Cool Water World

Experience wildlife, natural beauty, and a good soaking with our guide to the best spots for water sports.

All winter long, you yearned for the summer sunshine. Now that it's finally here, you can't wait to seek relief and take to the water. The challenge is finding the ideal place for your favorite activity.

Cooking Light searched the country to find the best of the best, settling for nothing less than breathtaking views, unspoiled nature, and clear waters.

Whether your idea of aquatic adventure is catching a wave or floating down a lazy river, there's bound to be something here for you to enjoy.

Best Tubing
James River, Virginia Tubing is less a sport than an excuse to watch the world float by, and the best place to do just that is on the James River in Scottsville, Virginia. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the wild scenery--the area is ideal for catching glimpses of deer, blue heron, and the elusive bald eagle. James River Reeling and Rafting offers a two-to-four-hour trip down a scenic four-mile stretch of the river through the Blue Ridge Mountains. To keep the good times rolling down the river, pack a cooler and rent an extra inner tube to keep your refreshments afloat. Details: 804-286-4386 or www.reelingandrafting.com; $14 per person.

Best Kayaking
Coastal Maine Imagine gliding silently across the cool, blue water under the watchful eye of a bald eagle as a harbor seal lumbers toward the water from the margins of a monolithic rock island. The gentle current carries you past stands of fragrant spruce trees from which a weathered lighthouse protrudes, having led fishermen home for more than a century. This would be Maine, and you would be on a Coastal Kayaking tour.

Whether it's a sunset paddle around Mount Desert Island, a multiday camping trip that allows you to spend your nights on several different uninhabited is- lands, or the Inn-to-Inn Tour, which offers over-night lodging and meals in classic New England inns, you'll find the serenity for which you've been searching. Located in Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park, Coastal Kayaking of- fers a wider variety of guided sea-kayaking tours than any other outfitter on the East Coast. Details: 800-526-8615 or www.acadiafun.com; tours from $34 to $599.

Best Surfing
La Jolla, California Would-be surfer girls looking to make like Gidget should head to La Jolla, California--a tony suburb of San Diego and a top travel destination in its own right. There, on warm, sun-soaked Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Surf Diva Surf School conducts a women-only surfing clinic. As you soak up the grand view from La Jolla Shores Beach (surrounded by sandstone cliffs), you can pick up boarding tips from some of the world's best women surfers (there are several surf champions among Surf Diva's twenty-odd instructors). It's a girl-power kind of organization, but instructors booked for private lessons will gladly accept tagalong guys, too. While we think the view and the first-rate instruction are enough to make La Jolla the best place to hang 10, the town also offers some of the world's finest restaurants, art galleries, and stores, so you can while away the evenings eating, browsing, and shopping. But if the surf's the thing, ask about Surf Diva's Las Olas Surf Adventure, a weeklong, women-only retreat held in a small fishing village near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico--tuition ($1,595 to $2,190) includes surfing instruction, lodging, meals, yoga lessons, and even a free massage. Details: 858-454-8273 or www.surfdiva.com.


Puget Sound, Washington If the thought of sailing among pods of majestic killer whales isn't enough to get you to the Puget Sound this summer, consider this: The waters of the sound offer hundreds of first-rate destinations--from isolated spots such as Jones Island (where you can feed deer apples out of the palm of your hand) to untrampled state parks with winding trails, to upscale resorts serving succulent sea- food. Not to mention that you couldn't ask for better sailing conditions than those characteristic of the San Juan Islands, just north of the sound. Protected from ocean storms by Van- couver Island to the northwest and from rain by the Olympic Mountains directly west, the waters in the summer frequently offer ultraclear sailing under sunny midafternoon skies. Charter a boat from San Juan Sailing, home of the country's largest charter fleet, or learn the ropes through one of the many packages offered by its accredited Sailing School. Details: 800-677-7245 or www.sanjuansailing.com; trips from $149 to $949.

Best Sailing

Best Canoeing
Minnesota's Boundary Waters With more than 1,000 crystal-clear glaciated lakes to explore, Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the place to get your oars wet. Although you'll find a variety of guided and unguided tours for all ages and abilities, Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters gives you the best of both worlds with its Rustic/Plush Combo Vacation. Bruce and Sue Kerfoot are the fourth generation to provide these canoe adventures, and they'll help you choose your route, plan and pack your food, and gather all the gear you'll need for three days of paddling, camping, and communing with nature. When you've had your fill of roughing it, return to your modern cabin, where you can take a steamy sauna and prop your feet up in front of the fireplace. Though no motorized or mechanical equipment is allowed inside the wilderness area, the peacefulness may be broken by a moose or two foraging down by the lake. Details: 800-328-3325 or www.gunflintoutfitters.com/rustic_plush; $1,195 (adults), $495 (children).

Best Fly Fishing
Snake River, Idaho Here's your opportunity to fly-fish in one of the most revered trout waters in the country: the South Fork of Idaho's fabled Snake River, which runs just west of the Teton Range, across the state line in Wyoming. Blessed with large water volume and rich nutrients, the pristine waters of the South Forkabound with big, healthy rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout; plan for a good catch regardless of your skill level. That is, if you're not distracted by the impressive mountain views or the moose, bears, otters, mountain goats, and bald eagles that nest here. And for guides who are unsurpassed in the fly-fishing profession, book an overnight trip with World Cast Anglers. A two-day float takes you through the 26-mile stretch of Snake River Canyon, past remarkable scenery and abundant wild- life. Roomy tents are furnished with cots, sleeping bags, and linens. All food and beverages, Orvis fishing equipment, and camping gear are provided. Details: 307-733-6934 or www.worldcastanglers.com; $950 per boat (two people maximum).

Best Snorkeling
Crystal River Area, Florida Think of snorkeling, and you're likely to picture coral reefs. But for a truly unfor- gettable snorkeling experience, head west from Orlan- do until you reach the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Florida, where natural springs keep the fresh water a comfortable 72 degrees all year round. There, you may find yourself swimming with manatees (which you're allowed to touch with one hand if they come up to you first). The choice location is King Springs, which boasts the area's highest manatee population. Running a close second is Three Sisters, a triad of shallow springs that's popular with tourists for its sparkling clear water. Make a day of it: Visit Three Sisters or King Springs in the morning, then head over to Rainbow River, a lush location filled with wildlife and more species of fish than you can count. The experienced guides at Birds Underwater can take you out for a memorable experience. Details: 352-563-2763 or www.birdsunderwater.com; $44.50 per person (includes snorkeling gear).

Best Rafting
Colorado and Arkansas Rivers, Colorado Ready to brave the rapids? Head for the upper Colorado River, a prime spot for beginners to learn the rafting ropes. These relatively mild waters are unlikely to overwhelm, letting you catch a glimpse of the bighorn sheep and elk that call this area home. Don't miss the Pumphouse, a peaceful canyon on the Colorado featuring an on-the-river hot spring and a spectacular view of the awe-inspiring Rockies. If you've got some rafting experience under your belt, head south on the Colorado to the Shoshone Rapids, or opt for a trip through the canyons and gorges on the popular Arkansas River. For a hair-raising experience, watch the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir whiz by as you tackle Browns Canyon on the Arkansas, a white-water paradise filled with twists and turns for rafters of all abilities. Not sure what you can handle? Let Brad Crimmins, founder of Rio Expeditions in Arvada, Colorado, and an 18-year rafting guide veteran, suggest the ideal route. Details: 800-291-2080 or www.rioexpeditions.com; trips from $42 to $99.