The Grand Canyon
Few paddling experiences come close to matching the epic 297-mile Colorado River run from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead. There's the monster whitewater (including Lava Falls, called the fastest navigable rapid in North America), the mile-high bisque- and red-hued rock walls, the tent-perfect beaches, and the sheer, walloping Great American West feel of it all. About 22,000 people a year raft a portion of the Colorado's 277 Grand Canyon miles; most travel with one of 16 outfitters licensed by the Park Service, but those with strong river-running skills can arrange a private outing. Good news on that front: As of 2006, noncommercial launch permits are being awarded by lottery (800.959.9164, www.nps.gov/grca), replacing the laughable 25-year waiting list. Motorized or oar-powered rafts are the most common way to go, but purists say nothing beats the grace and responsiveness of a wooden dory. Veteran outfitter OARS offers 15- to 19-day full-canyon dory trips (from $4,535).