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Explore America’s Most Iconic Waterways With the 5 Best U.S. River Cruises

Discover natural and cultural treasures close to home.

riverboat trips in usa

You don't need to fly to Europe for a river cruise, with new ships and routes creating even more options right here in the United States. Some of the most scenic itineraries traverse the Mississippi, Hudson, Columbia, and Snake rivers, showcasing natural, cultural, and historical attractions along the way. Passengers can visit wineries in Washington, taste Creole cuisine in New Orleans, or learn about the Siege of Vicksburg right where it happened.

On these voyages, you'll sail with anywhere from 100 to 400 other guests aboard either modern riverboats or classic paddle wheelers that hearken back to a different time. Like their European counterparts, river cruises in the U.S. typically package everything at a single price, including staterooms, meals, guest lectures and enrichment programs, entertainment, and most shore excursions. Some even include pre-cruise hotel stays.

Here are five river cruises that will show you the U.S. in a whole new light.

American Cruise Lines’ Music Cities Cruise from Memphis to Nashville

It's hard to choose from American Cruise Lines' 35 itineraries. For arts and culture lovers, the eight-day Music Cities Cruise along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Cumberland rivers presents an opportunity to visit several charming cities and towns in the South. The itinerary is offered on four different 180-passenger ships, including the American Serenade and the classic American Splendor paddle wheeler.

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

The voyage begins in Memphis, where passengers can visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, take in a show at one of the nightclubs along legendary Beale Street, or tour Elvis Presley's mansion, Graceland. After a day of cruising, the ship stops at Paducah, Kentucky, where you can admire the more than 50 murals on the floodwall along Water Street before exploring the National Quilt Museum. The next day, the ship travels through the Barkley Lock and past the stunning coves and limestone bluffs of the Cumberland River's Lake Barkley– a view best enjoyed from the balcony of your stateroom. In Dover, Tennessee, guests visit historic Fort Donelson National Park and learn about the garrison's role during the Civil War. The next day, passengers can tour the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center and Fort Defiance in Clarksville, Tennessee, and cap off the experience with a whiskey tasting at Old Glory Distilling Co. The voyage ends in Nashville, where you can stroll along historic Lower Broadway, visit museums dedicated to Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, and take in a Grand Ole Opry show. 

American Queen Voyages' Upper Mississippi Cruise from St. Louis to Minneapolis

History buffs will love this nine-day cruise along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers aboard American Queen Voyages' 245-passenger American Countess paddle wheeler. The itinerary offers guests a chance to explore the idyllic river towns that inspired the Father of American Literature.

After departing St. Louis, the cruise arrives in Alton, Illinois, where guests can play golf on championship courses, explore the National Great Rivers Museum , or just stroll around the town's historic districts. Day three brings passengers further upriver to Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, from which the author drew inspiration for several of his novels. On day four, the ship stops at Bettendorf, Iowa, for a hop-on hop-off tour of museums, artist studios, the German American Heritage Center , and the Quad City Botanical Center . In Dubuque, Iowa, guests can take a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator, billed as "the world's steepest, shortest scenic railway". Day nine, finds the the ship at La Crosse, Wisconsin, famous for its rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas. The final port is Red Wing, Minnesota, home to beautifully preserved artisan workshops, factories, and pioneer-era architecture. After disembarking, passengers can explore nearby Minneapolis before going home.

American Cruise Lines’ Hudson River Fall Foliage Cruise

This eight-day fall foliage-themed cruise takes leaf peeping to a new level. The round-trip voyage out of New York City takes nature lovers through the heart of the Hudson Valley  –  swathed every fall in a blanket of bright orange, red, and yellow. Whether you sail on the classic 48-stateroom American Star or the 100-passenger American Eagle , you'll enjoy a stunning display of colors from the comfort of your balcony. On shore, you’ll have the opportunity to hike to the highest waterfall in the Empire State , walk across the longest pedestrian bridge in the world , and visit the homes of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park and author Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow.

Viking Cruises’ New Orleans & Southern Charms Lower Mississippi Cruise

This eight-day round-trip cruise takes in historic estates, military sites, and comunities bursting with Cajun and Creole culture. After departing New Orleans, the Viking Mississippi stops in the Louisiana towns of Darrow and St. Francisville, which boast Greek Revival mansions, Spanish moss-draped avenues, and even a haunted house . Day four brings travelers to the oldest city on the river, Natchez, Mississippi, home to a rich African American heritage . The next day, guests can learn about one of the most consequential battles of the Civil War at Vicksburg National Military Park before setting sail for the vibrant capital city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The ship then returns to New Orleans, where guests can stay longer or catch a flight home.

