Need to shake things up? One of these budget-friendly adventures should do the trick
1. Troncones, Mexico
Try surfing: Even beginners can tackle the swell at the Inn at Manzanillo Bay, a secluded spot a half-hour from the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo airport. You can also find water calm enough to test your balance on one of the inn’s stand-up paddleboards.
The laid-back hideout has eight ocean-view thatched-roof bungalows and two suites. And, because the owner is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, the trip’s worth it simply for the food, like the roasted poblano-chile soup and tequila-glazed yellowfin tuna.
Also, a handcrafted reposado tequila is made just for guests. From $138 U.S.; +52-755-553-2884. –David LaHuta
2. Yellowstone National Park
Track wolves: Winter is wolf time in Yellowstone. Packs of a dozen or more of the animals often stalk elk within full view of the plowed road between Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, and the park’s northeast entrance. Their howls sound especially chilling in the snowy, uncrowded landscape.
You can go on a three-day wolf-watching tour with experts from the Yellowstone Association or drive the road unguided.
Keep your binoculars handy. You’ll feel a burst of adrenaline when a pack lopes into view: long legs, full coats, intense stares, all business.
Elk Horn Lodge, in Cooke City, Montana, is comfortably close. Rooms from $89; 406/838-2332. Tours from $635; through Feb 28; 866/439-7375. $25 park entrance fee. –Chris Woolston
3. Mt. Hood, OR
Leave the road behind: The only way to reach the five secluded Summit Meadow Cabins near the frozen shore of Trillium Lake is to snowshoe or ski.
The coziest is the Falls Creek A-Frame, where a fire blazes in the potbelly stove and the snow’s usually so deep that you have to go up to the loft to see the namesake cascade. From $165; two-night minimum; 503/272-3494. –Ted Katauskas
4. Olympic National Park
Sleep in a rain forest: Washington’s Lake Quinault Lodge gets 12 feet of rain per year. And that’s a good thing, believe it or not.
Learn the secrets of the rain forest along the startlingly green Rainforest Nature Trail, then plop down in front of the lobby’s massive fireplace, where you’ll have dripping views of lawn, lake, and forest. From $89; 866/297-7367. –Jim McCausland
5. Near Fairbanks
Soak under the northern lights: You could trek to the Arctic Circle to see the aurora borealis. But Chena Hot Springs Resort―on 440 wooded acres about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks― is so much closer. Plus, the heated, glass-walled viewing room lets you watch the world’s greatest light show without freezing your rump.
Warm up in the resort’s 105° natural hot springs, then grab a cocktail amid the frozen life-size sculptures at the ice bar, built with 1,000 tons of snow and ice and kept at 20° year-round.
In a place like this, even an appletini, served in a hand-carved ice martini glass, becomes an adventure. From $189; 907/451-8104. –D.L.