Eight Water Vacations

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For restless rovers drawn to the exciting seas, lakes, and rivers of America

 I know people - and so do you - who don't call it a vacation unless they get wet. For that multitude of restless rovers drawn to the awesome seas, lakes, and rivers of America, here are eight brief vacations on, in, or under the H2O at excitingly low prices.

Canoeing the Adirondacks, New York

Paddling New York's Adirondack State Park has always been the best way to savor this vast wilderness. "The Adirondacks, that Venice of the woods, whose highways are rivers, whose paths are streams, and whose carriages are boats," rhapsodized Reverend William H.H. Murray in 1870. The year before, Murray published a book called Adventures in the Wilderness, which praised the therapeutic value of the woods on both mind and body. Guide boats, a little larger than rowboats, were used to escort visitors on the network of waterways that form a vast web of blue throughout the Adirondacks.

Today, these routes are still being used by avid paddlers in search of much needed solace. Starting from the southwest corner of the park, at Old Forge, canoers can go 120 continuous miles, all the way north to the Saranac Lakes. The park's countless rivers, lakes, and ponds are connected by short trails, resulting in a seemingly endless combination of canoeing options. One of the finest is a four-day figure-eight loop in the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest that includes eight ponds and the Upper and Middle Saranac Lakes. Creeks, inundated with beaver dams and lily pads, connect the placid waters of the ponds. Mountains hovering over 3,300 feet surround the lakes.

St. Regis Canoe Outfitters (518/891-1838, www.canoeoutfitters.com) will help plan an itinerary and provide all the necessary amenities for a canoe trip including canoe, paddles, maps, tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags. The Standard Outfitting Package costs $45 per person per day. A four-day guided camping trip costs $499 per person, including all food.

Rafting the Green River, Colorado and Utah

Roaring 44 miles through northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah, the Green River is one of the most desolate runs in the U.S. The Class III white-water snakes through rarely seen Dinosaur National Monument, where red walls rise sharply to some 2,500 feet to effectively block out civilization. In its place, you'll find one of the largest concentrations of endangered peregrine falcons in America, bighorn sheep, and mule deer. John Wesley Powell explored the Green in 1869 and was so impressed with the river that he gave the most exciting rapids names like Disaster Falls, Triplet Falls, and Hell's Half Mile. Adrift Adventures (800/824-0150, www.adrift.com) features a four-day run on the Green River. The cost is $669 for adults and $578 for kids ages 6 to 12.

Also ask about its Jurassic Journey and Rock Art and Rafting options, which add an extra day to the trip before heading down the Green. The former takes you to Dinosaur Quarry, where dinosaur bones have been found. The Rock Art package visits several sites near the Ute Indian Reservation to view southwestern Native American rock art.

Scuba Diving the Keys, Key Largo, Florida

Drive down Highway 1 from Miami to Key Largo and you'll quickly be surrounded by tacky gift shops, which soon give way to somewhat less tacky dive shops. You've just entered Diversville, U.S.A. (its real name is the Key Largo National Maritime Sanctuary), where the number of dive sites can accommodate a giant multitude of dive visitors - no one has ever been turned away. Some two-dozen dive areas are found on Key Largo's famed Molasses Reef alone; Molasses oozes with coral heads and every Caribbean fish imaginable. More experienced divers can visit the wrecks of the USCG Bibb and the USCG Duane, two intact warships resting in just over 100 feet of water.

Kelly's on the Bay (800/226-0415, www.kellysonthebay.com) in Key Largo offers year-round package rates of $285 per person (double occupancy) for the four nights from Sunday to Thursday only. This includes three nights of lodging and four dive trips operated by the property's on-premises dive shop, Aqua-Nuts. Kelly's will also help find you a boat for the half-day run to the Florida Bay flats. There, in the cooler waters, you can try your luck fly-fishing for the elusive 10-to-14-pound bonefish.

Sculling Hosmer Pond, Vermont

Sandwiched between the hills of Vermont's remote Northeast Kingdom, Hosmer Pond is the idyllic setting for the Craftsbury Outdoor Center's sculling school (800/729-7751, www.crafts bury.com). Now in its 25th year, the operation is run by Steve Wagner, head crew coach at Rutgers University. His large staff includes a slew of other college coaches and Olympians like Marlene Royle and Carlie Geer. If you ever wanted to learn the sport of sculling - or you already scull and want to perfect your stroke - Craftsbury is arguably the best place in the States to do just that.

