Aaah, what’s not to like about snuggling up to a warm fire with a loved one and glass of wine after a day on the river? Why nothing, of course, and that’s why we’ve compiled the following list of river lodges where pampering comes into play as much as paddling. Our criteria were simple: they had to be located on a river, flat or white; offer above-par sleeping facilities (no fake wood paneling or bunks); and provide fine dining, since appeasing the palette is often as important as paddling. What they all share: the ability to make a roof overhead as much a part of the trip as a boat underfoot.
1. Forks Resort Center, Kennebec River, The Forks, Maine
Hidden in 100 acres of northern Maine woods, The Forks Resort sits on the Kennebec, five miles downstream from the whitewater take-out. Built in 1983, the lodge includes a stone fireplace, TV lounge, restaurant, bar, hot tub, sauna and swimming pool, and gameroom with a Maine favorite—air hockey. It sleeps 150 in condos, cottages, cabins, lodge rooms and unique logdominiums, and can handle another 150 campers. Run by former British kayaking champion Russell Walters, the lodge’s outfitting service takes 13,000 clients rafting each year on the Dead, Penobscot and Kennebec. It also offers a float trip down to the lodge, where you’ll find its crown jewel: an on-premises brewery, where you can recount the day’s splashes over a Penobscot Porter or Kennebec Lager.
2. The River House, Deerfield River, Charlemont, Mass
Opened in 1999, the River House—a modern-day B&B; housed in a restored 1800s cottage—is located on the Deerfield River in Zoar Village. Put in seven miles upstream and paddle Class II down to the B&B;’s take-out at the old Zoar train station, or head farther upstream to the Class III-IV Dryway. Both sections are dam controlled and run all summer. When not paddling, visit the artistic community of Charlemont or hike to Shelburne Falls. Because of its proximity to paddling, The River House is booked most weekends, so make your reservations early. In September, look into the B&B;’s annual Shredder Fest, where you’ll paddle the Dryway and then meet back at the River House for a post-paddle party—including libations and the inn’s famous, homemade baked goods.
3. Nantahala Outdoor Center, Nantahala River, Wesser, N.C.
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), founded the year Deliverance was made in 1972, is more like a commune than a river lodge. Raft guides, kayak instructors, outdoor activity leaders and other employees all live on the premises—and with trips and classes on the Chattooga, French Broad, Ocoee, Pigeon, Nolichucky and Nantahala, they have plenty of tales to tell. The compound is also perfect for overnight or week-long stays, offering ample activities during day and night. Three dining establishments—River’s End, the original restaurant on the river; Relia’s Garden, with its famous herb and flower garden; and Slow Joe’s Café, for those on the move—complement bunkhouses, motel rooms and up to 10-bedroom vacation cabins with sundecks, woodstoves and kitchens. And you’ll want a good night’s sleep—the next day you’re likely to paddle with former Olympians.
4. Buffalo River Lodge B&B;, Buffalo River, Yellville, Ark
The entire Buffalo National River is protected as a national park. Resting on 62 wooded acres in the Ozarks just 14 miles southwest of Yellville, Ark., is the Buffalo River Lodge, operated by Stan and Glenda Erikson. Bring your own canoe or rent from one of four outfitters on the river. When you return, you’ll relax in a 6,000-square-foot, three-level, log lodge, complete with wrap-around porch and hot tub. The Eriksons cater to couples looking for a “romantic getaway,” and it shows in everything from the lodge’s cozy bedrooms to living room with an Ozarks-sized, stone fireplace. After an intimate float, couples can get even more intimate with the lodge’s two-night romantic getaway package, which includes two nights in the lodge’s anniversary suite and a Buffalo River canoe trip for $305.
5. Van Auken’s Inne, Moose River, Thendara, N.Y.
Originally built in New York’s Adirondacks in 1891, Van Auken’s Inne now sits on the Moose River and features 12 guest rooms with private baths, a comfortable bar, fine restaurant—and great paddling. Owners Kathleen and Paul Rivet often paddle 11 miles of isolated oxbows on the Moose’s North Branch from Lake Rondaxe to the lodge. Guests can do the same or reach it from the Fulton Chain of Lakes, home of the 90-mile Adirondack Canoe Classic. Many prefer shuttling above Fifth Lake for a 10-mile float down. Downstream from the lodge, the Middle Moose meanders seven miles to a Class II rapid in Minnehaha. From there, the railroad runs shuttles back to the lodge. Paddle longer on four miles of Class II-III to McKeever Bridge; below, from McKeever to Fowlersville, the Lower Moose has six Class IV-V rapids in 12 miles. Plan your stay for the third weekend in October and highlight it with the annual Moose River Festival.
