Is ‘Cabineering’ The New Glamping?

Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone
Courtesy of Delaware North Parks & Resorts

Love the outdoors but roughing it, not so much? A new movement called cabineering might be for you. The term was coined by Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, which operates historic and scenic properties throughout North America and Australia, to describe its new Explorer Cabins at Yellowstone.

The upscale 50-cabin property is scheduled to open July 1 in West Yellowstone, Montana; the units will provide the “comforts of home and the perks of a hotel for adventurous travelers.” The overarching goal of Explorer Cabins is to “provide a unique vacation experience by combining several lodging movements, including cabineering, “generational travel” and dog-friendly travel…in a remote area.”

To celebrate the opening, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts will host the “Cabineering℠ Cook-off presented by Pepsi” contest on July 17. Contestants must submit an original recipe, which must be created using only the appliances offered at Explorer Cabins, and prepared in 30 minutes or less. Recipes, along with a photo or video of the dish, will be accepted starting June 25 through July 3. Participants must “like” the “Visit Yellowstone Park” Facebook page to enter their submissions.

Three finalists will be selected and flown, along with three family members, to West Yellowstone to prepare their recipes before a panel of judges (Can you already hear the, “Please pack your knives and go.”). The winner will have his or her recipe added to the Branch Restaurant and Bar menu, located at Explorer Cabin’s sister hotel, the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone. The winner will also receive a trip for four to Explorer Cabins for three nights. Details are available on Facebook.

Adventure Guide 2013: Crested Butte


Crested Butte
features incredible backcountry and extreme opportunities in a remote and captivating package. It’s also got more lift-accessed extreme terrain than anywhere else in the nation. You may need to purchase a ski-pass, but it’s all avalanche-controlled (what’s known as sidecountry, rather than backcountry). Few are the powder hounds who miss the constant threat of imminent burial under several tons of snow.

If you’re experienced at off-piste skiing, take the lift up, and hightail it into the sidecountry. If you’re experienced at backcountry, the Crested Butte region has no shortage of terrain; for an overnight, try booking one of the two huts in the neighboring historic mining town of Gothic through the Crested Butte Nordic Center. And if you want to get hardcore, hire the very excellent Crested Butte Mountain Guides to take you off the grid (they offer two-day backcountry clinics, avalanche classes, ice-climbing clinics, and mountaineering, as well as personalized and private half- and full-day trips).

Need more reasons? Crested Butte is one of the few surviving authentic ski towns left in the West. If funky former mining shacks-turned-pizzerias, snow tire-outfitted cruiser bikes and lopsided saloons (all in a three-block radius) are your thing, CB is sure to steal your heart.
Looking for something less extreme? Explore the 55-kilometer trail system put in by the Nordic Center. It has varied terrain and accommodates both cross-country skiers and snowshoers. You’ll need to purchase a pass from the center (an adult one-day pass, $15).

Competitive types will also love CB’s wacked-out winter festivals such as the Alley Loop, a 21k costumed Nordic race through the town’s back-alleys and trails, and the Grand Traverse, which takes competitors over the Elk Mountains from CB to Aspen (also a great option for backcountry enthusiasts).

In your recovery time, there are seasonal moonlight Yurt Dinners (ski or snowshoe in), as well as horseback riding, dogsledding and Snowcat driving lessons (seriously!).

Hotels

Crested Butte refers to the small, historic former mining town; Mt. Crested Butte, where the resort is located, is three miles away. There are amenities in both places; where you stay depends upon your needs. If you want ski-in access, luxury accommodations, or don’t care about nightlife, stay on the mountain. If you’re on a budget, looking to tear it up both on the slopes and in the bar, or want a more “local” experience, opt for town lodging. There’s a free Town Shuttle (look for the groovy, multi-colored, hand-painted blue and white buses) that runs until around midnight. After that, you’ll need to call Alpine Express shuttle service. Whatever you choose accommodation-wise, CB has lodging for every price point and taste.

