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


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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
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Geology

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
  • Fossils from Miocene-era lava flow floods
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Wildlife

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
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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

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On Board

  • Cruise Portland’s picturesque Tom McCall Waterfront Park with a sunset champagne toast
  • Stroll along the S.S. Legacy’s three expansive decks
  • Sidle up in the Pesky Barnacle Saloon for a friendly game of cards and premium whiskey
  • Native heritage comes to life through stories and songs from 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
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History & Culture

  • Go behind-the-gears on a private tour of Bonneville Dam Visitor Center—see the powerhouse, turbines, and fish ladder
  • 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

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Wilderness & Landscapes

  • Visit Oregon’s tallest waterfall—Multnomah Falls—and 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 & Snake Rivers Travel FAQs

ARRIVAL / DEPARTURE

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.

DAMS

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

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.

LEWIS & CLARK

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.

WHY CRUISE

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.

WINE

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 Rivers of Wine 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
Highlights
  • 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

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