The Pacific NorthWest Via The Columbia River- Experience Nature And Education On A Domestic Cruise

If you’re looking for a great domestic cruise, one that visits the Pacific Northwest via the Columbia River should be at the top of your list.  AdventureSmith Expeditions has an option that I absolutely love, which is their “In the Wake of Lewis and Clark” cruise.


Here are some of the best reasons to consider this cruise:

  • There is no need for a passport… you can fly into Portland, Oregon (many times on a direct flight) and embark a ship right on the Willamette River, which feeds directly into the Colombia.
  • This is, hands down, some of the most beautiful country anywhere.  If you’re looking for a trip that allows you to truly appreciate nature, this one’s unbeatable. The Cascade Mountains and prolific wildlife (especially birds, deer and beavers) make for the best photos!  You’ll also see the Columbia River Gorge, home of the 620-foot high Multnomah Falls (the most popular scenic attraction in Oregon), and petroglyphs etched by the Native Americans.
  • If you’re a history buff, this itinerary is tops because (as the name suggests) it follows the path of the legendary Lewis and Clark passage.  (As a sidenote, If you’re a homeschooling family, like we are, this would be an amazing educational trip for the kids!)

The full itinerary (courtesy of AdventureSmith Expeditions) is listed below:

Day 1 – Portland, Oregon/Embark Ship

Board our ship and cruise the lower part of the Willamette River before reaching the Columbia River.

Day 2 – Eastern Washington’s Wine Country

Awake this morning to the colorful plateaus east of the sweeping Cascade Mountains, an area famous for its expanding wine industry. As we travel on, the Columbia completely changes character; a well-watered landscape gives way to gracefully taperedbuttes and semi-arid steppes. Locks lift the ship higher and higher into desert-hued canyons. At the entrance to the Snake River, we pass between banks formed by the largest basalt flow in the world.

Day 3 – Clarkston

At Clarkston, we find ourselves at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers. Today, we have two choices of activities. One option is to travel by comfortable jetboat up the Snake River, into Hell’s Canyon. We stop to take in the old homesteads and the ever-changing geology of the river, and look for Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep. At Buffalo Eddy we see petroglyphs etched by the Native Americans. Or you can follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark along the Clearwater River, visiting several of their actual campsites. Led by our local historian, we learn about their relationship with the Nez Perce. We observe the rocks exposed in the shallow waters, recognizing them as the dangerous obstacles that nearly sunk one of the Corps of Discovery’s newly hewn canoes. The ponderosa pines along the river were the material used for the making canoes.

Day 4 – Exploring the Palouse River

The still water of the Palouse River is the perfect mirror for the surrounding basalt cliffs as we set off on our morning Zodiac cruises and kayak adventures, looking for birds, deer and beaver. The wide river bottom and towering cliffs seem out of place for such a small river; we learn that 12,000 years ago the Bretz Flood, a catastrophic natural event, formed the landscape. We travel by motor coach to Palouse Falls where cascading waters plunge into pools below. As we travel, we search for the mule deer, American coots, western grebes, great blue herons and graceful cormorants that are often seen here. This evening, we sail down the Snake River, enjoying a barbecue on deck.

Day 5 – Columbia River Gorge and Hood River

We venture through the Columbia River Gorge. Here we encounter the 620-foot high Multnomah Falls. These are the most popular scenic attraction in Oregon and it’s easy to see why. The Corps of Discovery wrote in the journals about the many falls along this Gorge. At the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, we learn about the cataclysmic geological origins of the gorge, the region’s diverse ecology and its 10,000-year-old rich human history. This area was once home to Celilo Falls where Lewis and Clark described a gathering of some 10,000 natives who came to fish and trade from the far corners of the Pacific Northwest. When the river was harnessed for hydropower, navigation, irrigation and flood control, the Celilo Falls were drowned. Hood River, one of the towns we pass through as we pass through the Gorge, is the windsurfing capital of the world because of its almost constant gusts. At the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, we learn about the cataclysmic geological origins of the gorge.

Day 6 – Astoria

We end our journey in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark by navigating the Columbia to the mouth of the river at Astoria. At Fort Clatsop, where explorers hunkered down for the wet winter of 1805-1806, we walk through the full-scale reconstructed fort. The Columbia River Maritime Museum chronicles the history of river navigation and this port town, the epicenter of the fur trading empire in the early 1800s. A series of fascinating displays about the many shipwrecks in the area is especially intriguing. The beautiful scene here is so at odds with the descriptions Lewis and Clark gave of their terrible winter. For an even better view, we can climb the 160 steps to the top of Astor Column.

Day 7 – Portland/Disembark

Our modern day expedition ends in Portland. After breakfast onboard, we travel to the airport for homeward-bound flights.

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