If we hear about another "staycation" idea, we're going to lose it. The only thing more depressing than the price of gas and plane tickets is dolling up the bathroom with Aveda products and sending ersatz postcards. But taking a real vacation isn't that hard—or expensive. We've designed 12 trips that get you worlds away by only going a few miles—and don't burn up a lot of fossil fuels. Don't think you can go whitewater rafting, take the kids to a dude ranch, or spy on bald eagles without boarding a plane or settling in for a long car ride? You can, especially if you take advantage of public transportation (hey, your tax dollars fund them anyway) and other alternate forms of travel. So get out there—and don't forget to send us a postcard.
For a complete slideshow of the Clean Getaways, click here.
Cruising around Catalina
Leave from: Los Angeles
The jaunt: Hey, hybrid owner: Congrats on the new Prius. But you still can't bring that virtuous vehicle to Santa Catalina Island, where residents have to wait ten years (yep, years) to bring a car onto the island. Everyone tools around by golf cart or on foot anyway. That's because nearly 90 percent of the 48,000-acre, Mediterranean-feeling island is protected by strict environmental regulations: Permits are even required for hiking and biking through the island's peaks and valleys. But the best way to travel is by kayak, so you can see the rugged landscape from the water and get up close and personal with the flying fish and sea lions. Descanso Beach Ocean Sports offers rentals and day tours for both first-time and experienced paddlers that take you to the base of 2,000-foot peaks, remote beaches, and bluffs studded with cherry trees. If you want to go it alone, the shop can also point you to the island's best backcountry spots to set up camp. Your only company: fox, deer, and bald eagles, without a hint of smog in sight.
Your chariot: The Catalina Express ferry has at least seven daily departures right from Long Beach.
Check into: Room 301 at Catalina's Avalon Hotel; a wraparound balcony returns paddling-weary guests to the pleasant bustle of the harbor
Tel: 310 510 1226
From $32 per person for tours; from $68 for multiday rentals
Tel: 800 481 3470
$67 round-trip from Long Beach
Tel: 310 510 7070
Doubles from $295; room 301 starts at $495
Rolling in Red Rock Canyon
Leave from: Las Vegas
The jaunt: The real jackpot around Vegas is Red Rock Canyon, a desert playground just 17 miles west of the Strip. Of course, most of the 40 million annual vacationers here still prefer one-armed bandits to two-wheeling, leaving 100 miles of single-track trails yours for the taking. Escape Adventures leads two-day mountain biking trips through the canyon, leaving right from the Mirage. You'll be pedaling through a Joshua tree forest and past wild mustangs, logging a total of 10 to 25 miles per day. The trails are buffed just right for beginner mountain bikers, who can focus on cacti, cliffs, and canyon views without having to navigate tricky technical spots. Feeling lucky? You can also do the trails as a day trip and still have time to hit the blackjack table.
Your chariot: A Santa Cruz Blur full-suspension mountain bike
Check into: There's no shortage of great hotels in Las Vegas. But if you want to stay out in the wilderness, try the 115-acre Bonnie Springs Ranch, a Wild West outpost with basic rooms but dynamic desert views.
Tel: 800 596 2953
$449 for two days' riding and one night's lodging, plus meals
The life aquatic
Leave from: Chicago
The jaunt: Lake Michigan's stormy weather and rough waters make Chicago a less beachy destination than, say, Miami. But the conditions have also been responsible for some 3,000 shipwrecks littering the lake floor—in other words, a bounty for Windy City divers. Best of all, you can start exploring the wrecks right from the East Chicago Marina just south of the city in Indiana. Twice a day the N'Pursuit (the name of a boat, not a new boy band) ferries groups of six certified divers to such sites as the 73-foot Tacoma (a steam tug that sank in 1932) and the 202-foot Iowa (crushed by ice in 1915). You can swim through sunken boilers, peer into the open holds of submerged barges, and even search for the treasure chest that will help pay for your next gas bill.
Your chariot: The N'Pursuit, a six-passenger, 38-foot Wellcraft Coastal
Check into: Request a lake-view room at The Drake, right across the street from Oak Street Beach.
Tel: 219 942 5767
From $95 per person
Tel: 800 553 7253
Doubles from $230; lake-view doubles from $250
Leave from: Washington, D.C.
The jaunt: Stagecoaches started pulling up to West Virginia's Greenbrier Resort 200 years ago, filled with politicos and high-society types seeking the healing mineral waters of White Sulphur Springs. These days the decidedly less bumpy journey through the Virginia countryside—set to the clickety-clack of a lounge car from Union Station—is as soothing as the destination. The six-hour trip deposits you across the street from this 721-room estate and its 6,500 Allegheny acres. Then all the driving you'll have to do is on one of the Greenbrier's three championship golf courses, which have hosted the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer. (Well, if you insist, you can hop in a 4x4 for an off-road driving course—the fun is worth the fossil fuels.) The treatment list at the Greenbrier's spa has come a long way since the days of soaking in sulphur-water-filled tubs, though you can still do that if you like.
