5 Best Non-Paddling Destinations in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Round Spring in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Over a million people a year visit the Current and Jack’s Fork Rivers – otherwise known as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, part of the National Park system – to partake of the amazing natural beauty of the area. The vast majority of those visitors float the streams in canoes, kayaks and rafts. However, paddling is far from the only attraction this park offers to outdoor types. It also offers caves and springs, trails for hiking and horseback riding, camping and even some cycling. In fact, it is quite possible to have a week-long trip in this beautiful national park and never take to the water.

Below are Alpine Shop‘s five best non-paddling destinations to round out your visit to the ONSR.

Round Spring in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Named for not only the circular shape of the spring opening, but also for the almost curved appearance of the water, Round Spring is a must-see on any trip to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

1. Round Spring & Cave

Located on the upper section of the Current River, Round Spring is a delightful place to visit. The surrounding terrain and mineral content of the water makes the flat surface appear to be curved and the spring opening is almost perfectly circular, thus the name Round Spring. Round Spring adds an average of 33 million gallons of water to the Current River each day. The beautiful spring branch flows under a short tunnel while making its way to the river. This area was one of Missouri’s first State Parks (1932) prior to its inclusion into the national park in 1964. (Note: people are not allowed to swim or wade in Round Spring.)

Nearby is the extremely beautiful Round Spring Cave. The National Park Service offers guided tours by lantern from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There is a small charge for the tour ($5 for adults and $2 for kids) and participation is limited to the first 15 people to buy tickets. These tours are offered daily at 10 am and 2 pm. Tickets go on sale 30 minutes before each tour. While there are over 300 known caves in the park, Round Spring Cave is the only one open to public tours.

Rocky Falls - Ozark National Scenic Riverways
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Ozarks, Rocky Falls is the perfect destination for a summer afternoon.

2. Rocky Falls

This 40 foot wide cascade is one of the best waterfalls in the Ozarks. Some water flows year-round, but in the spring and after heavy rains will give you the best view of this amazing geologic formation. The falls are located about 22 miles east of Eminence, Mo. off Hwy H. The area includes pit latrines and a small picnic area. The plunge pool below the falls offers a great place for a swim during the hotter months.

Blue Spring - Ozark National Scenic Riverway
Over 300 feet deep, Blue Spring more than lives up to its name.

3. Blue Spring

Blue Spring, called “Spring of the Summer Sky” by native Americans, is over 300 feet deep. This amazing depth gives the spring its brilliant sky-blue coloration. The area is reached by a gravel road off Hwy 106 east of Eminence, MO and features a picnic area and restrooms. This spring is best visited before the afternoon sun casts its shadow on the spring pool.

Big Spring - Ozark National Scenic Riverways
One of the most popular areas in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Big Spring pumps an amazing 246 million gallons of water each day into the Current River.

4. Big Spring

Big Spring is the one of the largest single outlet springs in the world pumping out over 246 million gallons of water on an average day. This amazing site offers picnic grounds, cabins, a dining lodge, and campground. The beautiful spring branch flows about a half mile to the Current River. Big Spring is located just outside of Van Buren, MO.

Klepzig Mill & shut-ins - Ozark National Scenic Riverways
A little-known glimpse into the past, Klepzig Mill will bring you back to 1928, the year the mill was built.

5. Klepzig Mill and Shut-ins

Located downstream from Rocky Falls, Klepzig Mill and Shut-Ins is one of the hidden gems of this National Park. You can find this seldom-visited place by following a somewhat rough gravel road (County Road #522) that heads to the left where the pavement ends on Highway NN. The old mill sits along the creek with a fascinating shut-in below. There are no facilities here, just a couple of pull outs for cars. The shut-ins provide a great place for a picnic.

Alpine Shop offers several float trips on the beautiful Current River each year. Click this link for details on the next planned outing.

Backpacking for a Honeymoon? Alpine Shop Employee Amy Armon Explains

Who goes backpacking for their honeymoon!? What is romantic about hiking 280 miles in three weeks, 30 lb. packs, sleeping on the ground, a lack of showers, freeze-dried meals, bugs, and all other not-so-glamorous aspects of spending days on end in the woods? Honestly, I’m not sure what is so romantic about it; ask me in a month when I get back, but my husband and I are confident it’s how we want to celebrate our marriage. That’s why we are spending the next three weeks backpacking on the Appalachian Trail for our honeymoon.