Crested Butte International Hostel: Clean and quiet, but lacking in personality as hostels go, this is nevertheless a safe, inexpensive place for solo travelers, couples and families to stay. It’s right in town, and offers plenty of free parking. From $39.
visitcrestedbutte.com 615 Teocalli Avenue

Nordic Inn: This remodeled chalet-style property just reopened on December 15, under new ownership. The longest-operating lodge in Gunnison County, the 50-year-old Inn is just 500 yards from the slopes, and has a mellow, welcoming atmosphere, thanks to the friendly staff and roaring fire in the lobby. Half of the 28 rooms have been renovated, and come with plush down pillows and comforters, high-thread count sheets, boot dryers and rustic, Colorado beetle-killed pine ceilings. The remaining rooms, also slated for refurbishment, are an ode to ’80s grooviness, but are comfortable, bright and spacious. There’s also free shuttle service, continental breakfast, and Wi-Fi; pet-friendly and handicapped-accessible rooms also available. From $169. nordicinncb.com 14 Treasury Road

The Ruby of Crested Butte: Located in town, this six-room “luxury bed-and-breakfast” is one of two small accommodations in Crested Butte proper. If homey rooms with both vintage and modern touches and lots of sunlight are to your liking, you’ll love this sweet little inn. Legendary hot, organic breakfasts, free afternoon wine, pet-friendly rooms, and great packages add to its list of attributes. From $129.
therubyofcrestedbutte.com 624 Gothic Avenue

Pioneer Guest Cabins: If you’ve got AWD (ideally) and like your lodging off the beaten path, stay in one of eight adorable, fully-decked-out cabins 8 miles south of town. Located in the Gunnison National Forest along Cement Creek, the only neighbors you’re likely to see are fox, deer or elk. Cabins have either two or three beds. From $119.
pioneerguestcabins.com 2094 Cement Creek Road

Eat and Drink

The word is starting to get out that CB trumps even Aspen for the quality and diversity of its restaurants. From fine dining to sandwiches, there’s a lot to choose from. As unoriginal as some of the below listings may be, they’re here for a reason. You can’t argue with success – especially when people are willing to wait up to an hour for a pizza; it really is that good.

Izzy’s: If you’ve got time on your hands – because there’s always a line, and never enough seats at this micro-breakfast/brunch spot – this is the local’s favorite. When you see the golden latkes spilling over the edges of their plates, and tricked up breakfast bagels, egg dishes and sandwiches passing by, you’ll understand why.
facebook.com/pages/Izzys/149179161784362 218 Maroon Avenue

Lil’s Sushi Bar and Grill: Super-fresh (never frozen; fish is Fed-Ex’d in six days a week), seriously amazing sushi, and shrimp tempura that will leave you licking the plate (it’s all in the sauce, baby). There’s also plenty of goodness from the robata grill, but do yourself a favor: sit at the bar, and ask chef/owner Matthew Smith for whatever’s looking good that day. Happy hour yields some insane deals, including nigiri starting at $2.50 and rolls at $3.00, plus $3 well drinks, and $6 specialty cocktails and wine. Family-friendly, casual fine dining, with a diehard local following.
lilssushibarandgrill.com 321 Elk Avenue

The Secret Stash: Girl backpacks around world, and learns about food from her restaurant-owning Sicilian relatives. Girl meets boy who works in pizzeria, and moves to Crested Butte. Girl and boy open pizzeria in old, crazy-funky-boho ski house with crooked doorways and slanted ceilings, and upstairs seating floor cushions. A line forms out the door, and nearly 13 years later, nothing’s changed. This pizza will change your life. Hurry, because The Stash is moving to a new location this summer, so they can add another pizza oven and eliminate the wait. Personally, we’re sad to see it go. Never has patience felt like such a virtue.
stashpizza.com 21 Elk Avenue

