If your idea of a hiking vacation is pitching a tent and bedding down in the dirt for a few weeks, more power to you. It’s a cheap holiday if you’re unemployed and own all your own gear. But just in case you have a job and, like me, a life partner who doesn’t do trails, you might be able to find a happy medium that gives your spouse a vacation from, well, you, and lets you spend some time wandering the dusty paths and sleeping in a real bed.

Advantages of a day-hiking holiday:

  • When you’re walking in the woods, you’re not spending money.
  • You’re also not getting fatter, so you won’t have to work off pounds after vacation.
  • You can lord it over all your listless co-workers with impressive tales of locales light years from their couches.

Here’s what I did in the summers of 2005 and 2006: secured lodging at a bed & breakfast that provided ample kick-back time that we both spent doing what we were into: she wanted to just relax and hear the wind whistle through the pines. I wanted a taste of real wilderness that I could drive to and from and still sleep in a bed. Where to go, you ask?

My choices were easy: Yosemite in ’05 and Zion/Bryce/North Rim Grand Canyon in ’06. We rented a bedroom from these people at Yosemite and these people just a few miles from the entrance to Zion National Park. The Yosemite B&B is actually in the park in a section called Yosemite West near Glacier Point Road. It’s gotten a lot pricier since we went. The southern Utah B&B was nice because it was easy driving to Zion, Bryce and the North Rim. Rooms were economical, food was good, clientele was international. While Yosemite is stupendous, southern Utah is magical. Either way you’re OK.

The real trick is picking the right time of year. If you’ve got no kids, then check out Yosemite before Memorial Day to see the water running, and Zion after Labor Day to miss the summer heat.

If you have kids, you’re stuck going in the summer, when the trick becomes figuring out how to avoid the gazillion tourists who show up at the national parks. My advice: scope out national forests, designated wilderness areas and Bureau of Land Management trails. The hiking will be more primitive but you’ll have far more time to soak up the nature. (If you’re a rookie, though, you’re probably better off at Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, because it’s much easier for people to find you when you’re lost).

I brought up these examples because they worked for me, but the possibilities are bound only by the size our planetary land mass and your available time off. You could start poking around at out Rick McCharles’ Best Hike site, which is more trail-oriented than park oriented, or you just close your eyes and click at GORP.com till your finger gets tired and go wherever your last click leaves you.

Things to consider:

  • Forget about the national park lodges; poke around and find cool (and economical) places within an hour’s drive of your desired trailhead.
  • Go ahead and buy a guidebook for where you’re going.
  • Actually read the guidebook before you go.
  • Get real, professionally made maps (rather than somebody’s GPS plot you grabbed off the Web somewhere).
  • Mind the altitude: if you’re a flatlander, you’ll run out of steam twice as fast at 8,000 feet.
  • You’ll be on unfamiliar trails. Expect to get lost and plan accordingly.
  • Mind the water supply. You don’t want be lost without water in Utah in July, for instance.
  • Read my 10 essentials for happy hiking.

And just to keep things on topic, if you’re vacationing in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the Best of the Best in Bay Area trails, and Five Great Hikes for Bay Area Travelers.