The idea of backpacking for one’s honeymoon is the antithesis of what a honeymoon is typically all about: pampering yourselves, spending money lavishly, enjoying superfluous comforts of five-star hotels, etc., but it is of no surprise to me that we are choosing a tent and Therm-a-Rests over pillow-topped beds and beaches. After all, the Appalachian Trail is how we met.

I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, known as “thru-hiking” in 2009. It is 2,178.3 miles long and runs from Georgia to Maine. It took me five and a half months. As I was hiking through Pennsylvania, a stranger, my now-husband, Will, offered “trail magic” to me and my hiking buddies. Trail magic can be described as random acts of kindness by strangers to help hikers on their journey. Examples of common forms of trail magic seen on the AT are: rides to town, a bed to sleep in, a home-cooked meal, or a random cooler in the middle of nowhere filled with soda. Thru-hikers rely on the kindness of strangers throughout their journey. Will had a love of the AT, too, but being a teacher during the school year, he knew that a thru-hike was likely not in the cards for him since it’s takes about six months. So, instead, he read books and blogs about the trail and provided trail magic to thru-hikers on his days off during the summer (he worked at a summer camp in Pennsylvania).

I kept a blog throughout my hike which I updated in towns when I had the chance. Through this, Will was able to follow my progress northbound. When he checked in on my blog in early Fall and saw I had completed the trail, he emailed me a note of congratulations. I wrote him back and a couple visits and a few months later, I moved to St. Louis so we could be together. I found a wonderful place of employment at Alpine Shop, which allows me the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with customers, as well as the flexibility to pursue my own outdoor adventures, such as three weeks of time off to go backpacking for my honeymoon! And of course, we have been able to completely outfit ourselves with everything we could possibly need for this adventure from the shop! I will be promoting Alpine Shop everywhere I hike on the trail with my new hot pink Alpine Shop Nalgene, too! Gotta represent!

We organically came up with the dream of hiking the entire trail together, in small pieces (known as section-hiking) over our life-time. When thinking about what we should do for our honeymoon, it just felt right to begin our marriage with our first official section hike of the Appalachian Trail. And, as symbolism would suggest, we are beginning at the southern-terminus, Springer Mt., Georgia, and doing the first 280 miles northbound.

There is something special about backpacking with the one you love. There are no distractions. The only worries are food, water, shelter, and physical well-being. It is life and love in its simplest form. There will be sunsets and sunrises, shooting stars and campfires. But let’s not forget the bugs, bears, blisters, and torrential downpours. You need to rely on each other to help make it through the tough times and you get to share in the beauty and magnificence of nature during the good times. Both types of experiences bring you closer to each other and make your relationship stronger – just like real life.

We can’t wait. Who knows when the next opportunity we will have to spend three weeks alone together in the woods will be? Probably retirement.

Feel free to follow our blog about the trials and triumphs of life as newlyweds on the Appalachian Trail at: http://www.trailjournals.com/willandamy.

Alpine Shop’s Guide to America’s Amazing National Parks

As outdoor recreation lovers, Alpine Shop employees are naturally drawn to our national parks. As a company, we celebrate their existence, their protection and their continued preservation for our use and our children’s use and our children’s children.

The National Park Service consists of over 375 parks and historic sites covering an amazing range of landscapes, wildlife and history.   Below are just a few of the most interesting facts on this expansive park system.

  • More than 300 million people visited our national park areas in 2010.
  • The first national park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872 through a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant. The cavalry was the first caretaker.
  • The first nationally-proclaimed protected area of public land in the United States, Yosemite, was created in 1864 by the passage of the Yosemite Grant.
  • The largest living things in the world live in national parks; Sequoia Trees, and the world’s largest carnivore; the Alaska Brown Bear.
  • National park areas have volcanos, glaciers, white sand beaches, and dinosaur fossils.
  • Starting in 1910 with “The Immortal Alamo”, filmmakers have been coming to national parks year after year to capture majestic scenery for their productions.