Dogwood Cocktail Cabin: If a liquid dinner with some light snackage is your plan of action, this literal cabin on a side street is a goldmine in disguise. Wash down small bites such as tostadas, soft pretzels, or the more substantial blue cheese fondue with something from the extensive cocktail menu. Be patient, because mixing these babies takes time, but the rewards are sweet (or hot, bubbly, beery, or martini, as the case may be). Sip a Rosebud (vodka, rose water, cranberry, and sparkling wine) or the Juan Connery (Scotch, Pimm’s, chipotle bitters), in a candlelit atmosphere that’s rustic, yet seductive. Love.
thedogwoodcocktailcabin.com 309 Third Street

Getting Around

Crested Butte is approximately four-hour drive southwest of Denver, depending upon weather. While it’s more spread out and isolated than most ski areas, you can still get by without a car. If you fly into Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport, you can take the Alpine Express shuttle up-valley, and there’s a free Town Shuttle that runs every 15 minutes. To get around points south of town, there’s the free, Gunnison Valley RTA bus.

Adventure Tip

The sheer volume of backcountry in this remote region means you should take avalanche safety extra seriously (then again, when should you not?). Avoid heading out on your own, always let someone know where you’re going, and equip yourself with a beacon, probe and shovel. Avalanches are common here, so be sure you check in with ski patrol before embarking on any backcountry pursuits. Don’t try to be superhuman. Just be safe.

[Photo credit: WarzauWynn]

Roadside America: Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley

If you were to ask most Americans if they’d heard of the Roaring Fork Valley, you’d get a blank stare. Mention Aspen, however, and the light goes on, regardless of their social or economic standing (blame reality TV, our cultural obsession with celebrity, and 1970s/Reagan-era excess).

Aspen may be the St. Moritz of the U.S., but its location at the upper (southeast) end of the western Colorado’s stunning Roaring Fork Valley is what makes it special. The 50-mile valley runs along the river of the same name (the Frying Pan and Crystal Rivers down-valley are tributaries that provide top-notch fly-fishing and paddling).

It’s a region of meadows, aspen groves and the soaring alpine peaks of the Elk Mountains, as well as stark red cliffs and pine forest. The Ute Indians inhabited the area before the mining boom of the late 19th century. Following the silver crash of 1803, coal mining drove the local economy, through the early 20th century. Today, the valley towns are largely comprised of refurbished original storefronts housing galleries, boutiques, cafes, bakeries, coffee houses and restaurants, but the remnants of ghost towns can be found throughout the valley.

While Aspen is an international destination, the down-valley former mining/ranching towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are more affordable, low-key options for lovers of outdoor adventure, solitude and a thriving local food scene. And just minutes from Aspen is the lovely, rural hamlet of Woody Creek, home of Hunter S. Thompson in his final years, and a favorite spot for Aspenites to engage in outdoor recreation due to its extensive trail system.While it’s true down-valley is blowing up, real estate-wise, and housing developments are popping up like toadstools in outer Carbondale and neighboring El Jebel (where the August opening of a Whole Foods had the valley in a divisive uproar), the region is still pristine with regard to commercial tourism and most of the ills of urban living. Ranching and farming are still the backbone of the valley economy, and Carbondale has become an epicenter of grassroot organizations dedicated to alternative energy, green living and the local food shed. Indeed, the entire region is very invested in sustainable, low-impact living, and that carries over to tourism.

Come for a visit if you’d like to avoid the exorbitant prices and scene that can make Aspen (a place I love, it bears mentioning) a bit of a bummer during high season. Let me be clear that down-valley accommodations aren’t cheap, but they’re affordable compared to the ski resorts, and provide a different kind of holiday, whether it’s self-catered, or designed for lots of snuggling on the couch in front of the fireplace.

