Reviews & Photos
July 20 2015
2 families found this helpful
OARS Main Salmon River rafting trip
1127 Airway Ave,
We've been on several OARS river rafting trips, and the Main Salmon was one of our favorites. This 6 day trip is best for families with teens, as there is a requirement that kids are 12 and up during high water (mostly in May and June). Younger kids are certainly welcome during lower water periods however, so definitely call the OARS office in CA to find out exactly what you need to know.
Our Main Salmon River trip started in McCall, Idaho with a beautiful chartered flight to Salmon, where we endured a bus ride of a few hours to get to our put-in spot on the river. Was the ride long? Yes, but totally worth it to be in this beautiful wilderness!
All five nights along the Main Salmon with O.A.R.S. are spent on sandy beach campsites along the river, with tents and sleeping bags and pads provided. Our first day, we were dialed in on a lot of protocol and safety rules. we rafted only an hour or so before stopping to eat on a sandy bank, during which we learned about dining protocol—hand washing, water bottle filling, and trash clean up—and were introduced to the inflatable kayak ‘duckies’. These solo-passenger rafts are popular but require just a bit of skill. Anyone wanting to raft the river in duckies needed to take a ‘swim test’ before we left the lunch spot. This test involves paddling the ducky in an eddy, purposely flipping it over, and getting oneself back in in deep water. This sounds intimidating, but with tips from the guides, everyone in our group who took the test, from the teens to the grandfather, passed.
We rafted another three hours or so, navigating through our first rapids, Killum, Gunbarrel, and Rainer, before landing at our first night’s camp. Here, we learned all about camping protocol, including how to create a ‘fire line’ to off-load the boats of gear (everyone helps) to how to set up our tents and where to find our sleep kits (which included sleeping bags, tarps, and pillows). We also became acquainted with the ‘Unit’ at this point, sometimes called the ‘Groover’. This portable toilet system is required by all rafting parties on the river as part of the Leave No Trace principles followed. It takes some getting used to if you don’t spend a lot of time in the outdoors, but embrace the Unit: after all, it’s the only option.
After setting up camp, we found ample time to play, swim, and get to know one another better through conversation over cold beers and sodas. Our guides surprised us with several beach toys brought out from the depths of the boats, including frisbee games and a fun washer game similar to horseshoes. A salmon dinner was followed by more community time around the ‘circle’ (of chairs), where adults conversed and kids brought out card games. Around 8 pm, the summer heat was broken by a spectacular thunderstorm and hail storm: we all dug out rain jackets and scurried to the sanctuary of our tents to wait it out. For most of us, this was the only night on the trip we didn’t sleep out under the stars and bright moon.
The next morning, the coffee call came around 7 am, followed by breakfast of huckleberry pancakes, sausage, and fruit at 8 am. We packed up camp around 8:30, filled up our water bottles with filtered river water, and were back on the boats before 9 am. The next five days followed the same general routine: coffee call, breakfast, camp breakdown, rowing on the water interspersed with challenging rapids, hikes to historic points, or wildlife, lunch, more river time, arrival at camp, playtime both in the water and on the sand, appetizers and drinks, dinner, and community time. As guests, we set up our own tents and helped on and offload boats, but never cooked or planned any of the itinerary.
By Day 3, we’d hit a stride of river life that truly fell into pace with the current. Without screens or smart phones, we slowly felt the tethers of day-to-day demands fall away, to be replaced by a quiet rhythm of sunshine, river water, and fun companionship. By Day 6, we felt so acclimated to river life it felt odd to return to civilization: trucks on the road overlooking the river on the last day felt jarring after so many days without the sound of them and day trippers felt like intruders. While we were ready for a shower and to call loved ones with news of our trip, we never felt uncomfortable on the river: with some much time in the water, we didn’t feel as dirty or grimy as we might backpacking.
We love OARS trips because we already love the outdoors, but enjoy the bit of pampering we feel when we don't have to plan the itinerary or cook for ourselves (not to mention, we don't have to have the whitewater experience). If you're new to the outdoors, it can still be an amazing trip (maybe even more so!). During our Salmon River trip, we had a party in our group who'd never been camping, and they loved it! The rest of us has a range of outdoor/camping/backpacking experience and one in our group was even a whitewater guide himself...it didn't matter...we all brought something to the group and all had a great time.
July 20 2015
1 family found this helpful
Three Bars Ranch
9500 Wycliffe Perry Creek Road,
Cranbrook, British Columbia
"Best dude ranch we've experienced!"
We've been to two all-inclusive dude ranches, plus several additional a la carte ranches, and our three school-aged kids (ages 10, 14, and 16) rated Three Bars at the top! Why? The fun, community 'camp-like' atmosphere, the riding program, and the abundance of additional activities. What rated highest in my book was the flexibility of activities and programs, the breathtaking setting, and the friendly wranglers. Unlike at some other ranches, the Three Bars wranglers aren't just there for the horse program...they're there all the time, helping families throughout the day, offering a smile and friendly word, playing with kids, and being more like friends than employees.