Your chariot: Amtrak has a daily departure from Union Station to White Sulphur Springs.
Check into: Even the "intermediate" rooms at the Greenbrier have Dorothy Draper's legendary floral prints and gorgeous views of the estate.
Tel: 800 453 4858
Doubles from $379
Rafting the Upper Colorado
Leave from: Denver
The jaunt: Why help clog up the interstate when you can follow the Colorado River all the way from the Centennial State to the Pacific Ocean? But if you don't quite have the time for an "Into the Wild"–inspired adventure, Geo Tours whisks rafters right from the Denver metro area to a prime stretch of the Colorado riddled with Class II and III rapids. The water's just right for those who want to gape at granite canyons, Douglas fir trees, and wildflowers in between butterfly-inducing whoop-de-dos—but not the full-force, in-your-face terror of some other western rivers. But you still get to brag about conquering rapids with names like Needle Eye and Yarmony.
Your chariot: An inflatable rubber raft
Check into: Your riverside campsite, equipped with a hot shower and access to hiking trails
Tel: 800 660 7238
Tours run from mid-May to Labor Day: $150 for an overnight trip; from $250 for a multiday trip, including all meals, guide, and spray jackets
Hiking the Blue Hills
Leave from: Boston
The jaunt: Bagging New England's taller mountains like Washington, Mansfield, or Katahdin might impress your polar-fleece-clad pals—but those peaks share a pesky habit of being located out in the middle of nowhere. On the other hand, you can hike the Blue Hills Reservation by barely leaving the Boston metro area. Just minutes from Beantown, in Milton, Massachusetts, the 8,500-acre park has 125 miles of trails, including the blue-blazed, nine-mile Skyline Trail that traces the softly rolling ridgeline. The highest point is the top of Great Blue Hill—just 635 feet (don't worry about bringing oxygen). The peak is home to the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center, where meteorologists have been recording the climate since 1885. There are scads of other lookouts throughout the park where—on a clear day—you can drink in 360-degree views of the 'burbs and spot the buildings of both Boston and Providence. Thankfully, the reservation's creeks, hardwood forests, and pine trees create just enough distance from civilization for you to channel your inner Thoreau. The Houghton Pond beach is also the perfect spot for an après-hike splash.
Your chariots: The MBTA—which drops you in Milton after a 15-minute ride from South Station—and a pair of hiking boots
Check into: Reserve one of 20 rustic cabins at Ponkapoag Camp, a pondside retreat run by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Tel: 781 961 7007
Weekend cabin rentals from $30
Tel: 617 698 1802
Tel: 617 696 0389
Leave from: Dallas
The jaunt: Some of the Lone Star State's best ranches are so remote you have to fly there. Good thing the Rough Creek Lodge is just an hour and a half (i.e., less than one tank of gas) from the Dallas–Fort Worth area. The 11,000-acre resort has activities at every riding level, from lessons and gentle trail rides for greenhorns to advanced skills training and trots through the Texas Hill Country. Off the saddle, there's fly-fishing, croquet, clay shooting, and archery. (To satisfy the cowboy-size appetite you'll work up, Rough Creek's award-winning restaurant prepares filling dishes like grilled Texas quail, tea-smoked Moulard duck breast, and brown-butter plum tarts.) With a 650-foot zip line and rocket-building classes, you can almost think of this as a learning vacation on alternative forms of transportation. Because until scientists figure out how to run cars off of hay, the trusty steed might once again become the preferred way to travel.
Your chariot: You're on your own getting up there—Rough Creek is an 80-mile drive southwest of Dallas—but once you're there, it's all hoof power.
Check into: The 7,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom Owner's Retreat guesthouse, which sits on the private Chalk Mountain Lake and has enough space for your entire herd
Tel: 800 864 4705
Doubles from $249 per person, including breakfast and dinner. Owner's Retreat is $2,500 per night.
Art and antiques in the Hudson Valley
Leave from: New York City
The jaunt: If you are looking for antiques sans the road show, Hudson is the place to go. A formerly down-at-heel town two hours north of Manhattan, Hudson has seen a major revival in the past few years, thanks to an influx of New York artists and writers who've converted its old row houses and factories into galleries and—especially—vintage furniture stores. Now there are a whopping 65 antique shops lining just five blocks of Warren Street, peddling everything from Danish midcentury armchairs to Biedermeier sofas to French Empire clocks—at way below Madison Avenue prices (note most shops are closed Wednesdays; for more info, visit the Hudson Antiques Dealers Association). Order up a post-browsing pint of Hefeweizen at bookstore/microbrew pub Spotty Dog and plan your excursion to Olana, the Persian-style home of Hudson River School artist Frederic Church, just a short taxi ride from downtown Hudson.
