Set on 15,000 acres in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, The Balsams has welcomed guests for more than 130 years. This remote hideaway-about a four-hour drive from Boston-is worth the journey in any season.
In winter, it offers complimentary skiing on well-groomed, rarely crowded slopes. In summer, the all-inclusive rate (The Balsams operates on a full American plan, which means breakfast, lunch and superb dining are included) covers greens fees on the Panorama Golf Course, a Donald Ross gem built in 1912 on the western flanks of Keyser Mountain and one of the most elegant courses in New England. The topmost holes serve up sweeping views of the Connecticut River Valley, Mt. Monadnock and the rolling hills of Quebec to the north. The layout’s inverted saucer greens, a Ross trademark, are hard to hit and harder yet to read. Because the designer introduced a false sense of levelness to the links, putts actually appear to race uphill.
Save some energy for The Balsams’ extensive network of 66 marked hiking trails. Each is rated like a ski trail, from easiest to most difficult. The hotel’s trails are connected to the Heritage and Cohos trail systems, which traverse the state park area in Dixville Notch, a narrow, V-shaped ravine, with sheer rock walls rising 1,000 feet above the resort’s access road. Point your feet to the Table Rock Trail, an intermediate ascent up a steep, winding path cut through dense forest that leads to the dramatic precipice of Table Rock, a tongue of granite jutting from a cliff high above the verdant valley.
Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort, set at nearly 4,000 feet in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is worth finding for its Jekyll-and-Hyde pair of courses. One crowns a craggy peak; the other stretches across a valley floor. Well-known as the largest nightskiing facility in the mid-Atlantic region, Wintergreen is an underrated golf resort and a hiker’s paradise.
Devil’s Knob, the state’s highest course (nearly 4,000 feet), concluded a $1.25 million makeover last summer, with 10 new forward tees added and all 44 bunkers reshaped and improved. The ruggedness remains: Holes are melded into ridge lines and flanked by rock outcrops or mature hardwoods. Even in the dog days of summer, temperatures at Devil’s Knob hover between 75 and 80 degrees-ideal golf weather. There is little rough on the Knob; none is needed. The instant transition from short grass to tall timber is penalty enough. Also, the drop-offs are dizzying. For example, the vertical drop from tee to fairway at the par-four 16th is 250 feet. Scenery buffs should walk through the woods behind the 14th tee to a secluded lookout point. From here, the Shenandoah Valley rolls for more than 100 miles to the West Virginia border.
A switchback road leads from the main resort complex to Stoney Creek, Wintergreen’s second course. A Rees Jones design expanded to 27 holes in 1998, Stoney Creek is a perfect counterpoint to its high-altitude brother. In fact, with a typical temperature difference of 10 to 15 degrees, this course is open for play when Devil’s Knob is still covered with snow. Some holes occupy former pastures and cornfields crisscrossed by gurgling brooks, others disappear into a thick forest of oaks, pines and beeches.
Looking for something sporty for the whole family? Last year the resort unveiled an 18-hole miniature golf course. No plastic windmills or Swiss cheese blocks here. Hardwoods, boulders and native flora create a park-like setting for the putt-putt course.
After the round, sign up for a guided field trip along the resort’s 30 miles of marked hiking trails. Or, if you’ve depleted your ball supply on Devil’s Knob by the 12th hole, you can always abandon the game and join hikers on the famous Appalachian Trail, which passes nearby. Wintergreen’s 11,000 acres, often likened to a private national park, shelter more than 450 varieties of northern and southern wildflower species. In addition, some of North America’s oldest geologic formations are found within this beautiful mountain-forest refuge.