While all of these parks are worthy of protection some hold a special place in the American experience.  While there will never be a consensus on which parks are the best we have listed below the ones that have become part of our staff’s hearts and souls.

Bull Elk resting in Yellowstone National Park, Montana
Bull Elk resting in Yellowstone National Park, Montana.

Yellowstone National Park

The 2,221,766 acres of this astounding land make up the world’s first national park.  Created in 1872 the park features nearly a thousand miles of trails, over 280 backcountry campsites and 466 miles of roadways.

Within it’s boundaries you will find over 10,000 hot springs, geysers, and other thermal features, dramatic mountain ranges, beautiful rivers, hundreds of waterfalls and some of the best wildlife viewing this side of the Serengeti.

Much of the park sits in an ancient caldera of a super volcano resulting in over 2000 earthquakes in an average year.

Half Dome Yosemite National Park
The iconic face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California.

Yosemite National Park

This crown jewel of the National Park system in California was the first park to be protected by the American Government in 1864 with the passage of the Yosemite Grant.

Yosemite Valley is famous throughout the world for its waterfalls and the dramatic granite cliffs rising up, in some cases, 5000 feet above the valley floor. The iconic face of Half Dome in the southeast corner of the Valley can be seen on everything from the California quarter, the logos of such respected outdoor companies as The North Face and Sierra Designs and on countless tourist photographs throughout the world.

The park extends for 1169 square miles, 94% of which is wilderness.

Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park
The tranquil shores of Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park

This park in NW Montana is dubbed “The Crown of the Continent”.   This mountain park lives up to it nick name featuring stark mountain landscapes, dozens of glaciers, and amazing wildlife.

The park has about 700 miles of trails with each one more beautiful than the last.   It is a hiker’s paradise with many backcountry campsites to choose from.   The Going to the Sun Road is one of the most beautiful drives to be had anywhere.   This 52 mile long roadway was constructed in the 1920’s.  There are many sheer drops sans guardrails to keep you holding tightly to the steering wheel.

The park is one of he last refuges of the great Grizzly Bear.  Other wildlife includes Mountain Goats, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Lion, Black Bear and deer.

Arches National Park, Utah
The beautiful sandstone sculptures of Arches National Park in Utah.

Arches National Park

While tiny in comparison to Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier National Parks, Arches packs a tremendous amount of things into its borders.  Crammed into it’s 76,000 plus acres are over 2000 sandstone arches.   Many of these outstanding geologic formations are easily accessible by car and short hikes.   A couple of the more impressive arches include Landscape, Double and the states symbol Delicate Arch.  The park is just a couple of miles north of Moab, Utah and features a small campground and picnic areas.

Zion National Park Utah
The beautiful walk up the Virgin River into the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah.

Zion National Park

Another “can’t miss” Utah park is Zion.   This fantastic park offers canyoneering, waterfalls, great rock climbing, and unusual geologic formations.   One of the most popular activities is a walk up the Virgin River into the Narrows.   On this walk the canyon walls will tower over you rising up to 1500 feet from the canyon floor    A convenient shuttle bus system takes you into and out of the canyon proper.  There are two campgrounds, lots of trails as well as excellent opportunities for cross county travel.

Bryce Canyon National Park
Beautiful pictures abound in this third Utah National Park on our list.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The old story goes that if you cannot take a great photo in Bryce Canyon you may as well throw your camera away.   The park is a series of horseshoe canyons carved out of the top of the Grand Staircase geologic formation.   Trails will lead you though a fairyland conglomeration of brightly colored spires, walls, hoodoo’s, and fins.

Ready to Explore on Your Own

Alpine Shop offers a continuous series of programs on these and other of America’s incredible national parks. If you would like to learn all about these parks from people who know them intimately visit our Great American National Parks Programs by clicking here.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways Named One of Nation’s 10 Most Endangered Rivers

Press Advisory:
National Organization Joined by Local Paddlers and Conservationists to Announce Ozarks Riverways among Nation’s Most Endangered Rivers

Press Conference:
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 – 10 a.m.
Alpine Shop

440 N Kirkwood
Kirkwood, Missouri 63122

Representatives speaking include:

Ms. Kally Higgins,
Spokesperson for the Friends of Ozark Riverways – A coalition representing 21 Missouri conservation, fishing, and outdoor organizations.