We arrived on a Sunday in late June, and were greeted by two of our wranglers at the main lodge. We settled in and explored the grounds. Three Bars is situated on over 1200 acres of pasture, forests, and mountainsides, plus uses an additional 60,000 acres of leased land in the heart of the Canadian Rockies along the St. Mary’s River. The ranch property includes the main lodge where we checked in, the cabins, tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, an activities barn with mountain bikes, and the horse padlocks and barns. Right away, it was clear that we were to consider this property ‘ours’ during our stay, and immediately, the kids felt comfortable wandering (as did we). They found the ping-pong and foosball tables, the pool table in the bar (open to youth players), the cozy gazebo, and the petting ‘zoo’(including a donkey, pigmy goat, pony, chickens, kittens, and goats).
After a Sunday evening meet-and-greet, welcome dinner, and orientation, daily life at the ranch settles into a routine. Every day, a bulletin board will list the day’s schedule, which will always include a morning and afternoon horse ride, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and an evening activity. Alternative afternoon activities are always offered: whether it be a scheduled rafting trip or a specifically arranged fly fishing trip, ATV ride, or mountain bike trip. Every morning, head wrangler (and ranch owner) Tyler Beckley comes around to each breakfast table to arrange the day’s activities for each family. This is the time for families to choose which type of ride to go on, or what alternative activity to schedule. As the week wore on, we, like many families, met friends and arranged to ride and play together, asking for teen rides, group rides, and ladies only rides. All were easily arranged.
Our typical day (Mon-Fri at the ranch) started by barely waking up in time for 8 am breakfast (unheard of for us, early-risers!), taking a morning ride of our choice (usually a fast ride while the kids rode with friends, or a family ride), coming back for lunch and a little break, an afternoon activity, which alternated between another ride or a different activity (one afternoon we went target shooting, another we went rafting), then down time in the late afternoon. We filled this time by swimming in the pool, playing ping-pong or tennis, riding a bike along the trails, or just sitting on the porch of our cabin with a glass of wine. The ranch bar opens each day at 5 pm, and families tend to gather there to compare notes on the day. Kids order smoothies and play pool, and adults relax over a beer or cocktail. Dinner is at 6:30, followed by an evening activity, always with the wranglers, who also eat meals with guests and socialize naturally with everyone. Evening activities during our stay ranged from a reining horse demonstration by horse trainer Jessie Buckley to a volleyball match and a cowboy guitar entertainer. Because it doesn’t get dark in summer in this part of the world until almost 11 pm, the kids tended to play on the lawns or soak in the hot tub until well after 9 pm, with lights out for our crew of school-aged and teen kids well past bedtime.
The riding program is certainly at the heart of the resort experience, though I want to emphasize again that this ranch is about so much more than riding. Expect the program to start out slowly and in a controlled manner; our first day, everyone I spoke to began by walking only, with wranglers keeping a careful eye on ability level and horse/rider compatibility. We didn’t mind, even though we were eager to trot and lope our horses, because the first ride was a great opportunity to get to know the area and see some of the scenery away from the ranch proper. By our second ride (afternoon of Day 1), our family was trotting, and by Day 2, we were loping (by request…this is not necessary). At another ranch we’d visited, rides started out fast and furious…great for experienced riders but uncomfortable for those who ride only occasionally.
On subsequent days, we verbalized what type of ride we wanted during the morning check-in with owner Tyler, whether it be a walking ride, ride with plenty of breaks and play time for kids, medium ride (with trotting and some loping), or fast ride (with more bouts of loping). We rode with our family unit and also with new friends. I absolutely love riding, so I greatly enjoyed the riding program, but individuals who would rather pursue other actives could absolutely do so.
But how's the food? We found the dining experience at the ranch to be consistently good. Occasionally during our stay, it was only ok, and sometimes, it was amazing. The dining staff did an excellent job accommodating my pescetarian dietary needs, as well as others’ gluten-free needs. They can accommodate any type of need, with advanced warning. Fare ranged from themed nights like Italian or taco night to tried-and-true burgers, steaks, and the like.
Lunch ranged from sandwich fixings to make-your-own-burrito bars, always with freshly-baked cookies and side salads. Dinners ranged from ribs to herb chicken to Italian pastas, always with something for everyone. In fact, lunch was my favorite meal of the day.
