The 9 Most Fun Adventure Lodges in North America from Outside Alison Osius

Base camp might be my favorite two words in the English language. Base camp is where you stage the next excursion, or refuel with a bowl of stew, or a beer. You rest and recover there. If you’re lucky, you can slip into a hot tub or cold spring, because base camps don’t always have to be a tent or in the back of your truck. Sometimes, base camp can be a lodge with soft sheets and a chef.

The Mulberry Gap Lodge (see below) in Ellijay, Georgia, hosts a variety of mountain biking events and clinics. Here a rider from Bell Helmet’s Joy Ride retreat, a long weekend with women from all over the United States and Canada, crosses through water on the iconic Bear Creek Trail. (Photo: Josh Sawyer/Bell Helmet))

I’ve gathered a handful of my personal favorite adventure lodges and picked a few more destination hotels and chalets on my bucket list. Some of them are high-end and  worthy of a splurge, while others are downright affordable. All of them are chosen specifically for their locations and adventures they offer, putting visitors within reach of dramatic landscapes while providing gear, know-how, and sometimes in-house guides. Because occasionally it’s nice not to have to plan everything yourself.

The Gravel House Hotel, Patagonia, Arizona

Gearing up for a ride in Patagonia, Arizona, where The Gravel House was designed for cyclists and other adventurers. (Photo: Graham Averill)

You may not have heard of Patagonia, Arizona, a tiny town of 800-ish sitting at the base of the Patagonia Mountains, near the Mexico border. Much of the surrounding land is protected by the Coronado National Forest, which houses a chunk of the 700-mile Arizona Trail, while a lifetime of gravel rides begin and end in the two-block downtown.

The Gravel House is a collection of homes and a small hotel with nine rooms and a communal kitchen, all in the heart of town. The hotel is owned by cycling guide and chef Zander Ault, who you can hire to whip up regional delicacies like green chile stew and carne asada tacos. He and his team can also lead you on day rides through plains of shimmering grass flanked by the 7,000-foot Patagonias, which were capped with snow when I was there last spring. I loved the riding, which had me pedaling firm gravel through narrow canyons to historic ruins and across broad grasslands to the Mexican border before returning to town for a cold beer.

Patagonia Lumber company right next door serves up coffee, beer, and wine, and is part of the two-block downtown. (Photo: Graham Averill)

The Adventure: You can hike or mountain bike a slice of the Arizona Trail, but the gravel is the magic here. I’ve stayed at The Gravel House, spending three days exploring the lonely roads of the area, and want to return to it and the landscape. Elevation gain is moderate, so you can cover a lot of ground exploring canyons and prairies that butt up against the border with Mexico, just 18 miles away. Check out the 30-mile Alto Ghost Town ride, which climbs to the ruins of a mining camp from 1933.

Firm gravel and big grins in Arizona—the landscape is moderately angled, allowing you to cover much distance in a day. (Photo: Graham Averill)

Logistics: Rooms start at $135 per night, with chef services and guiding extra. Guided day rides start at $295 per person and include high-end Pivot bike rentals.

Sol Mountain Lodge, Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada

Sol Mountain Lodge in the Monashees, British Columbia, is off-grid but has plenty of amenities. (Photo: Courtesy Sol Mountain Lodge)

At 3.855 million square miles, Canada is a big place—among the world’s countries, only Russia is bigger—so no lodge can put you within striking distance of everything that our neighbors to the north offer. But Sol Mountain Lodge, south of one of Canada’s great destination towns, Revelstoke, brings you into the thick of the Monashee Mountains, which are blanketed with powder in winter and host hundreds of miles of trails in summer. Sol Mountain provides backcountry skiers access to the Monashees’ alpine bowls and steep chutes during chilly months (the lodge is owned and operated by certified members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides), and the rest of the year mountain bikers and hikers can explore the high alpine singletrack.