Mr. J. Gordon Philpott
Board member of the national organization, American Rivers

Ms. Lisa Hollenbeck
Co-owner of Alpine Shop, representative of outdoor industry and Missouri paddlers and recreation enthusiasts

Missouri’s premier national riverway, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, is being named one of the nation’s ten most threatened riverways in American Rivers annual report released May 17, 2011.

Representatives from many statewide environmental, fishing, paddling, and conservation organizations are joining together to put the National Park Service on notice that the NPS needs to manage the pristine river and parklands with an eye to the future. There are signs that the river so loved by Missourians and millions of visitors each year may be destroyed by pollution, erosion and poor management.

Today’s announcement serves as a wake up call to the National Park Service that Missouri’s largest national park needs to step up its management and address problems in the park that have slowly been eroding the quality of the park.

“We have to do more today to avert the catastrophes of tomorrow,” says Kally Higgins, Friends of Ozarks spokesperson. “ We are seeing visible signs that the health of the Current River is in trouble.  For example, we have seen in recent years signs restricting swimming in certain areas because of too high bacteria and we often see riverbanks damaged by erosion where inappropriate access points have sprung up. We want to work with the National Park Service to make sure that these problems are examined, inventoried, and given full environmental review before it prepares its general management plan.”

Next year, the park service will be releasing its 10-year General Management Plan and the conservation community has identified past decisions, policies, and practices that collectively are causing harm to the park resources.

This is the first time that the Current River and its tributaries have been named a threatened riverway on American River’s Endangered Rivers list, which began in 1985.

Photo Opportunities:

  • The press conference will be held at Alpine Shop with a background of kayak, canoe, and paddling equipment.
  • Many representatives from the 20 + organizations will be present for comment.
  • A map that depicts that excessive number of access points along the 132-mile stretch of river will be available.
  • A 3 minute video that depicts the riverway’s scenic beauty will also be launched on the American Rivers website and the Friends of Ozark Riverways site on the 17th and B- roll available, upon request.
  • Photographs of damage to the river will also be available.

Rindy O’Brien, Coordinator
Friends of Ozark Riverways,
314- 621-0230

Faye Augustyn,
American Rivers,

Kat Logan Smith, Executive Director,
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

Lisa Hollenbeck, Co-Owner
Alpine Shop

Alpine Shop Asks: Where would you celebrate Earth Day?

A year ago, I wrote this post on What Does Earth Day Really Mean.  I’ve decided this year, I have no interest to get into any political discussions. All I’d like to see is Alpine Shop’s customers’ favorite places on earth.

Because what good is Earth Day if we can celebrate our planet’s most beautiful locales? So whether you’re a mountain lover, a beach comber, a prairie dweller or an ocean-goer, visit our facebook page here and post your pics or video of your favorite places on Earth. If you could celebrate 4/22 anywhere on Earth, where would it be?

My favorites? Well, here you go…

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park - from Glacier Point
The view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, from Glacier Point.

Yosemite holds such a spell on me, it’s difficult to describe. (If you’re interested in learning more about it though, join me on May 26, 2011 for a clinic on the park at our Kirkwood location.) Yosemite Valley may be overrun with tourists, but I still love it. And I love getting out of the valley and exploring miles of trails that are virtually deserted. Pure paradise.

Castor River Shut-ins / Amidon Conservation Area
The Castor River Shut-Ins near Fredericktown, Mo.

Most people don’t know about the Castor River shut-ins at Amidon Conservation Area near Fredericktown, Mo. In all honesty, I’m not sure I want more people to know about it. I was married about 100 feet to the left of the spot where this photo was taken. My wife and I love it. Our kids love it. It’s just a magical, beautiful place. Go during the late spring when floods have scoured the pink granite walls clean but the mud has had a chance to dry!

The beach at Bloody Bay in Negril, Jamaica
Bloody Bay in Negril, Jamaica.