6. Mellon Patch B&B;, Indian River, Ft. Pierce, Fla
Watch manatees and the Atlantic sunrise from your east window; watch manatees graze in the Indian River from your west. The Mellon Patch Inn (not misspelled; named after the English couple who are the original proprietors) provides a warm environment in an ideal coastal river setting. With a river landing for both canoes and kayaks, this south Florida retreat is also only a 90-second portage through dunes to a premier kayak surfing beach. The lodge has eight rooms, each with private bath and each uniquely decorated, with breakfasts served in a home-like dining area. When not paddling, relax in the hammock or hot tub, barbeque on the back porch, or pick fresh fruit growing in the yard. It’s open year-round, though the best wildlife viewing is in the fall and winter.
7. Adventures Unlimited B&B;, Wolfe Creek, Milton, Fla
If staying in a restored school house or 100-year-old Cracker house sounds appealing after paddling, look to Adventures Unlimited located on 88 wooded acres at the confluence of Florida’s Wolfe and Coldwater creeks. The resort’s draw, apart from its lodging, is cabinside access to paddling spring-fed creeks with white sand beaches. Paddle right to your door at Granny Peaden’s cottage, a restored cracker house with a deck overlooking Wolfe Creek; or the Old School House, also on Wolfe Creek, with eight rooms themed after American authors. For one-party cabins, try Riverside I and II, or Laurel and Magnolia, which also overlook the water. Either bring your own canoe or rent one on the premises.
8. Steinhatchee Landing, Steinhatchee River, Steinhatchee, Fla
Steinhatchee Landing, on the banks of the Steinhatchee River, captures the romance of Old Florida with river lodge amenities. Beneath oaks, pines and palms, 20 Victorian and Cracker-style cottages offer views of Kings Creek or the Steinhatchee. Joining these are six cottages for couples, featuring fireplaces, feather-mattress beds and whirlpool tubs. Continental breakfasts are included, as are canoes available for use on the two creeks. A recommendation: the area is known as “Florida’s Scallop Capital,” and during the summer you can search for them yourself in the nearby Gulf, or simply let your waiter do the work for you.
9. Cheat River Lodge, Cheat River, Elkins, W.Va.
Few river inns have gotten better reviews than the Cheat River Lodge, six miles east of Elkins, W.Va., on the banks of the Cheat. Offering “cozy cabins” (as reported by the New York Times) and “fine riverside dining” (as reviewed by the Washington Post), the lodge has it all, including prime access to the Cheat. Purchased by Joe and Roxye Marshall in 1984, the lodge sits in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, with four miles of riverfront property. It offers canoe and raft trips on the Cheat through local outfitters, including excursions through Cheat Canyon and the Cheat Narrows. It even has its own river gauge at the lodge. Accommodations include lodge suites and seven cabins, all with private hot tubs. For post-paddle, riverside dining, there’s the Cheat River Inn, a refurbished tavern from the 1940s complete with a deck overlooking the river.
10. Tallulah River Mountain Resort, Tallulah River, Tallulah Falls, Ga
You won’t be at a loss of what to do at Tallulah River Mountain Resort, located on Hwy 441 just north of Tallulah Falls, Ga., in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the banks of the Tallulah River. The resort’s activity list, posted daily, offers more options than there are hours in the day, from ping-pong tournaments to its Labor Day Pig Roast. Its main amenity, however, are two miles of riverfront, perfect for paddling. With water releases recently secured for Class V Tallulah Gorge just downstream, you can use the resort as basecamp for assaults on such fearsome rapids as Oceana, Tempesta and Hurricane. Or, like most, you can canoe the flats or hike to the chasm to view the falls. When you return, settle in to campsites, cabins or rooms in the lodge, before taking a plunge in the calmer waters of the resort’s swimming pool.
