As they paddled their kayaks through a maze of granite islands on Ontario’s Stony Lake, John and Marie English spied loons, osprey, and colorful maple and birch leaves. Every time dusk approached during their four-day, self-guided outing last fall, they put into shore – not at a campsite, but at an inn where they would enjoy a lovely dinner and a warm night’s sleep out of the chilly autumn air. Each morning after breakfast, the couple stowed their baggage in their kayak’s dry bags and set off again for another day’s paddling to the next lakeside inn.
By the end of their trip, this couple from Salt Lake City, Utah, had kayaked to a different prearranged inn or bed and breakfast every night and had explored, in depth, the Kawartha Lakes, a band of lakes in south-central Ontario.
The Englishes’ kayak excursion is just one of the many types of point-to-point trips available to travelers who want to enjoy backcountry adventure or activity-oriented sightseeing without forgoing the comfort of shelter at night. Tour companies and outfitters can set up these vacations for you, or you can organize your own. Either way, you get the pleasure of spending your days engaged in your favorite outdoor activity – hiking, cycling, horseback riding, kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing – and then indulging in real food and sleeping in a real bed at the end of the trail.
There are point-to-point travel options to suit all sorts of tastes, budgets and activity tolerances. Perhaps you’d revel in cycling across the New England countryside while your luggage is whisked by van to the next four-star bed and breakfast. Or you may prefer backpacking to a Rocky Mountain cabin where you cook on a wood stove.
You can sleep in a castle boudoir or a backcountry bunk, but basic or luxurious, mild or strenuous, these trips generally have one thing in common: They encourage you to lace up your boots, strap on your skis or saddle up your horse, and get out for a new adventure each day.
If a rustic, low-budget expedition appeals to you, try a hut-to-hut trip in the backcountry. Many states and Canadian provinces have hut systems that operate year-round, so depending on the season, you can ski, hike or mountain bike to all kinds of remote spots.
These self-guided excursions can be more comfortable than camping, especially in winter, because you’re better sheltered than you would be in a tent. Plus, while most point-to-point adventures require you to carry at least some of your day gear, you can generally get away with packing far less than if you were outfitting for wilderness overnights, says Brian Litz, author of Colorado Hut to Hut: Volumes 1 and 2 (Westcliffe Publishers, 2000), guidebooks to Rocky Mountain cabins and yurts.
Even the most primitive of huts are generally outfitted with bunks or beds with foam pads, so you can leave your Therm-a-Rest at home. Huts also generally offer other amenities – such as a wood-burning or propane stove, an outhouse, and solar-powered lights – that eliminate more clunky gear.
As a result, point-to-point adventurers need only pack weather-appropriate clothing, a sleeping bag and food. Another essential: earplugs. Since many huts can accommodate anywhere from four to 24 people, you may wind up sharing with others, including potential snorers.
Huts must be reserved and paid for in advance. In some regions, such as Colorado, they fill up quickly. The lodges aren’t far from each other, usually just three to seven miles, so they’re easily accessible even in snowy or adverse conditions.
The rewards of hut-to-hut skiing are many. “It’s good to immerse yourself in natural, seasonal cycles,” Litz points out. Traveling point to point offers advantages to skiers in particular, because it allows them to get far deeper into the winter wilderness than they could during a day ski, while still enjoying indoor comforts at night.
“Humans are seekers, explorers. We love to get out there, have a little adventure and do some physical work,” says Litz. “And for a few nights you get to live the fantasy of having your own chalet in the woods.”
The Royal Treatment
You don’t have to sleep in a hut, however, to have an exciting, active point-to-point experience. Richard and Donna Marki of Bedminster, N.J., chose a chateau-to-chateau horseback trip in France’s Loire Valley for their family vacation. The trip was a perfect fit for their daughters, ages 8 and 10, who not only stayed active during the entire journey, but also reaped the educational rewards of being immersed in a foreign culture. Plus, the whole family got to indulge in a bit of luxury. The Markis booked the trip through Cross Country International (see “Resources,” below), which provided an itinerary sumptuous enough for royalty.
