Among best options for vacation travel in the Northwest USA, Columbia and Snake river cruises (in the USA's Oregon and Washington states) are tailored to maximize daytime cruising for optimal viewing of iconic highlights, such as the Columbia River Gorge, museums, forts, wineries. Columbia river cruise deals on major lines are inclusive of all shore excursions, which are offered in each of the ports along the itinerary. Columbia river cruises are operated with either round-trips from Portland (Oregon) or with one-way (eastbound / westbound) itineraries between Portland and Clarkston (Washington). These voyages feature nearly 1600 km / 1000 ml of authentic USA travel. The best river cruise lines for this destination are "American Cruise Lines" and "Un-Cruise Adventures". Their signature deals feature newbuild replica riverboats, staff and crew are dressed in period clothes and uniform, and amazing enrichment programs with expert historians, guest lecturers, media presentations.
Generally navigated with big-sized river cruise ships (including paddlewheel riverboats), Columbia is the largest river in North America's Pacific Northwest region. It rises in the Rocky Mountains (British Columbia, Canada) and flows northwest, then south into the state of Washington (USA). The river then turns west and forms most of the border between the states Oregon and Washington, before falling into the Pacific Ocean. The river's length is 2000 km (1240 ml). Its largest tributary is the Snake River (length 1735 km / 1080 ml). The drainage basin of Columbia River is roughly the size of France. Columbia River Gorge cuts through Cascade Mountains thanks to Missoula Floods. At Multnomah Falls, the mighty snowmelt stream plunges over 600 feet in two cascades. Idaho’s Hell’s Canyon, which is deeper than Grand Canyon, is a spectacular crack in the earth with demonic waters, best explored on a jet boat ride. Understand the power of nature in the collapsed volcanic crater of Mount St. Helens, near Portland. Nowhere is the timelessness more apparent than in the US Pacific Northwest. This is an enchanting corner of North America with an abundance of natural beauty. While sailing past the fertile fields, vertical canyons and impressive mountains, you will witness this ancient land just as it was explored by Lewis and Clark in 1805 - unspoiled and glorious. You can follow these Wikipedia links for detailed information on the rivers Snake and Columbia. The map shows all Snake and Columbia river cruise ports along this magnificent itinerary, following the exact travel route of Lewis and Clark.
Columbia River cruise ports
- Port of Ilwaco, Washington. For as long as 2500 years, Chinook people have populated Long Beach Peninsula and future Port of Ilwaco. Their society contained castes, the top levels of which being shamans, warriors, traders. Some owned slaves that had to steal for their masters. Chinook people of high social status bound their kids' heads to flatten them. That's why Europeans arriving in the port called them "Flathead Indians". The Chinook were the ones who met Lewis and Clark in 1805.
- Port of Vancouver, Washington. After the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, a shipyard was opened in the port that employed up to 36,000 people as it operated to produce liberty and other wartime vessels. The population in the Port of Vancouver increased dramatically due to the need for shipyard workers. New residential developments were created and later incorporated into the city (the today Port of Vancouver neighborhoods).
- Port of Pasco, Washington. A busy port and rail center, the biggest city in Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. During World War II, Manhattan Project located Hanford Works (Hanford Nuclear Reservation) some 30 miles northwest of Pasco where the U.S. government created the first in the world full-scale plutonium production reactor. Hanford Works made the plutonium used in the first nuclear bombs, including the one used on Nagasaki, Japan.
- Port of Kennewick, Washington. In 2009, the port was recognized by Forbes as one of the top 10 small cities in the U.S. for job growth based on rich farmland and hiring by nearby Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In 1996, human remains, being some 9400 years old, were found in Port of Kennewick's Columbia Park. Called "Kennewick Man", the remains are between the most complete pre-historic skeletons ever discovered. The Port of Kennewick is also famous for its annual Grape Festival.
- Port of The Dalles, Oregon. The first known bioterrorist attack during the 20th Century occurred in 1984 at the Port of The Dalles. People from Rajneesh Movement tried to take over local government by placing salmonella in ten restaurants. More than 750 residents got sick. Another curious fact is that in 2006 Internet giant Google built a data center in the port, taking advantage of under-used fiber optic network and ample hydroelectric power. The project created hundreds of jobs in the area.
- Port of Arlington, Oregon. The port was created in 1885 as a shipping station for moving cattle down the river. The contemporary Port of Arlington is famous for the large waste management landfill, receiving trash from Washington, Portland and Seattle. Plans were announced in March 2010 to build a waste incinerator close to the landfill. In 2012, the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 megawatt) opened with 338 turbines, each able to produce 2.5 megawatts of energy.
- Port of Astoria, Oregon. The port is a popular destination for cruisers who want to enjoy seaside recreational facilities, as well as for fishers and hunters. Worth seeing is the restored Fort Astoria and Oregon's official maritime museum - Columbia River Maritime Museum. The old military base Fort Stevens, now is a state park. The Clatsop Community College organizes maritime training classes through its Marine & Environmental Research Training Station.
Snake River cruise ports
- Port of Lewiston, Idaho. Every spring, the port celebrates the Dogwood Festival. The dogwoods are then in bloom and pink blossoms line all streets. In August, Hot August Nights celebration pays tribute to rock 'n roll music. The celebration also includes a classic car show. During autumn months, the cottonwood trees in Port of Lewiston let go of their seeds and cover the streets with what looks like snow. A big Christmas festival is held each year and the downtown area is adorned with stunning displays.
- Port of Clarkston, Washington. The port was named after William Clark, but Lewis and Clark never saw the Port of Clarkston side of the Snake river. The Port of Clarkston owns one of the biggest cranes serving a navigable waterway east of Portland. In addition to cargo docks, the port has a marina with recreational yachts and boats, many of which destined for Hells Canyon.
The powerful Snake and Columbia Rivers flow through a wonderful land and offer access to places to bike, hike or kayak, extraordinary scenery and fantastic wineries. Enjoy locally sourced cuisine and nightly wine tastings onboard. Also visit a winery for a tour and tasting. Learn about the history of Nez Perce and other American tribes. Enjoy your trip along the rivers, where fish ladders help wild salmon swim upstream while elk, deer and bison graze freely. Besides this review article, our "Snake & Columbia River cruises in USA" section (among top-page right DESTINATIONS) also lists all major lines’ ships and riverboats with passenger travel (leisure cruising) operations on this United States waterway.
List of riverboats cruising on Snake and Columbia rivers:
Note: You can see the CruiseMapper's list of all river cruise ships and riverboats in the "itinerary" section of our River Cruises hub. All river passenger shipping line companies and their fleets are listed there.