12. Missouri River Lodge, Missouri River, Stanton, N.D.
In their Voyage of Discovery 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark didn’t have the luxury of riverside lodges. What a difference two centuries make. Now you can follow their wake in a canoe, and then stay at the Missouri River Lodge, located on a 2,000-acre ranch near Stanton, N.D. Set against a backdrop of badlands rock formations with three miles of river frontage on the Lewis and Clark Trail, the lodge has a fireside dining room, and seven bedrooms with TV, phone and Internet access. Outside is a fire ring for singing cowboy songs under blazing, badlands stars. Horseback ride to Indian archaeological sites, or join a canoe trip from the lodge’s beach (you can also canoe nearby Lake Sakakawea). To feel the part of Lewis and Clark, join one outfitter who offers only authentic trading canoes.
13. Ozark Outdoors, Meramec River, Leasburg, Mo
Located on the Meramec River, Ozark Outdoors offers float trips and canoe/raft/kayak rentals on its flagship waterway, as well as on the Huzzah and Courtois rivers. It offers three types of log cabins, each with air conditioning/heat, a barbecue grill, picnic table and campfire pit. Homestyle cookouts occur every night—often including a whole hog from the spit. Burn off the calories come daytime by paddling, swimming on one of two beaches, fishing or hiking and biking. Campers can set up at one of 29 RV hookups or 200 tent sites. Nearby attractions include the Huzzah wildlife area, award-winning wineries and underground caves. Supporting its primary activity, however, Ozark Outdoors offers a frequent floater program for guests.
14. Jesse’s Wolf River Lodge, Wolf River, White Lake, Wis
Jesse’s Wolf River Lodge is the epitome of a river lodge. The main building is an authentic, log schoolhouse with hundreds of antiques, offering six bedrooms and a small pub often inhabited by paddlers attending local whitewater schools. Other lodging options include honeymoon or family cottages, and a family vacation home—all with whirlpools. New this spring is a tree house you can stay in, too. Don’t be frightened by the bed and breakfast label; owner Joan Jesse caters to paddlers and anglers in Wisconsin’s north woods. For paddling, the Wolf is a Wisconsin classic for everything from tranquil canoeing to whitewater. And there is a put-in and take-out on site, meaning you can paddle to and from your door.
15. Rainbow Ranch Lodge, Gallatin River, Big Sky, Mont
Some of the best Class III-IV runs in the northern Rockies lie just outside of Big Sky, Montana, and the Rainbow Ranch Lodge puts you in the heart of it. Each room has its own river-rock fireplace, lodge-pole bed with down comforter, Jacuzzi tub, and private deck overlooking the water. It also carries authentic western grub (such as marinated elk medallions) and the most extensive wine list in the state. Paddle the Gallatin outside your door, take a short drive to the Yellowstone’s Yankee Jim Canyon or Big Timber Creek, or fly fish the Madison or Jefferson.
16. Tall Timber Resort, Upper Animas River, Durango, Colo
For seclusion, hit Tall Timbers Resort along the Upper Animas River just north of Durango, Colo. It’s only accessible by a 15-minute helicopter flight upriver, a ride on the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, or by paddling 20 miles of Class IV-V. Surrounded by San Juan National Forest, the resort is for those who want to get away from it all; there are no phones, television, radio, or e-mail. Accommodations are condominium-type, two-story apartments, including living room, wet bar and stone fireplace. Other facilities include a pool, tennis court, spa, therapeutic massage, library, exercise room, putting green, driving range, 9-hole golf course, fishing and hiking trails. And don’t forget the paddling—located right on the Animas, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more convenient boating. Bit it all comes at a cost: you’ll spend $475-$550 per night, depending on the season.
17. Phantom Ranch Lodge, Colorado River, Grand Canyon
Few river lodges are more isolated than Phantom Ranch, notched deep in the Grand Canyon where Bright Angel Creek empties into the Colorado. Shaded by cottonwoods, Phantom has provided a respite from the heat for those arriving by foot or mule, or by raft after 88 miles from Lee’s Ferry. Eleven historic cabins, built in 1922 and constructed out of river boulders, complement dorms with 10 bunk beds each; both require reservations through Grand Canyon National Park Lodges. Phantom offers daily ranger programs and an aptly named restaurant called the Canteen, which serves three meals daily. Reserve lodging and meals early as both are booked months in advance. And whether you’re just passing through or settling in for a few days, drop your friends a postcard—they’ll bear the refrigerator-worthy postmark, “Carried by mule from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”
