Suit up: The best whitewater rafting in the U.S.

When it comes to whitewater, bigger is not always better. In fact, some of the best whitewater paddling experiences can be had on rivers that barely break the Class III rating. Those who love to run these rivers know the importance of the rush, but also appreciate the scenery, local culture, and accessibility of a river. Here are some of the best US whitewater destinations based on the overall experience they provide.

Nantahala River, North Carolina – Class II-III
The Nantahala is a great way to take on a whitewater challenge suitable for paddlers of all experience levels. After running this lushly forested river in a raft of inflatable ducky boaters can take out at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and celebrate with a brew and a burger at the River’s End restaurant.

Upper Gauley River, West Virginia – Class III-V
Consistently named one of the top whitewater rivers in the US and the world, the Gauley is a thrilling ride. Not for the faint of heart, the Gauley drops 650 feet in 24 miles and features over 100 rapids. The Upper Gauley should only be run by experts or with a guide service. River Expeditions provides guided trips throughout the summer months and during September and October when the dam is released and the river really goes wild.

Arkansas River, Colorado – Class IV
The Arkansas is a popular river, and for good reason. It touts heart pumping whitewater close to a major city, Denver. The Browns Canyon run is the best way to get away from the highway and sometimes the crowds. As the river drops into a gorge it runs fast and narrow and supplies plenty of hair-raising rapids.Dechutes River, Oregon – Class III
Paddling through the white caps of this Class III river will keep one focused on the task at hand. Between running rapids, take a look around and notice the ancient lava flows that carve the landscape. Playful river otters also provide entertainment along this beautiful stretch of river.

Colorado River, Arizona – Class IV+
Twisting its way through the Grand Canyon, the Colorado river is an icon of the American West. Running the river with a commercial service will ensure not only safety but passage on the river. The coveted non-commercial permits are first-come first-served and must be requested at least one year in advance.

Klamath River, California – Class IV-V
Fishing and irrigation rights have been hotly debated on the Klamath for some time. But, what is truly hot are the series of runs that carve their way through the upper section of the Klamath river near Hell’s Corner.

Cumberland River, Kentucky – Class III
The mostly serene Cumberland takes a wild turn as it enters the Big South Fork National Recreation Area. Boats must maneuver around house-sized boulders as the “below the falls” run descends toward Tennessee.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho – Class III
The remote location and strict permit system on the Salmon river help protect the pristine wilderness experience it provides. These isolated rapids can be run May through August.

New River, West Virginia – Class III-V
Despite being named the “New” river, this is the second oldest river on the planet. The lower New river has something for everyone, from roller coaster style rapids to the huge raft-sucking holes. Rafters can even pass beneath or take out under the massive New River Gorge Bridge, home each year to the Bridge Day festival.

Getting out of the city and into the rapids of a whitewater river is the perfect way to challenge yourself. If spectacular scenery and the thrill of a rushing river are what you crave in a paddling trip, these rivers are sure to please.

Hidden Treasures: Frozen Dog Digs Bed and Breakfast, Idaho

You have to drive into the foothills outside the small town of Emmett to find the Frozen Dog Digs Bed & Breakfast in Idaho. It is Emmett’s only bed and breakfast and has been visited by many world travelers as well as B&B fans who say this place is unique!

Jon Elsberry is the builder, owner, chef, welder, and landscaper of this multi-level rambling structure. The lowest level features a putting green; the second level houses a spa, three fountains, an outside TV and stereo, and a perfect atmosphere for weddings and receptions.

Traveling inside, next level up is a bar and recreation room filled with sports memorabilia from Idaho and around the world. The fourth level is where Jon creates his culinary masterpieces. Having previously worked in Emmett’s orchards, Jon is conscious of seasonal fruits and, as chief chef, incorporates them in his varied gourmet breakfasts…don’t sleep in and miss them! This level also has a music memorabilia room, a children’s library with original Dick & Jane prints, and a secret door that leads to the racquetball court.

It is only five minutes away from boating and water skiing at Black Canyon Dam and one hour away from Boise (Idaho’s capital city).

Frozen Dog Digs
4325 Frozen Dog Road
Emmett, Idaho 83617

Marsha Werle is a contributor.

The Tour Divide mountain bike race is underway

The Tour Divide mountain bike race got underway last week in Banff, Alberta, Canada, where nearly 50 hardcore fat tire enthusiasts set off on the longest off road biking trail in the world. They’ll now ride the entire length of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a distance of 2745 miles, before reaching the finish line along the U.S.-Mexico border, in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

The trail ranges from practically non-existent all the way up to jeep trails, with just about everything in between. The entire route is unmarked, so the riders have to navigate their way along the GDMBR on their own. They’ll also have to go completely unsupported, carrying all of their gear and supplies with them along the way. Aside from that, there isn’t much in the way of rules. The race clock runs non-stop, there are no checkpoints, and it is up to the rider to decide how far they’ll ride each day, and when they’ll stop to take breaks.