Courtesy of Viking

UnCruise Adventures’ Rivers of Adventure & Wine Columbia and Snake River Cruise

Spotting wildlife and sipping wine go hand-in-hand on this UnCruise Adventures expedition around the Pacific Northwest. The seven-night round-trip journey from Portland isn't your typical leisure cruise. Instead, passengers get to go on rainforest hikes, rafting adventures, winery visits, and scenic kayaking excursions through dramatic canyons.

After the champagne departure from Portland and a stop at Astoria, Oregon, the ship passes through the Columbia River Gorge. Passengers can disembark for a guided hike, then return for a wine tasting with the ship's sommelier. The gourmand adventures continue with an excursion to Walla Walla, Washington, which includes visits to olive oil makers, chocolatiers, and family-owned wine cellars. Day five begins at the mouth of the Palouse River, where guests can kayak or paddleboard. The next day, passengers can visit Columbia Hills State Park and Rowena Plateau on foot or by skiff boat while enjoying river dips, farm-to-fork delights, and a wine tour and tasting. Guests then disembark at The Dalles, Oregon, for whitewater rafting or a relaxing winery tour. The adventure ends with a farewell dinner back at Portland.

United States River Cruises

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  • United States

America’s Great River

  • Explore St. Louis' arts scene
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Heart of the Delta

  • Enjoy the music of Memphis
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New Orleans & Southern Charms

  • Enjoy Cajun and Creole cuisine
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America’s Heartland

  • Discover history of the Mississippi
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Columbia and Snake Rivers Journey

  • Bike or walk along the river
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Columbia and Snake Rivers: Food, Wine, and History

  • Trek up the iconic Beacon Rock

United States Travel Guide

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  • Best Time to Cruise East Coast of US
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USA River Cruises

Find a River Cruise that explores USA. There are 11 cruises to choose from, that range in length from 8 days up to 15 days. The most popular month for these cruises is March, which has the most tour departures. Considering other destinations? Check out all river cruise tours .

11 river cruises through USA with reviews

The Rhine & Moselle with 2 Nights in Lucerne for Wine Lovers (Northbound) Tour

The Rhine & Moselle with 2 Nights in Lucerne for Wine Lovers (Northbound)

Alaska Discovery Land & Cruise featuring a 7-night Holland America Cruise (Fairbanks, AK to Vancouver, BC) (2025) Tour

  • River Cruise

Alaska Discovery Land & Cruise featuring a 7-night Holland America Cruise (Fairbanks, AK to Vancouver, BC) (2025)

Heart of the Delta New Orleans, Louisiana to Memphis, Tennessee Tour

Heart of the Delta New Orleans, Louisiana to Memphis, Tennessee

Heart of the Delta Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana Tour

Heart of the Delta Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans & Southern Charms Tour

  • Christmas & New Year

New Orleans & Southern Charms

America\'s Great River St Paul, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana Tour

America's Great River St Paul, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana

Mississippi Holiday Season New Orleans, Louisiana to Memphis, Tennessee Tour

Mississippi Holiday Season New Orleans, Louisiana to Memphis, Tennessee

America\'s Heartland St Paul, Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri (Alton) Tour

America's Heartland St Paul, Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri (Alton)

America\'s Heartland St. Louis, Missouri (Alton) to St Paul, Minnesota Tour

America's Heartland St. Louis, Missouri (Alton) to St Paul, Minnesota

America\'s Great River New Orleans, Louisiana to St Paul, Minnesota Tour

America's Great River New Orleans, Louisiana to St Paul, Minnesota

Natural Wonders of Alaska  (2023) Tour

Natural Wonders of Alaska  (2023)

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Regions in USA

Popular cruise ships.

  • Viking Mississippi from Viking Cruises
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  • 10 Best River Cruise Companies (with Reviews)
  • USA Travel Guide | All You Need to Know
  • 10 Best Backpacking Tours & Trips 2024/2025
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  • Best Time to Visit the West Coast, USA in 2024/2025 (with California)
  • Best USA Vacation Spots for Couples: Parks, Cities and more
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International Versions

  • Deutsch: Flusskreuzfahrt USA
  • Français: Circuits Croisière fluviale aux États-Unis 2024/2025
  • Español: Crucero fluvial Circuitos en los Estados Unidos (EUA)
  • Nederlands: Riviercruise Rondreizen in de USA

The Fairytale Traveler

5 Incredible US Riverboat Tours to Explore This Summer

riverboat tours

United States Riverboat Tours to Explore This Summer

Ahoy, adventure seekers! Are you ready to set sail on an unforgettable journey through the heart of America? If you’re yearning for a unique and enchanting experience, look no further than the delightful world of riverboat tours in the US.