The lodge is off-grid, with all of the power generated on-site by micro-hydro electricity, but sustainable doesn’t mean uncomfortable.The place has private rooms, a gear room, full kitchen, and a bar stocked with local craft beers. There’s also a small library with books and games as well as guitars, a box drum, and a mandolin, if you’re musically inclined. There’s even a wood-fired sauna.

Riding through fields of flowers in the Monashees in summer, from the Sol Mountain Lodge base camp nearby (Photo: Courtesy Sol Mountain Lodge)

The Adventure: The lodge shares a border with Monashee Provincial Park, and the owner/operators have built a trail system that extends from the lodge into the park, with permits to lead ski, biking, and hiking trips throughout. Mountain bikers are going to want to ride loads of trails, but the five-mile Infinity and Beyond Loop is a must. The purpose-built trail has it all—ridgetop views of the Provincial Park and the Gold Range Mountains, lots of rock features, and a thrilling downhill back to the lodge. All rides end with a dip in Sol Lake, on Sol Lodge’s property, where the owners will stash a six pack by shore to keep it cold for you.

Psych, scenery, and wildflowers during summer in British Columbia (Photo: Courtesy Sol Mountain Lodge)

Logistics: In winter, you have to fly into the lodge (helicopter rides from Kelowna International Airport are included in the cost of a winter trip); stays require a five- or six-night trip (from $3250 Canadian per person) and include guides. But in the summer, you can make the 55-kilometer (34-mile) drive from Revelstoke on 4WD forest roads. Summer rates are per day, and catered trips (all meals included), start at $350 per person per night, two-night minimum.

Paradise Lodge, the Rogue River, Oregon

The remote and historic Paradise Lodge, perched on the Rogue River deep in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, can only be reached by rafting, jet boating, or a four-mile hike. (Photo: Courtesy Paradise Lodge)

Once on site, you can enjoy hiking trails that start on the property, swimming holes, and paddling the class IV Rogue. The lodge sits on Paradise Bar, a long, unusually calm stretch of the Rogue that’s perfect for fishing for steelhead trout or salmon. In-house chefs create family-style meals served in a low-key dining room, while an expansive deck overlooks the river. There’s a disc-golf course, too.

There are all kinds of things to do at Paradise Lodge for all generations. (Photo: Courtesy Paradise Lodge)

The Adventure: Trails start on the grounds, following the Rogue River and exploring the smaller Paradise Creek. There’s an easy quarter-mile hike to Paradise Falls and back to get started, but you’re here for the Rogue. The classic adventure is a multi-day, 32-mile trip through the Rogue Canyon. Rogue River Outfitters runs a trip where guests camp riverside on the first night and spend the second in the lodge. The run is a mix of class III-IV drops and swimming holes, culminating with the class IV Blossom Bar, just a half-mile upstream from the lodge (trips from $1,225 per person, including lodging).

A mellow stretch of water on the Rogue River, right before a handful of rapids (Photo: Courtesy Paradise Lodge)

Logistics: Hike-in options start at $215 a night per person, including breakfast, dinner, and a sack lunch. You can also raft into the lodge for $205 per person per night, but must make your own arrangements, through local outfitters including Rogue River Outfitters and Noah’s Rafting. To raft the Rogue on your own, you need permits from the BLM for any dates between May 15 to October 15. Most commercial trips run in July and August.

Gunflint Lodge, Grand Marais, Minnesota

Gunflint Lodge, on the shores of Gunflint Lake, at sunrise. The campus consists of the main lodge and 25 cabins. (Photo: Courtesy Gunflint Lodge)

Tucked onto the southern shore of Gunflint Lake, near the Canadian border, Gunflint Lodge has been hosting adventurers since 1925. The property sits on the edge of the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, allowing boaters to explore the myriad paddle trails by day and come home to hot meals and a sauna by night.

