17 Lesser Known Rivers in the United States You Should Cruise at Least Once

There are many other rivers in the United States that you can cruise besides some of the more well-known – the Mississippi, the Hudson and the Columbia Rivers. Did you know there are more than 250,000 rivers in the United States? Of course that doesn’t mean there are river cruises available on all of them.

You’ll find different types of river cruises and different types of river boats travelling the waterways. Many of the major cities have rivers running through them, which also means that many of these destinations have river cruises available. 

On some of the smaller rivers that wind through smaller towns and cities, you’ll often have the opportunity to see beautiful landscape or interesting wildlife. In some of the southern states like Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee, you’ll find eco-cruises or trips that take you very close to nature.

In the larger cities, the focus is more on sightseeing – buildings, landmarks, historical sites. Some cruises feature entertainment and some even serve a gourmet meal.

Let’s take a look at 17 U.S. rivers that have day and evening cruises.

1 Arkansas River

The first river on the list is the Arkansas River, which is also a major tributary of the Mississippi River. It begins in the Rocky Mountains and flows for nearly 1500 miles through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Major cities along the  Arkansas River include Wichita, Kansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Little Rock, Arkansas.

The best place to find a cruises on this river is in the state it's named after - the city of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Cruises are available year round.

2 Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor - Boston Skyline at Night

Boston Skyline at Night

The Boston Harbor is an estuary that consists of both an inner and outer harbor. Both harbors are fed by rivers, and some islands and peninsulas keep it enclosed from the open Atlantic Ocean. 

The inner Boston Harbor stretches from the outflow of the Charles River and the Mystic River. And the outer Boston Harbor has several rivers that empty into it including the Neponset, Weir, Weymouth Fore and the Weymouth Back. Both harbors are joined at Castle Island in South Boston.

Cruises on the Boston Harbor are available year round and may include other waterways.

3 Cape Fear River

Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina

Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina

The Cape Fear is a river that is located entirely in North Carolina. It extends for about 200 miles from its source at the confluence of the Deep and Haw Rivers until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. 

Cape Fear River is a blackwater river that has swampland in areas. The river north of Fayetteville is not considered navigable.

Cruises on Cape Fear River are available in Wilmington from April through November.

4 Charles River

Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts

Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts

By Eric Hill from Boston, MA, USA (City Flow) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Charles River is a rather small river that is located entirely in Massachusetts. It flows for about 80 miles from Echo Lake to Boston’s Inner Harbor. 

A cruise on the Charles River will take you between Cambridge and Boston and will also probably include the Inner Boston Harbor.

Some cruises are available year round. And others are more seasonal and are offered during the warmer months between May and October.

5 Chicago River

Chicago Skyline from the Chicago River

Chicago River

By Alex GoykhmanGoyk at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The Chicago River runs directly through the city of Chicago in between the buildings that make up its impressive skyline. It’s a 156-mile waterway that is made up of rivers and canals and is also connected to Lake Michigan.

Cruises on this river are seasonal and are available during the warmer months usually from April through October.

6 Cumberland River

The Cumberland River begins in the state of Kentucky and is indirectly connected to the Mississippi River. It flows for 688 miles through Tennessee and then back through Kentucky until it reaches the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky.

Nashville is the major city on the Cumberland River. It is featured on a few Mississippi River cruise itineraries; but most often, it’s a river to enjoy right in Nashville on a day or evening cruise.

There are a few cruise lines that offer day and evening cruises in Nashville throughout most of the year; although, probably not in December.

7 Delaware River

Philadelphia from the Delaware River

Philadelphia from the Delaware River

By Wolle8ball (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Delaware River is just over 300 miles long. It begins in the state of New York near the Catskill Mountains and flows through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware before reaching its mouth at the Delaware Bay.

Major cities along this river include Trenton and Camden, New Jersey; Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Some cruises are seasonal and are available between March and November, but you’ll find some suppliers that offer cruises on the Delaware River year round.

8 Elizabeth River

Norfolk, Virginia Skyline From the Elizabeth River

Norfolk, Virginia Skyline From the Elizabeth River

By Joey Sheely (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Elizabeth River is really a tidal estuary that is located in southeastern Virginia. This very small river is formed by several other waterways. It flows for six miles and is also connected to Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway. 

