River Cruising the Active Pacific Northwest


The Pacific Northwest is one of the most ideal, yet often overlooked, river cruise destinations. Sailing the Columbia and Snake Rivers between Oregon and Washington State  is an active journey through history, following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and their Native American guide, Sacajawea.

The 223-guest American Empress docked in The Dalles, Oregon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Majestic and glorious, American Queen Steamboat Company’s itineraries through this amazing part of the United States sail from the Pacific splendour of Astoria to the rugged and desolate place that is Hell’s Canyon. John Jacob Astor’s Overland Party became trapped here during their early 1800’s expedition to claim and settle what would eventually become known as Astoria. Today, American Queen Steamboat Company offers its guests the opportunity to explore it by jet boat. Two centuries later, much has changed – even if the surrounding landscape has not.

Sailing aboard the 223-guest replica paddlewheeler American Empress, American Queen Steamboat Company offers three distinct itineraries along the Columbia and Snake rivers: a nine-day journey from Portland (Vancouver, Washington) to Clarkston; a nine day voyage from Clarkston to Portland (Vancouver, WA), or a nine day trip operating roundtrip from Portland (Vancouver, WA). All three are itineraries steeped in history and culture, and all three provide for some fantastic soft-adventure opportunities.

In addition to the thrilling jetboat exploration of Hell’s Canyon (which is an absolutely essential experience for anyone visiting this region), guests on these itineraries can engage in a multitude of active adventures ashore.

A Veranda stateroom aboard the American Empress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

In Astoria, Oregon, an extensive walking tour departs the American Empress, destined for the Astoria Column perched high atop the town, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a challenging, uphill stroll with a great reward: a view of the entire town, bookended by the turbulent waters of the dangerous Columbia Bar; and the green expanse of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

In Stevenson, Washington, guests can hike to scenic Multnomah Falls; a scenic and powerful waterfall with a drop of 620 feet. Nestled within the Columbia River Gorge, this beautiful fall is bordered by the so-called “Scenic Highway” that was built in 1916 expressly to showcase Oregon’s natural surroundings.

Stevenson, Washington provides plenty of opportunities for local hikes. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Kayak the Columbia River in either tandem or solo kayaks when American Empress docks in Richland, Washington. A three hour optional excursion is led by a guide, who will lead your flotilla onto the banks of Bateman Island. Once used for the raising of livestock, a wildfire in 2001 devastated the island. Today, it has recovered and is home to a number of wildlife species, many of which can be seen on this kayak adventure.

In The Dalles, Oregon, guests are invited to tour the amazing Western Aeroplane and Automobile Museum. Over 130 unique cars and planes are on display here, many of which are still in perfect working condition. The oldest example dates back to 1917, and rides in some of these classic cars are available for American Empress guests.

Exploring the history of Oregon and Lewis & Clark in The Dalles, Oregon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

To really make the most of your time here, though, book American Queen Steamboat Company’s optional excursion at the Western Aeroplane and Automobile Museum: a private plane ride over Mount Hood.

Departing aboard a Cessna aircraft, guests are whisked into the air on a 40-minute private flight. Some of the most dramatic peaks in the region will be visible on a clear day, including Mount Adams, Mount Rainer and, if you’re really lucky, Mount Saint Helens.

In keeping with the aviation theme, we return to Hell’s Canyon and perhaps one of the best excursions on this journey through history aboard the American Empress: a helicopter tour of Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area.

Flying high above the Snake River in a Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter, guests are taken deep into the heart of Hell’s Canyon. Cross above the Grande Ronde River Canyon, a noted pilot favorite for its unique twists and turns, and a passenger favorite for its dramatic cliff faces and ridges of eroded basalt columns. Exclusively offered to guests aboard the American Empress, this breathtaking tour is one of the most unique ways to explore this inspiring location.

American Empress, docked at dusk in Astoria, Oregon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Whether you enjoy a good walk, a strenuous hike, a kayak exploration, or soaring in the skies in your own private helicopter or airplane, American Queen Steamboat Company lets you do it all on its river cruises through the heart of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a river cruise destination like no other; one that’s worth a second – or even third – visit. And, in fact, July of 2018 will see a new theme on American Empress with man of the soft-adventure excursions included. Stay tuned for details.

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