The lodge consists of 25 private cabins spread across the shore of Gunflint Lake, with a main lodge and dining area, two floating docks, and a shop for the in-house outfitters. Most of the cabins have stone fireplaces, saunas, and hot tubs. The night sky is vibrant with stars, as this is one of the largest Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world, and the lodge is far enough north that you may even experience the northern lights. Hiking trails on the property lead to the top of cliffs with epic views of Gunflint Lake and the surrounding Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The resort guides offer daily trips into the Boundary Waters on foot and canoe. In the winter, it’s all about ice fishing and cross-country skiing. Come summer, you’re hunting for smallmouth bass in Gunflint Lake and canoeing into the Boundary Waters on day trips.

A father and son paddle and fish in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, northern Minnesota. The lakes are known for ample bass, walleye, and northern pike. (Photo: Michael Benge)

The Adventure: Retrace the path of early fur traders by paddling a piece of the Voyageurs Route across Gunflint Lake through a narrow inlet into Magnetic Lake, crossing into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness proper. This mixed route of lake and river paddling, with a few short portages, has you tracing the edge of the United States as you travel north, seeing waterfalls, historic chalets, and maybe a moose from the hull of your boat. Guided trips for lodge guests are $125 per person.

In the winter, Gunflint Lodge offers ice fishing and cross-country skiing. In summer, it’s all about swimming, fishing, and canoeing in the Boundary Waters. Or you can simply sit and read a book and gaze at the beautiful surroundings. (Photo: Courtesy Gunflint Lodge)

Logistics: Gunflint Lodge is a six-hour drive north from Minneapolis. You can book a cabin (from $300 a night, two-night minimum) only, or an all-inclusive package that includes the cabin, all your meals, access to canoes, and one guided adventure per day (from $1279 per person for four nights).

Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, Red Mountain Pass, Colorado

Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, near Ouray, Colorado, is known for its incredible access to skiing and sublime summer hiking. (Photo: Courtesy Red Mountain Alpine Lodge)

Want a taste of the Alps right here in the U.S.? Book a couple of nights in Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, a luxurious A-Frame “hut” perched at 11,000 feet on Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains above Ouray, with gorgeous high-alpine hikes and backcountry skiing right out the door. A few winters ago, I spent some days skiing the terrain outside the lodge, and was just about as impressed with the digs inside the lodge as the powder.

Keeton Disser, the lodge’s co-owner, hikes in Ice Lakes Basin, on the other side of Red Mountain Pass. (Photo: Courtesy Red Mountain Alpine Lodge)

The lodge has three private rooms and 10 semi-private loft spaces above the expansive living room, which is warmed by a wood-burning stove set in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. A shot ski hangs above the dining room for apres shenanigans. Adventures abound, from endless jeep roads to the via ferrata in Telluride in warmer months. But it’s mainly about backcountry skiing in the winter and high-alpine trekking in the summer.

Red Mountain Pass via County Road 31 (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Adventure: The skiing is epic, but I want to hit Red Mountain Alpine Lodge in the summer. The hut is a key component to the Million Dollar Trek, a guided five-day hike that traverses the 10,000- to 13,000-foot-tall San Juans, hitting alpine lakes and with nights spent in three different huts along the way. Or you could just base at Red Alpine and do your own day hikes. The above-treeline, off-trail routes are endless and the lodge staff can point you in the direction of Red Mountain #3, a 12,877-foot peak with 360-degree views of the Red Group. Or you could bring a gravel bike and knock out the 8.1-mile Red Mountain Loop, which hits 12,000-foot peaks and backcountry waterfalls along a high-alpine dirt road.

The interior of the Red Mountain Lodge, set at 11,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains near Ouray, Colorado (Photo: Courtesy Red Mountain Lodge)

Logistics: Loft spaces start at $289 per person, which includes breakfast, trail lunch, and dinner. Guided adventures are add ons, but the lodge is owned by San Juan Mountain Guides, so the process is seamless.

Mulberry Gap, Ellijay, Georgia

The Squirrels’ Nest, one of the buildings in the Mulberry Gap collection, in Ellijay, Georgia (Photo: Courtesy Mulberry Gap )

Sitting 90 minutes north of Atlanta, in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Mulberry Gap was designed with mountain bikers in mind, giving front-door access to more than 150 miles of single track through the mountains of North Georgia. This rustic lodge offers a collection of cabins, from basic rooms with access to communal showers, to plush multi-bedroom buildings with private baths. There is also a communal barn with games and, last time I was there, a tricycle for silly races, plus a family-style restaurant, a small gear-and-beer shop, hot tubs, and an onsite pump track and jump line.