The main city on the Elizabeth River is Norfolk, Virginia. You’ll find river cruises in Norfolk year round.

9 Milwaukee River

Milwaukee Skyline From the Milwaukee River

Milwaukee Skyline From the Milwaukee River

By Patrick43470 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee River is just over 100 miles long. It’s located entirely in the state of Wisconsin. The river flows through the city of Milwaukee where it forms a confluence with two other rivers - the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic - and is also where the Milwaukee River flows into Lake Michigan.

A Riverwalk lines the river through the downtown area and is popular with both locals and visitors. Pubs, stores and cafes are visible on both sides of the river.

River cruising season is from May through October.

10 Missouri River

The Missouri River is 2341 miles long and is the longest river in the United States. Surprised? It’s not the Mississippi like many people think. 

Along its course, the river flows through seven states from Wyoming to Missouri, including major cities such as Great Falls, Montana; Bismarck, North Dakota; Sioux City, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas City, Kansas; and Kansas and St. Louis, Missouri.

Steamboat river cruises are available on the River City Star Riverboat  in Omaha, Nebraska from April through October.

11 New River

New River in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

New River in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 By WPPilot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The New River is a small river in south Florida that begins in the Florida Everglades and flows for about 30 miles before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Fort Lauderdale is a major city along this river. 

Although, the New River is so close to the ocean; and there are many ocean cruising options along the coastal waters of south Florida, only this cruise will bring you into the city.

River cruises are available year round.

12 Oklahoma River

The Oklahoma River is part of the North Canadian River, which flows through two states before reaching Oklahoma. Through Oklahoma City, there is a 7-mile stretch of the river that has been renamed the Oklahoma River. There are several different types of boat trips available through Oklahoma City, including a public ferry.

Cruises are available from April through December.

13 Patapsco River

Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland

Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland

By G. Edward Johnson http://EdwardJohnson.com/ (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pataspco River is another east coast river. It is located in central Maryland, where it extends for 39 miles before reaching the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is a major city on the Pataspco River.

There are a few suppliers that offer river cruises in Baltimore. And surprisingly, even though it’s located pretty far north, cruises are available year round.

14 Rappahannock River

The Rappahannock River is located in eastern Virginia. It begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains and flows in a southeasterly direction for 195 miles before reaching the Chesapeake Bay just south of the Potamac River. 

The Rappahannock was an important river for early American settlers. And the city of Fredericksburg, which is situated on the river, also has its roots in early American history.

River cruises are available from May through October.

15 San Antonio River

San Antonio Riverwalk

San Antonio Riverwalk

By Billy Hathorn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The San Antonio River begins at San Antonio Springs, which is just a few miles north of the city’s downtown area. The river extends for 240 miles before joining the Guadalupe River in southeastern Texas about ten miles before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

A cruise in San Antonio will take you through the heart of the city and through the famous San Antonio Riverwalk.

River cruises are available year round.

16 Schuykill River

Philadelphia Skyline From the Schuylkill River

Philadelphia Skyline From the Schuylkill River

The Schuylkill River is 135 miles long and is located entirely in the state of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is one of the major cities on this river and is also where the Schuylkill joins the Delaware River.

Water sports are popular on this river as well as boating. Surrounding the river, the Schuylkill River Trail stretches for about 30 miles from Philadelphia to Mont Clare. The trail is also popular for other outdoor activities like bike riding, jogging and rollerblading.

Cruises are available from some of the suppliers year round in Philadelphia.

17 Williamette River

Hawthorne Bridge Over the Williamette River in Portland

Hawthorne Bridge Over the Williamette River in Portland

By Fcb981 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Williamette River is located in the state of Oregon on the west coast of the United States. It flows for 187 northward from Eugene to Portland where it empties into the Columbia River.

A cruise on this river in Portland may also include travel on the Columbia River depending on the itinerary. If you stay on the Williamette River, your scenic boat ride through the city of Portland will probably include a meal.

And if your boat ride includes the Columbia River, you might travel to the spectacular Columbia River Gorge.

Either way Portland has a spirit of its own to enjoy as you cruise the waterways surrounding the city.

Cruises on the Williamette River are available year round.

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Lauri Wakefield is a travel writer who specializes in  river cruises in Europe and the U.S. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

[This page may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.]

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