“We rode eight hours a day, with a two-hour break for a fabulous lunch,” says Donna. “We walked, trotted and cantered past vineyards, across streams and through teeny villages.” The presence of a guide (whom they describe as “a French Cary Grant”) left them free to enjoy the trip without worrying about linguistic barriers or getting lost. And their luggage was transported by car to the next chateau, so they could pack more liberally than they would have otherwise.
“Each day was completely different – a new chateau, a new adventure – which was part of the appeal for us,” says Donna. “Every afternoon as we rode closer to our next chateau, I was excited to see what it would be like.” The family was never disappointed because there was always something to delight both children and adults. The girls loved playing with the dogs living at many of the castles, and after settling into their posh, antique-furnished quarters, the Markis shared lavish dinners with the owners – often countesses and barons.
“Most chateaus we visited aren’t open to the public,” she says, “so we experienced places most people don’t know exist.”
On some point-to-point excursions, you don’t have to pack and unpack daily because the roof over your head travels, too. On European bike-to-barge trips, the barge is a floating hotel, restaurant and baggage carrier. You disembark each morning with your bike and a guide, pedal through the countryside, and meet the boat in the late afternoon at a new destination along the river or canal. Think of it as an intimate cruise that’s geared to fitness buffs.
“Cruises are too sedentary,” says Sylvia Franklin, of Clearwater, Fla. “All you do is eat, drink, gamble; eat, drink, gamble.” Franklin has taken several 14-day cycling trips to the Netherlands with Bike and Barge Holland Tours (see “Resources,” below). She says she likes the fact that bicycling all day and floating all night lets you cover a lot of ground, and also that it introduces you to others who value an active lifestyle. Plus, she notes, “the food on the barge is fabulous,” and after biking all day, “you know you’ve earned it.” Bike-to-barge trips offer flexibility, too. Each day, you can choose between a longer (40-mile) or shorter (25- to 30-mile) guided ride.
For Franklin, the biggest bike-to-barge payoff is getting a different perspective on a foreign country. “You’re not just a sightseer looking out a window,” she says. “During our rides, we’d stop at windmills, eel farms, or in villages for coffee or Dutch pancakes. And every evening after we returned from riding, our guide took us on a walking tour of the town where the barge was anchored.”
Whether your chosen adventure has you bunking in a barge or a hut, or galloping from chateau to chateau, a preplanned point-to-point trip can offer something for everyone.
During their inn-to-inn kayak adventure, the Englishes found that sleeping indoors suited both John, a hardcore canoe and kayak aficionado, and Marie, who’s less keen on camping. “This was the perfect middle-ground vacation,” John says. “We enjoyed paddling for large chunks of the day, but I admit it was nice to have a bed at the end of it. And soaking in the hot tub at one of our B&Bs was a welcome bonus.”
Having a roof over their heads at night enabled the Englishes to make their kayak trip when late-September temperatures would have made sleeping under the stars uncomfortable, particularly in foul weather. “On our last day, a storm created dangerous conditions on Stony Lake,” John recalls, “so we had a leisurely breakfast, and when the weather didn’t clear, the owner of the tour company came and drove us back to our car.”
Perhaps the biggest advantage of moving from point to point, though, is that you never look back. You escape the letdown that happens when you’ve huffed your way to a wonderful destination, only to have to retrace your footsteps and go back. This type of travel keeps you going ever forward, anticipating the next adventure. As cyclist Franklin says, “Every day I was eager to explore. You never know what’s over the next hill.”
More Point-to-Point Resources
For more great point-to-point adventures, look to these tour companies for more information.
VBT Bicycling Vacations: U.S. and international cycling tours. 800-245-3868; www.vbt.com
Country Inns Along the Trail: Hiking, biking and skiing guided and self-guided tours in Vermont, Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 800-838-3301; www.inntoinn.com
English Lakeland Ramblers: Walking tours through England and Scotland. 800-724-8801; www.ramblers.com
Hidden Trails: Inn-to-inn equestrian adventures in the United States and Canada. 888-987-2457;www.hiddentrails.com