A Raft of Possibilities in W.Va.

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 22, 2009

Q. My husband and I are trying to plan a white-water rafting trip within driving distance of Washington that's also convenient to spelunking and hiking. We are not sure when the season begins and how much to expect to spend.

T. Lamp, Woodbridge

A. Head to southern West Virginia, says Nathan Borchelt of the Away network, which owns the travel planning site Away.com and the outdoor adventure site Gorp (http://gorp.away.com). The Gauley and New rivers, about a 5 1/2 -hour drive from Washington, are your best options, he said, with white-water levels from novice to kamikaze and plenty of hiking, mountain biking, caving and rock-climbing nearby.

The Gauley, which is the wilder of the two rivers, has a short season, this year Sept. 11 through Oct. 18. If you're new to rafting, start with the, um, New, which is runnable from spring through September.

Both rivers are divided into sections (Upper New, Lower Gauley, etc.), and an experienced outfitter can help you figure out which is best suited to your level. Class VI-Mountain River, for example (800-822-1386, http://www.class-vi.com), offers trips, on-site camping, lodging and restaurants. A full-day, 14-mile trip on the Lower New, which has Class III to Class V rapids, costs $109 Sundays-Fridays and $134 Saturdays. The Upper New, with Class I, II and III rapids, runs $99 per person Sundays-Fridays, $124 Saturdays. Both trips are on eight-person rafts with a guide, and no experience is required.

For overnight trips, you can camp on the riverbank or stay in a cabin costing from $80 (no running water) to $399 (hot tub, full kitchen and bathroom) per night. Consider traveling with another couple, because cabins sleep four people.

For more on rafting options and outfitters, see West Virginia Tourism's river sports guide at http://www.wvriversports.com or Away.com's rafting guide at http://away.com/rafting.

I will be taking a cruise this summer, and one of the stops is St. Petersburg. Do I need a visa to get off the ship there and sightsee? I have a current passport.

C. Little, Gainesville

You will need a visa, in addition to your passport, to set foot in Russia. But before you head for the embassy, check with your cruise line. Most will take care of the paperwork for passengers taking shore excursions through the ship, said Robin Tash, a cruise specialist with CruiseOne travel agency in Gaithersburg (301-208-8747, http://www.cruiseone.com).

If you plan to sightsee independently, however, you'll need to get your own tourist visa. You can apply in person at the Russian Consulate (2641 Tunlaw Rd. NW, 202-939-8907; see http://www.russianembassy.org for requirements), for a fee of $131, or you can use a visa service.

Steven Diehl of the Washington-based ZVS (866-788-1100, http://www.zvs.com) said his visa-service company charges $83 in addition to the $131 consular fee, plus $23 for shipping. You'll also need a visit voucher, which you can get free from your cruise line, Diehl said. Allow at least 11 days to receive your visa.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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