Leave Every Child Behind
Even parents of perfect angels could use a break once in a while. Here are six ideas for easy getaways where kids are refreshingly scarce, listed from west to east.
Float with foodies down the Rio Grande
The Concept: Take a three-day rafting expedition with an accomplished chef, who prepares your meals.
Where: Big Bend National Park, Tex., about 400 miles from San Antonio.
Chances You'll See a Child: Low. This river-rafting trip is geared toward couples, and most of the participants are between 40 and 65 years of age. The tour company says that kids are brought on trips less than 15 percent of the time, and they're never younger than age 8. You can guarantee a kid-free outing if you set up your own group of at least eight guests.
Cost: From $775 per person for a three-day, two-night excursion, including meals, accommodations, and equipment—except for sleeping bags, which can be rented for $10 per trip.
The Trip: In a remote corner of western Texas, an outdoor adventure company and a Swiss-born chef have refined the river-rafting experience. On one of Far Flung Outdoor Center's Gourmet on the Rio Grande trips, you'll float on an inflatable raft down smooth water for three days through Big Bend National Park's 1,500-foot Santa Elena Canyon, where you can scope out coyotes, ringtailed cats, and great blue herons. Late afternoon activities include hikes to a swimming hole and to a viewpoint where you can look across to Mexico. The highlight comes when you make camp and chef François Maeder, of San Antonio's Crumpets Restaurant, prepares a multicourse meal. You'll savor such entrées as rack of lamb and roasted duck with paired Texan wines, and rich desserts like crème brûlée. And you won't be balancing a paper plate on your knees; you'll eat your riverside dinner from china on white tablecloths and sip your pinot noir from real wineglasses. At nght, you and your companion will sleep in a tent of your own. Book ahead because at most four Gourmet on the Rio Grande trips will happen in 2009.
Hot Tip: While the guides will set up rafts and tents, remember that you'll still be in the wilderness and expected to pitch in. Plan to do most bathing in the river or with warm towels provided by the guides.
Contact: Far Flung Outdoor Center, 800/839-7238, farflungoutdoorcenter.com.
Climb a frozen waterfall
The Concept: Scale a vertical ice mass in the White Mountains.
Where: North Conway, N.H.
Chances You'll See a Child: Quite low. Groups are limited to three or four people; usually, it'll be you, whomever you came with, and a guide. Teenagers do account for around 10 percent of students overall at Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. Any child whose foot fits ice-climbing boots (which start in men's size 5) can attend.
Cost: Typically $140 per person for a basic class, including boots, crampons, and other gear. Prices vary depending on the day of the week. Availability depends on the weather, which is usually cold enough for outings between mid-December and early April.
The Trip: In the eastern U.S., you have to hike for many miles to get to a good mountaintop view. But if you climb a frozen waterfall, you get to a great lookout point in less time and with less effort. In eastern New Hampshire, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School shows fledgling ice climbers how gorgeous the White Mountains look at roughly 80 feet above their base. Don boots and crampons (the spiked foot pieces that help you grip ice), and learn how to tie your harness and swing an ice ax. You'll progress slowly from climbing angled ice slabs to scaling frozen waterfalls. The view above the treeline is exhilarating, students say. Icicles glint around you while snow-covered mountains and trees stretch into the distance. "One misconception about ice climbing is that it requires a lot of upper-body strength," says Charlie Townsend, director of all the chain's climbing schools. "But it's really less about being able to do 10 push-ups and more about being able to take stairs three at a time. In other words, it's really about technique, problem solving, and efficiency."
Hot Tip: After a day of climbing, head to the Cabernet Inn, 1.5 miles north of busy downtown North Conway, where the school's local office is located. The red-wine-hued B&B discourages children and caters to couples. Fittingly, the ambiance is elegant and romantic. Out of the 11 guest rooms, some have fireplaces, a few have whirlpool baths, and a couple have both (800/866-4704, cabernetinn.com, doubles from $95).
Contact: EMS Climbing School, 800/310-4504, emsclimb.com, one-day classes in basic ice climbing are offered seven days a week from November through March.