This time of year, the aspens and meadows shimmer like gold, and the mountain peaks are dusted with snow. Starting next month, big-spending skiers will head up to Aspen, but valley locals are more likely to strap on their snowshoes or Nordic skis and avail themselves of the trails and famed 10th Mountain Division Hut system. Follow their lead, then end the day by unwinding in a nearby hot spring or preparing dinner, reading, and enjoying a regional craft beer or wine (the nearby Western Slope, just over the McClure Pass outside of Carbondale, leads to a number of wineries and tasting rooms, open in summer) before a cozy fire.

There’s no shortage B & B’s, inns, cabins, farm stays, and guest ranches in the region, and in summer, camping is also a popular pastime, as is kayaking, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, climbing, hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking. The seasonal farmers markets in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale are full of handcrafted foods and beautiful produce from nearby farms. In winter, you’ll still find many menus in the area dominated by locally-grown and -made foods; check out Edible Aspen magazine’s website for more in the way of great local eats and brews.

Getting there
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70. It’s best to have a car for exploration if you’re staying in the valley, although there is a bus system.

[Flickr image via JimLeach89]

How to choose a great dude or guest ranch

dude and guest ranchesHang on, I need to get something out of the way. “City Slickers.” Okay, now that the inevitable has been mentioned, we can move on. Guest ranches–also known as dude ranches–are an excellent choice for a family vacation, regardless of season. Even if it’s just two of you, many ranches cater to couples, ensuring you of an active and romantic holiday.

The guest ranch tradition was established in the Western states as early as the late 19th century. They grew in popularity after the first World War, when advances in technology and the era of the automobile sparked nostalgia for the “Old West” way of life and legendary hospitality. It was also around this time that “dude” ranches spread to the eastern U.S..

While some ranches were and are dedicated to serving tourists, many are working ranches that host guests as a means of supplemental income. My dad worked as a wrangler at one such spread in northern Colorado in the mid-1950′s, when he was putting himself through vet school. Then called UT Bar Ranch, it’s now the Laramie River Ranch, and Colorado’s “newest old dude ranch.” I spent a very enjoyable week there with my extended family for my parents’ 50th anniversary five years ago.

It was the first time I’d stayed long enough at a guest ranch to really get the full experience. Even though I grew up on a ranch, I still love being immersed in the Western lifestyle and participating in ranch activities such as cattle and horse gatherings, trail rides, feeding and care of livestock, and barbecues. When kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hiking, nordic skiing or snowshoeing, horsemanship clinics, mustang/wildlife viewing, pack trips, or even yoga are thrown into the mix, a ranch stay can become a diverse holiday adventure, and you don’t need previous riding experience.

After the jump, tips on how to ensure you choose the right property and get the most out of your guest ranch experience.

%Gallery-128529%dude and guest ranchesFind an online resource
Ranchseeker.com provides a listing of various national and international dude and guest ranch organizations, as well as state associations for Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Montana, and Wyoming. It also describes the strict criteria required for membership. The Dude Rancher’s Association site is helpful for both potential guests and those in the industry.

Another excellent site is Top 50 Ranches, which is “dedicated to showcasing some of the most breathtaking, authentic, and luxurious [international] ranch destinations.” It also allows you to input dates, destination, and other info, highlights special-interest packages, and offers helpful articles and tips, such as what clothes to pack. American Cowboy’s website has archived features on specific properties, as well as their picks for the best guest ranches, and Writing Horseback has similar content.

Authenticity factor
There’s are all kinds of guest ranches out there, from the hokey, git-along-lil’-doggies, tenderfoot tourist mills (this is just a personal quirk, but I tend to think of these places as “dude,” rather than guest ranches, although that’s not necessarily true).

Some ranches are luxury properties (and may in fact be members of boutique hotel or high-end property organizations such as Relais & Chateaux), while others are very family-oriented, with rustic cabins. Many are working ranches, raising cattle or breeding horses. I strongly recommend the latter, for the most authentic, rewarding experience.

Plan ahead
Guest ranches often book up to a year or more in advance. Plan accordingly.