All smiles in the green Chattahoochee National Forest during one of the women’s gatherings held at Mulberry Gap, Georgia. (Photo: Courtesy AdventurUS Women)

I’ve spent a few weekends riding bikes with Mulberry as my basecamp, and love the juxtaposition of a full day on hard, steep singletrack and a return to a smoked brisket in the restaurant, a cold beer and a hot tub. It hits just right.

Bearhoti From Mulberry Gap (Photo: Courtesy Trailforks)

The Adventure: Mulberry Gap sits next to the Pinhoti Trail, a long-distance mountain-bike trail that spans the length of Georgia. And there’s twice as much gravel if that’s what you’re into. If you’re only going to experience one ride, let it be the 18.4-mile Bearhoti loop, which combines a piece of the Pinhoti Trail with Bear Creek. It’s a mix of gravel and single track, with lots of loose rock descents, waterfalls, creek crossings, and a little bit of flow.

Have fun and earn your R and R, like this biker on the Mountaintown Creek Crossing, near the Mulberry Gap Lodge, is doing. (Photo: Courtesy Mulberry Gap)

Logistics: Cabins start at $140 a night, midweek; prices vary for size. Weekends are minimum two-night stays. Meals are extra, as are shuttles (from $12 per person).

Johnstone Wilderness Lodge, Seward, Alaska

Johnstone Wilderness Lodge, near Seward, Alaska, is comprised of three chalets built by hand. (Photo: Courtesy Johnstone Wilderness Lodge)

Johnstone Bay is wild. The inlet sits on the southeast coast of the Kenai Peninsula, 30 miles south of Seward with the Church Mountains rising steeply from the edge of the water. This collection of gray, rocky beaches, steep green mountains, and blue/white glaciers and icefields is only accessible by air (you’ll have to get dropped off by helicopter or float plane) or sea. Johnstone Adventure Lodge has three chalets that sit in the middle of all that action, with walk-out beach access, surf breaks galore (yes, Alaska has surfing, and it can be really good), and the massive Excelsior Glacier waiting for you to explore. The lodge itself is a collection of three chalets built by hand over three years. All are surrounded by dense forest and face the beach, where bonfires are the nightly entertainment.

The lodge, accessible only by air or sea, sits on the Kenai Peninsula and leads you to beaches, forest, and glaciers, for hiking, kayaking, and (yes) surfing. (Photo: Courtesy Johnstone Wilderness Lodge)

The Adventure: Jordan Pond, owner of the lodge, fell in love with Johnstone Bay because of the surfing, and if you’re hardy enough to handle the cold water, he can deliver you to the goods: a beach break along three miles of isolated beach. Swells can produce big, heavy waves. It’s also a deep bay, so you’ll occasionally see humpback whales hanging out beyond the breakers. Pond will also guide you in a Zodiac, navigating icebergs to Excelsior Glacier, which covers a broad valley as it flows from the Sargent Icefield down to the edge of the water.

You can see why the owner fell in love with Johnstone Bay, on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo: Courtesy Johnstone Wilderness Lodge)

Logistics: You can book packages for summer (June 1 to October 30) starting at $1,575 per person (three-night minimum), which includes three meals a day plus snacks, use of kayaks, and guiding for the various adventures surrounding the lodge, from surfing to hiking and kayaking. You’ll have to arrange a helicopter drop from the Seward airport (prices depend on number of people and weight of gear). Boating to the place is possible, but helicopter access is much easier.

