Seeking adventure, voluntourism, thrill rides

As the weather warms, so do thoughts of time off to escape, bond, explore, pamper. We could fill a column every week with the unusual options that are available. For example:

Idyllic bicycling and hiking trips abroad are presented every year at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, whose Adventure Tours are open to the public.

This year’s choices include hiking in Italy, May 18-30; Switzerland, July 22 to Aug. 5; and Scotland, Sept. 7-21. Biking trips will be in Normandy, June 15 to July 3; Bavaria, June 25 to July 9; and Ireland, July 7-22.

About two dozen people can participate, per tour. Ages have ranged from 18 to 83. Good physical condition and “a spirit of flexibility and adventure” are required.

Costs tend to include airfare, land transport. lodging and some meals for roughly $2,600 to $3,600, based on double occupancy. For more: www.uwsp.edu/hphd/bikehike or 715-346-4080.

A newly restored paddlewheel passenger boat, a 19th century replica, will begin cruising Delavan Lake in June.

This is the newest addition to the Lake Geneva Cruise Line fleet. Cruises will begin at Lake Lawn Resort, with on-board narration about the area’s circus and American Indian history as well as mansions and architecture.

For more: www.cruiselakegeneva.com, 800-588-5911. The cruise line also operates six other vessels on Lake Geneva; these boat rides begin May 1. Guests can witness mail being delivered by boat, sign up for a lunch or dinner outing, or simply enjoy a pleasant ride.

We’re no tornado chaser, but that’s exactly what the new attraction is about at Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Ill. The Tornado slide is described as an “extreme tubing experience.”

Four-person rafts head down a 132-foot long tunnel, then a 60-foot wide funnel. The thrills begin 75 feet above ground, and the excitement ends 17 seconds later.

For more: www.sixflags.com, 847-249-2133. The park opens for the season on April 29, but Hurricane Harbor (where the Tornado is located) opens May 27.

For more of a remote adventure, in a natural setting, consider the nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry, based in Minneapolis. There are six summer trips for families, with prices starting at $80 per youth and $120 per adult for meals, equipment/gear, permits and staff/guides.

At the low end of pricing is four days at Itasca State Park, northern Minnesota, for canoeing, hiking and fishing.

Other choices include Maine, for backcountry canoeing; Yellowstone National Park, for hiking and canoeing; St. Croix River canoeing (near Minneapolis); Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota), to follow the path of fur traders long ago, in 24-foot cedar canoes; Superior National Forest (Minnesota), for canoeing, hiking and fishing; and Custer State Park (Black Hills of South Dakota), for camping and visits to area attractions.

The high end of these trips, which last three to six days, is $645 per adult, $320 per youth. Trips are offered on multiple dates. Sign language interpreters, personal care attendants and adaptive equipment are provided at no extra cost.

Wilderness Inquiry also presents family trips to other countries. For more: www.wildernessinquiry.org, 612-676-9400.

To give back something to the environment, as well as savor its beauty, there are American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacations. Participants spend one or two weeks to build and maintain trails in national parks and national forests.

The work can be strenuous or easy, with tasks that involve various ability levels. It typically costs $130 (plus transportation) to participate, which includes food and lodging (or a tent site).

Volunteer work isn’t limited to the United States. The Patagonia Project, for example, will improve Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Options that are closest to home include work rated “difficult” in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota, May 20-27. Five of those seven work slots remain available.

For more: www.americanhiking.org, (301) 565-6704.

Another excellent volunteer vacation specialist is Global Volunteers, which sends average people all over the world, to perform simple to complicated tasks in life-changing settings.

Volunteers spend one to three weeks as tutors to conservation workers, in health care to construction settings. Children of new immigrants can be taught in Minnesota. Classrooms and dormitories can be built in Tanzania.

Participants pay a program fee as well as their transportation costs; all fees are tax-deductible. For more: www.globalvolunteers.org, 800-398-8787 or 800-487-1074.

Maybe your pilgrimage needs to be more musical this year, especially since this is being billed as the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ rise to fame. If that sparks attention, check out a Graceland tour package that includes a two-night stay at the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis.

What else? A tour of Graceland, of course, plus a four-hour “all-Elvis tour of Memphis.” There are other diversions and add-ons, too. For more: www.gracelandtours.com, 866-320-5295.

Last, new options for people who want to pamper their pooch. Cherry Valley Lodge, Newark, Ohio, presents “dog spa packages.” Both two- and four-legged creatures can stay at the resort lodge, which has a sanctioned arboretum and botanical garden.

It’s homemade cookies for people, homemade treats for the dogs. There is a 14-mile walking trail, gifts of bath products for people and bowls/toys for the dogs.

Dog spa services include an oatmeal bath, eyewash, ear cleaning, dog cologne, hot oil treatment, coat clip and nail trim. The list of options for humans is longer, but with minimal overlap.

For more: www.cherryvalleylodge.com, 800-788-8088. The lodge is 25 miles east of Columbus.