Smarter Travel - August 2008

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The 10 Best Adventure Travel Bargains of 2008

By Molly Feltner

RAFT OREGON'S ROGUE RIVER

To make our annual top 10 list of best adventure bargains, a trip can't merely be affordable. Anybody can do cheap, and cheap isn't always good. A real bargain adventure has to work hard for the money you put into it, offering you a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, teaching you new skills you can apply elsewhere, or providing a depth and breadth of experiences at a cost you'd be hard pressed to match on your own. The very best bargains do all three. Here are 10 great trips that live up to these standards.

Rafting wild whitewater rivers with rapids at every turn and spine-jolting drops can be exhilarating, but sometimes mellower rivers—those which allow you to relax a bit, take in the scenery, and practice new skills—can be best, especially if you're traveling with children or new to rafting. With moderate Class III rapids and sections of flat water, Southwestern Oregon's Rogue River promises just that: calm flowing waters interspersed with the occasional intermediate rapid—enough to satisfy kids and adults' thirst for adventure without being "hardcore."

A designated National Wild and Scenic River (damming and development are banned), the Rogue gives rafters a real wilderness experience. Paddling for 45 river miles through the forested canyons of the Siskiyou Mountains, you'll spend a few days in the realm of wildlife like elk, deer, bears, and bald eagles as well as river fish such as salmon and steelhead trout.

O.A.R.S., the largest and probably most respected rafting company in the country, runs four-day Rogue trips throughout the warmer months, including itineraries designed especially for families and gourmands. On all trips, you'll paddle a portion of the river each day and make stops to hike to waterfalls or side canyons, visit historic sites associated with early pioneers and settlers, and camp along the river's sandy beaches. While on the water, you'll have a choice of paddling in the raft with a guide or, for a more exciting ride, heading out on your own in an inflatable kayak. "When you ride the chutes, waves, and drops [in an inflatable kayak], you get a real sense of what it must be like to be a river otter," says Kristi Reif of O.A.R.S. "They are easy to handle in low-to-mid-intensity rapids, even for beginners."

Hearty wilderness cuisine is also an important part of O.A.R.S. trips, not just the special food and wine departures. On regular trips you can expect the likes of blueberry pancakes, cooked-to-order omelets, grilled steak and salmon, and Dutch-oven lasagna. On culinary trips, guest chefs make gourmet meals with wine on the river shore and invite trip-goers to join in with cooking lessons.

"This trip exceeded my expectations: The wilderness was wonderful—the river, birds, and mammals—the food and wine were exceptional, and the staff was amazing," says Princeton, New Jersey, resident Barbara Andrew, who went on a culinary-themed Rogue trip in June with her husband. "I have traveled with O.A.R.S. before and continue to be completely enthusiastic about their professionalism and good company."

TRIP PLANNING

Remaining four-day trip dates this year (2008) are September 1, 8, and 18. The September 1 departure features gourmet wilderness cuisine, wine, and cooking lessons at a cost of $1,247 per person. Rates cover camping, transfers to and from the river, rafting equipment, guides, and all meals including beer and wine. Sleeping bags and pad, and transportation to the trip start and end point, the Galice Resort in Merlin, Oregon are extra. The nearest airport is about 40 minutes away in Medford, Oregon.