Step aboard, feel the vessel’s gentle sway and let the paddlewheels’ rhythmic chugging transport you back to a bygone era of elegance and exploration as you immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of American history by exploring United States riverboat tours.

From the mighty Mississippi River, flowing gracefully through the heartland, to the charming rivers of New England, each region offers its captivating allure.

Riverboat tours are great for two types of travelers: those who prefer not to fly and those who fear the open ocean. Not only do riverboat tours take passengers to wild areas that don’t usually make it onto an itinerary, but most tours also include a range of off-boat activities.

Around the world, riverboat cruises are popular for those looking to try something new. Europe , in particular, offers high-class options in some of the world’s most historical and breathtaking landscapes. Most come with specialized culinary menus and daily outings.

As you embark on a riverboat tour, be prepared to be greeted by a warm and hospitable crew eager to share their passion for the waterways and the tales they hold. The friendly atmosphere onboard creates a sense of camaraderie among fellow travelers, fostering new friendships and treasured memories.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking an escape from the mundane, riverboat tours offer many experiences to cater to all interests. Delve into the pages of the past with narrated tours that bring history to life, featuring iconic landmarks and charming towns along the riverbanks.

riverboat tours

United States Riverboat Tours

Natchez, new orleans – new orleans steamboat company.

The Natchez offers visitors to New Orleans a unique way to learn about local history and culture. The tour only lasts two hours, which means it’s a great way to supplement a stopover in New Orleans.

The steamboat is refinished with its historical character in mind , which adds to the tour. There are live narrations for visitors to follow along and plenty of soft jazz playing in the background.

Natchez steamboat on the Mississippi River

American Empress, Columbia & Snake River Cruises – American Queen Steamboat Company

Located on a luxury vessel (the largest west of the Mississippi), passengers will be treated equally to stunning views of the Pacific Northwest, as well as one of the finest luxury riverboats in the US. Those booking a package can also look into city stopovers (Portland and Spokane) and winery visits.

The American Empress is also visually stunning, retaining the bright red paddlewheel. Inside, décor reflects local Pacific Northwestern culture and 19 th -century Russian themes.

matt barton uo219k4ZzdA unsplash

Wilderness Adventurer, Alaska – Uncruise

Uncruise offers unique and highly rated riverboat tours all around the world, but their Alaska Cruise has the most variations and unique outing opportunities. In fact, those looking for a strict riverboat adventure may find that Uncruise offers too little time on board.

Their Alaska Cruise comes bundled with polar plunges, National Park outings, hiking, paddling, and plenty of close encounters with whales. The lucky few will even be treated to a peek at the Aurora Borealis.


American Constitution, New England Tour – American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines runs some of the best riverboat tours in the US—however, most of their tours include plenty of time along the coast. The company’s New England Tour is ideal for those with an interest in history, though there’s also a strong emphasis on highlighting natural wonders.

Those with a hankering for seafood will also have the opportunity to sample famous courses. Visitors who are looking for Maine lobster can check out the company’s Maine Coast and Harbors Cruise, which sees passengers around Penobscot Bay, where the famous invertebrates are from.

mercedes mehling 7I9aCavB8RI unsplash

Special Edition: Everglades Fanboat Tour

This isn’t technically a riverboat tour—it’s a fan boat experience, and it takes place on a 100-mile stretch of wetlands. The Everglades is one of the world’s most unique ecosystems, home to alligators, flamingos, and everything in between.

Most airboat tours take you on a journey down the canal and through Everglades National Park, where you will have plenty of photo ops with animals in both the air and water.

Exciting options abound throughout the southern Florida area, so be sure to choose a package that fits your needs. Most can be accessed from hubs like Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The Florida Everglades is a must-see for anyone looking to experience a dynamic, ever-changing landscape that is abundant in both flora and fauna—and has the distinction of being the biggest subtropical wilderness area in the country .

Home to many species that can’t be seen anywhere else, the Everglades also boasts many popular tourist activities and unique ways to explore this diverse and beautiful wetland area.

