American Empress, part of American Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet, has eight- or nine-day cruises between Portland, Ore., or Vancouver, Wash., and Clarkston, Wash. // © 2015 American Queen Steamboat Company
Feature image (above): The 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird at Bonneville Lock // © 2015 Lindblad Expeditions
In the 19th century, the Pacific Northwest saw hundreds of steamboats, mostly paddlewheelers, carrying passengers on the Columbia River and its tributaries, the Snake and Willamette rivers. The rivers had strong currents and rapids, as well as sandbars and reefs, and even with today’s system of locks, they can still be treacherous; very seasoned steamboat pilots must take the helm.
Although there are far fewer ships sailing the rivers today and their itineraries are quite similar, the cruise experiences differ in the style and emphasis of each cruise line and the size and design of the ships. To cruise the Pacific Northwest of yore in modern fashion, here are four river cruises in the region not to miss.
American Cruise Lines
American Cruise Lines’ 150-passenger sternwheeler Queen of the Mississippi will become American Pride next year when it moves to the Columbia and Snake rivers, more than doubling the line’s capacity there. The 3-year-old ship launched American’s service on the Mississippi and has large staterooms and private balconies. The line will offer seven- to 10-day Pacific Northwest cruises on the vessel between Portland, Ore., and Clarkston, Wash., starting April 2, 2016.
American Queen Steamboat Company
American Queen Steamboat Company provides eight- and nine-day cruises on the 223-passenger American Empress between Portland Ore., or Vancouver, Wash., and Clarkston, Wash. Among the natural sights guests will see during their Pacific Northwest cruise are the dramatic 600-foot Multnomah Falls and Hell’s Canyon, deeper than the Grand Canyon.
In September and October 2016, Lindblad Expeditions is offering a series of seven-night cruises on the Columbia and Snake rivers between Clarkston and Portland. The 62-passenger sister ships National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion transit eight locks that lift the ships 700 feet — nearly 10 times the elevation of the Panama Canal. Families and multigenerational groups can participate in the various level activities together or independently.
Roundtrip from Portland on the Columbia, Snake, Willamette and Palouse rivers, Un-Cruise Adventures offers seven-night wine cruises onboard the 88-passenger Legacy of Discovery. The company is still refining its winery list, but visits during each week of the season will include Terra Blanca, Springhouse Cellars, Maryhill Winery, Sunshine Mill Winery, Dunham Cellars and Mt. Hood Winery. A new guest wine expert hosts each week.