Everyone wanted to be in Doc’s dory boat, but there were only four spots.
For the uninitiated, dories are small, 17-foot-long rigid boats that can run a river much more quickly than an inflatable raft.
We met Stephen “Doc” Nicholson, a retired dentist turned rafting guide, on an OARS trip through Dinosaur National Monument on the Yampa River, the last undammed tributary in the Colorado River system.
One of the best parts about a rafting trip is being so far off the grid that our biggest decision was where to put our tent for the night. There are no worries about missed emails since there is no cell service deep in Dinosaur National Monument—211,000 acres of wilderness across high desert peaks and river canyons. There is the adventure, of course—the rapids and sleeping under the stars.
There is also the chance to get off the grid without any work—someone else provisions the food, cooks and navigates the rafts, even entertains the kids. You just relax and enjoy without carrying a heavy pack into the spectacular backcountry.
OARS, a leader in rafting vacations for more than 50 years, can tell you at least 20 reasons why a rafting trip is the ultimate family getaway. OARS has just announced there are still a limited number of spaces on several 2022 Grand Canyon rafting and dory trips in late summer and early fall. These trips typically book a year out. There are also late-season, kid-friendly trips on The Colorado River through Cataract Canyon and the Green River through Desolation Canyon, among others.
For the littlest adventurers, the rafting company ROW touts ROW Family Magic Rafting Tours. Designed by a family-owned adventure tour operator and field-tested by their children, ROW’s Family Magic rafting trips aren’t just “family-friendly” but totally family-focused. What’s their secret recipe? First, you can’t go on these family rafting adventures if you don’t bring a kid, and they welcome kids as young as 5. There’s also a kid-focused menu and their signature “River Jester,” who leads nature-oriented games and activities. Intermediate rapids, warm water, and idyllic camping conditions on huge white sand beaches combine to make an unforgettable family experience.
If you are itching for a different late summer/fall getaway on the water—or you are already thinking about a future trip, there are lots of options that won’t break your budget. (Our Taking the Kids “51 Great Ideas for Your Best Family Summer Vacation” can give you other ideas.)
You can sail away on your own sailboat—with or without a captain. We’ve sailed in the British Virgin Islands, Antigua, and even Tahiti. Think of it as camping at sea. But you can stop where you like and jump off the boat to swim or snorkel; have a dive boat meet you. We’ve had some of our most memorable times—and misadventures–sailing. The cabins are small and in our case, we had to run the water heater for five minutes before it got warm and then pump the water out afterward. There’s no dishwasher (except us) and no matter what we did, the food seemed to freeze in the fridge. The good news: frozen grapes are delicious! But we had to work as a team and had lots of laughs, often spending the night far from others. We rented from Moorings with charters everywhere from the Caribbean to Florida and Belize, Greece, and Thailand; Click & Boat is like an Airbnb for boaters who can deal directly with owners whether you want to houseboat, sail, fish, or more.
Charter a boat just for your friends and family (six to 20 guests on a small yacht) from AdventureSmith Explorations. They offer dozens of trips designed for families with age-appropriate activities, whether you are dreaming of the Galapagos, a different kind of Alaska cruise (how about exploring Glacier Bay National Park aboard a restored World War II minesweeper), Belize or Costa Rica, among the options. A full yacht charter can save 10 percent to 30 percent off regular per-person cruise rates, and you can often choose the length, route, and many other details to truly make the trip your own.
For a more laid-back experience, try houseboating. An average houseboat is similar to a Winnebago RV mounted on twin pontoons. Rentals range in length from 44 to 75 feet and the largest can sleep 12 people comfortably. You will feel like you are at home afloat. A good place to set sail is Lake Shasta in Redding, California, where and after Aug. 19 rates drop again. Note that the very popular Lake Powell, which starts in northern Arizona and extends into southern Utah, has experienced unusually low water levels but houseboating remains popular with fall being a good bet as the lake is calmer with fewer visitors and prices drop.
Booking.com, meanwhile, was touting a series of Smiley Stays across the U.S in honor of the Smiley Company’s 50th anniversary, including an ocean getaway with the Smiley Stay at Sea with Lumar Yacht Experience in the Mid-Beach district of Miami Beach. After the Smiley Stays, you can still book the yacht.
Rather than a river cruise, as wonderful as they can be, You could pilot your own barge past quaint villages in Wales, Scotland, England, or as we did, France where we explored small villages, wineries (they welcomed kids), and savoring local food, including just-baked croissants for breakfast and baguettes stuffed with cheese for lunch. (I once mistakenly tried to order the dog’s menu for my youngest, thinking it was a child’s menu.) Le Boat is the largest operator of self-drive river boating vacations in nine different countries in Europe and Canada. If you prefer having someone do all the heavy (and not so heavy lifting), you can charter a barge from Croisi Europe River Cruises or join a fall departure with up to 50 percent off.
What’s your pick?