How long do you plan to stay?
Most guest ranches offer a standard week-long program, says the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association (CDGRA). To get the most out of your visit, you’ll really need that amount of time. Some ranches do, however, offer weekend packages.

Ranch capacitydude and guest ranches
Depending upon where you stay, you might find yourself in the company of only a handful of other people or a hundred. If you’re looking for a quiet or kid-free holiday, be sure to take capacity into account during your research.

Accommodations
Are you looking for luxury or a rustic, refurbished historic cabin? Main house or separate building? Full-on Old West decor, or something a bit more modern or genteel? Mountains or desert? Tipi or luxury safari tent?

Dining
Whatever your preference, you’ll find it: Family-style, communal, formal, menu options or no, traditional Western cuisine, kid’s menus, cookouts. Some properties, such as Colorado’s Dunton Hot Springs and The Home Ranch, or Montana’s The Resort at Paws Up are justly famous for their food, made with locally-sourced ingredients. Policies differ on alcohol, as well: be sure to ask whether it’s included, or if you need to BYO.

When to godude and guest ranches
The best thing about guest ranches is that most operate year-round. It’s hard to beat summer in the Rockies, but you may want to consider visiting in the early fall, when the aspens are changing color. Winter allows you to ride horseback in the snow and engage in traditional winter sports, or you can head to parts of the Southwest or California where the climate is mild. Depending upon where you want to go, spring is the only time I’d suggest you think twice about, because “mud season” can be a logistical pain, and blizzards well into April aren’t uncommon.

Activities and special packages
From traditional wrangling work–gathering cattle, roping, and caring for livestock–a ranch vacation revolves around horses and riding. If horses aren’t your thing, this is the wrong type of vacation for you. That said, you don’t have to ride, but you’d be missing out on a key part of the ranch experience. But there are all manner of outdoor activities offered by ranches. If paddling is your primary interest, look for a ranch on or near a river known for its whitewater. Ditto fly-fishing.

Many ranches offer specialty packages; Central California’s Alisal Ranch, for example, hosts a four-day “BBQ Bootcamp” where guests learn how to master the grill from local experts, and enjoy a traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue.

Kid/teen programs
Most ranches are very family-oriented, and I can’t think of a better–or healthier–vacation for kids. Be aware that every ranch has a different age policy, and not all offer kid’s programs or babysitting. You’ll also want to check on minimum age requirements for independent riding.

Level of horsemanship ranch caters to/Can you bring your own horse?
It may sound counter-intuitive to bring your own horse, but if you’re an experienced rider, you may have a more fulfilling holiday and equestrian experience on your own mount (be sure to get referrals, first, to ensure your animal’s health and safety).

Some ranches hold horsemanship clinics, which are as much about educating the animal as the rider. If you’re just planning to pleasure ride but are an experienced equestrian, there are many ranches that breed and train their own animals and emphasize natural horsemanship and the cowboy way of life. Regardless of your skill level, you should always ask detailed questions about instruction, safety policies, how the ranch goes about pairing horses and riders, and their horsemanship philosophy. A poorly-trained mount or injury can really take the fun out of your holiday.

Handicap accessibility
Not all properties have it. Do note that some ranches offer riding programs for those with disabilities.

Phone, wifi, and internet access
Many ranches seek to provide guests with a complete escape from the stresses of modern life. If you can’t live without your cell or computer, rest assured there’s a property that can accommodate your needs.

Pack appropriately
A good ranch will always provide you with a packing list, but you can definitely leave your fancy duds at home. If you don’t own a pair of riding boots or other heavy-duty shoe with a heel, get some (you can find an inexpensive used pair at a consignment or vintage store). These are essential for safe horseback riding, so your foot doesn’t get hung up in a stirrup.

Proximity to a major medical faciilty
If this is a concern for you, definitely bring it up in your initial conversation. Many ranches are located in isolated rural areas.

Cancellation policies
Ask what they are.

How Tourists See Life on a Cowboy Ranch

West Virginia’s scenic Gauley River: class V rafting, fall colors

“Holy crap, what a sausage fest.” This was my first thought, as I glanced around the crowded parking lot. It was a cool, drizzly September morning at Adventures on the Gorge, but that wasn’t stopping 40 men–many of certain age and wafting last night’s whiskey fumes–from preparing to raft the Class V+ Upper Gauley River.

I was in Lansing, (southeastern) West Virginia, fulfilling a 20-year goal to run the notorious Gauley. Every weekend, from mid-September to mid-October, water from the Summersville Dam is released into the Upper portion, raising the river to epic proportions (a raging 2800 cfs is average Gauley flow this time of year). In layman’s terms, the rapids remain at a solid Class III to V+, making for one of the wildest whitewater experiences in the United States.

Since it first opened to commercial trips in 1974, this 26-mile stretch of river, which contains over 100 rapids, has drawn whitewater enthusiasts from all over the world. The dam was built in 1965 for flood control, and the release extends the “Gauley season” well past other American rivers. An added bonus are the fall colors that peak in October, making for a visually stunning trip.

The Upper Gauley in particular is known for its steep, drop/pool rapids. A gauntlet of five consecutive Class V+’s–Insignificant, Pillow Rock, Lost Paddle, Iron Ring, and Sweet’s Falls–form the most famous stretch. The Lower is more sedate, although it still has plenty of Class III, and a couple of Class IV/V’s.

%Gallery-104327%

I’m not the only one with Gauley fever. Over 60,000 adventurers annually converge for the dam release, which is why the infamous Gauley Fest is held in September. The New River is also located in this region. Now believed to be the oldest in the world, after the Nile, the New ranges from Class I to V, depending upon season, but has long stretches ideal for sunset paddles and float trips.

The New and Gauley are located within the New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area, respectively. But there are other charms in the region as well: the stunning New River Gorge Bridge (formerly the largest arch bridge in the world, and a BASE jumping mecca), climbing, mountain biking, and fishing. The scenery runs toward rolling farmland dotted with dilapidated barns, historic hamlets, and thick swathes of forest. The New River Gorge Convention & Visitors Bureau site is a good resource for area attractions and amenities.

Many outfitters exist in this region, nearby Fayetteville being the whitewater epicenter of West Virginia. The town’s National Historic District, while small, is very charming, and has pretty much anything you might need. Grab a coffee and afternoon snack at The Cathedral Café, located in an actual former church, or, to quell a hangover, pick up something cheap and carby at the awesomely-named Tudor’s Biscuit World.

Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), which bills itself as an “outdoor adventure destination company,” was named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth,” in a 2009 National Geographic survey. They’ve capitalized on the region’s multi-sport opportunities by creating a 1,000-acre “campus” bordering the New River Gorge National Park. The property also has accommodations ranging from camping and rustic platform tents, to new, deluxe cabins and vacation homes.

AOTG was founded in 2008, the result of a merger of two existing–and exceedingly well-regarded–local whitewater companies. Founding Director Dave Arnold has been guiding on the Gauley since the ’70′s. His Class VI-Mountain River merged with The Rivermen; collectively, they possess the most whitewater experience in the region. Safety being my number one criteria for choosing an outfitter, I knew I was in good hands.

AOTG has plenty of seasonal options (April-October) if you don’t go in for big hydraulics, can’t afford a multi-day raft trip, or don’t want to rough it. The company offers half-day, full-day, and overnight runs on the New and Gauley Rivers, ranging from Class I float trips to epic Class V (you must be at least 15 years of age to run the Upper Gauley). The overnights are actually “glamping” on the river (think hot tub, primitive showers and pit toilets, Baggo, fire pit, kegs of Anchor Steam and PBR, and prime rib and salmon for dinner).

As for the testosterone-fueled parking lot scenario, it turned out my trip was comprised primarily of several groups of men who do Gauley season annually. If you’re a solo female planning to run the river and aren’t into crushing beer cans on your head, you can always talk to a rep about booking a trip with a more balanced male-to-female ratio. Private women’s groups do book with AOTG, but the guides I spoke with told me the Gauley tends to be rather penis-centric. Don’t let it dissuade you. The most important things are listening to your guide, paying attention to what’s going on around you, and digging in hard.

As much as I love major whitewater, however, I don’t enjoy courting death or yardsales (something of a sport on the Gauley, which is admittedly very entertaining to watch). Fortunately, Miles, the guide in our nine-person raft, had outgrown the urge to capsize for kicks, although he took us down more technical lines when they presented themselves. A native Coloradan with vast whitewater experience, he was top-notch: patient, skilled, and an all-around good guy. His fiancee, Julie, was the sole female guide. Tough woman, that Julie.

The Gauley isn’t the biggest whitewater I’ve run (that would be the Futaleufu, in Chile), but it’s pretty damn big. What makes it scary are the drops, undercut rocks the size of houses, and churning hydraulics–these are not rapids you want to swim. Thanks to Miles, we didn’t have to. We had a fantastic day on the Upper, and pulled into our campground at the “Canyon Doors” rapid, at the start of the Lower Gauley.

Whether or not glamping is your thing, AOTG has a great set-up. The location is gorgeous–steep canyon walls glowing dusky rose with the setting sun–and a hot shower, drink, and slab o’meat at the end of a cold, exhausting day on the water were very much welcomed. If you require down-and-dirty primitive camping; check with other outfitters, as everyone offers something different. Go to the NPS site for camping permit information if you’re paddling independently.

AOTG offers a total of 14 experiences that can be done independently, or as part of an all-inclusive package. Besides whitewater, there’s rock climbing, horseback riding, tree canopy tours and ziplines (the badass new Gravity zip debuted on Sept. 26), caving, biking, and a Gorge Bridgewalk. There are four restaurants/bars (have a sunset beer at Chetty’s Pub, which has an open-air deck and fantastic view of the Gorge), and three camp stores/outfitters. The property is definitely geared toward families and couples, and customized options like team-building and youth groups. But even if you’re traveling solo and on a tight budget, there are affordable options, with prices starting at $39 for activities/$8 BYOT camping (depending upon season). It does have the feel of a summer camp, so be forewarned.

I actually much prefer independent travel, but I like that AOTG makes adventure activities accessible for the solo adventurer who might otherwise be thwarted by logistical or financial constraints. I ended up doing a package, with two nights in one the sweet deluxe cabins (hot tub, hardwood floors, fully-equipped kitchen, outdoor grill, and fire pit), and the river trip. Also included was a full day doing the Treetops Canopy Tour, and the Gravity Zipline–not stuff I’d ordinarily do, but I’m glad I did. The Treetops Canopy Tour ($99/pp), which debuted in May, ’09, is a three-and-a-half hours, and includes ten ziplines and five sky bridges.

It’s not extreme, but the tour is a fun, educational way to spend the morning. In between zipping over Mill Creek and through ancient hemlock, hickory and magnolia forest, the guides talked about the history and botany of the region. The course is also designed with sustainability in mind, and is part of a project to help save the threatened Eastern Hemlock from wooly ageldid infestation. Thus far, AOTG guides and staff have tagged and treated 6,000 trees, some of which are over 300 years old. Although it rained steadily throughout my tour, it only served to heighten the desolate beauty of the forest. The tours run year-round, so you can also experience zipping in the snow.

Gravity ($69/pp) is a total blast. With lines running 1800-,1600-, and 1300-feet in length, at a height of 200 feet, you can really haul ass (up to 45 mph). The location atop one of the highest points in the valley makes for incredible views of fall foliage and farmland. Do it. What the hell. Do it all.

The New River Gorge is a five-hour drive from Washington, DC. The closest airport to the region is Charleston, WV