PNW River and Lake Cruises – A Comprehensive Guide

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The Pacific Northwest is a stunning region known for its scenic landscapes, lush forests, and diverse wildlife. One of the best ways to explore this beautiful area is by embarking on a river or lake cruise. River and lake cruises in the Pacific Northwest offer a unique opportunity to experience the region’s natural beauty up close while enjoying the comfort and convenience of a well-planned excursion.

We’ll introduce you to the variety of cruise options available in this part of the United States, including unforgettable journeys along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as excursions on the picturesque Lake Coeur d’Alene. These cruises provide a chance to indulge in breathtaking scenery, observe fascinating wildlife, and learn about the rich history of the Pacific Northwest.

From short day trips to multi-day adventures, there’s a river or lake cruise for everyone in the Pacific Northwest. Whether you’re seeking a romantic escape, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, a cruise offers an unbeatable way to experience this captivating region. Join us as we share insights into the world of Pacific Northwest river and lake cruises, and discover which one best suits your preferences and travel goals.

Most Popular Routes

Columbia River Cruises

Columbia River cruises offer an incredible journey through the beautiful Pacific Northwest region. As we sail along the Columbia River Gorge, we’ll witness stunning landscapes and learn about the rich history of this area. The Gorge is a National Scenic Area and home to the breathtaking Multnomah Falls. Our cruise will provide ample opportunities for exploring the diverse ecosystem, including the many vineyards and orchards along the riverbanks.

Snake River Cruises

Snake River cruises take us through the wild and scenic Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge. As we embark on this unparalleled journey, we’ll experience the beauty of the Snake River, its diverse habitat and abundant wildlife. Our Snake River cruise may also include a portion of the Columbia River, as these two rivers are interconnected in the Columbia and Snake Rivers cruise.

We can expect a mix of fascinating history, cultural experiences, and stunning natural beauty on our Snake River adventure.

Puget Sound Cruises

Lastly, we have the captivating Puget Sound cruises. Located in the heart of Washington state, Puget Sound is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and a complex system of interconnected waterways. Our Puget Sound cruise will showcase the region’s picturesque landscape, with views of majestic mountains, lush forests, and thriving marine life.

As we venture through Puget Sound, we may visit charming port towns, like Friday Harbor and Port Townsend, as well as have opportunities to explore the San Juan Islands or indulge in delightful local cuisine. The variety of experiences on a Puget Sound cruise make it a favorite among many travelers in the Pacific Northwest.

Notable Ships in the PNW

As we explore the Pacific Northwest’s river and lake cruises, some notable ships stand out for their luxurious accommodations, diverse itineraries, and exceptional experiences. Among these ships, the American Empress and S.S. Legacy are two of the most prominent vessels navigating the region’s waterways.

The American Empress is an elegant paddlewheel ship that offers an unforgettable cruising experience. With a capacity of 223 guests, this modern cruise ship features spacious staterooms with private balconies, fine dining options, and various onboard activities. As we cruise along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the American Empress showcases the breathtaking natural beauty and rich history of the Pacific Northwest.

Here are some highlights of the American Empress:

  • Luxurious accommodations with private balconies
  • Gourmet dining experiences highlighting local cuisine
  • Expertly guided shore excursions for in-depth exploration
  • Live entertainment featuring regional music and culture

The S.S. Legacy is another standout ship with its classic design and charming atmosphere. This vessel, accommodating only 90 guests, has an intimate feel that allows us to connect with the region’s history and culture. The S.S. Legacy primarily navigates the Columbia and Snake Rivers, providing a unique perspective on the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition route.

S.S. Legacy’s distinct features include:

  • Comfortable staterooms with modern amenities
  • Locally inspired dining experiences showcasing regional flavors
  • Onboard historians and naturalists sharing expert insights
  • Excursions to historical sites, landmarks, and National Parks

In our journey through the Pacific Northwest’s rivers and lakes, both the American Empress and S.S. Legacy present unique opportunities to immerse ourselves in the region’s beauty, history, and culture. With their attention to detail, comfortable accommodations, and knowledgeable guides, we can confidently embark on an unforgettable cruising adventure.

Key Ports and Explorations

In the Pacific Northwest, we’ve experienced some amazing river and lake cruises that take you to beautiful destinations full of adventure, culture, and unforgettable scenery. One of these key ports is Portland, Oregon, where the city’s vibrant atmosphere and stunning landscapes make it a must-see destination for any PNW River cruise. Setting sail from Portland allows you to explore the tranquil beauty of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, offering a variety of unique experiences.

Another fantastic port to visit is Clarkston, Washington, situated along the Snake River. As a gateway to Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America, Clarkston provides opportunities for rafting, jet boating, and hiking adventures. If you’re lucky, you might get a chance to catch a glimpse of the area’s diverse wildlife.

