The great Western raft trip, defined

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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The great Western raft trip, defined
Question: What are the best outfitters for river rafting the Colorado or the Snake, or any river in a state cooler than Georgia? I need to leave town July 19-August 4 (the Olympics).

Sheryl Bear
Atlanta, GA
[email protected]

Idaho's Salmon River makes for a classic
raft trip.

Adventure Adviser: That's right, Sheryl--get the heck out of Hotlanta and head to Idaho to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, a classic American river with clear water, high-alpine terrain, cooler temperatures, and not a road in sight (it's a 3.5-mile schlep down a steep, switchbacked trail to the put-in).

Considering that it has more than 100 hair-raising rapids, it's no surprise that there are a whopping 27 commercial outfitters clamoring to sign you up for a multiday paddling trip. Perhaps the best known is ECHO: The Wilderness Company (800-652-3246), a 25-year-old outfit whose four- to six-day trips run June through September for $825-$1,200 per person--and they'll even throw in tents, sleeping bags, and all meals. Another old Middle Fork standby is ROW (800-451-6034), which has floated paddlers down the river since 1979 and offers a similar schedule for $850-$1,395. For a complete rundown of similar companies, call the Idaho Outfitters Guide Association at 208-342-1919.

A seven- to 13-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon in late July will definitely be hotter than Idaho--and may even rival Georgia, minus the humidity--and, due to its world-renowned reputation, usually requires reservations at least a year in advance. If you can talk your way onto a trip at this late date, it'll probably mean shelling out anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 a person. Needless to say, there are plenty of outfitters to choose from, like Canyon Explorations (800-654-0723), Colorado River & Trail Explorations (801-261-1789), and O.A.R.S. (800-346-6277).

If you're shut out of the Grand Canyon, console yourself upstream with a 100-mile paddle through eastern Utah's Canyonlands National Park and Cataract Canyon. The five- or six-day trip ($625-$800) starts out pretty low-key from its put-in near Moab, but picks up momentum below the confluence with the Green River, where rapids can be Grand Canyon-sized in high water and still pretty thrilling Class IIIs or higher by mid-August. At least 15 outfitters run trips, so your best bet is to call the Canyonlands National Park office in Moab (801-259-7164) for a complete list.

If you don't like any of my ideas, consider picking up a copy of Whitewater Rafting in North America, by Lloyd Armstead (Globe Pequot, $16.95).

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