In honor of my wife who taught me to relax on a beach and just enjoy the waves rather than immediately get into a kayak and go paddle away into them, I have to put Negril, Jamaica on my list of favorite spots on this earth.

What are your favorites? Don’t forget to post your photos and/or videos on our facebook page before Monday, April 25 at Noon CDT, for your chance to win a gift certificate.


Get out on the Ozark Rivers, April 10th — NOW !!!

Late afternoon (April 10th) and evening pictures of the Current River and it’s valley near Cedargrove, MO. The river was running full; about 1-2 feet above normal stage, the redbud was in full bloom; dogwood coming out, temperature 75F, clear skies, light wind. The next 7 days looks to have a nice forecast and the water is perfect. Go take advantage for at least one day !! Stop by Alpine Shop for gear and updates on floats. Love to see you.


While I feel that there are many special places on our planet-not the least of which is our beloved Ozarks-there are few places as unique and wondrous as the canyon country of the Colorado plateau in Utah. It would consume-and has-many lifetimes of determined effort by many individuals to see just a fraction of the secret waterfalls, canyons, cliff dwellings, and ancient rock art that abounds in canyon country.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten to see some of Canada’s canoe country wilderness, the High Sierras, the redwood forests which astonished be beyond words, some of the Alps, Rockies, and the Appalachians, but I’ve never been as awed by God and nature as I always am when I have the pleasure of traveling in Southern Utah. I’m sure this slide show will help other experience a bit of what that part of the Southwest has to offer, even if it does emphasize places that are not yet protected from damage and development.

Rich Orr

Alpine Shop Kirkwood will host a traveling presentation entitled “Wild Utah: America’s Red Rock Wilderness” on Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 3 pm.
Robert Redford narrates this multi-media slideshow documenting citizen efforts to designate public lands in southern Utah’s spectacular canyon country as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. This 15-minute journey through red rock splendor invigorates and motivates viewers to participate in the movement to protect these unique lands.
“Wild Utah” was made possible through the generous donation of photos, music and words from concerned Utahans who wish to pass this heritage on to future generations. It will be shown in conjunction with a presentation on the current status of the Utah wilderness movement by Clayton Daughenbaugh, Midwest Regional Organizer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and its partners in the Utah Wilderness Coalition seek to gain local support for the “Citizens’ Proposal” to protect wilderness areas in Utah’s red rock canyonlands. Legislation to do so is currently pending in the United States Congress and administrative decisions by the Department of Interior are ongoing.

“These are spectacular public lands owned by all Americans. As citizens we have a great opportunity to act to protect these special places,” Daughenbaugh said.

Daughenbaugh is also the Chair of the Sierra Club’s National Wildlands Committee and, a former Chicago community organizer, is author of “Common Sense Democracy: How to Complete the American Revolution in Your Neighborhood.”

For more information contact: Rich Orr at 314-775-2144

Banff Mountain Film Festival – First Night

I’ve been hosting the Banff Mountain Film Festival for Alpine Shop in St. Louis for quite a few years now and there’s always something amazing each and every time we do this.

A lot of people think we get to see all of the films beforehand and hand pick which ones we think will work best. Well, there’s some truth to that; but the whole truth is a lot more interesting. You see, we get about two minute clips of each of the films. So, you can imagine with a film like Red Gold last night, it’s impossible for us to tell whether or not an hour-long feature film will be any good based on that clip. It’s kind of like a film critic writing reviews based on trailers instead of the actual movie. No, what’s great about Banff is that I’m seeing these films for the first time alongside everybody else. That’s not to say that there isn’t work done by a bunch of people to select which films we think will go over best; but we just never know until the lights go down each year.

The Red Helmet kicked off the show with the tale of a youn,g timid boy coming to grips with his fears after he finds a red helmet in the forest. After experiencing the lives of a number of adrenaline sport athletes (kayaker, climber, mountain biker, etc.) through the helmet, the little man faces his own fears and takes the plunge, literally. Good start to the show.

Papiroflexia (Spanish for origami) was an animated feature. Dealt with the dream to get rid of all the noise and pollution of our lives and get back to nature. Will it be the most popular animated film of the year? We’ll have to wait till tonight to see The Cable Car to find out?

