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Adventure Travel

After years of talking about it, my two best friends from college and I decided to finally go on a girls’ getaway in April 2016. We didn’t want to choose between an arduous adventure and a relaxing spa, so we made our way to Indian Springs, a resort in California’s Napa Valley, where we spent three dynamic days. The rolling vineyards offered ideal hiking terrain for challenging our bodies, while the natural hot springs provided the perfect pools for soothing our minds and muscles after long days on the trail.

In the mornings, we’d head out for a challenging trail run, tackling twisted roots on a winding route to an awe-inspiring vista.

In the afternoons, we submitted our bodies to volcanic-ash mud baths — a warm tub of thick goo and hot, geyser-fed mineral water —designed to wash away toxins and stresses.

Now, when pressures from work or family obligations build, I find myself tapping into the natural highs and natural baths of Napa at home by doing something exhilarating, like taking a long hike followed by a calming soak in my bathtub.

My friends and I aren’t alone in our quest for this sort of getaway. Increasingly, more travelers are pairing vigorous challenges, like whitewater kayaking or mountain biking with more restorative types of après activities — unique holistic-healing experiences that nurture a vacationer’s body and mind.

“As the world’s stress ratchets up, people, seemingly paradoxically, are rabidly seeking more voluntary stress and more intense physical and mental challenges — followed by doses of spa relaxation,” notes’s 2016 report on travel trends.

“A few years ago, people typically chose to do something outlandish or go to the spa,” says Nancy Harrison, a Fort Collins, Colo.–based adventure-travel expert. “Today, they can combine wildness and wellness, spending two-thirds of the day on a huge adrenaline rush, and then spending some time grounding and pampering in a positive way.”

There are biological reasons why travelers might find this vacation approach beneficial, says Kenneth Pelletier, MD, PhD, director of the Corporate Health Improvement Program at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. When people voluntarily choose to do something stressful and out of the ordinary — like bungee jumping or skydiving — the adrenaline rush brings their attention into the present moment because it requires total focus.

After the rush, Pelletier explains, the parasympathetic nervous system rebounds, brain waves slow, and blood pressure and cortisol levels drop. A massage or a meditation session during this interval can extend these benefits.

Indian Springs | Calistoga, Calif. 

Cost/amenities: The 17-acre “bohemian hideaway” features mineral pools, native gardens, and ponds. Accommodations include a collection of lodge rooms, historic cottages, bungalows, and Mission Revival buildings.

Rooms cost $239/night and up; spa treatments are from $80 to $290.

Mountain High

This yin–yang vacation approach works for several reasons, says Kirkland Shave, a life coach who serves as the program director and lead guide at Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat and Health Spa in British Columbia.

“People come in exhausted, with low power, but by the end of the week, their skin is tight, the water weight is run out of them, and they’re walking with more of a pep in their step. You can see their body posture and confidence, like they’ve regained 10 years of their life, and that gives them the incentive to go home and continue the lifelong journey of wellness.”

The secret, he explains, is “moving constantly and connecting to your body, working to bring life back into your heart, lungs, and all of your muscles. It’s about discovering your senses.”

Following these blood-pumping outings with some focused relaxation might just change how you approach your daily life.

“Habits are extremely important in your everyday life, and I took away just that — new habits to help me become a healthier, happier person,” says Jillian Hunter Thayer, a 29-year-old San Diego publicist who participated in Mountain Trek’s hiking and detox program. “The hardest part was detoxing from my normal, everyday habits, such as drinking coffee, eating bigger portions, and having sugar throughout the day.”

After exhilarating treks to waterfalls, glacier-fed rivers, and the tops of 8,000-foot peaks in the Selkirk Mountains and the Kootenay Rockies, Ali Lundberg, 36, of Los Angeles, found herself returning to reality with a detox treatment involving saunas, hot springs, stretching, and cleansing foods. “It was the perfect restart button,” she says.

In addition to providing opportunities to relax and reset habits, these dichotomous escapades teach guests how to expect the unexpected in certain situations — and appreciate the grace, beauty, and comfort in others — so they can better handle the unexpected when they get back home.

Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat and Health Spa | Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia

Cost/amenities: One- to two-week health-and-fitness retreats are limited to 16 guests and include room, gourmet meals, guided adventures, yoga, kinesiology, and even sleep counseling. Costs begin at $4,850 weekly; airfare not included.

Spirit Lifter

At Dunton Hot Springs, near Telluride, Colo., a restored 1800s ghost town serves as base camp for myriad outdoor activities.

“I enjoyed Dunton because there’s a lot to do for the whole family, including great mountain biking and relaxing hot springs,” says 50-something Cynnie Ogden of New York City.

A network of singletrack trails snakes through groves of aspen in the San Juan National Forest. The High Mountain Riding trip takes cyclists 17 miles along a ridge, while the West Fork to Winter Trail is an easier two-hour ride that loops along a gravel path.

Once out of the saddle, guests can soothe their weary muscles by plunging into a series of hot springs peppering the property, including a large indoor pool adjacent to a cooling tub and a steamy outdoor gathering area. The Well House Cabin, one of 13 separate accommodations at Dunton, even has a private hot spring and cold plunge for those looking to really retreat after a day of fat-tire fun. Guests can soak in the tub while gazing out at the peaks they’ve just crossed.

The rituals of recreation and relaxation — hot and cold — along with amenities and services like a yoga studio, gym, and onsite naturalist, cater to individuals, couples, and families looking to reenergize by taking charge of their fitness, fun, and well-being.

Other options for adventure at Dunton include fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking, mountaineering, rock climbing, and rafting among some of -Colorado’s finest 14,000-foot peaks — all followed by quiet time hanging out in the hot springs.

Dunton Hot Springs | Dunton, Colo. 

Cost/amenities: This rustic retreat offers authentically restored and hand-built log-cabin accommodations. Nightly rates from $600, all-inclusive; various winter and summer packages are also available.

Zipline to Downtime

In September 2016, Nathan Borchelt participated in a custom camping trip that began with a helicopter flight from New York City to the Hudson Valley and continued with ATV riding, before sitting down to nutritious, farm-to-table dinners.

“It was one of the most satisfying experiences ever: Taking off from the traffic-snarled streets of Manhattan in the chopper and then, while ATVing, feeling as if I was starring in my own slight version of Mad Max,” says Borchelt, a 44-year-old writer from Washington, D.C. “And then I appreciated the bounty of produce, learning how chefs work with local farmers to create meals with what they have in abundance.”

This particular adrenaline retreat requires no special skills: Guests are escorted from the helicopter rather than having to, say, parachute to the ground. But Hunter Mountain offers opportunities for testing the limits of thrill-seekers, who stay active by scrambling through rock canyons, ziplining, and tubing.

“I got an ab workout from holding my legs up on the ziplining cables,” says Ali Carr Troxell, 33, of Woodstock, N.Y. “Tubing was an all-body workout.”

But it was sitting down to enjoy leisurely dinners with new friends after a day of adventure when Troxell found herself unwinding in new ways. “I never enjoy a meal more than after a good adventure, and especially with interesting people who have a similar interest in the outdoors.”

Hunter Mountain | Hunter, N.Y. 

Costs/amenities: Guests can sleep in the area’s only Adirondack-style lodge or at a family-owned-and-operated boutique hotel; rates vary. Zipline tours offer summer adventure starting at $89 per person; in winter, adult two-day weekend lift tickets are $146 per person.

This appeared as “Wild and Well” in the May 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Yun Han Xu/EyeEM

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