Best of Northwest Cruises

By Ashley Whitham

The Pacific Northwest is open for exploration by many means: car, airplane, tour bus, train. But perhaps the best way to experience the highlights of the region – without having to unpack at every stop – is to cruise! The Northwest offers many cruise options, from 4- to 7-night cruises on the Columbia, Willamette, and Snake Rivers, as well as the Puget Sound region and north into British Columbia. Choose a cruise based on destination, theme, or length.

Columbia River Gorge from Washington Side. Photo by Ashley Whitham

Columbia River Gorge from Washington Side. Photo by Ashley Whitham

Cruising the Columbia River Gorge

The most popular place to cruise in the Northwest is the Columbia River Gorge. After thousands of years of slowly carving this path thru the Cascade Mountain Range, the Columbia River Gorge is now a canyon up to 4000 feet deep and over 80 miles long. The Gorge is a National Scenic Area, and home to the world famous Multnomah Falls. Views of Mount Hood always delight, as well as snapping your own images of the Gorge from the famous Crown Point Vista House!

The newest ship to cruise the Columbia is the American Song with cruises between Astoria, Oregon and Clarkston, Idaho. Cruising up and down the historic Columbia River Gorge aboard the American Song, you will enjoy beautiful, generous state rooms with private balconies where you can enjoy a private cup of coffee in the morning, an afternoon glass of wine, or just sit out and watch the stars in the sky or a beautiful sunset.  The common rooms are anything but common, with multiple choices of beautiful rooms in which to enjoy the passing scenery or visit with new friends.

The American Song cruise ship

Aboard the American Song on the Columbia River

The majestic American Empress cruises the Columbia River Gorge every year, traveling from Portland to Clarkston, and reverse, each week from March thru November. The Gorge is an amazing marker between the two stark contrasting climates of West and East. Watch the lush green give way to the rugged desert, while you enjoy the beautiful view of the Cascade Mountain Range in between.

View of the Gorge from the American Empress’ Pilot House. Photo by Ashley Whitham

View of the Gorge from the American Empress’ Pilot House. Photo by Ashley Whitham

San Juan Islands & British Columbia

Each Spring and Fall, the American Spirit  can be seen cruising through the picturesque San Juan Islands. This archipelago of over 400 islands has become a popular tourist destination for whale-watching, and the crew aboard the American Spirit will inform you of whale-watching opportunities as you cruise. Expert guides will lead you on shore excursions to beautiful destinations like Anacortes, Friday Harbor and Port Townsend, WA, as well as a visit across the border to Victoria, BC!

American Spirit in Anacortes. Photo by American Cruise Lines.

American Spirit in Anacortes. Photo by American Cruise Lines.

You’ll need your passports to head out past the San Juan Islands on the British Columbia’s Yachters’ Paradise cruise aboard the Safari Quest. Roundtrip from Seattle, this 7-night cruise will take you thru the Salish Sea, to the beautiful waterways of British Columbia. Head out past civilization to kayak the calm waters of Princess Louisa Inlet, or ride the skiff in Jervis Inlet in search of orcas, porpoises, seals and more.

Specialty Theme Cruises


wine glass sunset

The Northwest has made a name for itself world wide with our fabulous wines.  For the wine lover, try the Rivers of Wine & Culinary Columbia cruise aboard the S.S. Legacy  celebrating our local vineyards and wineries on four rivers, while cruising roundtrip from Portland. The onboard Sommelier and guest wine expert will cruise with you, guiding you through winery tours and tastings in five AVAs, plus explore the natural beauty of the region and hand-crafted meals that highlight Northwest cuisine.

ss legacy

The S.S. Legacy

What could be better than taking a Wine Tasting cruise aboard a yacht? The Northern Dream is a 6-passenger yacht – you could take three couples (friends, family, or travel buddies) on the most luxurious wine tasting cruise the Columbia River has to offer! The yacht is available to charter in Spring and Fall and also has a cruise designed for the wine lover with plenty of wine tasting shore excursions on the Columbia River Wine Tasting Cruise.

NW Grapevine. Photo by Ashley Whitham.

NW Grapevine. Photo by Ashley Whitham.


beer sampler

Craft beer is a wondrous thing, exciting all sorts of new trends and giving people a brand new hobby to enjoy. You can explore the world of Northwest craft beer while exploring the San Juan Islands on the Explore! Olympic Wilderness & San Juan Islands cruise aboard the Wilderness Discoverer. You’ll be able to sip delicious beer, while enjoying local cuisine including oyster and clam tastings.


Follow in the footsteps of the intrepid discoverers, Lewis & Clark, on your cruise aboard the American Pride paddlewheel. The 10-night Northwest Pioneers cruise allows you extra time to relish in the history, beauty and natural wonders of the Columbia and Snake Rivers! Instead of choosing between Richland or Pendleton, The Dalles or Hood River, visit them all! Plus a full day in Portland, home to unique culture, internationally renowned gardens, and stunning location.

American Pride docked in Portland. Photo by Ashley Whitham.

American Pride docked in Portland. Photo by Ashley Whitham.

Short Cruises – Less than a Week

Ride the Queen of the West paddlewheel on a 4-night cruise, the Highlights of the Columbia River. These quick trips are roundtrip from Portland, and take you to see the stunning Multnomah Falls, the dramatic Mt. St. Helens, and the picturesque town of Astoria. Cruise departures available in April, September and October.

QoW Bow with Ramp. Photo by American Cruise Lines.

Queen of the West Bow with Ramp. Photo by American Cruise Lines.

Which cruise is right for you? Give USA River Cruises a call! We’re located just blocks from the Columbia River, and proud to call the Northwest our home. Call us to start planning your visit to our backyard: (800) 578-1479.