Columbia & Snake Rivers Experience Guide

Our well-appointed replica coastal steamer harkens back to an elegant time of travel at the turn of the century.

Heritage guides and guest hosts share stories of the people who came before—Native people, Lewis & Clark, early explorers and hearty pioneers—and of the landscape and land itself providing in-depth interpretation of the places and sights you’ll visit along the journey. Along the wide and winding Columbia & Snake Rivers, the landscape changes dramatically from ocean coastline to rugged hills. Each microclimate sustains a unique collection of wildlife, vegetation, and wine varietals that thrive in the specific conditions of that area.

Each season offers a different perspective and something new to see from brilliant, blooming spring to the harvest of fall crush—it’s always a good time to be on the rivers.

History, Natural History & Nature


Legacy of Exploration

Inhabited for over 12,000 years, the region was a bountiful homeland for Native people before the first American arrivals. The region has long been a destination for fearless explorers.

  • 1792 – the first American merchant, Capt. Robert Gray, sails into the Columbia River
  • 1805 – Lewis & Clark arrive at Columbia Gorge and Fort Clatsop
  • 1811 – Astor Expedition establishes a fur trading post at Fort Astoria; their route west became the Oregon Trail
  • 1825 – Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders plant Washington’s first wine grapes at Ft. Vancouver
  • 1843 – Pioneer migration is in full swing; over 900 immigrants arrive in a single year
  • 1910 - Kennewick, WA holds the first Columbia River Valley Grape Carnival


From the windswept mouth of the Columbia at the Pacific Ocean, to the Columbia Basin dotted with towering peaks and golden coulees, the geological differences are profound. Here are formations—nearly all created by basaltic lava—likely to be spotted on these rivers.

  • Columnar cliffs in Hells Canyon, Columbia River Gorge, and Palouse Falls
  • Mt Rainier, Mt Hood, Mt Adams and other volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range
  • Grande Ronde basalt at Multnomah Falls
  • Ice age flood-carved Columbia Gorge and Beacon Rock
  • Intertidal sea stack, Haystack Rock, in Cannon Beach
  • Fossils from Miocene-era lava flow floods


The forests and expansive plateaus around the rivers provide open range for wildlife to migrate. While some wildlife is cautiously elusive and easier to spot from a distance, others like twitch-eared deer have become more accustomed to the human presence.

  • Mountain goats
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Pronghorn antelope
  • White-tailed and mule deer
  • American kestrel
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Osprey
  • River otter

Seasonal Variations

Stretching west to east between the 45th and 47th parallels, the rivers’ proximity to the coast, mountains, and desert uplands dramatically alters the landscape and climate. Where the Columbia meets the Pacific Ocean, rocky land is dotted with towering firs, windswept pines, and sea grasses. On geometric plateaus east of the Cascade Range, prairie grasses, sagebrush, willow, and boxelder eek out an existence in the drier climate.

In spring, riverbanks are dotted with color from tall grasses and blooming wildflowers. Under a big, blue sky, the languid summer offers upwards of 15 glorious hours of daylight. And fall presents changing foliage and golden fields. The seasonal variations listed here will help you anticipate what you’re likely to see.

Why cruise with us vs. another riverboat company?

“Roll on, Columbia, Roll on,” sang Woody Guthrie in honor of the beauty and power of the river that he witnessed. You’ll be singing the river’s praises too!

On board and in the field, knowledgeable heritage guides and local historians offer up presentations on Lewis & Clark and the area's vast history. Included premium shore excursions enhance your voyage. Hand-crafted culinary treats are served at every meal; and fine wines, microbrews, and cocktails are available around the clock. Feel at home aboard the S.S. Legacy with its relaxed, ambiance and immediate camaraderie between guests and crew. Here's a side-by-side comparison our river cruises with other operators on these rivers.


Columbia & Snake Rivers Slideshow

Our slideshow offers a photo overview of what you’ll see and do along the Columbia & Snake Rivers on our inclusive, 7-night river cruises. Click the image at left to view.