One of the best ways to explore the Everglades is by airboat, a safe and immersive experience that lets you see all this amazing area has to offer. Here’s what to expect if you book an airboat tour on your next trip.

As you disembark from your floating home, you carry a treasure trove of memories that will forever be etched in your heart. The camaraderie fostered among fellow travelers, the warmth of the crew, and the stories that unfold along the way will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Witness the grandeur of mighty rivers and the tranquility of serene creeks, and discover the hidden gems that make each journey unique.

So, why wait any longer? It’s time to hoist the anchor, raise the paddlewheels, and set course for a remarkable adventure!

Join the ranks of intrepid explorers who have cherished the charm and allure of United States riverboat tours. Let the gentle currents guide you as you uncover the hidden treasures that await and create memories that will last a lifetime.

It’s time to experience United States riverboat tours! Bon voyage!

Courtney is a blogger who focuses on ADHD wellness, parenting, and women's lifestyle content. She is a single mother who enjoys music, painting, writing, and hiking in her beautiful home state of Georgia.

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The 11 Best Wild and Scenic River Trips in America

Some of the best wilderness in the country has no trail at all. grab a paddle and get ready for the ultimate summer on the water with these 11 trips down national wild and scenic rivers..

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! >","name":"in-content-cta","type":"link"}}'>Download the app .

Lower Klamath River

Congress established National Wild and Scenic Rivers in 1968. The designation applies to waterways that “possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values,” and stipulates that they “be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Today, there are 12,347 protected miles on 208 rivers in 40 states. Explore your aquatic heritage, starting with these 11 floats, which range from easy paddles to whitewater.

Klamath River, California

Length 286 miles Designated 1981

The ingredients for a perfect family river trip: warm water, exciting rapids, bald eagles, and waterfront camps where the fire’s sparks mingle with the stars. While the upper section of the 286-mile Klamath roils out of Oregon with Class IV power, the Lower K has a mellower pace that’s fit for an introductory rafting trip. From the put-in at Happy Camp, dip paddles into the 70°F water (average August temperature) and head west, keeping an eye on the sky for raptors, the water for otters, and the banks for black bears. One thing you won’t find: boredom. The 20-mile trip has jumping rocks and riffles aplenty, and Class II/III Savage Rapid offers up a kid-size portion of whitewater. And should you need some ideas for campfire stories, the Bigfoot Trail runs through these same Klamath mountains.

Klamath River Trip Planner 

Permit None Season April to August Put-in Sluice Box Take-out Happy Creek Outfitter   oars.com

Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Maine

Length 92.5 miles Designated 1970

The 92.5 miles of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams in the blueberry- and bear-filled North Maine Woods are as iconic a canoe setting as you’ll find in the U.S. Tackle a six-day, 62-mile trip from Churchill Dam to Allagash Village , which includes lakes, Class II rapids, and a .3-mile, mandatory portage around 40-foot Allagash Falls. By day, look for moose, eagles, and common terns beyond your gunwales, as well as Katahdin poking out above the mixed-forest canopy. By night, camp at any of the 40 named sites while loon calls serenade you to sleep. Best bet: Hit the water in September, when the fall colors from red maple and quaking aspen stand out against the deep greens of mixed firs.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway Trip Planner

Permit Required ($13 for nonresidents)  Season May to September Put-in Churchill Dam Take-out Allagash Village Outfitter 

Paddlers on the Lower Klamath

Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho

Length 104 miles Designated 1968

With rapids as big as the wilderness they pass through, the 104 miles of the Middle Fork of the Salmon through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness top just about every thrill-seeking rafter’s bucket list. That makes permits a tough get during the lottery window. Better bet: Wait until late summer, when crowds subside and trout are chunking up for the winter. Best part? Hot springs at camp all eight nights. Don’t miss Hospital Bar (mile 53), where a 115°F spring bubbles up into a pool so close to the river you can cast a fly while you soak.