Now for the most controversial topic every year at the Banff Mountain Film Festival… did the feature film live up to your expectations? Red Gold dealt with a proposed mine at the headwaters of two of the largest remaining sockeye salmon runs on the planet near Bristol Bay in Alaska. I’ll just say that I loved the film. The cinematography was gorgeous. The story resonated with me. I know there were people that thought it was too long. But I’d be interested in what some others thought. What did you think of Red Gold? (For conversation’s sake, I think the best feature we’ve ever shown was Alone Across Australia during the 2004 tour.)

The Sharp End: Eastern Europe was hands down the funniest movie of the night. “We don’t drink a lot, a lot. I mean 8-10 beers a day is standard.” That pretty much sums up this group of Checzk climbers’ philosophy. Not that this film was all drunken play. Some of the climbing was pheonmenal. A little humor never hurts, though.

One of the fascinating things about this festival is an almost 50-50 split among our audience as to why they’ve come to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Half of them come strictly for the adrenaline. The other half are there for the culture and nature. Maybe I’m generalizing that a little much, but I can tell you each year I hear from numerous people after the fact “Why didn’t you show more of this?” or “Why did you pick that?” and it always has to do with the cultural/adrenaline split. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of our audience loved Shikashika and half hated it. This was the story of a Peruvian family that climbs into the Andes, hacks enormous blocks of ice from the mountain glaciers and brings them down to the valley on the backs of mules to shave off and sell as snowcones (or as they call it- shikashika). Can you imagine the TroMo kids having to bring down the blocks of ice from the mountains to give Kirkwood it’s snowcone fix? That’s what I kept thinking anyways….

The last two films, Under the Influence and Seasons, both showcased the adrenaline rush with two of the best production groups in the business today. Teton Gravity Research’s Under the Influence had some absolutely unbelieveable powder footage from last year’s massive storm system in Jackson, Wy. Seasons comes from a group called the Collective. Every year that they have a film in the tour, I’ll pick it. They’ve been on the cutting edge with their style in all three films they’ve produced starting in 2004 with their self-titled DVD, The Collective, and continued with ROAM and now Seasons. Their work features some of the most innovative use of zip-line cinematography, super slo-mo and helicopter footage you’ll ever see. So, in the future, just so you know, don’t miss a mountain biking film from the Collective.

So that was night one. Tonight, our feature film is Journey to the Center, and we’ll move from sockeye salmon to BASE jumping. That’s Banff for you. It’s why I love the festival so much and look forward to it all year round.

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did last night. All of us at Alpine Shop have loved hosting this festival for the past 20 something years and look forward to doing it in the future. Leave a comment on what you liked or hated…

By the way, funniest Banff Mountain Film Festival ever: Xtreme Tramping II: Lord of the Springs.

Grand Canyon Adventure at St. Louis Science Center

I took two of my kids and my nephew to see Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk at the St. Louis Science Center Omnimax Theater this weekend. There are some places in this world that are just made to be featured on a wrap-around screen like that if you can’t be there in person, and the Grand Canyon is one of those places.

I have been smitten with the Grand since I got my first awe-inspiring look at it years ago. Four years out of college, I made the decision to get out of my chosen profession of sports journalism. I planned a two-week trip spanning the continental U.S. and drove my trusty little beater Chevy truck for almost 4100 miles across swampland, plains, mountains and desert. And this was how I came to be driving up the road from Flagstaff completely unprepared for a hike in the high desert. Working for an outdoor retail company now, I realize just how lucky I was not to suffer a serious case of dehydration. But at the time, I was just exploring and my mind was not on water in my camera case. It was on the thin sliver of river running a mile below through the canyon.

And I’m not sure my mind has ever left that river.

Many of us have a “life list” or as the recent movie featured, a “bucket list.” Well, paddling the Colorado River through the entire Grand Canyon has been on my list from that day. And I can say this after the movie this weekend: I think I may be closer to getting my family on the river than I have ever been in my life. The first words out of the kids’ mouths to my wife and me after the movie were: “Can we go?”