The class is usually a mix of novices and former crew members from the likes of Columbia and Yale. The weeklong course goes over all aspects of rowing, and depending on expertise, splits groups up on the water with instructors. Balancing the boat is always the hardest part for beginners, many of whom will spend the better part of the first day swimming. Oar handles have to be together at all times or the boat quickly tips to the left or right. Legs are thrust up against a board to scoot back as you propel the oars forward. Indeed, many of the coaches have immense quad muscles, proving that legs are more important than arms in the stroke. Those who use the rowing machine at the local gym know what a great workout sculling is for the whole body. It's far superior when you're cruising along the water in the Vermont woods. The cost of the week, including room and board, is $880.

Fishing the Lakes of the north woods, Minnesota

Avid anglers know that fishing guides can charge as much as $500 a day. But at Gunflint Lodge (800/328-3325, www.gunflintlodge.com) in the North Woods of Minnesota, the $699 Grand Slam Fishing Package consists of three solid days of guided fishing, including rods, reels, and tackle, four nights' accommodation in a cabin, and gourmet meals in the dining room. If you feel like canoe camping, Gunflint also features a five-day Smallmouth Bass Fishing Package that runs as low as $324 per person. You'll be paddling through the renowned Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Your guides will show you where to catch trophy-size walleye in Sagananga and Northern Light Lakes, lake trout on Gunflint and North Lakes, and smallmouth bass and northern pike in several of the other area lakes. Then it's back to the historic lodge, where the Kerfoot family has played host for the past 73 years.

Surfing the Pacific at Santa Cruz, California

Named after founder Ed Guzman, Club Ed (800/287-7873, www.club-ed.com) has been teaching the fine art of surfing for 12 years from its home base in Santa Cruz, a two-hour drive south of San Francisco. A typical day in the weeklong program starts at Manreesa State Campground, where you wake up not far from a bluff overlooking the Pacific and build a fire. If you're lucky, the chef is already there preparing breakfast. At about 9 a.m., people don their wet suits and head down for a morning session that can last two to three hours. Then it's back for lunch, perhaps a massage prearranged by Ed, and the afternoon class.

In the ocean, instructors will ride directly alongside novices, even giving you a little push if necessary to catch the wave. Indeed, it's not unusual for a guide to grab the back of your wet suit and haul you up so that you get the feel of riding a wave. Seasoned riders get to fine-tune their skills, such as walking the board or setting up for bigger waves. Out of the water, instructors will discuss tidal conditions, how to read waves, and how to take good care of your board. The course, including all instruction, food, and camping equipment costs $950 for six nights (Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning).

Sea Kayaking the San Juan Islands, Washington

There's no better way to explore the myriad San Juan Islands and their abundant marine life than from the comfortable confines of a sea kayak. And there's no better guide than Tim Thomsen, owner of San Juan Kayak Expeditions (360/378-4436, www.sanjuankayak.com) for the past 21 years. Thomsen knows every nook and cranny of this region. On his four-day trips, you'll paddle along the coastlines of more than 25 islands, stopping to camp on sandy shores or to view the rocky cliffs of the Stuart and Spieden Islands, rising hundreds of feet out of the ocean. Since these waters are tranquil and the sea kayaks stable, no previous experience is necessary.

The highlight of this adventure is undoubtedly the wildlife. During the summer months, the San Juan Islands are home to pods of orca (killer whales) in search of Pacific salmon. Who needs to see Shamu at SeaWorld when you can kayak beside him? At any given time, you might also be accompanied by minke whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, porpoises, harbor seals, and sea lions. Birding is also exemplary, with more than 300 species of fowl found in the region, including bald eagles, great blue herons, and loons. Cost of the four-day trip: $420, including camping equipment and all breakfasts and dinners.

White-water Kayaking at Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, Colorado

Set on the banks of the frothy Arkansas River in Howard, Colorado (a 90-minute drive from Colorado Springs), the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (800/255-5784, www.rmoc.com) is the ideal locale for teaching beginner-to-advanced paddlers the necessary skills to tackle white-water kayaking. Its five-day kayak courses target everyone from nervous adults to wave-riding rodeo teenagers. Many of the instructors are ranked nationally and/or have been with the outfitter since it opened in 1982.

Beginners start at a nearby lake to go over basics like posture and balance in the kayak. You'll learn how it feels to be upside down in a body of water and also how to slip out of the kayak (known as a "wet exit"). Then it's off to a slow-moving stretch of Class II river to read the eddies and flow with the current. Over the five-day course, you may also attempt an Eskimo roll, the cornerstone of good kayaking, and test your skills on a Class III rapid. Intermediates practice rolling and outline strategies for handling the big rapids. Cost of the five-day course: $450, including all equipment and food. Camping is free on the premises, but you must bring your own tent and sleeping bag.

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