Photo courtesy of Arizona Outback Adventures
Dive Clear Cenotes
Ginnie Springs Outdoors is a Valhalla for the world's least neurotic group: cave divers. Those with open-water certification can explore the Ballroom, a massive limestone cavern that plunges 55 feet before entering the Ginnie Springs cave system ($30). For beginners there's an introductory scuba course ($99); on-site instructors also teach open-water and cave diving. Ginnie Springs Outdoors permits camping along 2.5 miles of the Santa Fe River beneath live oaks, sweet gums, maples and dogwoods ($18; ginniespringsoutdoors.com).
Hole Up, Up High
Historic High Hampton Inn (circa 1922) had never stayed open in December until this year ($149; highhamptoninn.com). But why not? With days in the 50s and 60s and 1,400 acres of private, hikable terrain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the conditions are great and the setting superb. Eight short trails fan out from the resort; two of them get you up high--Rock Mountain (4,380 feet) and Chimney Top (4,618 feet)--for amazing views of the Cashiers Valley and Whiteside Mountain (4,900 feet).
Skate the Wilds
Two-mile-long Lake Morey in Vermont's Green Mountains is the nexus of the wild-skating movement--a trend that forsakes Zamboni-manicured ice for the real thing on real lakes in real air. "It feels like you're flying," says Jamie Hess of the Nordic Skater shop in Norwich ($20 rentals; nordicskater.com). Book a room at Lake Morey Resort at the south end of the lake and you can skate right out the door--day or night ($100; lakemoreyresort.com).
Kite a Frozen Lake
Ten thousand frozen lakes and bracing winter winds are a formula for snowkiting bliss--if you know how to snowkite. Take care of that small detail with Twin Cities--based LAKAWA School of Kiteboarding ($300 a day; windancing.com). Head honcho Tighe Belden promises a learning curve that's easier "than kiteboarding on water because there's no planing and no getting dunked." Belden's crew talks you through with radio-equipped helmets; snowmobiles assist those inadvertently bound for North Dakota.
Rent Green Acres
A perfect antidote to work or holiday (or any) stress: Pack up a loved one and a pooch and head for a log cabin on a pet-friendly farm in the Ozarks. Rock Eddy is a true retreat, 12 miles from the nearest small town (Dixon) on 150 acres--"300 if you ironed it out," says owner Tom Corey--in the Ozark Hills of south-central Missouri ($100 for one of four cabins and cottages; rockeddy.com). Pump your water. Spark up a kerosene lamp. Settle in with a book by a fire. Do it again tomorrow.
What kind of self-respecting East Texas thicket lacks annoying insects? That's Big Thicket National Preserve in winter, when the days are dry and pleasant (60s and 70s). The place is a crossroads of habitats ranging from swamp to forest to desert. Canoe an 8.5-mile stretch of Village Creek between county roads 418 and 327 under cypress and tupelo canopies. It's dark, green and as free of people as bugs ($25 for a canoe and shuttle; Piney Woods Outfitters; canoetexas.com).