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Desert Companion

Water trips: Make a splash!

From mild to wild, here are nine trips to ‘wet’ your appetite for adventure, relaxation and family fun

Noahs Ark

A (worthwhile) trek to Eden in the desert

Baker Lake, Nevada

Get wet: If you’re looking to evade not only heat, but also neighbors and civilization in general, get out a Nevada map and circle Great Basin National Park, 286 miles from Las Vegas, near the Utah border. The 77,100-acre park is often overlooked because of its distance, but Great Basin offers something many nearer parks don’t: water. Nestled 10,600 feet up in the mountains, between Baker and Pyramid Peaks, is Baker Lake, a sparkly oasis of alpine runoff where you can actually see trout leaping out of the water.

Get there: Sound heavenly? It is, but you’ll have to earn your entry to this paradise, too. Baker Trail begins at 8,000 feet and travels 12 miles and 2,620 feet up to the lake. Don’t let the butterfly-filled meadows of the first few miles fool you; by the time you finish the switchbacks at the steep end of the trail, you’ll by dying to plunge your feet in the pool. And don’t forget: You’ll be carrying everything you need for the duration of your trip on your back, so plan carefully and travel light. Although you’ll be in a remote area with limited services, there are ways to make the trip more accessible to the less sporty. There’s a campground at the bottom of Baker Creek, and you can shorten the hike by taking the loop cutoff about a mile in.

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Get the inside scoop: The small nearby town of Baker offers creature comforts to ease the transition between pinecones and concrete. T&D’s Country Store, Restaurant and Lounge has goods you might have forgotten, like groceries and fishing tackle. The Silver Jack Inn and Lectrolux Café has an art gallery, book store and meals you don’t have to balance on your lap. The lake dries up over summer, so don’t wait too long for your trip. Call for conditions. — Heidi Kyser


 Ride the wind

Ride the wind, ride the water

Hood River, Oregon

Get wet: If a simple splish-splash isn’t your style and you need a dose of adrenaline to keep you kicking, head to Hood River, where the windsurfing is arguably the best in the world. Take the geographical location of the Columbia River Gorge, add the winds that play through the valley and you have perfect conditions for riding the waves. Several outfitters offer lessons for beginners and rental equipment is available, but experts will also find plenty of company as they rub (wet) elbows with other professional wind surfers from around the world.

Get there: Located at the crossroads of the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Range, Hood River County has several hotels and inns, but consider camping to best appreciate the natural beauty.

Get the inside scoop: For the best conditions, plan to windsurf during the day. To catch the “boardheads” hard at work, drive to the Columbia Gorge Sailpark or follow Second Street to the waterfront. Kick back and relax at the end of the day with a glass of wine from one of the many vineyards in the area.
— JoAnna Haugen


Wisconsin Dells

Water, meet rollercoaster

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Get wet: Travelers have been flocking to Wisconsin Dells for more than 150 years. Back in the day, they went for the rowboat tours of the Wisconsin River. Though the scenic, glacier-carved gorge and striking sandstone features are still a draw, it’s the waterpark scene that has people slipping on their swimsuits now. With the largest concentration of indoor and outdoor waterparks on the planet, there’s no shortage of wave pools and water slides. Highlights include America’s first looping waterslide (Scorpion’s Tail at Noah’s Ark) and the world’s fastest and longest indoor water roller coaster (the Fly'n Mayan at Chula Vista Resort).

Get there: Located in southern central Wisconsin, the Dells has lots of lodging at the waterpark resorts, but consider reserving a room at Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort on Lake Delton or a cabin at Birchliff Resort for easy access to hiking along the Wisconsin River.

Get the inside scoop: The waterparks can be crowded, especially on the weekends in the summer, so pack patience with your sunscreen. Otherwise, head for the Dells after Labor Day to take advantage of the year-round, indoor waterparks. — JoAnna Haugen



Alpine paradise, served lakeside

Mormon Lake, Arizona

Get wet: When it’s not experiencing drought-induced evaporation, Mormon Lake is the largest natural lake in Arizona. Located about 29 miles southeast of Flagstaff at an elevation of 7,000 feet, it’s ideal for folks who like to retreat from the heat using nature’s air conditioning — alpine breezes. Families like it because of the many available activities: bird-watching, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain-biking, picnicking and windsurfing. For most of these, lakeside facilities offer equipment rentals and guides.

Get there: Outdoorsy types can set up headquarters in the Dairy Springs and Double Springs National Forest campgrounds near trailheads for hikes leading to panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area. Those in need of pampering can book rooms, cabins or full halls at Mormon Lake Lodge, starting at $59.

Get the inside scoop: The lodge is both green and historic. Built 80 years ago to accommodate loggers, it burned to the ground in 1974. According to lodge lore, local ranchers pooled their money and skills to bring the lodge back to life in time to carry on its annual team-roping competition, which continues today. To seal their accomplishment, the ranchers burned their brands into the lodge’s walls. Forever Resorts bought the lodge in 1990 and has since embraced an environmentally friendly policy by implementing programs such as EPA Waste Wise and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. — H.K.


