It's been more than 50 years since the creation of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which protects more than 12,000 miles of pristine waterways.
Here are five places where you and your family can relish the natural beauty of our nation’s rivers.
Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho.
Find your way to Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness and commit to an unplugged week on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. As you float, fish, and splash through 100 miles of spectacular scenery you’ll be treated to unexpected luxuries along the way. Relish the fresh air of morning as your crew delivers hot coffee or cocoa to your luxury tent. Later, warm up in a hot spring, dine on organic, seasonal specialties and plan for the next day’s adventure under a starry sky. Contact:
Rio Grande River, Big Bend National Park, Texas.
This Wild and Scenic River forms the southern boundary of this 800,000-acre playground. It’s the only Park in the United States that hosts a complete mountain range – the Chisos. With older children in tow, soak in the Park’s scenery as well as the warm water offered by a resident hot spring. On the northern riverbank, steamy water fills the foundation of an old bathhouse, creating a popular natural hot tub. Nearby, look for painted pictographs on the cliff walls as you enjoy a one-mile loop hike past historic buildings and the area where various Indian groups lived and traveled.
The Rogue RIver, Oregon.
Float through 40 miles of scenic Southwestern Oregon and you’ll explore the same rugged country that drew Native Americans, trappers and prospectors for centuries. Stay in the raft or up the adrenalin ante by running the rapids in an inflatable kayak. Designated a “Wild & Scenic” wilderness area, you and your family will paddle through the Siskiyou Mountains and the Rogue River National Forest. Also possible are adventures that include hiking and gourmet dining options.
Au Sable, Wellston, MI. Introduce your family to the joys of fly-fishing in the north woods of Michigan. The scenic and diverse Au Sable River originates north of Grayling and winds for more than 100 miles before meeting Lake Huron
A fly-fishing only section of the river flows past Burton’s Landing and is known as the “Holy Water” for its productive riffles and trout filled pools. Team up with a local outfitter for instruction designed for young anglers.
Contact: PureMichigan.com; https://www.dloopoutfitters.com
Cache la Poudre, Colorado.
Located in the northern Front Range and dubbed thePoudre” by local residents and longtime visitors, the main and south forks of the Cache la Poudre River, originate in Rocky Mountain National Park and flow north and east through the Roosevelt National Forest before eventually passing through Fort Collins.
You can explore the region via the Cache la Poudre – North Park Scenic Byway. Beginning in Fort Collins, it follows the river and the route used by settlers to connect Colorado’s northern plains to the Green River settlement in Utah.
Warm up to the wonders of winter adventure. Here are five, high energy family travel ideas to consider:
1. Juneau, AK.
Visit this world-class winter destination and trade long lines and crowded restaurants for endless views and pristine solitude.
Pop on your skis and put things in perspective as you glide across Mendenhall Glacier Lake. With a massive glacier as your backdrop, your whole family will enjoy speeding across the flat terrain while taking in some of the most majestic scenery imaginable. Check out the groomed Nordic trails at Eaglecrest, a community-owned ski resort on Douglas Island just minutes from Juneau.
The most adventuresome families will find challenging terrain and untouched routes along with insider knowledge through experienced heli-skiing operators in the area.
2. Yellowstone National Park.
Discover the magic of our first National Park cloaked in her winter finery. New snowfall serves as the perfect backdrop for a Nordic adventure to a steaming backcountry geyser, a snowshoe around Old Faithful or wildlife viewing in the Lamar Valley. Venture to and from your overnight at the Snow Lodge via snow coach, stopping enroute to observe animals on the move, icy waterfall formations and the evening alpenglow on the mountains. Guided adventure and snowmobile tours are available.
3. Winter Park, CO.
Explore more than 60 miles of groomed trails on skate skis when you visit this family favorite in the Colorado Rockies. In addition to making the most of free skiing lessons offered by the Nordic Center at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch, expect good times ice skating, playing broomball, tubing, sledding, and creating arts and crafts. Get cozy for story time, with hot chocolate and s’mores by the fire. Contact: www.ymcarockies.org. www.visitGrandCounty.com ; www.Colorado.com.
4. McCall, ID.
Bring your favorite furry friends for a day of outdoor fun in this forested mountain town located two hours north of Boise. Dogs are welcome on Nordic trails in several locations throughout McCall, where views of Payette Lake are paired with fresh air and contagious enthusiasm for adventure. At Jug Mountain Ranch, discover the Lyle Nelson Nordic & Snowshoe Trail system, designed by the local Olympian. Skate ski tracks for all abilities send explorers through open meadows and pine scented forests. Fido will enjoy romping through the snow as you and the family navigate trails at the Tamarack Resort, where lessons and guided tours are also available.
