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Taking the Kids

Giving Teens a Little White-Water Thrill

July 07, 1996|EILEEN OGINTZ | Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month

Guy Gibson has the answer for parents whose teens insist they've outgrown family vacations. And he's not talking about leaving them home or dropping them at the nearest theme park.

The Northern California attorney and father of three teens recommends gathering the gang and heading for the river--one with enough white water to keep the kids interested, but not so much that parents have to clutch the raft for dear life.

"You're not in the car arguing about where you'll eat," Gibson said. "You're not hearing the kids complain they're bored. You're not wondering where they are."

Instead, river trips offer experiences that are exciting yet relaxing, with time for family bonding and at least a few decent conversations. The kids can go off on their own too, taking turns in individual inflatable kayaks.

"A rafting trip really works. We got a week with our 15-year-old where she wasn't complaining a bit," said George English, a Tallahassee, Fla., banker who rafted last summer.

Rafting trips also represent relief from vacation chores, since activity planning, navigating and cooking are left to the guides.

Among the few downsides, however, are that rafting is not cheap, averaging $100 a day or more per person. And most rafting experiences aren't designed for children under 6. But once kids are old enough, parents and outfitters say, they'll have an experience well worth the money.

They'll have lots of company. This year, about 5 million people will take a rafting trip. That's more than double the number who rafted a decade ago, according to America Outdoor, a professional association of outfitters. And 30% are now families.

"Outfitters tell us families represent the fastest-growing segment of their business," said David Brown, who heads America Outdoors, a nonprofit organization representing about 400 wilderness outfitters. (For a free 68-page directory, call America Outdoors at [423] 558-3597.)

A rafting trip is a lot more than strapping on a helmet and life vest, and crashing rapids or floating through a pristine canyon. There's time for swimming, fishing, beach volleyball and delicious meals under the stars. "It provides a pure wilderness experience without really roughing it," said Dave Wiggins, whose Colorado company American Wilderness Experience offers family trips from six different outfitters, as well as combined raft and horse adventures ([800] 444-0099).

Here are other outfitters that cater to families:

* OARS (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists) in Angels Camp, Calif., takes 10,000 people a year on more than 800 trips, including five-day trips on the Rogue River in Oregon, six days on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho and overnight float trips on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. On family trips, one of the guides brings a bag full of games and toys for kids. For most tours, after the first two family members pay full price, everyone else in the family gets a 15% discount. Call OARS at (800) 346-6277.

* The American River Touring Assn. (ARTA) is headquartered in Groveland, Calif., and has been outfitting river trips since 1963. ARTA also offers family trips on the Salmon, the Green River in Utah and one-day adventures on the American River near Placerville, Calif. Ask about family discounts. Call (800) 323-2782.

* Northern Outdoors Adventures in West Forks, Maine, is celebrating its 20th year of trips through the Kennebec River Gorge and down the Penobscot River. There are one-day and overnight family adventures for those whose kids are at least 8, as well as two resort centers that offer accommodations in a lodge, cabin or tent. Call (800) 765-7238.

* River Odysseys West (ROW), headquartered in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, offers family trips each summer through the Salmon River canyon. The guides even serve an earlier children's dinner and make sure the kids have plenty of time to play and swim. Special parent-teen adventure trips also are scheduled. Call (800) 451-6034.

* Bill Dvorak's Kayaking and Rafting Expeditions in Northrop, Colo., has been in business since 1969. Certain trips on the Green and Dolores rivers are kids-go-free with one paying adult. Other family discounts are available on two- and three-day trips. Call (800) 824-3795.

Meanwhile, Guy Gibson has become such a rafting fan that he has organized trips just to introduce his friends and their kids to the sport. "It's got all the thrill of a two-minute ride at Disney World," he explained. "But it lasts all week."

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