Your chariot: Amtrak has ten daily departures to Hudson from New York's Penn Station.
Check in: Stay the night at the Inn at Hudson. This circa 1905 Dutch-Jacobean cloister is right downtown and has four bright, antique-filled rooms.
Tel: 518 822 9322
Doubles from $200
Tel: 518 671 6006
Tel: 518 828 0135
Open Tuesdays through Sundays, April through October; Fridays through Sundays, November through March.
Cycling through wine country
Leave from: Portland
The jaunt: Oaky or minerally, fruity or peppery? Whatever. Wine just tastes perfect after biking through undulating, vine-filled valleys—especially when you haven't splurged on a plane ticket to Europe for the pleasure. Thanks to Bicycle Adventures' four-day trip, Portlanders can hop in a van to the nearby town of Lafayette to begin pedaling through the Willamette Valley, with the daily mileage tailored to your ability (usually between 15 and 40 miles per day). That leaves plenty of time for lingering at a dozen vineyards (including the acclaimed Willakenzie Estate), trying chocolate truffles at a monastery, and poking through small-town boutiques. And don't worry about your luggage: Instead of inn-hopping or camping, Bicycle Adventures arranges for guests to spend all three nights at the same B&B.
Your chariots: A 90-minute van ride from downtown Portland and a custom-made Rocky Mountain road bike
Check into: The Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn's seven rooms look out onto 17 acres of pinot noir vines.
Tel: 800 443 6060
$2,090 per person, including three nights' lodging, bike, and all meals
Float the Chattahoochee
Leave from: Atlanta
The jaunt: With all due respect to air conditioning, nothing beats the Atlanta summer heat like drifting down the 320-mile-long Chattahoochee River as it flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains. After all, who writes songs about built-in AC? In less time than it takes to fight crosstown traffic, Atlantans can be lazily floating the Hooch on an inner tube, shaded by mountain laurel and hemlock trees. The slightly more active set can choose from canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, and water bikes, all available from Chattahoochee Outfitters, a rental company with two riverside shops and five pick-up/drop-off points along the river. Rentals are available by the hour or by the trip; it takes about four hours to cover the six and a half miles between Johnson's Ferry and Paces Mill.
Your chariot: A tube, a canoe, or anything that's buoyant
Check into: The Twelve Centennial Park is right next to the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta's other can't-miss waters.
Tel: 770 650 1008
Tel: 404 418 1212
Doubles from $200
Soaking up the Berkeley Scene
Leave from: San Francisco
The jaunt: Let the tourists have Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. When we want a carefree, car-free weekend in the Bay Area, we head for Berkeley, the original home of earth mothers and flower power. Our perfect day starts with cinnamon brioche French toast and lattes at La Note; and ends with sweet corn soufflé, quail with garlic sausage, and raspberry ice cream pavlova at the legendary Chez Panisse, birthplace of California cuisine. And of course we'll make time for a midday pit stop at one of the weekly Farmers' Markets for locally grown fruits, organic baked goods, and farm-fresh cheeses. Though the town is by no means the counterculture hub it was in the '60s, you can still find the beatnik vibe on Telegraph Avenue. Whole Earth Access is long gone, but you're free to browse the manifestos at Moe's and flip through some vinyl at Amoeba Records to bring you back to the days of free love.
Your chariot: It's just a 25-minute trip on BART from Powell Street to downtown Berkeley.
Check into: The Claremont Resort & Spa, whose 279 rooms have views of San Francisco Bay and offer an elegant balance to Berkeley's collegiate, liberal scene
Tel: 510 843 1535
Tel: 510 548 5525
Tel: 510 849 2087
Tel: 510 549 1125
Tel: 510 843 3000
Doubles from $249 per night
Sailing the San Juans
Leave from: Seattle
The jaunt: Seattle's harbor is jam-packed with boats begging to be taken out onto the Pacific. The key is to pick one that really stands out. The 65-foot schooner Mallory Todd has three bearded captains, gleaming teak woodwork, brass fittings, and bright bunting that will have you tossing out silly yachting terms before you've even left Seattle's South Lake Union port. Sit back with a cocktail and watch drawbridges open for your sky-high masts as the ship makes its way out of city through the Montlake Cut. The sails then snap to attention for the leisurely cruise up to the San Juan Islands, where up to 90 orca whales swim from May through September. The archipelago's 450 islands studded with evergreen forests can be sailed over a long weekend, but are best seen over a week. (You've saved enough sick days, right?)
Your chariot: The Mallory Todd has three double cabins. There are also three outdoor decks and an open-air dining room for meals prepared by your personal chef.
Check into: One of three cabins below deck, trimmed with Honduras mahogany and warmed by faux fireplaces with built-in heaters on chilly evenings
Tel: 206 381 6919
Weekend voyages to the San Juan islands for up to 6 guests, price upon request. Half-day charters through the Seattle lakes for up to 36 guests, from $1,250.