18. Gila Wilderness Lodge, Gila River, Gila Hot Springs, N.M.
The Gila Wilderness Lodge is a B&B; located on the West Fork of the Gila just above the traditional put-in. Whether you’re paddling 44 miles through the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area, or combining three sections for a 100-mile journey, the lodge is a great complement to your trip, offering accommodations far more comfortable than the desert floor. The100-year-old lodge, originally a school house in Hurley, N.M., features a downstairs suite with bath, and five upstairs rooms with shared bath and common rooms. Home-baked breads highlight a hearty breakfast, but its natural hot springs are the signature incentive to lay-over before the river trip begins. For activities, hit the Gila (in the spring) right outside your door, or visit any number of ruins at the nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
19. Three Rivers Resort, Lochsa/Selway/Clearwater, Lowell, Idaho
The name says it all. Located in Lowell, Idaho, on the Lewis and Clark Trail—where the Lochsa and Selway form the Clearwater—Three Rivers Resort offers more paddling opportunities than perhaps any other river lodge in the country. Canoe the Selway to your door; surf the Lochsa’s Pipeline playwave; or float the Clearwater or Lower Salmon. Ten log cabins sleep up to six each, plus the resort offers A-frames, motel rooms, a bed and breakfast and camping. Soak in one of three hot tubs, then head to the resort’s restaurant (try the local trout special or Idaho lamb, followed by a huckleberry sundae for dessert), before venturing to Lochsa Louie’s, a bar with paddling paraphernalia on the walls. For more action, stroll over to “tent city” where local guides camp and party. Last year was the resort’s 25th under the ownership of the Smith family, and it shows in its attention to detail. This is best seen in its “Old #1,” an old ranger’s cabin located on a hill overlooking all three rivers, complete with hot tub on the front deck.
20. Middle Fork Lodge, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho
There aren’t many cushy amenities in Idaho’s 2.3-million-acre River of No Return Wilderness Area, which has no public roads for 2,500 square miles. The Middle Fork Lodge bucks that. Located at Mile 34 of the 100-mile run down the Middle Fork, just below Marble Creek rapid and Sunflower Flat hotsprings, the lodge has a heated pool, hot tub and tennis court, as well as log-strewn cabins and lodge bedrooms. Enjoyed by George Bush, Jimmy Carter, John Denver and Wayne Newton, its isolation lets you get away from it all without compromising comfort. It also has a history that makes you feel like you’re starring in your own Western. Originally built in the early 1900s by two homesteaders named Voller and McNerney (AKA the Buckskin Boys), the two-story cabin and barn were sold to pilot Tom McCall in 1938, who put in an airstrip. McCall later sold it to Harrah’s of Reno and Lake Tahoe, Calif., who established its celebrity stature. Visit it on a stop-over with a local rafting outfitter and you’ll feel like a celebrity, too.
21. Shepp Ranch, Main Salmon, Idaho
Located at Mile 66 of the Main Salmon, at its confluence with Crooked Creek, Shepp Ranch is remote. Forty-three miles upstream of Riggins, and 15 miles from the nearest road, the ranch is accessible only by jet boat, charter plane or raft. Rafters visit through local outfitters who overnight there on multi-day trips. Guests—up to 14—are rewarded with an authentic Western lodge, complete with hot tub, sauna and cabins where, after snuggling up to a cackling log fireplace, you can fall asleep to the roar of the river. In the daytime, choose between volleyball, horseshoes, archery, trap shooting, horseback riding, swimming in the creek’s clear pools, or floating the river that turned back Lewis and Clark centuries earlier.
22. Mackay Bar Ranch, Main Salmon, Idaho
River settings don’t get any better than Idaho’s Mackay Bar Ranch, located at the confluence of the Main and South Fork Salmon 50 miles from Riggins. The ranch sleeps 40 in a variety of riverside cabins, and comes with a stone fireplace complete with trophies from local hunting outings, a hot tub, and ranch-style meals. Guests arrive by jet boat, charter plane or raft, and can fish, hike, hunt or float the Salmon. Day tours include visits to such old west hotspots as the Polly Bemis Ranch, named for a Chinese slave girl traded in a poker game to Charlie Bemis, and the abode of mountain man Buckskin Bill. Perhaps the best way to visit is to join a multi-day raft trip offered by outfitters who stop for a night or two on their way down the River of No Return.
