Family Vacations, Summer 1996
UPPER NEW RIVER, WEST VIRGINIA
Sometimes the disjunction between the roiling whitewater of the Gorge and the gentle rapids of the Upper New has a tendency to split families, with one parent taking teens downriver for an adrenaline rush while the other paddles with the younger kids on calmer stretches upstream. But to keep all family members together and happy on the Upper New, outfitters dole out all manner of river craft, from no-effort, oar-powered rafts to paddle rafts to self-bailing, inflatable "ducky" kayaks to Torrents--extremely responsive hard-shelled kayaks that older kids ride atop, making even Class II foam a thrill.
The 40-mile, pristine river that flows through Prince Canyon, Grand View Canyon, and Surprise Canyon on the Upper New gives outfitters the flexibility of tailoring a day trip to the season or stretching a longer trip over several days, for one of the only overnight raft trips in the East. Class VI River Runners (304-574-0704), ACE Whitewater (800-787-3982), and North American River Runners (800-950-2585) all offer day trips and overnight trips on the river. Kids as young as five can make the trip.
SAN JUAN RIVER, UTAH
The San Juan is most famous for a long stretch of meandering river, known as the Goosenecks, that's bound by 2,000-foot sandstone and limestone canyon walls. At one point the river travels seven miles to go only two miles as the crow flies. The current is among the fastest in the country, particularly in the early summer; though that speed doesn't translate into churning rapids, it does account for the intermittent "sand waves" that arise out of no- where, carrying rafts along on their roller-coaster crests. The water temperature in summer settles at 70 degrees or so--perfect for swimming, mud fights, and frolicking.
Holiday River Expeditions (800-624-6323) offers three- and four-day trips in May and June for $447 and $580 for adults, $347 and $480 for children. (The three-day trip launches at Mexican Hat and misses some of the better Anasazi sites upriver.) OARS (800-346-6277) runs three-, four-, and six-day trips throughout the summer, from $495 to $695 for adults, $440 to $640 for kids. Both outfitters will take children as young as five years old.
The scenery, though, is still as dramatic as it was in the movie, and the calm patches between rapids leave more time to appreciate the lush mountainsides bursting with mountain laurel and wild rhododendron in the early summer, or fall's changing leaves.
The Rio Grande is relatively calm as it winds through this landscape of cliffs and desert flats, with maybe 12 significant rapids dotting a span of 85 miles. It's thus an ideal river for learning to kayak, for taking time to appreciate the environment's majesty, and for swimming in the warm currents and bathing in the hot springs. "Kids just love to explore down there," says Bill Dvorak of Dvorak's Kayak and Rafting Expeditions. "You see lots of turtles, fish, horses, roadrunners, peregrine falcons." Parents of young children, though, might consider whether they are ready to be so isolated for seven full days.
Summer temperatures in the canyons can become almost unbearable, so it's best to go either before or after the height of summer. Both Dvorak's (800-824-3795) and Far Flung Adventures (800-359-4138) run seven-day trips from $700-$870 per person. If you're looking for a shorter but equally dramatic trip in the same area, Far Flung Adventures offers one- to five-day trips in the Colorado, Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas canyons of Big Bend National Park.
RIO CHAMA, NEW MEXICO
Campsites are on huge shelves among thick stands of pine. The three-day trip especially allows for hiking time in the forests, where you can discover ancient Anasazi encampments and other archaeological sites--ask the guides to point out some less-obvious artifacts.
May and June are the best months to go, with higher river volumes and fewer rafting parties to disturb the peace. Far Flung Adventures (800-359-2627) runs two- and three-day rafting trips for $202 and $303. Kokopelli Rafting Adventures (800-879-9035) charges $87 per person for day trips.
ROGUE RIVER, OREGON
With its family-friendly pedigree, a Rogue trip is more likely than most to have same-age companions for your kids. Most outfitters run the 45-mile section through the Siskiyou National Forest, from Galice to Foster Bar, in four or five days. Many offer lodge-based trips, with the seductive appeal of a nightly sojourn on a real mattress. But the real family option is the camping trip, where you can sit around the campfire at night and trade Bigfoot tales. James Henry (800-786-1830), ARTA (800-323-2782), OARS (800-346-6277), and Outdoor Adventures (800-323-4234) all offer four- and five-day trips, ranging from $560-$690 for adults, $475-$630 for kids.
TATSHENSHINI RIVER, YUKON/BRITISH COLUMBIA/ALASKA
Even though the rapids rarely roar above a Class III level and subside somewhat after the first day's run through a narrow canyon, this is not a trip outfitters recommend for children under 12. Both James Henry River Journeys (800-786-1830) and Rivers & Oceans (800-360-7238) offer 11-day trips on the Tatshenshini for about $2,300 per person. Call Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (907-697-2230) for more information and a complete list of outfitters.
MIDDLE FORK OF THE
At either water level, the Class IV rapids--Velvet Falls, Pistol Creek, Powerhouse--are guaranteed to thrill. The Middle Fork drops an average of 27 feet a mile, finally tumbling into the trip-capping whitewater of Impassable Canyon. This is near where Captain Ruben Bernard came with his troops in 1879 to massacre the Sheepeater Indians. It's also the best place to spy bighorn sheep high on the canyon walls--up where Earl Parrot, "the hermit of Impassable Canyon," made his home for 27 years in the early 1900s (his cabins survive to this day).
Surprisingly enough, the rapids often come in second to other pleasures as the high point of a young rafter's vacation. When Ann Despont brought her two daughters down the river last summer, their lasting stories were of sitting around the campfire at night, of showering under the 150-foot spume of Veil Falls, and of bathing in hot springs under the moon.
Hughes River Expeditions (208-262-1882), OARS (800-346-6277), and Hatch River Expeditions (800-342-8243) offer five- and six-day trips on the Middle Fork, for about $1,300 a person.
MAGPIE RIVER, QUEBEC
When it isn't churning over the numerous unnamed rapids, the Magpie moves at more of a meander, winding through a northern wilderness of pine forests and foot-deep moss, past rocky driftwood-strewn shores and towering granite cliffs. Toward the end of the trip, the river plunges 80 feet off the Laurentian plateau in a dramatic crescendo of sound and spray that has, in deference to its majesty, been granted a name (albeit an unimaginative one): Magpie Falls. Helicopters carry the boats and baggage around the falls, and groups camp directly across from the roiling monster.
Because of its remoteness and Class IV rapids, the Magpie is best suited for teenagers, although no river-running experience is necessary. Earth River Expeditions, the only commercial outfitter to run the river, offers two trips in August, for $1,400 per person. Call 800-643-2784 for more information.
TUOLUMNE RIVER, CALIFORNIA
Sierra Mac (800-457-2580), Whitewater Voyages (800-488-7238), OARS (800-346-6277), and Outdoor Adventures (800-323-4234) all offer two- and three-day trips for $315-$460 per person. The three-day trips leave enough time for exploring side-canyon water slides and swimming holes. Most outfitters accept kids as young as 12. Call the Stanislaus National Forest (209-962-7825) for information on private rafting permits and a complete list of outfitters.
Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine