Travel with AdventureSmith Specialist Arielle Lightcap aboard the 90-guest S.S. Legacy (now the 86-guest Wilderness Legacy) as she navigates the region’s diverse wineries and exciting whitewater on a Columbia River boat cruise.
This river cruise’s itinerary offered a little something for everyone.
Traveling to an exotic and faraway place might not always be feasible due to limited time away from life’s many obligations. This was the case for me, and I settled on the 8-day Rivers of Adventure cruise when looking at nearby, U.S.-based cruise options. Whether you are a history buff, an outdoorsy type or someone who likes to enjoy a glass of local wine, this itinerary offered a little something for everyone.
The cruise follows the Columbia and Snake Rivers, running from Portland, Oregon, to Clarkston, Washington, or reverse. With only domestic flights required to get to and from the embarkation and disembarkation cities, the travel required felt easy and familiar. Coming from Reno, Nevada, it only took two, quick hour-and-a-half flights to get to Lewiston, Idaho, the neighboring town to Clarkston, Washington. After landing in Lewiston at 11pm, I was able to easily call a taxi to take me to my hotel—no language barriers and no currency conversion calculating necessary.
Preparing to Embark My Columbia River Cruise
Spending the night at the ship’s hospitality hotel allowed for a full day of exploring Lewiston and Clarkston before embarking the S.S. Legacy on the afternoon of day 1. After having breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, I was able to access the ship’s hospitality suite where I met one of the expedition team members and had my bags tagged for the transfer to my cabin. In Clarkston, there is a pedestrian walking path along the river that leads into Lewiston for easy access to the neighboring town.
From the hospitality suite, it is a 20-minute walk to the Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum, which is a nice introduction to the history of the region. Visitors can walk through the museum on their own for as long as they’d like for a small fee of $4. In addition to the museum there is a local brewery and wine cellar within walking distance from the pier. At just after 3pm it was time to meet back at the hospitality suite for the transfer to the ship.
Meeting Our Ship: A Review of the S.S. Legacy
The S.S. Legacy’s resemblance to an early-twentieth-century steamship makes her a fitting choice for the river, but a distinguishing feature is that she is outfitted with kayaks, paddleboards and skiffs, allowing for a more activity-focused experience.
The bow viewing area was one of my favorite places to be, especially when we passed through the river’s many locks.
All cabins aboard the S.S. Legacy have private bathrooms and are equipped with a wardrobe, built-in drawers and enough space under the bed to stow your suitcase after unpacking. My cabin was a queen-bedded Master located on the Upper Deck. It opened to a wraparound walkway and was conveniently located near a stairwell that lead to the covered fitness area where morning yoga was offered each day. The Main, Lounge and Upper Decks are all accessible using the ship’s elevator, an uncommon feature among small ships. Only the Bridge Deck requires passengers to use a stairwell to get to it, but the two hot tubs located on the Bridge Deck are worth the walk. Each deck has an exterior viewing area, which allows for more places to take in the views. The bow viewing area on the Lounge Deck was one of my favorite places to be, especially when we passed through the river’s many locks.
Adding to the S.S. Legacy’s luxury were the well-crafted, plated meals. For early risers a light breakfast was available in the Lounge before the normal breakfast service began. Breakfast typically offered specialty omelets, but you could always opt for oatmeal and fruit if you wanted something lighter. During breakfast the ship’s chef would go over the lunch and dinner options so that the kitchen could prepare for the next meals while we were away on our excursions. You were never held to the choice you made during breakfast, so you could change your mind if you wanted to. At dinner time the expedition leader would go over the following day’s activity options and passengers would make their selections. Again, changing your mind was never a problem—total flexibility.
Choosing Our Daily River Adventures
Most days offered a morning and afternoon activity with alternative options for each so that passengers could make their selections based on their interests and ability levels. Our first full day was the exception to this with a jetboat ride into Hells Canyon. This would not have been something to miss even if other options were offered. While the day was mostly sedentary, the scenery was amazing and there was no other way to explore such a distance without the use of the jetboat.
Along the 55-mile journey down the Snake River, we saw bald eagles, mule deer and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
Along the 55-mile journey down the Snake River, we saw bald eagles, mule deer and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. With a top speed of 35 miles per hour, the boat was able to swiftly pass over the rapids with little disturbance to the passengers on board. The day was broken up with a stop at a nature conservancy where we were served lunch and could walk though the apple and pear trees while following a charismatic group of wild turkeys.
Once back aboard the S.S. Legacy we were joined by a community member of the Nez Perce Native American tribe. Through stories and music, we learned about the history of these early settlers to the region. The day ended with the S.S. Legacy passing through the first of eight locks we would encounter along our voyage. To see this feat of engineering was truly impressive and quickly became a highlight of the trip for me.
The days that followed allowed for more flexibility in activities. My favorite day in terms of active adventure was the day we hiked the Rowena Plateau and biked the Twin Tunnels scenic highway. The morning hike offered three options: a two-mile walk along the top of the plateau, a steep three-mile hike to a viewpoint or a combination of both for a five-mile hike. The hike to the top was a steep one-and-a-half miles, but the views were worth the push. We were fortunate to have a clear enough day to take in the views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood from the top of the crest.