23. Salmon Rapids Lodge, Salmon River, Riggins, Idaho
Tucked at the confluence of the Little and Main Salmon rivers in Riggins, Idaho, Salmon Rapids Lodge is near top-notch playspots (you can see the “mill wave” from the hotel) and paddling runs. But it also lures guests with a 900-square-foot conference room, lounge with a two-story, river-rock fireplace, and 55 spacious, log-style rooms—many with views of the canyon and whirlpools overlooking the two rivers. The lodge also offers a pool, hot tub and exercise room, and works with local outfitters to offer year-round paddling packages. If you’re a boater to the core, get a “River View” side room, which funnels the sound of the river through the windows. It’s like camping on the river, minus the tent, mosquitoes, smoke and burnt food.
24. Whitewater Ranch
Aptly named Whitewater Ranch is located halfway between the put-in and take-out on Idaho’s Main Salmon River, about two miles below Big Mallard Rapid. With a stretch of whitewater right outside, guests can cruise eddies and float back to their doorsteps. Founded in 1897, the lodge is located on 120 acres and offers stop-by rafting through six outfitters. It sleeps 20 in both ranch-style dorms and two- to four-person cabins, with dining in the main log lodge next to a giant woodstove. A hydro-generator provides electricity, and an airstrip provides the only accessibility other than raft. If you’re linking lodges on your raft trip, don’t worry about meals being duplicated. The lodge works with other lodges to ensure no meals are the same; one year they were the Italian stop, and the next year, French.
25. Sundance, Rogue River, Merlin, Ore
As the last building on the Rogue before the road ends and the river’s Wild and Scenic portion begins, Sundance River Center puts paddling at your doorstep with a long section of river frontage; at the right flows, surf waves appear right off your deck. The lodge accommodates 20, with two rooms in the main building and six double-occupancy cabins, two of which have decks extending over the bank. There aren’t any TVs or computers, and only one phone line (cell phones don’t work, either), so don’t expect to keep in touch with the outside world. After the day’s float on the Rogue, or longer trip on the Illinois River, come back to happy hour on a deck overlooking the river, and then hit the hot tub on a field above. Professional chefs cook all meals (try Angel’s sesame-crusted halibut with mango salsa), and greens come straight from the garden and herb farm. If your muscles are sore from the day’s paddle, don’t worry: a masseuse visits every week.
26. Steamboat Inn, Umpqua River, Roseburg, Ore
The Steamboat Inn is one of the Northwest’s most famous riverside lodges. Resting along Oregon’s North Fork of the Umpqua River, the Inn is better known among anglers than river runners. But its location on a 30-mile reach of Class III whitewater makes it a fine overnight spot for paddlers who prefer a hot tub to a campfire. The Inn’s luxuries don’t come cheap, but its amenities are worth every dollar—whether you’re in a riverside cabin or indulgent riverside suite. And as long as you’re here, try its casual-yet-elegant family-style restaurant. The Inn lies 38 miles east of Roseburg along Oregon Highway 138, where Steamboat Creek enters the North Umpqua.
27. Lodges of the Rogue, Oregon
Among the West’s oldest and most historic riverside hideaways, the many lodges of the Lower Rogue offer paddlers a hot shower and a home-cooked meal deep in the wilderness along Oregon’s most famous river. Scattered along some 40 miles of river, these isolated lodges cater to anglers and river runners who want the pleasures of an extended wilderness trip without the hassles of overnight planning. Many lodges are accessible by boat only, but a few can also be reached by road. Each is independently owned and operated, with more than 10 to choose from along the waterway. All offer a great way to cash in on rustic, Northwestern hospitality after the day’s paddle.
28. Otter Bar Lodge, Cal-Salmon River, Forks of Salmon, Calif
One of the most pristine paddling lodges in the country, Otter Bar is on the banks of the Wild and Scenic Cal-Salmon River in Northern California. After navigating the one-lane road up the river, you’ll be greeted by owners Peter and Kristy Sturges, as well as a long-running fleet of top-notch instructors. Otter Bar is known for its prestigious kayak school, which conducts weeklong classes from April through September. Beginner to advanced classes are held on the free-flowing Cal-Salmon, as well as the nearby Klamath. But the lodge is also known for its accommodations. Amenities include a large main lodge with stone fireplace and hardwood floors, and an outdoor hot tub and wood-fired sauna for after the day’s paddle. Private cabins come with French doors and private decks. Perhaps best of all are the meals—including fresh baked goods and vegetables from the Northern California garden—and, of course, the masseuse available to sooth post-paddle limbs.