A river cruise is an ideal way to find adventure, and a trip on the Columbia and Snake Rivers is sure to provide thrills with the backdrop of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I have created this guide to help you learn about these rivers and find Columbia and Snake River Cruise that is right for you!
- Imagine visiting multiple locations on one journey but only unpacking once.
- Imagine traveling in a floating hotel and getting to experience sections of the United States that can only be accessed by boat.
- Imagine experiencing this with the people you love most from a comfortable cabin with views of deep canyons, tall mountains, and unique ecosystems.
The River Cruise Experience
A Columbia and Snake River Cruise lets you experience the landscapes of Oregon and Washington from a unique vantage point. You dock right at the destination and immediately launch yourself into the activity.
Your excursions will take you on adventures to waterfalls and epic vistas, down remote tributaries, and into historic towns. You will also have the opportunity to sample local food and wine, learn about the history of the area, and explore the towns on these rivers at your leisure.
In order to navigate these waters, the ships need to be small: between 60-200 passengers. So every aspect of your experience – the service, the dining, the tours – is personal. No waiting for the buffet, no lining up for excursions.
Finally, river cruises are all-inclusive. This means that almost every part of your cruise, from your food and drink to your excursions and other activities, is included in the price, leaving you free to relax and enjoy your vacation.
The Columbia & Snake Rivers – an overview
The Columbia is unquestionably one of the mightiest rivers in the United States. It is the longest river to flow into the Pacific Ocean and one of the largest rivers in North America. From its headwaters in British Columbia, the Columbia River flows southwest until it reaches the sea at the border between Oregon and Washington. It is just after the Columbia is joined by the Snake River, its largest tributary and a mighty river in its own right, that it begins to follow the border of these two states. This is also the path you will take on your cruise down the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Most cruises on these rivers navigate the waters between Astoria, OR and Clarkston, WA. The journey often launches from Portland, where you won’t dock for long but may want to extend your trip so that you can experience this unique and proudly quirky city. From there, you will travel along the Columbia until the town of Richland, at which point your ship will embark down the Snake. Combined, a trip on these two rivers allows you to experience the beauty, culture, and adventure of the Pacific Northwest from the incredibly special vantage point of the water.
Some Highlights of the Journey
Astoria – As the first U.S settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, Astoria has a long history for a relatively young place. This history is reflected in the many classic Victorian houses you will see in the charming downtown area only a stone’s throw from the ocean. Astoria is also known for being the location where the Lewis and Clark Expedition finally reached the Pacific Ocean. More specifically, it was at Cape Disappointment where this welcome sight ended their journey. Head there to learn more about this famous expedition at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and to view the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in front of sweeping views of the Pacific. For more history, visit Ft. Clatsop, where the two famous explorers spent the winters from 1804-1806.
Columbia River Gorge – The Columbia River Gorge begins at the Bonneville Dam, where river travelers can experience human ingenuity, as you wait for the locks to release and allow your safe passage through. Continuing upstream you will be entering one of the most beautiful areas in the country, a place where natural wonders abound in a unique temperate rainforest ecosystem. Take an easy excursion to Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon plunging more than 600 feet to the earth; or take a tougher hike to the top of Beacon Rock. Along the way, you’ll stop in picturesque towns like Stevenson, WA, and Hood River, OR, towns with an adventurous spirit fueled by their stunning locations.
The Dalles – Although The Dalles is a small city with a population of only about 15,000 people, it leaves its mark as somewhere you can experience an incredible adventure along with fine local wines. The area is particularly known for its strong winds, which have led to a robust community of kiteboarders and windsurfers. The nearby Deschutes River is also an amazing spot to try your hand at rafting class II or III rapids. After working up an appetite adventuring, pair a delicious meal with wine from one of the many vineyards nearby. Because The Dalles has a warmer and drier climate than locations closer to the coast, the wine scene here is truly excellent. Finally, those interested in American history will also be enthralled by this city, the last stop on the Oregon Trail.
Palouse River – A tributary of the Snake River, the Palouse has mellow waters that are easy to navigate. This makes this river the perfect location for a kayak or paddleboard excursion upstream. Those looking for a real workout can go all the way to Palouse Falls, where on a hot day you can swim at the base of a 200-foot waterfall. If you want to visit the waterfall but don’t feel up to paddling the whole way, some cruises also have options for a Zodiac ride to the Falls. Afterwards, head back downstream for a leisurely afternoon of swimming and sun-bathing at Lyons Ferry State Park before continuing up the Snake River while enjoying stunning views.
Clarkston – On the eastern edge of Washington, just over the border from Idaho, is Clarkston. Named for one half of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it is located across the Snake River from its sister city of Lewiston. The primary draw to Clarkston is the access it provides to Hells Canyon, one of the great natural wonders of the lower 48 states. This canyon is located along the Snake River, running 125 miles along the border between Oregon and Idaho, and cutting as deep as 7,993 feet into the earth. Spend a full day exploring this canyon by speedboat, where you will be able to marvel at the expansive walls and see trails and petroglyphs left by the Nez Perce tribe. You can continue to learn about this tribe with a trip to Nez Perce National Historic Park before heading back to Clarkston to enjoy more local food and libations.
Choosing Your Columbia & Snake River Cruise!
Now that you know more about what you will see and do on your Columbia and Snake Rivers Cruise, it’s time to find the cruise that’s right for you!
Have you decided whether you would like to travel west to east or east to west? And do you know what activities are “must-dos” for your trip? Whatever your priorities are there are also some other things to consider as you choose your Columbia and Snake Rivers Cruise.
When do you want to go?
One of the first things you need to decide is when you want to travel. There are sailings on the Columbia and Snake Rivers from early April through late October.
If you travel in the spring you will see the first flowers bloom; the summer brings great weather and long days, and in the fall you will be visiting during the grape harvest.
How Long of a Cruise?
Most Columbia and Snake Rivers Cruise sailings last 7 nights, but there are a few that are longer (9 to 11 nights).
So if you are squeezing in a vacation with a limited amount of time, or want to combine your River Cruise with other tours, you will want to consider one of the shorter cruises. However, if you have more time to explore the Pacific Northwest, be sure to ask about one of the longer cruise options!
Special Interest Cruises
Are you completely inspired by trying the local food and drink of everywhere you visit? Or perhaps you’re a history buff? Or would you like a River Cruise that incorporates your favorite outdoor adventure activities?
There are many options for special cruises that focus on your interests and passions no matter what they may be! Let me know if you would be interested in more information.
Pre- and Post-Cruise Options
You can extend your vacation on either end of your River Cruise by adding a pre- or post-cruise land extension. Spend a few days in Portland on either end of your trip or add on an excursion to Olympic National Park or Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.
Which River Cruise Company?
You will want to pick the River Cruise company that fits your style. Some of the ships that sail these rivers are more rustic, while others have more comforts; some are better options for families, couples, or singles. Tell me about yourself and I can help you make this important choice.
As a River Cruise expert, I will help you sort through all the different options and find the perfect Columbia and Snake River Cruise for you! Reach out to me and let’s start planning!