Field Station, Moab, Utah

The exterior of Field Station Moab (Photo: Courtesy Matt Kisiday/Field Station Moab)

You hardly need another reason to visit the historic desert town of Moab, but Field Station definitely sweetens the deal. The new hotel, which opened in April, 2023, sits at the bases of both Arches and Canyonlands national parks, which are full of sandstone rock formations and classic desert hikes, offering a mix of accommodations from van-life sites to spacious hotel rooms that sleep up to eight, all centered around communal spaces, such as a pool and hot tub, beer garden, and cafe.

This place is all about communal spaces. People gather at a fire pit in the desert evening at Field Station. (Photo: Courtesy Matt Kisiday/Field Station Moab)

Field Station’s a one-stop shop for exploring the surrounding landscape, with on-site equipment rentals and professional guiding partners, Bighorn Mountain Biking and Moab Cliffs and Canyons, on hand to lead you on mountain biking, canyoneering, and climbing trips. The place often offers pop-up skills tutorials where you can learn things such as survivalist skills or how to patch a flat tire, and live music around the fire pits. I want to go here: Moab is great, but it would be even better with a pool.

Moab Brand Trails (Photo: Courtesy Trailforks)

The Adventure: The problem with Field Station (and Moab in general) is choosing how to spend your time. Do you hike in Arches? Mountain bike on the area’s famous slickrock single track, which has been attracting fat-tire enthusiasts for decades? Climb desert towers and cliffs? Or raft the Colorado River? We say call in sick and extend your stay to do it all. But if you have to choose just one caper, sign up for a guided tour of the Moab Brand Trails, which has 30 miles of dusty, sandstone-heavy single track with optional big descents and rock drops.

Canyonlands as seen from the Needles Campground. Moab offers access to two world-class national parks, Canyonlands and Arches, with hiking and trail running, biking, climbing, and camping. (Photo: Debra Book Barrows)

Logistics: Room rates start at $127. Van-life sites start at $29 and include access to all of the hotel’s amenities, including showers.

Surfhouse, Encinitas, California

The classic Surfhouse, founded—of course—by wave aficionados, in Encinitas, Southern California. (Photo: Emma Veidt)

California has no shortage of hotels with quick access to celebrated surf breaks, but Surfhouse makes your SoCal surf trip effortless with a combo of proximity and amenities. The eight-room motel is located in Encinitas, just a block from the beach and within a quick drive of dozens of world-class waves, including the iconic Swamis. Each room is crafted to represent a different local break. Small touches like an outdoor shower and in-house surf rentals go a long way, and the services include staff pros that can give lessons or even guide you through the local goods, helping you avoid any trouble (like upsetting crusty local surfers). You can even hire a photographer to hop in the water with you to document your trip.

Encinitas is the quintessential Southern California surf town. From the Surfhouse, you can walk to most everything, including the water. (Photo: Yew! Images/Getty)

The Adventure: If you’re a beginner surfer, book a lesson with a Surfhouse pro and learn at a friendly beach break like Moonlight State Beach. If you have some experience, hire a Surfhouse guide (rates vary depending on break and number of surfers) who can tailor the experience to your skill level, putting you on the right wave that’s not only ideal for your ability, but is all-but-guaranteed to avoid the crowds. Or just pedal one of the hotel’s complimentary beach cruisers and roll from taco stand to beach to taco stand.

Three friends share the stoke after a So-Cal surf session. (Photo: Courtesy Surfhouse)

Logistics: Rooms start at $260 per night. Guides and lessons are extra. Surfhouse also has a rental van decked out with all of the amenities you need for the ultimate SoCal surf road trip (from $250 a day).

Graham Averill is Outside Magazine’s national-parks columnist. He’s always loved the idea of a basecamp, but as he’s gotten older, he likes them to have swimming pools, saunas, and cocktail bars. Has he gotten soft? He prefers the term “wise.”

Graham Averill, author (Photo: Liz Averill)

For more by this author:

The 9 Best Gateway Towns to U.S. National Parks

The 8 Most Adventurous States in America. Number 1 Is …

And the 11 Least Visited National Parks Are…

The post The 9 Most Fun Adventure Lodges in North America appeared first on Outside Online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *