When you consider going on a river cruise, you most likely first think of river cruises down the Rhine, past old European castles high on hills. But did you know that America offers great river cruises, too?
If you do, you are probably thinking of the paddle-wheel ships that ply the mighty Mississippi River. And, yes, these are wonderful cruises that take you back to the days of Mark Twain, and traditional southern comfort.
However, the western United States also offers an exciting river cruise, one that lets you experience what it would have been like to explore America with the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s as they learned about the newly-acquired American lands in the west.
Columbia River Gorge from Crown Point in Oregon
By Hux (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The mighty Columbia River, which today acts as a natural border between the states of Oregon and Washington, was discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Drastically different from the Mississippi River, which is wide and strong, but relatively slow-moving and muddy, the clear, cold waters of the Columbia River can be as wild as any images from America's Old West.
From deep-cut river canyons to lush green forested slopes, from cascading waterfalls to majestic snow-capped volcanic mountains, a cruise on the Columbia River is a bigger than life adventure that brings you up-close and personal to the natural wonders of an untouched wilderness, and the rich history of the American West.
What you will experience on a Columbia River cruise:
Portland was established in 1851 at the end of the Oregon Trail. It was built as a major port on the Columbia River where its waterfront was busy with riverboats and paddle-wheelers hauling goods and produce.
Today, Oregon's most populous city is modern and cosmopolitan, and offers museums, theater, and big-city excitement.
Located at the mouth of the Columbia River where it empties into the Pacific Ocean, Astoria is the oldest settlement in America west of the Rocky Mountains. Historically it is significant as the point where Lewis and Clark made their first sighting of the Pacific Ocean.
Today it is a charming town that has over 70 Victorian-era homes, and is a place where you can charter a boat for a day of deep-sea salmon fishing. The area also offers a replica of Fort Clatstop, built on the site of the original fort where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806, now a National Monument.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is located at near-by Fort Canby where you can get a fascinating overview of the entire Lewis and Clark Expedition.
A portion of the Columbia River is known as Volcano Alley. As you cruise through here you will see views of some of the volcanoes of the western U.S. Part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc which stretches from British Columbia, Canada, to northern California. Volcanoes Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens can all be glimpsed from here.
Four thousand feet deep, and stretching as far as eighty miles, the Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular canyon that was cut through the Cascade Mountain range at the end of the last Ice Age, thus creating the only waterway through the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
Federally protected as a National Scenic Area, the gorge is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. As you cruise through this area you will pass everything from quaint riverfront towns to wild water popular with windsurfers.
You'll also see many awesome waterfalls that plunge dramatically down the sides of the gorge.
Just about mid-way through the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, your river cruise ship will pass through the Bonneville Lock to reach the Bonneville Dam at Stevenson.
The Bonneville Dam is a prime example of the imposing hydroelectric power plants that are scattered throughout the western U.S. Harnessing the might of the Columbia River, the Dam's massive turbine generators create electricity that is sent across the United States.
At Stevenson you will be able to tour the Bonneville Dam, as well as visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center where you'll learn about the cultural and historic significance of the Columbia River, from Lewis and Clark to Native American tribes, from 19th century loggers to the Oregon Trail wagon train emigrants.
As you can see, a river cruise on the Columbia River is worlds away from castles on the Rhine or paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi. A tour of the wild and exhilarating American west can't be beat.
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The author, Alice Perkins, loves to travel the world, and stay in great resorts, but must do it on a budget. She writes about her travel experiences as a travel blogger for RedWeek, the largest online market place for Time Share Rentals.