Astoria, Oregon, is another enchanting port city. Situated on the mighty Columbia River, this location grants access to the impressive Astoria Column, a 125-foot monument that depicts the history and exploration of the Pacific Northwest. Astoria’s rich cultural heritage and beautiful murals can all be experienced at this iconic landmark.

No Pacific Northwest journey would be complete without exploring the mesmerizing San Juan Islands. This archipelago offers stunning vistas, abundant marine life, and ample opportunities for kayaking, whale watching, and hiking. With a laid-back atmosphere and unparalleled natural beauty, the San Juan Islands are a true haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Venturing further north, British Columbia invites you to immerse yourself in its diverse landscapes, from rugged coastlines and dense forests, to picturesque fjords and glistening glaciers. The region’s vibrant cities, such as Vancouver, serve as excellent starting points for tours exploring the awe-inspiring Great Bear Rainforest, where you have the chance to witness the elusive Spirit Bear in its natural habitat.

By visiting these key ports and taking part in their unique explorations, we guarantee a memorable journey through the stunning and diverse landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.

Activities on Board and Onshore

When we embark on a river or lake cruise in the Pacific Northwest, there are plenty of activities available both on board and onshore. One of our favorite experiences is taking a seated open-deck boat excursion that offers a 360-degree unobstructed view of stunning landscapes. From the deck, we can gaze at the Deception Pass Bridge, the Old Prison Rock Quarry, and Deception Island while looking out for the awe-inspiring sight of a bald eagle’s nest.

After disembarking, we can pursue various recreational activities such as hiking, biking, and paddling. Engaging in these activities allows us to fully explore the natural beauty of the region. One popular spot for hiking is the Pacific Northwest Trail, which provides both challenging and accessible hikes for all skill levels. Here, we can hike along miles of gorgeous trails and immerse ourselves in the lush greenery, towering trees, and breathtaking vistas.

For those who prefer water-based activities, kayaking is another fantastic option. We can paddle on the pristine lakes and wide rolling rivers that the Pacific Northwest is famed for, and maybe even spot some wildlife like seals and birds. Our kayaking adventures are customized to our preferences, so whether we’re beginners or seasoned paddlers, we’re bound to have an exciting and memorable experience.

As we journey through the Pacific Northwest, biking offers yet another way to uncover picture-perfect landscapes and hidden gems. We can cycle along the region’s many bike trails, such as the Olympic Discovery Trail, which stretches over 100 miles and passes through picturesque forests, farmlands, and coastal areas.

No matter which activities we choose, our cruise in the Pacific Northwest is guaranteed to be packed with adventure, offering us an unforgettable experience of the region’s magnificent beauty and unique charm.

Seasonal Variations

In the Pacific Northwest, the months of June, September, and October offer travelers a diverse range of experiences on river and lake cruises. Each season has unique characteristics that can affect the beauty and overall enjoyment of these cruises.

During June, the weather is typically mild and pleasant, making it an excellent time to explore the region’s various waterways. As the spring bloom transitions into summer, it’s a great opportunity to witness lush landscapes and flourishing wildlife. The increased daylight hours during this month also means more time for sightseeing and other activities during the cruise.

September brings the beginning of the fall season which is marked by comfortable temperatures and a significant change in the landscape. The foliage turns into vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, offering breathtaking views as you cruise along the rivers and lakes. The wildlife is also more active during this time, preparing for the upcoming winter months. This combination of colorful scenery and bustling nature makes September a popular time for Fall Foliage Cruises.

As October rolls in, the temperatures begin to dip, but this doesn’t deter travelers from embarking on river and lake cruises. The fall colors reach their peak, creating a stunning backdrop for visitors. However, with the cooler weather, it’s essential to pack appropriately and be prepared for possible wet conditions. Despite the lowering temperatures, October continues to provide exceptional experiences for avid cruisers in the Pacific Northwest.

In conclusion, the Pacific Northwest offers a wide array of river and lake cruises throughout the year, with each season providing its unique charm. Whether you choose to embark on your journey in June, September, or October, the region’s diverse scenery and abundant wildlife are sure to impress and captivate you.


We believe that embarking on a river or lake cruise in the Pacific Northwest offers a unique and immersive way to experience the region’s stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife. With options ranging from six-hour cruises on the St. Joe River in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to longer expeditions exploring the Columbia, Snake River and the Puget Sound, there are opportunities for travelers with varying interests and timeframes to enjoy the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

During these cruises, we appreciate the chance to participate in various activities like kayaking, biking, and wildlife spotting along the riverbanks. Not only do these excursions offer stunning views of the region’s landscapes, but they also provide travelers with the opportunity to learn about the rich history and culture of the Pacific Northwest.

In summary, the Pacific Northwest is a region that captivates us with its diverse waterways, lush forests, and rugged coastlines. River and lake cruises allow us to experience this natural beauty in a unique and memorable way, making them an ideal option for anyone looking to explore this majestic corner of the United States.