San Juan Mountains
Get an Escort, California
Tired of long lines and dull groomers? Duck out of the traffic bound for Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadows ski resorts on State Route 89 and turn west onto Cabin Creek Road. There, your chariot -- a Bombardier snowcat from Pacific Crest Snowcats ($300; www.pacificcrestsnowcats.com) -- awaits to take you on a day of backcountry bliss. Within 15 minutes you'll be deposited atop an 8,000-foot-high (2,438-meter-high) ridgeline and a guide from PCS will escort you to the bottom, some 1,200 vertical feet (366 vertical meters) below. Repeat up to ten times.
Explore Off-Trail, California
The Sonoran region of southern California is a botanical garden, desert style. Just across Interstate 10 from Joshua Tree National Park, barrel cactus, bristly cholla, and many-tentacled ocotillo cover the landscape as though planted by a zealous xeriscaper. For a weekend of desert exploration, drive to Corn Springs Campground, a Bureau of Land Management site in a grove of California fan palms in the Chuckwalla Mountains Wilderness. From there, Steve Tabor, president of the hiking group Desert Survivors, recommends scaling Pilot Mountain, a straightforward scramble on granite. Contact the BLM's Palm Springs South Coast Field Office for maps (www.blm.gov/ca/palmsprings), and don't forget the H20.
See the Light, Washington
The benefits of a Northwest winter are lost in the murk near Seattle. But up at Mountain Springs Lodge, in the Cascade Range, they're crystal clear -- as in piled high with snow and bathed in sunlight. The resort, a collection of log and timber-frame structures arrayed in a high-mountain meadow, is surrounded by jagged 6,000-foot (1,829-meter) peaks. Book a no-frills two-bedroom cabin with a river-rock fireplace and a private hot tub ($250; www.mtsprings.com) and set out to cross-country ski the nearby 300-mile (483 kilometer) trail system.
Escape From Mickey, Florida
Florida's wildest primates aren't in Disney's Animal Kingdom; they're on the Ocklawaha River, the eminently canoeable waterway that courses for 110 un-Disneyfied miles (177 un-Disneyfied kilometers) in Ocala National Forest. To see the Rhesus monkeys, descendants of primates released by a tour-boat in the 1930s, paddle 18 miles (29 kilometers) from Silver River to Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost & Resort ($95 for canoe rental and shuttle; www.outpostresort.com). "We've also got alligators, thousands of birds -- from ibis to eagles -- river otters, and needle-nose gar up to five feet long," says Outpost owner Joe Tompkins.
Go to the Dogs, Maine
Useful advice when piloting a team of sled dogs through the frozen woods of western Maine: Hang on tight. "Fall off and let go, and the dogs will keep going," says Polly Mahoney, owner of Mahoosuc Guide Service. A team of Yukon huskies will be at your beck and haw on a three-day point-to-point trek across Umbagog and Richardson lakes with Mahoosuc ($850; www.mahoosuc.com). Sleds cover five to ten miles a day, moving between preestablished (and heated) canvas-tent camps in full view of the impressive Mahoosuc Range and New Hampshire's far-off 6,288-foot (1,916-meters) Mount Washington.
Cruise the Borscht Beltway, New York
Laugh all you want, but guide Bob Hostetter knows that the Catskill Mountains are capable of yielding long, swooping powder runs for anyone willing to earn their turns. Through Catskill Backcountry Ski Tours ($125 for a daylong trip; www.catskill-bcski.com), Hostetter changes preconceptions by taking skiers off-piste in a range better known for punch lines than powder. "Even clients who heli-ski in the Canadian Rockies are amazed at the consistency of the snow and the fall line," says Hostetter. Before heading out, skiers are issued climbing skins and ski-touring equipment.
Ford a Sky-High Canyon, Alabama
The Little River splits open Lookout Mountain like a loaf of Stroehmann's Buttertop bread. The resulting canyon -- overhung and clogged with house-size boulders -- is little explored and singularly stunning. To access it, hike the DeSoto Scout Trail from one of 22 primitive campsites in DeSoto State Park ($5 a night; www.alapark.com). Keep the adrenaline pumping on day two by climbing the sandstone walls near Cherokee Rock Village with True Adventure Sports ($32 for a half-day session; www.trueadventuresports.com).
Join the Frozen Chosen, Minnesota
Park the car on State Route 61, hike eight minutes up the frozen Manitou River, and enter a crystal chamber. Ice fangs bristle from the mouths of caves, and buttresses of water stand frozen mid-ooze. "It's an ice-climbing paradise with four major routes between 65 and 80 feet (20 and 24 meters) long," says Pat Mackin, who guides weekend trips for St. Paul's Vertical Endeavors ($279; www.verticalendeavors.com). Climbers bunk at Bluefin Bay ($169; www.bluefinbay.com) on the north shore of Lake Superior.
Stop and Smell the Loblolly, Texas
Does a loblolly pine smell more like rosemary or frankincense? It's a subject worth contemplating on the Lost Pines Trail, in Bastrop State Park southeast of Austin. Where the 8.5-mile (14-kilometer) trail dips into creek beds, the loblollies achieve impressive girth. "They can reach five feet in diameter, and the sound of the wind through the needles makes it feel like you're in the mountains," says Todd McClanahan, assistant park superintendent. Camp anywhere -- just leave a hundred feet (30 meters) between your tent and water sources ($10; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/).
Overnight in Patagonia, Arizona
Old mountain bikers don't die, they retire to Patagonia in the Apache Highlands area of southeast Arizona. The arty enclave is a knobhead's paradise, with tons of challenging trails, varied terrain, nonstop sunshine, and a good cup of joe. Set up camp at a lakeside site in Patagonia Lake State Park (www.azparks.gov), then ride 15 miles (24 kilometers) of the Arizona Trail from the post office in town to Canelo Pass. To the west, the 38-mile (61-kilometer) Kentucky Camp Trail, a figure-eight loop tagged as "epic" by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, climbs high into the Santa Rita Mountains. Get your morning jolt at Gathering Grounds (520-394-2097), then toast the end of a successful day over a wood-fired pie at Velvet Elvis Pizza (www.velvetelvispizza.com ).
Get Uplifted in the San Juans, Colorada
On a three-day, three-night ski safari with Telluride Helitrax (www.helitrax.net), you experience every skier's dream, again and again. A Bell 407 helicopter whisks four-person groups to landing zones on ridgelines and summits as high as 13,700 feet (4,176 meters) in the San Juan Mountains. At your ski tips spreads a flawless carpet of dry powder. Around you rise the rocky peaks of the highest range in Colorado. Telluride Helitrax guarantees a minimum of 18 runs totaling at least 36,000 vertical feet (10,873 vertical meters) during your stay. Everything about the trip -- the exquisite lodging at the Inn at Lost Creek and the fine dining in Telluride -- is over the top, including the price tag: $3,495 per person for three days.
Dodge Powder Poachers, Idaho
Think of Caribou Mountain Lodge as a private mid-mountain ski resort. Above the chalet, powder runs spill off Caribou Peak into bowls and glades. Below it, sweeping lines run through generously spaced hemlocks. At this resort, however, the only lift to the top is your own two legs. The handsome two-story lodge sleeps ten and includes a full kitchen and sauna ($900 for three days; www.cariboumountainlodge.com). And don't worry about anyone nabbing your powder stash: The seven-mile ski in from the nearest road (your luggage is ferried by snowmobile) eliminates competition. "Even if it hasn't snowed in three weeks," says owner Mark Remmetter, "you can often still ski powder nonstop for three days."