Oh yes we can.

Now I’ll be the first to concede that this might not be happening for a few years, but I can’t help but get excited about this now. Thanks to this movie my family is getting excited about an adventure again. My kids are the ones pushing for an adventure now. I guess that means we have been successful in instilling a sense of wonder and a sense of exhilaration at being in some of the world’s most gorgeous locales.

I can just picture it now: my family’s faces as we hit a massive wave in the middle of Lava. I can’t wait.

What’s on your life list?

Planning Your Next Adventure Vacation: Exploring Central Colorado

Chalk Creek flows towards the Arkansas River near Nathrop, Colorado.

For those of us with large families, planning a vacation that will please everyone can turn into an exercise in frustration. While you may be able to please the adventure junkies with an adventure excursion, you probably will not have pleased the rest-and-relaxation crowd. And while certain members of your clan may love sleeping under the stars in a tent, others may be much more inclined to camp out in the comforts of a luxury hotel.

Sound like a challenge? I know. I’ve planned that very vacation. And it just may have been the most enjoyable vacation our family will ever go on.

Where did this mythical vacation occur? Colorado.

In Central Colorado along the Arkansas River Valley, a series of towns–bordered to the North by Buena Vista and to the South by Salida–host some of the best combinations of adventure and luxury you’ll ever find.


As the Arkansas River moves through this valley, it changes from roaring rapids to a placid float suitable for kids and back again. This variety helps please almost any age level and adrenaline fix needs.

On the Zoom Flume on the Arkansas River as it flows through Brown’s Canyon. There are actually nine of us, plus the guide on this raft. River Runners (at whitewater.net) is one of the most popular guide services in all of Colorado.

For those with kids above eight years old, the stretch of river that runs through what is known as Brown’s Canyon provides a great introduction to white water rafting. After running a rapid known as the Zoom Flume, my eight-year-old (at the time) nephew exclaimed to us all, “This is better than video games!” What better stamp of approval do you need?

For those with younger kids, many of the outfitters offer trips on the easy-going section of the Arkansas just to the south of Buena Vista. This stretch of water is just fast enough to make it interesting while keeping the fear level to a minimum.

And if you have absolutely no desire to get on water, you’ve still got plenty of options. Unbelievable hiking and mountain biking trails abound throughout the mountainsides that surround the valley. For a taste of the past, true ghost towns are scattered around the valley as well. It’s an adventurer’s dream.

Luxurious Relaxation

For the luxury/relaxation group, we went with a vacation home rented through Colorado Mountain Vacations. Anywhere from single bedroom cabins up to huge five-bedroom log homes are available in some of the most gorgeous locations you can imagine.

A 360 degree view of the main floor of the Ponderosa at Chalk Creek. We had 14 people, including five kids under the age of nine, staying there.

My family–all 14 of us–stayed amazingly comfortable for five nights in a house known as the Ponderosa at Chalk Creek, one of the available properties for rent. I have never seen a home, cabin, lodge – however you want to put it – that made coming together as a family any easier. The floor plan was wide open across three levels which made keeping track of the little ones easy while still giving every one plenty of room to spread out in comfort. Pam Guttenberg, the owner of Colorado Mountain Vacations, was incredibly accommodating to any help we needed. (To make our stay even more interesting, they actually were displaying the house to a group of filmmakers who were interested in using it for a horror film. Turns out, it was too open and inviting to use for that type of film. We could have told them that!)

As for the relaxation part, the house’s three decks overlooking the ripples on Chalk Creek made that wonderfully easy. The soft roar of the water below the house calmed every nerve while we sat barbecuing in the evening or drinking a cup of coffee in the morning.

It was luxury at its finest. What made it even better is if we had stayed in Vail or Aspen, we would have paid twice as much as we did for our stay. And once we added in all the money we saved cooking our meals in the kitchen, we spent even less than we would have if we had stayed in a hotel.

No one – not our thrill-seeking teenage boys, not my relaxation-seeking mom, nor the rambunctious five kids under the age of nine, not even the three sets of parents watching the eight total children wanted to leave on the sixth day.

And if that’s not the sign of a great vacation, I don’t know what is.