The cabins at Three Bars are very comfortable, visually beautiful, and convenient. Each has a TV with plenty of channels (though we hardly ever turned ours on), coffee service, a full bathroom with tub, WiFi (a godsend since I had to work during the stay), and very cozy beds with high-end linens. There are different cabin configurations, but we ended up with two connecting rooms (one with three beds for the kids and a queen bed for me), giving us two bathrooms. Rooms have mini-fridges and cabinet space for snacks, plus plenty of closet space for riding gear and outerwear. Each cabin has a porch with table and chairs out front, all overlooking the main lawn and lodge.
If you have kids under age 6, be advised that you'll need to provide your own childcare while adults are riding...kids under this age cannot join the riding program. I recommend this vacation for kids 8 and up to get the most out of it!
Disclosure: Our family experienced Three Bars as guests of the resort, for the purpose of review for Trekaroo.
June 20 2015
2 families found this helpful
Crystal Seas kayaking
40 Spring Street,
"Great for a day trip or multi-night!"
Crystal Seas offers both day kayak trips and overnight trips, and while most visitors with kids to the islands will opt for a day trip, with some planning, a 2-3 day trip can be an amazing experience with school-aged kids.
We booked a three-day, two-night trip from San Juan Island to Stuart Island, and in three days, we saw more of the San Juan Islands than we had in three previous trips! There are so many small islands to explore that cannot be experienced by ferry and car, and there’s so much wildlife and scenery to take in from the vantage point of a kayak. For our family group of five, Crystal Seas sent us on our trip with two guides, Corey and Brett. We had a great time with these guys, who are both island residents and experienced kayakers. Right away, we felt very comfortable on the water with them (the youngest in our family was 10).
Crystal Seas does a good job of preparing families for a trip like this ahead of time, with a packing list and staff who’s easy to talk to with any questions. Definitely plan to stay the night on the island the night before your trip, so you don’t have to worry about the ferry schedule for your 9 am kayak departure. We found Crystal Seas was happy to pick us up wherever needed in Friday Harbor.
During the trip, Crystal Seas takes care of all the food and camping gear (with the exception of sleeping bags and personal items), and the food Corey and Brett prepared was amazing (mostly locally sourced, too). It was so nice to enjoy the camping experience without having to worry about any of the details: navigation, campsites, or meals!
We stayed in marine trail campsites, reserved only for kayakers, and enjoyed peaceful nights in our cozy tents, followed by a lots of paddling, hiking, and playing during the day. Would we do it again? Absolutely!
June 20 2015
0 families found this helpful
4313 Roche Harbor R. ,
Friday Harbor, Washington
"Relaxing and energizing all at once!"
The ultimate resort for families seeking lots of activities on San Juan Island. Located on a network of no fewer than three lakes, Lakedale is located inland, but still only about 10 minutes from Friday Harbor. Families can leave the resort for the day and take part in all the coastal activities on the island, such as kayaking and whale watching expeditions, but definitely plan to spend at least one full day enjoying the resort.
On-site are paddle board, canoe, kayak, and paddle boat rentals, fishing, lawn games and ping-pong, a grocery store with snacks and toys, and acres of space to ride bikes, play in the woods, and swim. The lodging options range from two-bedroom, two-bath cabins with full kitchens to rustic campsites to luxury canvas camping tents. The latter have full beds and pull-out beds inside, and include turn-down service with hot water bottles placed at your feet and access to a hospitality tent with breakfast foods, coffee, and tea. Lanterns and flashlights are in the tents, and families won’t need sleeping bags or other camping gear unless they’d like to cook at the site (there’s a fire pit and picnic table).
The overall feel of Lakedale is that of an old-fashioned, family-focused wooded camp, with kids roaming safely around, parents relaxing, and people having a relaxed, back-to-basics vacation. There’s no WiFi in the campground (but is in the cabins). There’s a lodge as well, with rooms and suites for guests 16 and older. This comes with a breakfast buffet and WiFi in the rooms. We stayed in a cabin, and were very comfortable. We loved that it was located right on the water and we could use the fire pit and back deck while watching the kids on paddle boards. Next time, we’ll be trying the deluxe tents!
June 20 2015
0 families found this helpful
Snug Harbor Resort
1997 Mitchell Bay Road,
Friday Harbor, Washington
"Amazing and kid-friendly!"
At first glance, the gorgeous Snug Harbor Resort looks more like a yoga retreat than a family-friendly lodging option, but in fact, it’s completely kid-friendly! We loved the communal fire pits, complimentary paddle boards and kayaks, and wonderful views of Mitchell Bay. Snug Harbor is in a quiet corner of San Juan Island, tucked around the corner from Roche Harbor. It takes about 10 minutes to get to this more central harbor, or about 20 minutes to get to Friday Harbor. We loved the quiet!
The lodging at Snug Harbor has all been recently renovated and is pristine. The cabins all overlook the bay, and have nice touches like wood stoves (gas-powered, interestingly enough), spacious new bathrooms, and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. Our cabin had a full kitchen and living room space as well.