Over the years, I’ve done my fair share of traveling. Said travels have included stays in top-notch luxury resorts with spas and swimming pools, five-star restaurants, and rooms boasting full kitchens, king-sized beds, and marble bathtubs big enough for two adults to share. I’ve also completed many a multi-day trek during which I slept in a damp tent, dined on CLIF BARs and pre-packed camping food, and bathed in rivers or rainfall, if at all.
If I had to choose one category, luxury or roughing it, I’d go with the latter. The mountains, woods, and water call to me in a way wine pairings and spas never could. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a multiple-course meal followed by an evening swim followed by plush Turkish cotton robes and a nightcap cocktail back in the suite. What I’ve discovered first-hand over the past few months is that there’s really no reason to choose between the two, not when there are top=quality, fully appointed resorts adjacent to abundant opportunities for outdoor adventure.
These three East Coast resorts are the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts who also like to enjoy the finer things in life.
The Perfect Resort for the Outdoorsy Family
It’s genuinely hard to make a “the best thing about RiverWalk” kind of statement because there really are so many highlights to this stunning resort and to the beautiful swath of New Hampshire’s White Mountains that surround it. RiverWalk is a unique property in that most of its many studios and suites (the resort is currently housed in one large, six-story building, but is expanding to include three more buildings over the next few years) are privately owned yet available to the public for rental. RiverWalk staff clean, stock, and maintain rooms when their owners are not staying there, so guests can count on a perfect stay, while owners return to a clean, crisp property when they visit. Some people stay in their suites for ski season, others for summer, and some for a few weeks every few months.
My family stayed for three perfect nights, during which we hiked, swam, spelunked, rode an 80-person gondola to the summit of Cannon Mountain, dined at the La Vista Italian restaurant built into the ground floor of RiverWalk, toured the on-site Seven Birches winery (and tasted their many fine wines, some of which winemaker Mark Laclair makes using local berries), played old-school arcade games, prepared meals in our in-suite full kitchen, and more. RiverWalk is located in Lincoln, New Hampshire, a town packed with family-friendly fun stuff, including mini golf, a ropes course, ice cream shops, and plenty of dining and retail. Beyond the town, the pristine White Mountains offer hikes and biking in the summer and great ski opportunities in winter. And don’t forget about fall foliage, either.
The resort, spa, winery and tasting room, and ground-floor restaurant are all independently owned, yet work in close partnership with RiverWalk, a business model that has attracted top talent to this fast-growing property. The unique ownership/rental model allows RiverWalk to offer multiple different kinds of rooms and suites, from studios to 3,000-plus square foot multi-room options big enough for large families to share and large groups to rent. For the family or group where different people are interested in different things, the property is perfectly designed and situated. The gang can split up, with some heading for the hills and others the poolside, or everyone can stick together, enjoying a hike through valleys and caves and past waterfalls in the morning and then gathered around a bonfire back at RiverWalk — s’mores kits provided — for lower impact enjoyment that evening. Oh, and part of the pool converts to an ice rink in the winter; the other part is heated and remains open all year long.
For Couples Who Take Relaxing as Seriously as Adventure
The Emerson Resort & Spa is nestled in a valley of the Catskills, near the base of several gently rising green mountains and just above the rushing Esopus Creek. During a recent stay, I got in a couple hours of trail running in the nearby hills, went on several family hikes, and spent plenty of time hanging around the hotel and enjoying its many fine amenities. But the next time “we” go back to the Emerson, my wife and I have decided to travel sans kids. Because to truly enjoy this fine resort, a little self-indulgence is in order. The full-service spa at the Emerson Resort offers everything you’d expect from a well-appointed facility, including salon services and couple massages. The Woodnotes Grille provides sumptuous meals largely designed around local foods, while the bar has a great tap selection and all sorts of handcrafted cocktails, such as the resort’s original Bourbon Milk Punch (a wild fruit-based concoction, made with — deep breath now — lemons, pineapple, coriander seeds, cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, Don Papa Rum, Smith & Cross Rum, Gosling’s Rum, Absinthe, Batavia Arrack, Russell’s Reserve Bourbon, Cognac, Orange Bitters, brewed green tea, and whole milk).
The rooms are appointed to a T, complete with gas fireplaces, rain-head showers, private decks/balconies, and, of course, big, comfortable beds. Sure, it’s a good place to bring kids (they do have the “World’s Largest Kaleidoscope,” a contraption built into a silo) and there are kid-friendly activities like a scavenger hunt, lawn games, a playground, and more. However, the on-site offerings call out for adult enjoyment and, beyond the resort, there are a handful of activities best suited to grownups or older kids. These include whitewater tubing on the Esopus Creek (which is river-sized, really); Rail Explorers, a rail-mounted biking adventure where pedal power moves you along a railway; fly fishing; zip lining; and skiing in the winter. There is also the Zen Mountain Monastery just down the road from the Emerson, a temple that welcomes all looking for peace, quiet, and reflection, and a place well worth a visit if you need to recharge for a while.
High-End Everything a Five-Minute Drive from Pristine Wilderness
Nothing about the Valley Rock Inn is done to the eights. It’s all nines, in other words. (The phrase “to the nines” emerged in 18th-century Britain and originally referred to sartorial resplendence, FYI.) From a restaurant with food befitting the finest spots in New York City, which happens to be located just 30 miles away from Valley Rock, to a fitness center offering spin classes and yoga along with all the weights and machines you’d expect, to guest houses that are both larger and lovelier than most any houses I’d ever seen, this veritable luxury compound in Sloatsburg, New York, will be a pleasure to visit and a sadness to leave once fully open and operational.
I had the opportunity to visit Valley Rock Inn late last year during one of its design phases and already the property was stunning and the amenities superlative. Fountains bubbled beside the dining tables in the garden; the market was stocked with local pies, butters, and other delicacies; and the guest facilities were not only well-designed, but thoughtfully decorated as well. (No surprise, as developer Michel Bruno spent much of his life buying and selling high-end antiques.) When open later in 2018, the Inn will feature more guest rooms, a huge pool, and a shop where guests can rent bikes (including electric bikes) and rent or buy various outdoor gear and apparel — items perfect for use in the immediately adjacent Harriman State Park. Harriman is home to more than 30 lakes and ponds, 200-plus miles of hiking trails, fishing and camping opportunities, and so much more. You could spend days exploring the park’s 47,500 acres of wilderness, or you could enjoy a great day hike and then head back to the Valley Rock Inn, easily in biking distance of the park, for a cocktail before dinner, a multi-course meal, then some lounging by the pool or fire pit.
Looking to go further afield for your adventurous, though luxurious accommodations? Try vacationing off the grid.
Photos marked with The Manual “M” by Steven John. Others images are courtesy of the corresponding hotels.
- 5 Amazing All-inclusive Resorts for Anyone Who Hates All-Inclusive Resorts
- Bend, Oregon is the West Coast’s Secret Outdoor Sports Paradise
- El Cosmico Campground Offers Unique Shelters for the Vagabond in Us All
- 5 Best Boating Destinations to Explore This Summer
- All the Reasons to Travel to Turkey in 2018