5. Kingfield, ME.
Explore more than 80 miles of trails via cross-country skis or on snowshoes in the backcountry of western Maine. Enjoy your off-the-grid adventure by day and then relax in a comfortable hut over night where a warm bed and tasty meals await. Considered “boutique hostels”, the huts, run by a non-profit organization, feature state of the art green energy systems that generate and store their own power. Make tracks from hut-to-hut on your own or with a guide. Contact: www.mainehuts.org
A great read for kids to go with your winter adventures!
If your family is searching for a fresh experience, consider a farm stay. Here are five places where your crew can collect eggs, milk a goat or get their hands dirty in the garden:
Weatherbury Farm. PA.
Give your kids the chance to hand feed ( from a bottle ) baby lambs and toss grain to the free ranging chickens. By joining in these morning chores and learning about organic farming, they can earn the “Official Weatherbury Farm Kid” designation. Discover how the owners of this 100-acre, idyllic spot near Pittsburg, focus on using integrated techniques to manage their sustainable farming operation. You’ll stay in historic buildings and of course, dine on farm-fresh taste treats.
Mary Jane’s Farm. Moscow, ID.
Check into a stylish wall tent on Mary Jane Butters’ farm and the worries of the world will melt away. Gather your own eggs for breakfast. Pick vegetables you’ll enjoy for lunch. Visit the library housed in a barn. Burn calories helping out with farm chores. Relax in the outdoor living room area nestled in a grove of plum trees. Go for a hike or play cards or board games. Later get clean in the outdoor tub or showers.
Contact: 888-750-6004; www.MaryJanesFarm.org.
Leaping Lamb Farm. Alsea, OR.
Stow your technology and get to know this charming farm, the animals and the folks who run this 40-acre homestead in Oregon’s Coast Range. Enjoy a leisurely family breakfast in your cozy cabin that includes local eggs ( yep, right from the farm ) and other fruits, breads and cereals. Find your way to the orchard to pick apples, pears or plums. Lend a hand in the greenhouse and garden or learn about raising lamb and Heritage turkeys. Visit the horses, admire the peacock and make time for a hike or bike outing on neighboring trails.
Contact: 877-820-6132; www.leapinglambfarm.com
Pagett Farm. ME
Your kids can pal around with the pigs, goats, chickens and ducks and learn about organic farming. Gather the family to help out with the chores on this 63-acre spread or simply relax and enjoy the natural environment. Check out the starry night sky before falling asleep inside the luxe platform tents, each decked out with braided rugs and colorful quilts. Consider a visit to nearby lakes for kayaking, swimming or canoeing. Also, Acadia National Park is within an hour and a half drive.
The Inn at Celebrity Dairy. Raleigh, NC. It's an eight-room, Greek-Revival farmhouse an hour southwest of Raleigh, rewards early risers: At 6 a.m., the five dozen goats are milked, and soon after, guests dig into award-winning cheese and eggs from the inn's free-range chickens.
For a day, a weekend or a week, leave civilization behind and challenge yourselves on the whitewater. Take the rustic approach and camp along the river’s edge. Or float by day and snuggle in at the lodge overnight.
Here are five places where the rivers are wild and scenic:
Rogue River Lodge-based Wilderness Rafting: One of the most famous rivers in the American West, the Rogue flows through a large Wilderness area as it winds from Oregon’s Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It’s the only wilderness rafting trip where you can raft by day and sleep in remote lodges at night! Fun, intermediate rapids, warm water and a green-forested canyon make the Rogue River the perfect natural playground. Combine the trip with a visit to Crater Lake National Park and/or the Oregon Shakespeare festival. Three- and four-day trips depart weekly May to September. Contact: 800-451-6034; www.rowadventures.com/rogue-river-rafting-oregon.html
Adventure on the Stillwater, Red Lodge, MT. Join guide Marek Rosin on a trip down the family-friendly Stillwater River as it winds its way through a one-sided canyon that once served as home for the Crow Indians. Relax in a raft or pop into an inflatable kayak. Run the scenic river near the charming town of Red Lodge, Montana, then take time to explore the river’s source in the majestic Beartooth-Absoraka Wilderness. Contact: 800-897-3061; www.AdventureWhitewater.com
Middle Fork Mastery, Sun Valley, ID -This is no ordinary river adventure. Families will bond on the river while enjoying fly fishing, rafting, kayaking and hiking along the famed Middle Fork of the Salmon River. On your personalized vacation enjoy unexpected luxuries including massage in your chalet tents enhanced by carpets and elevated beds. Dine on organic seasonal fare prepared by a top Sun Valley chef. The outfitter’s American Safari concept promises five star services in a superb natural setting. Contact: 1-832-755-7661; www.far-away.com.
