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River adventures on the West Coast
Running down our favorite places to get out on the river
We may be biased, but when it comes to outdoor adventure, wide open spaces, and dramatic landscapes, it’s hard to beat the Western US. From the stunning waterways carving their way through the red rock of Arizona and Utah to the evergreen-lined rivers of Washington and Oregon, there’s no shortage of destinations where you can hop in a boat and drift downstream, whether you want to get away from it all on a calm and quiet float or get your adrenaline pumping on world-class whitewater rapids. Here are our tips for where to pick up cool local gear (and great local beer) before and after your day on the water.
- Seattle, WA: With its mountains-to-sound landscapes, evergreen reputation, and infamously wet coastal climate, it's no surprise Seattle tops our list of locations where a watery adventure is never far. Head out of the city to Index for a fishing, kayaking, or rafting trip on the Skykomish with the Outdoor Adventure Center, which also offers overnight excursions and rafting outings with fun, sporty add-ons like horseback rides. To bank on sunnier skies, head over the Cascades into Eastern Washington to raft down the raging waters of the Tieton with Osprey Rafting. Before you put in, swing by REI (the outdoor retailer’s headquarters are in downtown Seattle) to stock up on dry bags and waterproof gear. Or spend some time in Filson, scoping out high-quality, timeless wares for heritage items you’ll have forever. Our favorite places to refuel after a day of whitewater action? Get back into the city and check out the Fremont Brewery and Uneeda Burger, local favorites in Seattle's eclectic Fremont neighborhood. If you're coming back over the Cascades, a stop in Issaquah for root beer floats and some throwback '50s ambiance at Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In is a must.
- Fairbanks, AK: Alaska is pretty much synonymous with outdoor adventure, and Fairbanks is the perfect jumping-off point for some river-centric exploration. Meet up with the pros at Alaska Wildlife Guide to paddle a canoe down the Chena River, or practice your cast during a flyfishing lesson with the folks at 1st Alaska Tours, who also run rafting trips though the wilderness. After you get off the river, head to the Goldpanners Grill for a killer burger and fries at a no-frills roadside stand. Or, warm up and rest your tired paddling arms in the thermal pools of the Chena Hot Springs.
- Sedona, AZ: With the desert sun beating down on its beautiful landscape of red rocks, Sedona is a place where cooling off with some water sports is always a good idea. Experts like Great Venture Tours can take you to striking natural landmarks such as Horseshoe Bend, where you can soak in the splendor of the Southwest on the turquoise waters of the Colorado River. Or, take your outdoor excursion to new heights by adding on a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon. Reward yourself after your adventure with a handcrafted prickly pear margarita on the patio at El Rincon, where you can relax amid the atmosphere and charm of the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. This lovely outdoor shopping center features decorative Mexican-inspired architecture, cobblestone paths, and courtyards lined with great restaurants and boutiques.
- Denver, CO: The Mile High City might be best known for its proximity to world-class skiing, but Denver's packed with opportunities to get outside year-round. Join up with the guides at Arkansas Valley Adventure to float the Upper Colorado, hone your kayaking skills, or tackle the rapids of Brown's Canyon, Clear Creek, or the Arkansas River. If you need any equipment before heading out, check in with the savvy staff at the Wilderness Exchange Unlimited, which peddles top-notch new gear at great prices along with high-quality used equipment on consignment. We also recommend grabbing a growler to go at the Great Divide Brewing Company to take some of Colorado's best craft beer with you out on the water. Afterward, don’t miss the filling tortas at aptly named Las Tortas, where hearty sandwiches come piled high with your choice of 11 different meats smothered in chili-infused sauces.
- Portland, OR: Oregon's largest city is more than fusion food trucks, hipster brunch joints, and Portlandia skits waiting to happen—though those are all good things, too. The Rose City is also a hub for outdoor activities, whether you want to hike, bike, or wine taste (it counts!). Head a few hours east to tackle the rapids and currents of the Deschutes, or cross the Columbia into Washington to take on the currents of the White Salmon with the water-loving guides at River Drifters. Whether you need life jackets, long underwear, or freeze-dried camping meals, nature-loving Portland has no shortage of outdoor retailers for you to choose from. You could check out the slick flagship stores of Columbia Sportswear and Nike, or do as the locals do and head to Next Adventure for the gently used gear that fills the basement and discounted sample items from big-name brands like Arc’teryx. After you get off the river, make a beeline for Deschutes Brewery. Not only do they pour some of the finest pints in the country (Fresh-Squeezed IPA, anyone?), their food brings pub fare to a new level. Even the house salad dressing is something else (yeah, it has beer in it).
- Park City, UT: Powder heaven in the winter months, Park City—home to the "Greatest Snow on Earth" if you listen to the Utah license plates—is less touristy but just as fun in the summertime. Get out on the water with the guides at Destination Sports, who can show you how to paddle a raft or kayak through rapids, find a secret swimming hole, or just hook you up with an inner tube so you can float along on your own. Hit up White Pine Touring for gear, trail maps, and expert tips for exploring Park City on the water and off—the shop's pros can get you equipped with shoes, bikes, or even just float-ready snacks to make sure your adventures go off without a hitch. Afterward, mosey down to the No Name Saloon and Grill for a bison burger and some good cowboy-bar camaraderie, or clean up for an elegant Italian lunch on the patio at lovely Café Terigo.
Where will your next river take you?
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