In the afternoon we arrived at the town of Hood River where we could choose from walking and shopping in town, or a guided bike ride along a pedestrian-only walking path. I chose to bike in order to keep the day active. The path was a combination of ups and downs, but you could ride at your own pace. Every corner we turned offered new views of the gorge and the mighty Columbia below. After our ride, we still had time to stop in town for some craft beer and window shopping.
As we paddled, our naturalist guide explained the influence the Missoula Floods had in shaping the region and she pointed out the various bird species that soared overhead, including red-tailed hawks and American kestrels.
In addition to hiking and biking we also had opportunities to kayak and sample wine at local vineyards. After a morning hike in the scenic Palouse Falls State Park, we returned to the S.S. Legacy for lunch and then a kayaking excursion on the Palouse River. A skiff ride was available to anyone who preferred not to paddle. Getting in and out of the kayaks is made easy with the S.S. Legacy’s custom-made launch vessel, the Sea Dragon, which added to the many comforts of this ship.
The river was very mellow with really no current, so navigating was easy even for inexperienced kayakers. As we paddled, our naturalist guide explained the influence the Missoula Floods had in shaping the region and she pointed out the various bird species that soared overhead, which included red-tailed hawks and American kestrels.
If hiking, biking or wine tasting isn’t your thing, have no fear, this trip also includes optional museum and dam tours throughout the journey. In Richland, Washington, passengers could opt for a visit to the Hanford Reach Interpretive Museum to learn the story of the Hanford Site’s early days, a decommissioned nuclear production complex, and its role in the Manhattan Project. In Hood River, Oregon, a tour of The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum was available in lieu of the Twin Tunnels biking activity and self-guided city tour. Towards the end of our voyage we had an opportunity to tour Bonneville Dam, a national historic landmark and the first of eight federal locks and dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I recommend a combination of the museum stops with the more active activity options to get the most out of the trip.
Ship & Bike-Accessed Wine Tours & Tastings
Later in the week we visited the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, stopping at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard. During a tour of their expansive vineyards and impressive processing facility and wine cellar, we learned about the environmental influences that make the grapes at Terra Blanca so special—the harsh dry climate (only six inches of rain per year); the wind, which constantly replenishes the top soil; the calcium carbonate-rich soil; and again the Missoula Floods.
We sampled eight different varietals while our local guide shared the history of how Terra Blanca Winery came to be.
After the tour it was time to taste the wines. We sampled eight different varietals while our local guide shared the history of how Terra Blanca came to be. After the tasting there was time to order bottles to be shipped home and sample more wines in the tasting room. To round out the day, our onboard historian presented the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition and how it brought national awareness of this unknown region to the rest of America in the early 1800s.
During our last full day aboard the S.S. Legacy we had a chance to combine a biking excursion with some wine tasting—a truly unique way to experience the Hood River Valley. This happened to be the first rainy day of the trip, but that didn’t discourage us. As we approached the Cascade Range, the rain shadow began to diminish, making this section of the Columbia much wetter than the eastern region we started in. Knowing this helped me come prepared with a rain jacket and a pair of water-resistant pants. Because of the rain, some chose to take the shuttle between wineries. Those of us on bikes saddled up and started our adventure pedaling through apple and pear trees and of course grapevines.
It was nice to see the contrast of a major wine producer and a smaller mom-and-pop-style vineyard.
The distance to the first stop was just under five miles along a mostly flat paved road. We stopped at Gorge White House Cider first—delicious cider! Here we could sample a flight or buy by the glass. Back on our bikes, we went to Packer Farm where we could purchase specialty made jams and treats to take home. Another four miles brought us back to where we started at Wy’East Winery and Vineyard where we toured their winemaking facility, which was much more primitive compared to Terra Blanca, and sampled six different wines. It was nice to see the contrast of a major wine producer and a smaller mom-and-pop-style vineyard. After our adventures in Hood River, we gathered back aboard the ship for one final dinner and a slideshow presentation of photos our guides had taken throughout the week.
Idaho, Washington & Oregon – A Cruise to See It All
Waking up in Portland, Oregon, signaled the end of my journey on the river. After one final meal it was time to disembark in the City of Roses. Over the course of the week we traveled within Idaho, Washington and Oregon in regions of the states I had never visited before.
Being aboard the S.S. Legacy made seeing new places easy and convenient, and with the knowledge and coordination of the expedition team, all logistics were handled perfectly.
Being aboard the S.S. Legacy made seeing these new places easy and more convenient than staying in different hotels along the way. With the knowledge and coordination of the expedition team, all logistics were handled perfectly. The only decision I had to make was which activities I wanted to participate in and which entrée I wanted for dinner (sometimes I chose both).
When you find that your vacation time is limited, consider taking in the dramatic scenery, rich history and unique activity options offered right here in the U.S. on this Columbia River cruise.
For more photos from this trip, including bighorn sheep and waterfalls, view my Facebook album on AdventureSmith Explorations’ Facebook page.
This review of a Pacific Northwest cruise along the Columbia River was written by an AdventureSmith Explorations crew member. Read all AdventureSmith Expert Reviews for more trip reports. Contact one of our Adventure Specialists to learn more about our small ship cruises and wilderness adventures: 1-800-728-2875.