What to See & Do on our Columbia & Snake Rivers Cruises


On Board

  • Embark from Portland’s picturesque Tom McCall Waterfront Park with a sunset champagne toast
  • Enjoy jovial conversation with your shipmates on stroll along the S.S. Legacy’s three expansive decks
  • Step into wild west in the Pesky Barnacle Saloon with a friendly game of cards and premium whiskey on the rocks
  • Native heritage comes to life with storytelling and singing by a special guest from the local Nez Perce tribe
  • Compare local varietals with guidance from your onboard wine expert at a wine tasting in the lounge


History & Culture

  • Go behind-the-gears on a private tour of Bonneville Dam Visitor Center—see the powerhouse, turbines, and fish ladder
  • Walk among replica log buildings at Fort Clatsop—the Corp of Discovery’s westernmost encampment, Victorian Astoria, or the seaside town of Cannon Beach
  • Learn Native legends of the ruggedly beautiful Palouse and Multnomah Falls
  • At the convergence of two rivers, learn about the natural, scientific, and cultural history of Eastern Washington and the Nez Perce
  • Explore the landscaped grounds at Maryhill Museum and tour its impressive art collection


Wilderness & Landscapes

  • On a visit to Oregon’s tallest waterfall—Multnomah Falls—walk to one of its easily accessible viewing areas
  • Jet boat into Hells Canyon keeping watch for mountain goats and petroglyphs or motor coach to scenic Palouse Falls Canyon
  • Sunset cruising reveals the glacially-carved Columbia River Gorge and hillsides topped with powerful wind turbines
  • Rolling hillsides and vineyards expose the rich terroir of the Red Mountain AVA and wine tastings
  • Columbia Gorge Discovery Center’s Raptor Interpretive Program introduces owls, hawks, eagles, or falcons—local birds of prey rehabilitated after injury

Columbia & Snake Rivers Travel FAQs


Q. Do you have specific arrival and departure guidelines I should follow when making my travel plans?

Yes! View our recommended arrival & departure times by clicking here.


Q. I have an interest in engineering. Will we be visiting inside any of the hydroelectric dams along the river?

Our Legacy of Discovery itinerary stops at Bonneville Dam for a guided tour of the Visitor's Center as well as the hydroelectric plant. Both of our river itineraries transit several sets of locks and dams and the construction and operation of the lock systems along the Columbia, several of the largest in the world, will be of interest to everyone but in particular to those who enjoy and study engineering.


Q. Will we learn about the Lewis & Clark Expedition?

Yes, these cruises cover some of the same territory Lewis & Clark traversed and your heritage guides and/or guest experts will address the subject during your adventure. The Legacy of Discovery itinerary covers the Lewis & Clark expedition in greatest detail.


Q. Many places on these itineraries are accessible by car. Why cruise?

The experience of actually traveling on the Columbia River is unparalleled. First, one better understands the power and influence that this huge river basin has had throughout history—and today. Secondly, the hassle-free travel experience, good company, Heritage guides, and well-planned excursions all come together to make this easy, fun, and intellectually rewarding. It would be almost impossible to get all this from either independent or group land travel.


Q. Which winery or wineries and tasting rooms will we visit?

As an added benefit, our small group size allows us to work closely with exclusive boutique wineries to make each visit very special. Details on who we visit will vary from week-to-week, and sometimes a local wine maker may step on board to say hello. Our Ameritage! Four Rivers of Wine & History itinerary visits the most wineries and tasting rooms.

Itinerary Comparison

Itinerary Name Rivers of Wine Rivers of Adventure
Duration 7 Nights 8 Nights
Begin/End Points Roundtrip Portland, Oregon Portland, OR to Clarkston, WA (or reverse)
Fares From $3,745 $4,995
  • Wine and culinary experience
  • Sommelier and guest wine expert join you on board for the week
  • Winery tours and tastings in five Washington and Oregon AVAs
  • Hosted lunch at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard
  • Maryhill Winery vineyard and cave tour
  • Explore Palouse Falls canyon
  • Discover Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • 1-night pre-cruise hotel stay in Portland
  • Guided local tour on embarkation day
  • Deschutes River whitewater rafting
  • Narration on board features Lewis & Clark, culture, and natural history
  • Jet boat ride into Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Private tour and tasting at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard
  • Transit eight locks and a private tour at Bonneville Dam Visitor Center
  • Waterfalls and hikes on both sides of the Cascade Mountains
  • Swimming, kayaking, biking, and paddle boarding
  • Presentation by a Nez Perce tribal member
  • Air between Portland and Lewiston

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