The full route winds it’s way through Alberta and British Columbia, before crossing the border into the U.S. and continuing south through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and finally New Mexico. The riders will gain more than 200,000 feet of altitude along the way, as they ride through some of the most stunning scenery that the U.S. and Canada has to offer. The mountain passes will challenge their legs and leave them breathless for sure.

To give you an idea of what kind of athletes ride in the Tour Divide, last year’s winner, Matthew Lee, finished the ride in just 18 days, which works out to more than 152 miles per day across some very unforgiving terrain.

[Photo credit: Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race]

The essential Western states travel planning tool: Sunset Magazine

Sunset, the Menlo Park, California-based lifestyle magazine, is an outstanding regional magazine with excellent tips for travel and dining in the Western and Pacific states. The magazine remains fresh issue after issue, and strikes that essential editorial balance between helping and inspiring readers.

Toward the former end, it offers directed tips; toward the latter, it inspires imaginative thinking on the part of its readers about travel, gardening, cooking, and home renovation. Sunset’s brief includes the Western US states from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico on west, and extends to Alaska, Hawaii, and western Canada and Mexico.

The June issue is loaded with good travel stories. Two highlights are Peter Fish’s examination of Carmel on high and low budgets and Rachel Levin’s take on the Idaho Sawtooths, introduced as the “hidden Rockies.” The Sawtooths article concludes with a list of four more “hidden ranges” that don’t get much attention. This pairing is vintage Sunset: one well-known, highly visited spot alongside one much less well-known.

The May 2010 issue, all archived online, is devoted largely to travel. Star features included an insider’s guide to offbeat Maui, a long weekend stay in the San Juan Islands, and a 24-hour trip to Yosemite.

Sunset’s Travel Update blog touts good hotel deals across the Western states. Latest posts include tips on hotels in Ventura, Zion National Park, Healdsburg, San Luis Obispo county, and Palo Alto.

Although Sunset is by no means exclusively a travel magazine, its archive may just provide the best Western states travel guide around. It takes perennially popular destinations as seriously as it takes quirky places on the landscape that get little attention, and it is indispensable in its coverage of both.

(Image: Flickr/stephenhanafin)

Five incredible sights in Idaho

On your next trip out West, forget about Colorado or California. Visitors in the know are heading for Idaho. There’s lot more here than potatoes. In fact, the state’s wild, unspoiled terrain is dotted with natural wonders, a intriguing range of activities and loads of hidden finds. Wondering where to kick off your Idaho adventure? Give these five great sights a look:

Craters Of The Moon National Monument
You feel you might be on the moon’s surface at Craters of the Moon National Monument, covering 618 square miles of desolate volcanic wasteland bearing lava tube caves and cinder cones southwest of Arco. Apollo Astronauts visited in 1969 to practice exploring the moon. The visitor’s center has exhibits and films. Take a hike on one of the many trails or enjoy the stark scenery along a 7-mile loop drive. Admission: $8 autos, $4 cycles or by foot, under 15 free. Campsites are available.

Hagerman Fossil Beds
More than 200 specimens of the Hagerman Horse, along with mastodons and saber-toothed cats are still being found at the Hagerman Fossil Beds, a quarry north of Buhl. Be ready to do some walking but no digging. A couple of miles away, the Hagerman Valley Historical Museum houses this zebra-sized replica which has become Idaho’s state fossil. Kids can apply hands-on activities with the pre-historic displays and sign up to be a ranger. Donations are welcomed. Hours: May-October, Wednesday-Sunday, 1-4; November-April, Saturday-Sunday, 1-4.
Balanced Rock
It’s nearly a 200 foot climb to Balanced Rock, the camel’s head-shaped rock perched on a pedestal only 3 feet by 17 inches. As you feel very small underneath this 40 ton monster, you’ll be treated to a view of the spectacular Snake River country below. Less than a mile from the rock, nestled between two walls of volcanic rock, free camping is available in the small and narrow, yet peaceful state park south of Buhl.

World Center of Birds Of Prey
Located south of Boise on Flying Hawk Lane, the World Center of Birds of Prey and interpretive center breeds birds of prey in captivity to release to the wild. Viewing our nation’s Bald Eagle or Idaho’s state bird, the Peregrine Falcon, from only a few feet away makes you realize what large birds they are when you see them soaring through the air hundreds of feet above. Live bird presentations are regularly scheduled. Hours: November-February, Tuesday-Sunday, 10-4; March-October, daily, 9-5. Admission: $7 general, $6 (62+), $5 (4-16), under 4 free.

Warhawk Air Museum
Getting up close to real air planes can make you feel mighty small. World War II History of Aviation, right up to the space age, is depicted in the aerial displays of Warhawk Air Museum, located in Nampa on Municipal Drive. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 to 4; Saturday, 10-5. Admission: $10 adults, $8 seniors and military identification, $4 (5-12), under 5 free.