Boarding a Columbia River steamboat is an option many people had in the late 1800s through the end of the 1900s. Back then steamboats provided one of the most effective means of transportation for those traveling in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Today, you can still find companies that will help you to explore this region via historic steamboats.
Historic Columbia River Steamboat
The Pacific Northwest used to be navigated by hundreds of steamboats, which took passengers up and down the Columbia River and its tributaries, the Snake and Willamette Rivers.
The most common types of steamboats used in the 1850s were paddlewheel steamboats. The design of these passenger boats allowed for the rapid exploration of various areas of the Northwest, especially Oregon. Boats used included propeller, sidewheeler and sternwheelers. The latter were easier to maneuver through the winding rivers and could land nearly anywhere. For this reason, these boats became more dominate in the region.
Navigating these rivers and passageways was not easy. The rivers contained reefs, bars, strong currents and rapids. Since the early 19th century the rivers have added locks, but they are still very difficult to travel and are typically done so by experienced steamboat pilots.
There are very few steamboats still in existence that date back to this time. Operations in the area have slowed, since the advent of air travel. For those who wish to experience what hundreds of thousands of people did in the late 1850s, there are a few steamboat companies still offering tours.
Columbia River Cruise Options
There are only a handful of companies that currently offer steamboat passage through the Columbia River. The river’s difficult pathway makes it difficult for passage even today. However, some local organizations offer lunch and dinner cruises out of Portland, Oregon, but steamboat trips are rare. If you are looking to take a Columbia River steamboat ride consider the following options:
American West Steamboats
Those who wish to experience a paddlewheel-type steamboat trip down the Columbia River can contact American West Steamboats. The company has two ships in operation, the Queen of the West and the Empress of the North. Both are paddlewheel steamboats. Cruise highlights include:
- Eight-day trips along the Columbia River
- Passage on an authentic paddlewheel boat, which the company claims is the only paddlewheel in the country offering overnight accommodations
- Tours from Portland, Oregon, to Clarkston, Washington, via the Astoria, Rainer, Dalles, and Pendleton rivers
The trips allow passengers to explore deep river canyons while seeing snow-capped mountains in the distance. Guests will also see pristine, untouched wilderness, a remote desert and various waterfalls along the route. To learn more about available trips or to book online, visit Cruise Mates website.
Yet another option is Lindblad Expeditions. This cruise allows you to travel with historians and naturalists, who point out various features and historic regions of the Columbia River. The trip also offers a variety of sightseeing opportunities along the 1200-mile journey. Visitors travel from the mouth of the Columbia River inland towards Idaho.
Finding Steamboat Cruises
Finding a Columbia River steamboat cruise is more difficult than booking a trip along these rivers on more modern ships. Local companies may be available for shorter cruises, including day and evening cruises, through various portions of these rivers onboard ships similar to steamboats. However, your choices for overnight cruises on authentic steamboats are extremely limited.