Except for mid- to late June, when northern Minnesota's mosquitoes own the landscape, Voyageurs National Park is paradise for floating abodes. Imagine this: You pull your houseboat up next to a deserted beach backed by towering white pines. The kids plunge off the water slide while you install yourself on deck, grilling up the smallmouth bass you caught that afternoon. After a late dinner, the kids collapse into their bunks. You retire to the deckside hot tub to watch the northern lights shoot across the sky and listen to the loons cry and the wolves howl.
Crane Lake is the south entry to Voyageurs. Renting a houseboat there gives you access to the park's 70-mile length, which encompasses some 30 named lakes and 1,600 islands. Houseboaters need to travel only about an hour to find Grassy Bay Cliffs on Sand Point Lake, where moose and deer feed below 200-foot-high granite walls. A few hours later, in Mica Bay, you can pull over and hike a mile up the Beast Lake Trail, where there are panoramic views all the way to Canada. A day later, in Namakan Lake, pull up to the Kettle Falls Hotel, a historic lodge where you can have lunch on the veranda.
At Voyagaire Houseboats (800-882-6287), boat rentals start at under $1,000 per week on a six-person boat and shoot up to $4,490 per week on a luxury 57-footer with room for 14, air conditioning, and the aforementioned hot tub.
This probably isn't what John Wesley Powell had in mind. The houseboats motoring along the red-rock shores of his namesake lake on the Utah-Arizona border are not exploring; they're moseying.
But that's just the point. Once you've boarded your house for the week, you simply head down the main channel of the 186-mile-long lake, nose along the 1,900-mile shoreline, and poke around any of the 96 canyons that seem intriguing in the moment. Lazy sun-baked days are filled with inner-tubing, reconnoitering good picnicking beaches by speedboat, and hiking up side canyons.
On the lake's eastern shore, the sandstone Rainbow Bridge spans 275 feet and soars 290 feet above the canyon floor. Another memorable sandstone sight is Anteater Arch, just past the San Juan Arm (about ten miles north of Rainbow Bridge), which becomes a series of waterfalls when it rains.
On the lake's west side, houseboaters can easily access Hole-in-the-Rock, about five miles from the San Juan Arm, where Mormon colonists striking southward in 1879-80 made their way down a precipitous sandstone decline to cross the Colorado River.
Four marinas at various points on Lake Powell rent houseboats; luxury-wise, they span the scale from floating RVs to miniature cruise ships. Weekly rates start at $1,500 for a 36-footer (with room for up to six people) and top out at $4,300 for a 59-footer (which sleeps up to 12 in upholstered, carpeted, air-conditioned splendor). Call Lake Powell Reservations at 800-528-6154 to arrange boat rental.
The St. Johns River, which cuts north through east-central Florida to the Atlantic Coast, is nothing if not varied. At its mouth in Jacksonville, it is busy and wide. But upstream, across the pelican-filled shallows of Lake George, it's a slice of The Way Florida Used to Be-black tannin water, alligators, cypress trees, winding backwaters, primeval peace.
About half the length of the 273-mile river is navigable by houseboat-the 150 miles between Sanford (near Orlando) and Jacksonville. Put in at the marina in De Land and head north; after about three hours, you'll reach the border of the Ocala National Forest.
In Astor, in the southeast corner of the forest, you'll find dockside fuel pumps and restaurants. From Astor, it's a short ride to 73-acre Lake George, where you'll see ospreys, otters, owls, and deer. North of Lake George, the river widens and enters a terrific bass-fishing area. From the south end of Lake George, it's about 40 minutes to Silver Glen Springs, where you'll turn around to head back to De Land. Holly Bluff Marina in De Land-an hour north of Walt Disney World-rents air-conditioned houseboats for a weekend, four weekdays, or a full week. A four-sleeper costs $1,200 for a week; a ten-sleeper, $2,400. Call 800-237-5105.