En español | If cruise ship travel is a little too tame (and dry) for your taste, consider these multiday small-group river trips. Particularly common on Western waterways, they feature river fun by day and good food and usually tent camping at night.
They're especially popular among people 50 and older, tour operators say. But before you book a trip, find out as much as you can about its activity level so you can be sure it's right for you.
Here are five options to consider.
Trip: Smith River Fishing Five-Day Adventure, Montana
Price: From $3,800 per person ($2,800 if you're not fishing)
This 60-mile river route by Glacier Guides takes small groups from Great Falls to deep inside a pristine limestone canyon within Montana's Big Belt Mountains for camping and catch-and-release angling on the Smith River, home to some of the country's best trout fishing. The guides do all the rowing — you get to sit back and observe the bobcats, beavers and hawks in the area — and also explain the ecology and history of the region, including Lewis and Clark's explorations here.
Relax at the end of the day with a hearty dinner (salmon or beef steaks, for instance) before heading into your tent, which the company provides along with all other critical equipment, such as sleeping bags, cots and fishing gear. Just bring appropriate clothing. These excursions, which accommodate eight guests, are scheduled once a year, in June (the next trip with availability is in 2021); glacierguides.com.
Morrison's Rogue River Adventures
Trip: Rogue River Three-Day Lodge Rafting, Oregon
Price: From $1,099 per person
If outdoor sleeping arrangements don't appeal, this rafting trip from Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures, offered throughout the summer, provides travelers with the best of both worlds: several hours of rafting on Oregon's Rogue River each day, followed by overnights at rustic lodges where you can relish a family-style meal, a hot shower and a comfy bed. The Rogue takes rafters (10 to 20 per outing) past lush stretches of evergreens and oaks along the 40-mile route. Starting at Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Lodge in Merlin, Oregon, this trip entails a bit of hiking to get around some Class V rapids; rogueriverraft.com.
Western River Expeditions
Trip: Grand Canyon Four-Day Rafting, Arizona
Price: From $1,785 per person
Hold on to your cowboy hats, action lovers: Western River Expeditions’ Grand Canyon tour begins with a charter flight from Las Vegas to a working cattle ranch on the canyon's North Rim, where you can spend the day on horseback before tucking into a country-style dinner (all included, plus transfer to and from Las Vegas). Start the next morning with a scenic helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon for three days of fast-paced adventure on the Colorado River; you'll traverse intermediate rapids, explore a hidden waterfall grotto and spot wildlife such as stately bighorn sheep perched among the red rocks.
Camping gear is provided, including a portable cot for your sleeping bag and a roomy tent, though you may be tempted to ditch the tent and sleep under the stars. And the guides will set up a portable toilet every day in a “secluded location” for the 18 to 28 guests in your group. This expedition, offered from May through September, is for more hardy adventurers, though the rapids are less wild than those on the company's six-day trip; westernriver.com.
Trip: Main Salmon Six-Day River Rafting, Idaho
Price: From $2,299 per person
Those who love a gourmet meal as much as a good hike can get their fill of both on OARS’ Wilderness Gourmet once-a-year August camping jaunt along Idaho's Main Salmon River, in and out of McCall. Candlelit multicourse dinners are prepared nightly by a professional chef who takes inspiration from local Idaho flavors. On one night you might enjoy beet tartare and fresh trout, followed by lemon pound cake, with wine and beer pairings included.
Although other expeditions are limited to one type of vessel, this one gives guests (a maximum of 20) the chance to explore the Salmon's approachable rapids (Class III, max) on a variety of watercraft; choose an inflatable kayak for a bouncy, adventurous ride, or stick with a larger raft or dory and let the guides do the work. In either case, you should be reasonably fit for this adventure. There are also similar but nongourmet rafting journeys, with multiple departures between June and September, including three adults-only trips (starting at $1,999 per person); oars.com.
Trip: Labyrinth Canyon Five-Day Women-Only Kayaking, Utah
Price: From $1,099 per person
Retreat to nature with the gals in your tribe, courtesy of Moab, Utah–based Sheri Griffith Expeditions, whose motto is “Adventure with a touch of class!” Held once a year in spring or fall, this camping-kayaking journey promises a serene escape within Utah's remote Labyrinth Canyon for (on the typical outing) eight to 16 adventurers. Paddle solo or share a two-person kayak on the Green River, where an open valley gives way to towering buttes, mesas and sunset-hued cliffs. There are no rapids on this portion of the river, which makes it truly beginner-friendly (though you will need to pitch your own tent). Plus, you'll have plenty of time to view antelope and explore ancient rock carvings and secret side canyons.
Guests enjoy optional day hikes and healthy meals prepared daily (grilled salmon with mango-salsa couscous, for example), including a special fete on the last night to celebrate the 64-mile journey. A coed version of this trip is offered, too; griffithexp.com.