For those who feel they must earn pampering, why not head to a resort where you can hike, sail, kayak, or ride, then relax in a spa?
Here are some first-class resorts and spas where adventure waits just outside. Rates are per night for a weekend in fall.
Hot Springs, Virginia
The centuries-old traditions of afternoon tea and jacket-and-tie dinner dancing are alive and well here, but during the day, get as dirty as you please.
Activities are endless: Bring your hiking boots for the more than 100 miles of trails. Try fly-fishing in mountain streams. Speed downhill on a mountain bike.
We opted for the relatively sedate Cascades Gorge trail, a two-mile stroll past 13 waterfalls to lunch at the Cascades Clubhouse. Our guide pointed out beaver activity and edible plants. I munched on wild watercress, used by Homestead chefs.
After, we soaked in mineral springs bubbling out of the ground at Jefferson Pools. Thomas Jefferson himself bathed here three times a day in 1818.
Like everything at this resort, the spa is classic, from the formal gardens outside to the European facials inside.
Play: Activities like paintball and laser tag have been added to such traditional offerings as horseback riding, canoeing, golf, and shooting sports.
Rest: Lodging ranges from standard rooms ($285) to suites with fireplaces and balconies ($875 for the Presidents Suite).
Refuel: Splurge on the silver-finger-bowl experience of the main dining room at least one night. Down the hill at Homestead-owned Sam Snead’s Tavern, named for Hot Springs’s own golf legend, relax in a booth by the fire and, if you failed to catch any yourself, try the Allegheny Mountain trout sautÃ©ed with grapes and almonds.
More information: 866-354-4653; thehoÂmÂestead.com.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Aromatherapy baths, a vanishing-edge pool, personal butlers, and maybe a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce—such pampering at Nemacolin comes with a rugged side. You can ford streams and climb boulders in the Hummer off-road driving academy, take a horseback ride through the Laurel Highlands, or fly-fish for trout in the Youghiogheny River.
After letting nature beat you up, let it soothe you with warm mineral waters, detoxifying clay, and aromatic herbs at the spa, one of the best in the country. A 42-room hotel’s tranquil design borrows from Frank Lloyd Wright’s nearby home, Fallingwater.
Play: Swing where the pros do: Mystic Rock golf course hosts a PGA tournament each September. There’s also a rock-climbing wall, a shooting academy, skiing and snow tubing, and a ropes course ending with a thrilling trip down the zip line.
Rest: Accommodations range from the Tudor-style Lodge to the hip boutique hotel Falling Rock, where guests have a butler at their service. Rates: $200 gets you a one-bedroom townhouse, $3,000 the presidential suite.
Refuel: Go behind the scenes at Lautrec and watch chefs prepare your excellent 12-course tasting menu. The resort has a dozen places to eat, from a casual pizza-and-ice-cream parlor to innovative Aqueous.
More information: 800-422-2736; nemacolin.com.
Warm water pulses from six jets over chilly skin. Gentle hands work a rich lather of exfoliating sea salt, minerals, and dogwood-scented bath gel up and down legs, back, and arms.
Flip, lather, rinse.
Miranda then transforms the Vichy-shower bed into a massage table, applying warm body butter. Later, after a few minutes in the sauna, I’m escorted, noodlelike, down a corridor. The carpet pattern of fallen autumn leaves has flowing script as a parting mantra: breathe, respite, bliss.
The Salt Glo is like four treatments in one at the new Spa MinÃ©rale, opened in March. Proximity to Washington makes it an easy stop after a day of adventuring—the spa is open until 7 pm.
Play: The concierge can arrange whitewater rafting on the Potomac, riding in Loudoun County’s horse country, or biking along the C&O Canal. But this is primarily a golf resort, offering 45 holes including a new Greg Norman course along the Potomac.
Rest: Rooms benefited from a $60-million renovation this spring; decor mirrors the fall palette outside. Rooms from $189 to $500 for the presidential suite.
Refuel: Riverside Hearth’s jumbo Sunday brunch—from its yogurt bar to roast-beef station—will keep energy going for whatever the day holds.
More information: 703-729-8400; lansdowneresort.com.
Duck, North Carolina
A large cottonmouth slipped far enough ahead of our kayaks to thrill, not frighten. Within arm’s reach, a footlong gar, a speckled prehistoric fish, poked its long nose out of the water. A clapper rail’s hacking call startled us.
Between these wild moments, kayak guide Joe O’Grady entertains Sanderling guests with old tales of moonshiners holed up in the marshes of Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary, where osprey, eagles, cormorants, herons, and otters are joined in fall by thousands of migrating geese and ducks.
The trip inspired the Sanderling Spa’s signature treatment for men, the Pine Island Journey. This soothing yet exhilarating pine-nettle scrub gave my husband the scents of the deep woods.
