> "This is better than the lazy river at the resort," my 8-year-old daughter says.
She's right. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect moment. My daughter and I are holding hands, our legs up on inner tubes, floating down a gurgling river. The late afternoon sunshine bathes us as we pass by towering 80-foot limestone cliffs, wildflowers and cedar trees.
The tranquility is all the more treasured because of the apprehension that had marked the beginning of our tubing adventure down the Grand River at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area.
Situated 110 miles from Buffalo in Southwestern Ontario, the gorge is where the water from The Grand, a designated Canadian Heritage River, cuts through dolostone glacial rock. It's also where up to 300 people a day in the summer rent inner tubes that carry them down the waterway's rapids and quieter pools, so they can gaze at this stunning view from below.
But I didn't notice the scenery when we first stood on the bank of the river and stared at the first set of rapids. I was watching a teenager flying off the black tube into the rock-studded frothy white waters – the same tubes we were holding in our hands. Why had I brought my children here? Where were the lifeguards?
The teenager scrambled back up on the tube and continued down the river with his friends.
"Awesome," says my 10-year old son. "Let's go!"
"I'm scared," says my daughter.
"Me too," I say. But waivers have been signed, helmets and lifejackets donned and the black inner tubes are in our hands.
That we could skip the first and largest rapids the teenager tumbled through is reassuring, but the sign about there being no exit points along the river isn't. Once committed, you're in for the ride.
"OK. Let's do it!" I say, mustering as much enthusiasm as I can. My son is in the water in a flash, and I quickly push my daughter out before she changes her mind.
I do what every mom does. I worry. Will they fall off? My son does fall off, but he climbs back on. At most points the water level is low, less than a foot deep in most places, so it's actually quite safe, though you do have to be careful about the rocks.
The most nerve-racking moment comes when my daughter gets stuck on the side of river, and though I try to get to her, the current carries me past her, down the second-biggest set of rapids.
I jump off the tube in mama-bear mode ready to make it upstream somehow. No sooner than I hit the water, I see her red hair and pink running shoes peeking out of a tube and as she comes closer, I see her smile stretching from ear to ear.
"That was epic," she says.
"Let's hold hands now," I say as my heartbeat returns to normal.
As we float together down the now peaceful Grand, I have to agree with my daughter; this is definitely better than any lazy resort river.
> A special spirit
Once experiencing the landscape, it's easy to understand why so many artists have congregated in the region and the town of Elora.
"There's a spirit here," says Jan Feduck, a local resident and writer.
Historic buildings, boutiques, art galleries and studios line streets that were made for strolling.
Here are some of the places worth checking out on a visit:
* Elora Centre for the Arts, 75 Melville St.: Formerly a public school, this three-story limestone historic building is now a gallery that houses contemporary art.
* Karger Gallery, 45 Mill St. West: Upscale original jewelry, furniture, glass, textiles and fine art can be found in this chic shop.
* Jammed Lovely, 58 Mill St. West: One of kind gifts and whimsical items like flying wish paper fill the shelves of this boutique.
* Village Olive Grove, 8 Mill St. West: Free olive oil tastings at this shop that sells exceptional vinegars and olive oil from around the world. It's also the start of the Elora Culinary Walking Tour that takes place every Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. ($15).
* Sweet Trash, 22 Metcalfe St.: Customers travel considerable distances to buy their vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920s to the 1980s.
* Wellington Country Museum, 0536 Wellington Road: Located in the nearby town of Fergus, the grand 19th century building served as a former poor house, and tells the compelling story of the surrounding communities, and the poor who once lived there.
> Tubing rules
All tubers must register at the Equipment Rental Concession prior to participating in activities.
Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends only during May, June and September, and daily from the last week of June to Labor Day. (Shuttle bus service only in July and August.)
Call park office for current tubing conditions, 519-846-9742.
Costs: Registration fee: $2.75. Rentals: tube, $15; life jacket, $10; helmet, $10; package, $24.75. Deposits are required. (You can bring your own equipment).
Park admission, $5.50 adult $2.75 child. www.grandriver.ca/.
The river is also suitable for canoeing and kayaking, with white water in the Elora area and more flat water paddling downstream.
Camping is available at the park itself, and also at nearby Highland Pines Campground, which has family-friendly cabins and cottages in additional to their campsite. (877-211-7044; highlandpines.com).
To get to Elora, take the Queen Elizabeth Way to Burlington, then Ontario 6 North, toward Guelph.
For more information on places to stay and things to see in the region visit: www.elorafergus.travel