Salt River Treat. Near Fountain Hills, AZ. Enjoy the surprising contrast of stunning Sonoran desert beauty as you float south via your raft, kayak or tube on the Salt River. Saguaro cactus stand guard along the shoreline, hawks soar overhead. Richly hued canyon walls rise from near the water’s edge. During the winter months bunk in at the charming Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, a family run operation that recalls the western charm often depicted in cowboy film. Saddle up at the ranch and explore the nearby landscape. Contact: 1 (480) 984-2194; www.SaguaroLakeranch.com.
British Columbia Waterways. If you and your family are looking for a remote river experience, consider the pristine waterways of British Columbia. Choose from hundreds of rivers including the Tatshenshini, the powerful Stikine, the Gataga or the historic Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Teeming with fish and wild-life rich, expect natural bounty. The British Columbia Outfitters Association provides information about trips available in the region. Contact: www.BCROA.com.
For many families, summer is a time of transition. Family schedules and structures take on new shapes and sizes. When September rolls around, will there be more school supplies to buy? Or will the nest soon be emptying? This year, the warm summer breeze reminds me of an adventure we experienced years ago.
Not far down the sandy bank, I could see my 18-year-old son Alex rhythmically casting his fly into the Salmon River, intent on luring a trout. He was tanned and relaxed. His smile came easily as his angling efforts paid off.
I was looking for some uncomplicated time with my middle son before he went off to college. Perhaps selfishly, I wanted his full attention. Not those moments diluted by phone calls or text messages, the lure of the evening’s social activities or side glances to catch the latest on ESPN. So off to the wilderness we went.
Our backcountry choice was the Salmon River, referred to as the River of No Return by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. What we found in Central Idaho was a river corridor of exceptional beauty meandering through two million acres of wilderness, exciting whitewater, calm river pools, white sand beaches, and traces of American history not likely found in any other river valley in North America.
I was more than willing to share our time on the water with my youngest son Ted, who was about to miss his older brother as much as I would. From Boise, we climbed aboard a plane so small it felt like a bathtub toy. And we seemingly floated into Salmon, Idaho after enjoying up close and exhilarating views of the rugged mountain wilderness near Stanley and Sun Valley.
We were met by our charming host Wayne Johnson, owner of Salmon River Rafting, who would eventually impress us as a jack of all river trades. He informed, organized and otherwise herded us from our Salmon hotel to the water’s edge.
We were in the good company of a father, his son and two grandsons from Michigan, a couple from Minneapolis and our guides Wayne, Steve and Megan. Once afloat, our group of ten was dispersed among two kayaks, a rubber raft and the swift boat that carried our supplies down river.
Some of us were eager for the extra challenge (and exercise) provided by the kayaks. Others were just as content to relax in the boat, enjoying the near perfect weather and the surrounding Frank Church Wilderness. That is until we heard the rumble of rushing water ahead.
From the beginning, our guides carefully coached us to take the white water seriously and keep our feet first and down river should we end up in the drink. And it was a good thing!
Over the course of five days, rapid after rapid, we screamed, splashed, strategized and steered our way in and around giant boulders, swirling holes, and foamy waves that crashed over our heads.
My kayak partner Mark and I high-fived in pride for having stayed right side up more often than my two muscular teens traveling in tandem.
Evenings were spent enjoying hearty food prepared by Wayne and his capable crew, then stories and poems around the campfire, and the company of our fellow adventurers. The biggest decision of the day was whether to assemble the tent or enjoy a peaceful night under the stars.
Wayne Johnson is a veteran of the river, having spent most of his adult life guiding through this wilderness corridor. His love for the flowing water, the natural surroundings and the significant history provides tremendous added value to the trip. As travelers on the Main Salmon River we found ourselves immersed in an historical gold mine with Wayne as our guide, telling tales of hermits and homesteaders, while leading us past grave markers and abandoned log cabins. We saw Indian pictographs and happily immersed ourselves in hot springs considered medicinal by the early Indian settlers.
On our final afternoon, Alex and I headed up a small creek from our campsite and spent the afternoon gleefully catching the most colorful trout either of us had ever seen. It was one of those magical afternoons, suspended in time, only the wilderness can provide.