My Sea Creations Facial featured seaweed, sounds of the ocean, and a backrub using smooth shells. Monique held them to my ears, reminding me that the real thing lay just outside.
Play: The Outer Banks in fall is still warm enough for walks on the beach—and there are no crowds. In October, the Pine Island sanctuary is closed to paddlers for duck hunting; O’Grady then leads tours in the cypress swamps of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll likely see gators and may hear red wolves howling.
Rest: All rooms and suites were renovated this year and start at $220. A six-bedroom beach house rents for $1,000.
Refuel: Toast sunset over the sound at the resort’s Left Bank, where chef Kenneth Sloan takes guests around the world with a tasting menu of seven courses, each paired with an exquisite wine. Our meal began with caviar and Champagne.
More information: 866-369-0764; thesanderling.com.
Nelson County, Virginia
My quads ache with each step down boulder-strewn Mau-Har Trail. This is the final leg of a two-day circuit in Three Ridges Wilderness, which features one of the steepest climbs in the Blue Ridge.
I plow ahead, anxious to reach the car. Wintergreen Resort is a scant two-mile drive from the trailhead. There, the hike becomes a pleasant memory as I soak in a whirlpool in the mountaintop spa. Outside the two-story windows, a misty cloud descends on a forest red and yellow with fall foliage.
Then it’s on to a deep-tissue massage. The lactic acid starts flowing, as do ideas for another hike. Followed by a massage, of course.
Play: Hike trails along nearby Blue Ridge Parkway or on Wintergreen’s 30 miles of woodland trails. The resort also offers golf, horseback riding, a fly-fishing school, tennis academy, rock-tower climbing, paintball, and a bungee trampoline.
Rest: All the comforts of home come with killer views from ridgetop condos and homes. Rates: $129 a night for a studio to $749 for a seven-bedroom house.
Refuel: Condo kitchens have everything needed to prepare a home-cooked meal, or treat yourself to lobster and filet mignon at the elegant Copper Mine. At the Edge, the most casual of Wintergreen’s four restaurants, enjoy fish tacos, wings, and Virginia barbecue while watching the game.
More information: 800-266-2444; wiÂnÂtÂÂergreÂenresort.com.
The Tides Inn
Whether you know port from starboard, this Northern Neck resort’s sailing school turns landlubbers into old salts in days.
After a full day handling those lines, treat your hands to an Ultimate Manicure and Parrafin Dip. Regain your land legs with an Ayurvedic Balancing Wrap of warm aromatic oils.
Intimate, light-filled, and decorated in muted greens, the spa’s treatment rooms look out on Carter’s Creek with massage tables positioned for the best view.
Play: In addition to the Premier Sailing School, there’s the usual resort recreation—golf, tennis, biking, and more.
Rest: Guest rooms are British Colonial with a touch of the Caribbean. Deluxe rooms start at $210, suites at $310.
Refuel: Dining can be as casual as a picnic lunch on a boat or as formal as the East Room of the Chesapeake Club (jackets appreciated). Indulge in bay specialties like lightly breaded soft-shell crab or pannÃ©ed Chesapeake Bay flounder.
More information: 800-843-3746; tidesinn.com.
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
Jesus saves was blazed across the blade of our guide’s paddle. Prophetic, as our day whitewater rafting on the New River would turn into a baptism of sorts.
For the first lazy hour, the six passengers marveled at 700-foot canyon walls, listening to stories of brave men who entered them in search of coal. Our reverie was broken at rapids nicknamed Hallelujah Shoals, where the six of us ended up dunked into the chilly water.
No worries. An hour away, the Greenbrier’s healing mineral baths await. Regain your balance with a soothing stone massage or be purified in a mud bath.
Play: A Golf Digest Academy package gives you five hours of daily instruction and unlimited play on three courses. At the spa, the Golfer’s Game Saver targets hands, forearms, back, and shoulders with mineral water, heat, and healing fingers. Not a golfer? Try more than 50 activities, from falconry to mountain biking.
Rest: The nostalgic sound of train whistles lulls you to sleep where US presidents, foreign royalty, and other celebrities have laid their heads since 1778. Standard rooms and suites start at $417, rooms in four luxurious estate houses at $766 and up.
Refuel: Optional meal plans add $100 per adult a day for breakfast and dinner. The Tavern Room—with excellent dishes like Kobe beef and squab—is worth the $65 meal-plan surcharge. Don’t miss seafood dishes in the main dining room or the breakfast buffet at Draper’s Cafe.
Bonus: For 30 years a top-secret government relocation center, the resort’s underground bunker reopened for tours this summer (after renovations) with a new Cold War exhibit.
More information: 800-453-4858; greenbrier.com.