Kern River

Thrills and spills for every taste

Kern River, California

Get wet: Less crowded than the Colorado River and more discreet than the Gauley River, the Kern River lures beginners and professionals alike to its wild whitewater rapids. The Lower Kern tends to be more popular, with its Class II-IV rapids, while the Upper Kern River offers a bit more bucking and bouncing. For something even wilder, consider a multi-day tour launched from the Forks of the Kern River, which requires hiking in and pack animals to transport food and river gear. Several outfitters offer trips of varying lengths and difficulty, so look around for one that fits your style.

Get there: Located on the southern end of California’s great Central Valley, the Kern River is within a half day’s drive from Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Pacific Coast and Las Vegas. Though you could be rafting by lunchtime, stay the night at a nearby lodge or inn after your day on the water.

Get the inside scoop: The Kern River teems with all manner of recreationists, especially during the summer, so ask around about hiking, fishing, climbing or horseback riding if you want to add something else to your whitewater trip. — J.H.



Bigger-than-life beauty

Inside Passage, Canada and Alaska

Get wet: The Inside Passage is a coastal route that snakes through the islands of the Pacific Northwest, heads north through western British Columbia and extends through southeastern Alaska. Though used by a variety of water vessels, most people enjoy the natural features of the Inside Passage while sipping a mug of hot cocoa from the deck of a cruise ship. Clear water, majestic mountain views, vast forests, glacier-covered fjords, tumbling waterfalls … the Inside Passage is rife with clichés, but there’s no better way to describe this awe-inspiring waterway that somehow makes people feel bigger than life — yet just a small piece of a larger universal picture.

Get there: Most ships cruise round trip out of Seattle. Itineraries vary based on the number of days on the water.

Get the inside scoop: Though most people choose to travel the Inside Passage on a ship with a preset route, independent travelers may prefer to take the Alaska Marine Highway, a ferry system that operates a fleet of 11 vessels along a scenic 3,500-mile route from Washington state to the Aleutian Islands. — J.H.


Spaa-ingOpen up and say spaaaa

Ten Thousand Waves, New Mexico

Get wet: Climbing the lantern-lined steps from the parking lot, you’ll feel like you’re entering an ancient Japanese bathhouse atop a mountain — but you’re really only a few minutes from downtown Santa Fe. Whether you choose to indulge in Ten Thousand Waves’ day spa services or stay at the resort, the bathing and cleansing experience is just that — an experience. Two communal and several private areas are made complete with hot baths (maintained at 104-106 degrees Fahrenheit), wet and dry saunas, cold plunging spaces, waterfalls and sun decks. At Ten Thousand Waves, the baths are open-air, which is both invigorating and relaxing as your body literally soaks in a variety of temperatures and water experiences.

Get there: Ten Thousand Waves is located just outside of Santa Fe, but don’t rely on a GPS to get you there. Check directions posted on the website before you go.

Get the inside scoop: The yasuragi treatment and ashi anma foot massage are the property’s specialties. Like any spa experience, it’s best if you don’t rush. Arrive at least 20 minutes before your appointment time, and leave a few hours free so you can completely relax. — J.H.



FishingA world-class catch for anglers

Saskatchewan, Canada

Get wet: With 100,000 lakes and rivers, Saskatchewan is on the must-fish list for many freshwater anglers. World-record trout and walleye have been pulled from Lake Diefenbaker and Last Mountain Lake in the south. There are fly-in lakes throughout the north and, with the right timing, you can fish for four species on a single waterway (monster pike, walleye, lake trout and Arctic grayling). For those seeking big trout or pike, head north, where fly fishing rivals that found in Alaska. Of course, there’s no perfect science to the art of fishing, but the consensus is that the best fishing in Saskatchewan is early in the season (June) and late in the season (August), though this depends on where and what you’re casting for.

Get there: Two international airports service Saskatchewan, and accommodations are available throughout the province. Stay in a lodge or cabin lakeside so you never have to travel far for the next big catch.

Get the inside scoop: Anglers are notorious for keeping close-lipped when it comes to insider tips — so we’ve been sworn to secrecy not to let the fish out of the bag. — J.H.



Gator-spotting in the glades

Everglades, Florida

Get wet: Visiting the Everglades with children is like a classroom in a suitcase — the unique ecosystem and awesome wildlife are both entertaining and educational — so make the most of your trip with exploration beyond the average hiking trail. Canoe trails and bike rentals combined with ranger advice and a good map will help you spot one or more of the tens of thousands of alligators in the Everglades. For a more structured experience, sign up for a tram or boat tour, or take advantage of a ranger-led slough slog for fun with a chance of alligator-spotting.

Get there: The Everglades encompasses most of South Florida. Visitor centers in or near Homestead, Flamingo, Miami and Everglades City offer information.

Get the inside scoop: Keep in mind that Everglades National Park isn’t a zoo, and the wildlife is exactly that — wild — so exercise caution if you encounter a gator. Hit up the Anhinga Trail, which winds through a sawgrass marsh, for the chance to see alligators, turtles, anhinga and several other species of birds. Visit during the dry season (December through April) and at dusk or dawn for the best viewing conditions. — J.H.


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