Garnier sees tree houses as a way to live in living trees without having to cut them down. He uses salvaged lumber and wood from thinned trees for most projects. In 1996, he founded the Treehouse Institute, which teaches enthusiasts ecofriendly methods for engineering, designing, and building tree homes.
Get outside: On the property, be sure to climb up and clip into a harness that will allow you to zoom between two fir trees on a 650-foot zip line. Out ’n’ About also offers lessons on how to climb trees and rappel down them ($25). Or go horseback riding ($30 per person) and, during warmer months, rafting on the Illinois, Smith, and Klamath rivers ($75 per person). Out ’n’ About has its own nonchlorinated swimming pool, bathhouse pavilion, and open kitchen with barbecues.
Healthy eats: Breakfast on fresh-baked muffins and pastries in the open kitchen. For dinner, head to Wild River Brewing and Pizza Company (541.592.3558) for sandwiches, salads, and pizzas with Left Coast toppings such as avocado and alfalfa sprouts.
Trip-planning basics: 541.592.2208; www.treehouses.com. Rates range from $100 to $180 per night, with full breakfast. Takilma is a five-hour drive from Portland, seven hours from San Francisco.
—Melissa B. Williams
Arbor House, an environmental inn
The scene: Getting back to nature by booking a stay at a downtown inn may seem counterintuitive. Unless, of course, the city in question is liberal, outdoorsy Madison, and you’ve booked a cozy room at the eco-award-winning Arbor House. With Madison’s downtown area strategically built along a half-mile isthmus between two lakes, the inn’s location offers outdoor enthusiasts more than 100 miles of biking and hiking trails and five nearby lakes for canoeing. Sample the best of both worlds during your visit: Alternate long walks and leisurely paddles with in-room massages and sauna and steam baths at the Arbor House.
Green factor: Innkeepers John and Cathie Imes have combined their environmental passion with hospitality, offering guests organic breakfasts and an especially sound night’s sleep, in a setting that proves luxury doesn’t have to be environmentally unfriendly. A historic tavern and stagecoach stop renovated to include a green-built annex, the eight-room inn incorporates resource-saving elements such as recycled Douglas fir timbers, nontoxic building materials, low-flow plumbing, and energy-efficient appliances. Guests will also appreciate ecoconscious amenities, such as organic linens and towels, wool carpet, and even an in-room power shut off switch, which reduces exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Get outside: Arbor House is located just across the street from the University of Wisconsin’s 1,280-acre arboretum, a playground for walking and running in the summer and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Guests receive a free canoe pass for spring-fed Lake Wingra, within walking distance of the property. Rent mountain bikes, then drive a half-hour to Kettle Moraine State Park for a gorgeous day of off-road riding (www.dnr.state.wi.us). On Wednesday evenings in summer, jazz, blues, reggae, and rock bands play at the state capitol and Monona Terrace (www.mononaterrace.com).
Healthy eats: Arbor House weekend breakfasts include zucchini and potato pancakes served with organic coffee and tea. For lunch or dinner, head to Capitol Square’s Harvest, where the inspirational American and French menu features locally grown, organic produce, as well as naturally raised beef and lamb (www.harvest-restaurant.com). And don’t miss the huge Saturday farmers’ market on Capitol Square (www.dcfm.org).
Trip-planning basics: 608.238.2981; www.arbor-house.com. Weekend room rates start at $125 per night, including breakfast. Madison is located 142 miles from Chicago and 80 miles from Milwaukee. Most major airlines fly into Dane County Regional airport. For more information, visit www.visitmadison.com.
On the Loose Expeditions Yurts
The scene: On a 150-acre hilltop working farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains, two Mongolian-style yurts glow like lanterns against the night sky. You can reach them from Burlington in just 35 minutes, then gather around a wood-burning stove to plan your weekend’s expeditions in the surrounding conifer and maple forest. As you and your yurt mates sit down to a candlelit dinner inside the spacious wood-and-canvas dome, you may wonder why anyone would choose to brave the great outdoors in a tiny tent. Owners and adventure travel guides Beth Whiting and Bruce Hennessey see their airy, high-ceilinged structures as earth-friendly base camps for nature lovers who’d rather not rough it.
Green factor: Mongol nomads originally designed these circular tents to be portable and weatherproof. Increasingly popular modern versions feature eco-innovations, such as insulated pine floors that make them energy efficient year-round. Because they are temporary structures without foundations, impact on the land is minimal. And waste from the adjacent composting outhouse fertilizes the farm’s hay fields.
Get outside: The farm’s hiking paths connect to two of Vermont’s most celebrated trails: Long Trail (www.greenmountainclub.org), which runs 270 miles across the state, and the 300-mile Catamount Trail (www.catamounttrail.org), which is North America’s longest cross-country ski trail. Whether you prefer a gentle day hike or a rugged peak climb, keep an eye out for wild turkeys, deer, and moose. Cyclists have their choice of the surrounding rolling country roads. Birders should head for nearby Green Mountain Audubon Nature Center (www.vt.audubon.org).
Healthy eats: Most visitors pack in their own food—the yurts have propane stoves, cookware, utensils, and dishes. You can pick up natural groceries at Mountain Greens Market in Bristol (802.453.8538), 15 minutes away. By special arrangement, your hosts will do the cooking.
Trip-planning basics: 800.688.1481; www.otloose.com. Rates are $135 per night per yurt; bunk beds sleep up to ten. Bring your own sleeping bag or bedding.