United States

2009 Travel Awards

The Owyhee River     Photo: Courtesy of O.A.R.S.

Dollars and sense: Get a Room

In the 12 months leading up to November 2008, 1,286 new hotels opened in the U.S., according to Smith Travel Research. Now those upstarts are struggling to fill rooms. In cities like Chicago (with 27 new hotels) and Phoenix (with 18), managers are drastically reducing prices: At press time, rooms at Chicago's new Dana Hotel cost $175 instead of $350. Check industry blog HotelChatter.com for openings and discounts.

IDAHO, OREGON & NEVADA
TRIP OF THE YEAR: NORTH AMERICA
Paddle the Upper Owyhee
7 DAYS, $1,890
A good measure of the quality of a float trip is the difficulty in getting there. By those standards, it's hard to beat River Odysseys West's new expedition-style journey to the Class II Upper Owyhee. "The road's crummy, there aren't any shuttle services, and the portages are a bitch," says ROW founder Peter Grubb. "But I've never been up there and seen another party." From the Nevada put-in, on either the South or the East fork of the Owyhee (the East is the more striking canyon by far), each guest paddles his own inflatable kayak 50 miles through a basalt gorge to the confluence with the main Owyhee. (A 12-foot raft totes gear.) From there it's another 30 miles to the take-out at Three Forks, in Oregon. The route goes through bighorn sheep country and passes abandoned stone pioneers' cabins. Day four is reserved for two tough portages, but hard work makes Dutch-oven brownies taste better. Bonus: ROW's new trip comes just in time for new federal legislation that, if passed, will add the desert canyon to the national Wild & Scenic Rivers registry, and protect an additional 570,000 acres of the area. Four departures in June and July; rowadventures.com.

CALIFORNIA
Float the Tuolumne and Hike Yosemite
5 DAYS, $1,900
This new, amphibious itinerary from rafting specialists OARS starts fast and ends slow. First up: an 18-mile paddle through Class IV rapids on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River, Central California's roiliest. From the take-out at Wards Ferry Bridge, it's a 50-minute drive to the bar-equipped Evergreen Lodge, on the western edge of Yosemite National Park. The next four days are spent "glamping" on air mattresses on the lodge's property and trekking to Yosemite classics like 8,842-foot Half Dome and wildflower-studded Tuolumne Meadows. Five trips between May and August; oars.com. CASH TIP: Ask if there are any openings—or last-minute discounts—on the May trip, when the Tuolumne runs fastest.

WASHINGTON
KILLER VALUE
Ride the Lewis River
5 DAYS, $1,200
Local mountain bikers have been riding southern Washington's lush Gifford Pinchot National Forest since the mid-eighties. But it wasn't until 2007 that the Forest Service opened this 2,138-square-mile forest—home to more than 700 miles of singletrack—to commercial trips. The first outfitter to take advantage: Moab, Utah–based cycling specialists Western Spirit, which debuted this five-day tour last July. The 100-mile haul starts near Mount Adams and traces a series of three subalpine lakes. "The old-growth cedars we ride through make the perfect canopy, keeping the trail surface tacky," says Western Spirit owner Mark Sevenoff. Other highlights include postcard views of the Lewis River's descent from the Cascades; nights spent camping and mauling grilled salmon (guides cook while you sip local beer); a trip-capping ride off the flanks of Mount St. Helens; and a price so low you'll want to book a second date. Eight trips in July and August; westernspirit.com.

ALASKA
Explore ANWR
10 DAYS, $10,000
If any splurge is called for this year, it's this journey into America's still untapped, northernmost reaches from luxury outfitter Abercrombie & Kent. The trip starts in Fairbanks, from which bush planes fly eight guests to the North Slope of the Brooks Range. Too-loó-uk River Guides will paddle you on 14-foot rafts through 50 miles of the Marsh Fork of the Canning, a mostly lazy river that meanders through green valleys in the shadow of white peaks toward the Arctic Ocean. "You've got 5,000-foot peaks right off the river, treeless tundra, open hills and ridges," says lead guide Juliette Boselli. Bring your waterproof hikers for day trips along the way, and carbo-load each night on fresh-baked breads in the dome-tented camp. Scramble up a small peak and you'll spot Dall sheep, musk ox, eagles, and falcons. End the trip where the Canning meets the Beaufort Sea and fly out over the famous Porcupine caribou herds. Top of the world, Ma. Four departures between June and August; abercrombiekent.com.

BERING STRAIT
Paddle to Wrangel
13 DAYS, FROM $5,500
See how close Alaska and Russia really are on Aurora Expeditions' new trip from Nome, Alaska, across the Bering Sea, and along the Chukotka Peninsula, at Siberia's northeastern tip. Your base is the 100-passenger Marina Svetaeva, but Aurora's guides offer daylong sea-kayaking options along Chukotka's rugged coast, where sea otters and harp seals play. And pending icepack levels in the Arctic Ocean, Aurora plans to explore Wrangel Island, home to hundreds of polar bears. "We hope to get the sea kayaks in the water around Wrangel and hike onshore," says owner Greg Mortimer. August 6–18; auroraexpeditions.com.au.

ALASKA
Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge
Comprising 16 cabins and a dining building, Alaska Wildland Adventures' Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is the only hotel within the boundaries of 700,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park. Fresh-caught salmon in the restaurant is nice, but the draw is thesetting: The lodge, which opens in July, sits on a pebble beach in 1,700-acre Pedersen Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary. And because Glacier is accessible only by boat, your stay comes with a cruise through humpback whale migratory waters. Doubles, $425, three-night minimum; alaskawildland.com.

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