It’s that time of the year again—time to start fantasizing about summer river trips. Many of the best stretches of family-friendly whitewater are regulated to prevent overcrowding, and if you want to lead your own multiday trip, rather than go with a commercial outfitter, you need to apply in advance for a government-issued private boater permit. Most river permits are allocated by lottery, and the best strategy for winning a launch is to go in with a couple other families and apply for the same dates. You can typically put in for several dates on the same permit, which also increases your odds. Read the fine print carefully, though, there are lots of caveats and the process can be confusing. Here's a guide to scoring a permit—or at least getting in on the lottery—for the best family whitewater trips in the West. Don't dally: Most applications are due February 1.
Good luck out there!
San Juan River, Utah Details: The 84-mile stretch from Sand Island to Clay Hills is a serene wilderness float through southeastern Utah’s rugged canyon lands, and with only two Class III rapids—both of which are easily walked around—it’s ideal for families with really young kids. You can apply for the 2-3 day, 27-mile Upper section from Sand Island to the town of Mexican Hat, the lower, 4-5 day, 57-mile section from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills, or the whole enchilada—typically a 7-day run, or eight if you want to leave time for side hikes and layover days. BLM permits are required for the main boating season—April 1 through October 31—and are issued by lottery. If you apply for but don’t win a permit, you can call for cancellations once the whitewater season starts. Due Date: Postmarked by February 1. Info & Download:435-587-1544 http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/ut/monticello_fo/recreation.Par.86013.File.dat/2012%20San%20Juan%20River%20Application.pdf;
Middle and Main Forks of the Salmon River, Idaho Details: The big daddy of Idaho rivers, the 104-mile, free-flowing Middle Fork of the Salmon, through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, is one of the most coveted permits in the West (only about 1 in 20 applications are successful). It’s designated Wild & Scenic for all but one mile, with the only signs of civilization en route a few foot trails, backcountry landing strips, and private ranches. Bigger Class III-IV+ rapids, especially during spring run-off, makes this a better bet for families with teenagers, but it mellows considerably in late summer, when kids as young as 7 or 8 can make the trip. Lottery-issued permits are required for rafting during peak “control” season, June 20-September 7. The 82-mile, Class III-IV stretch of Main Salmon, from Corn Creek to Carey Creek, follows the same regulations. Due Date: Jan 31 Info & Download: Online applications only—no mail-ins. www.recreation.gov. 877-444-6777
It’s been snowing in the Alps, and we’ve got schussing on the brain, especially since we stumbled across this choice ski-in, ski-out mountain hideout at 4,200 feet the Haute Savoie. La Ferme du Soleil (“Farm of Sunshine”) is Sound of Music meets Richard Scarry: e.g., an alpine ski idyll, with room for 12,très Euro niceties like down featherbeds and a huge open fireplace in the great room, plate-glass views of the peaks, and its very own chef. (On the menu: homemade Reblochon cheese from neighboring farms, local sausages, myrtle berries, honey from nearby alpages, and of course French wine at dinner.) The pistes and lifts of Le Grand-Bornand are right out the front door, providing access to more than 50 miles of pistes and 30+ miles of groomed Nordic trails, as is the village of Grand-Bornand Chinaillon, with a requisite après ski scene, rental shops, and day nurseries for the little ones. Or put on your climbing skins and randonee gear and head out pre-dawn with guide Jean Francois for some “eco-skiing.” What's not to covet?