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National Parks Special
2007: Paddling
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The Best of the National Parks: Paddling
Fifty easy-to-execute plans that put you in the wild heart of America's national parks, whether you love hiking, paddling, climbing, wildlife viewing, or sublime lodges.   By Robert Earle Howells   Illustration by Jesse Lefkowitz

Illustration: Paddler

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  |  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
The West Arm
When you put in to one of the narrow inlets of Glacier Bay's West Arm and slip along craggy shorelines, you are not only in the midst of the nation's best sea kayaking destination, but one of the best in the world. Look up and you'll see the 15,000-foot (4,572-meter) summits of the Fairweather Range. The icebergs that bob haphazardly around you crackle and gurgle, and the sound of "white thunder," as the locals call the calving of tidewater glaciers, will stir you during the night. The ideal three- to five-day trip starts in the settlement of Bartlett Cove aboard the Glacier Bay Lodge sightseeing boat, the Fairweather Express II, bound for Queen Inlet. Off-load your kayaks there and proceed west past Russell Island to the mouth of Tarr Inlet to glimpse the massive Grand Pacific Glacier—1.3 miles (2 kilometers) wide, 150 feet (46 meters) tall. From there, paddle over to the mostly cruise-ship-free Johns Hopkins Inlet, whose namesake glacier is that modern rarity—an advancing river of ice. (The inlet is restricted from May 1 to June 30 to protect baby harbor seals.) To camp nearby, set up at the slew of spots between the mouths of Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers. Be sure to hike inland from your tent through a paradise of fireweed, Indian paintbrush,
and lupine. Then it's a two- to three-mile (three- to five-kilometer) open-water paddle back to Queen Inlet, with an optional last camp in blissful solitude on Composite Island.

Inside Word: Be aware: Calving glaciers create their own unpredictable weather—wind and surge. 
 Vitals: Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks, in Bartlett Cove, rents boats ($35 a day; Before leaving, pick up a free backcountry permit at the park office ( Bartlett Cove.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
Jacks Fork River and Current River
Some of the country's clearest, cleanest water burbles up from southern Missouri's limestone karst, feeding 134 miles (216 kilometers) of pristine riverways and making for leisurely flatwater canoeing beneath cave-pocked bluffs. For a two-day trip, put in at Rymers, camp near the old gristmill at Alley Springs, and proceed to Powder Mill Spring.

Vitals: Jacks Fork Canoe Rentals & Campground has boats ($46 a day; For a map, go to     

Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Cedar Creek Canoe Trail
Delve into the eerie swamps of the East's newest national park, and you'll navigate beneath some of the longest lived trees in the country, including old-growth hardwoods and giant bald cypress. Follow the 16-mile (26-kilometer) Cedar Creek Trail from Banisters Bridge to State Route 601 for a two-day trip.

Adventure Carolina, in Cayce, offers canoe rentals ($30 a day; For more info, check

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hiawatha Water Trail
If there is one must-see geologic feature on Lake Superior, it's the Pictured Rocks, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) of 200-foot (61-meter), 500-million-year-old lakeside cliffs striped and colored by seeping water. The best way to view them is from below, i.e., by sea kayaking among the five put-ins and seven backcountry campsites along the park's 40-mile (64-kilometer) section of the Hiawatha Water Trail.

Northern Waters Adventures, in Munising, rents boats ($55 a day; and guides trips ($389 for three days). For more information, visit  
Channel Islands National Park, California
Santa Cruz Island
There are more than a hundred sea caves on the north side of Santa Cruz Island and every one of them is different. Complete with arches, grottoes, and blowholes, some caves are more than 200 feet (61meters) long (one 1,215-footer [370-meter] is considered the world's largest) and beg to be explored by kayak, with a helmet, headlamp, and ideally a guide. Try the 3.8-mile (6-kilometer) from Potato Harbor to Cavern Point for starters, and don't miss Surging T, an exhilarating 354-foot-long (108-meter-long) pass-through.

Aquasports, in Goleta, leads guided trips ($275 for two days; For more info, visit

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  |  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

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