Middle Fork of the Salmon Trip Planner

Permit Required ($10 + $4/person per day); lottery for May 23 to Sept. 3 Season May to September Put-in Boundary Creek Take-out Cache Bar Outfitter blackadarboating.com

John Day River, Oregon

Length 147.5 miles Designated 1988

This is as close as it gets to a relaxed cruise through big Western terrain. The John Day , the third-longest undammed river in the Lower 48, passes through a volcanic wonderland of black, basalt gorges and colorful, fossil-filled ash deposits. For the most part, the lower section ambles along leisurely, letting you relax, take in the scenery, and birdwatch as you drift downstream. The 70 miles from Clarno to Cottonwood are mostly Class I /II, but Class III/IV Clarno Rapids lurks around mile 5 (scout from river left; portage if you need to). Below that is smooth sailing through 1,200-foot-deep canyons and rolling, grassy hillsides at a soporific pace. Target stands of junipers to camp in the shade and look for mule deer, river otters, golden eagles, and red-tailed hawks.

John Day River Trip Planner 

Permit Required ($20/group); reserve ahead May 20 to July 10; Season April to June Put-in Clarno Take-out Cottonwood Bridge Outfitter servicecreek.com

Missouri River

Missouri River, Montana

Length 149 miles Designated 1976

When Lewis and Clark floated the Missouri on their westward journey, they saw a landscape unmarred by human industry. The river left its mark on the party: “As we passed on, it seemed those [scenes] of visionary [enchantment] would never have an end,” Lewis wrote in 1805. You won’t regret the 10 days it takes to run the entire 149 miles, but if you don’t have an expedition-length vacation, hit the three-day, 47-mile stretch from Coal Banks to Judith Landing. There, the water courses through an 800-foot-deep canyon of white eagle sandstone, flows across the plains, and threads through layer-cake badlands within Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Camping is plentiful in designated sites, including three Lewis and Clark campsites and historic Blackfeet and Flathead tribal sites with petroglyphs.

Missouri River Trip Planner

Permit Required ($4/adult per day) Season May to September Put-in Coal Banks Take-out Judith Landing Outfitter adventureboundcanoe.com

Santa Elena Canyon, Rio Grande

Rio Grande, Texas

Length 191.2 miles Designated 1978

Desert dwellers like others to think their stomping grounds are too arid and desolate for the rest of us to enjoy. Don’t be fooled. From open, cactus-filled Chihuahuan landscapes to tight, twisty canyons and shady arroyo side hikes, this 20-mile overnight through Santa Elena Canyon offers a sampler of the Rio Grande ’s best scenery. It’s also pretty picante: At mile 15, you’ll run Rockslide Rapid, which can reach Class IV in flows approaching 1,200 cfs (scout river right; there’s no portage option). When your heart rate settles, scan the skies for nose-diving peregrine falcons and the riverbanks for coyotes and wild burros. As you travel, look for grinding holes and petroglyphs from former Native American encampments. Camp on sandbars.

Rio Grande Trip Planner

Permits Required ($12); obtain in person at visitor centers. Season Year-round, but flows peak in August Put-in Lajitas Take-out Santa Elena Canyon Outfitter bigbendrivertours.com

Chattooga River, Georgia

Length 58.7 miles Designated 1974

Fans of Deliverance will be disappointed to learn that the Chattooga River, where the film was set, is not nearly as dangerous as the 1972 classic suggests. Fans of world-class river trips will not. While the rain-fed Chattooga serves up rapids from Class I to Class V, the best intermediate-friendly, two-day trip combines Sections 2 and 3 for a 20 miler that gets sportier the farther you go. The crux is Bull Sluice, a Class IV+ rapid toward the end (beware flows above 2.5 feet on the Clayton gauge). You’ll be immersed in Southeast scenery as you pass through Sumter National Forest’s mountainous woodland of red and white oak, birch magnolia, and mountain laurel—the latter reaches its peak kaleidoscope bloom in June.

Chattooga River Trip Planner

Permit Self-register at put-in. Season Year-round, but best April to September Put-in GA 28 Take-out US 76 Outfitter chattoogawhitewatershop.com

Loxahatchee River, Florida

Loxahatchee River, Florida

Length 7.6 miles Designated 1985

The 8.5-mile day trip down this waterway will have you J-stroking in Jurassic Park as it meanders through a primordial swamp filled with centuries-old cypress, ferns, orchids, palms, and mangroves. While you won’t see any velociraptors, you’ll find plenty of their contemporaries: Sunning alligators often line the shores and slip into the water as you paddle by. (Encounters between boaters and alligators are rare, but keep your feet and hands in the boat, and never feed or harass them.) Head downstream from Riverbend Park to Jonathan Dickinson State Park with a prearranged shuttle, or paddle out and back from either of the two (the current is gentle enough to paddle against). The serpentine upper stretch is beginner-friendly, but involves two short portages around dams (or slide over them if going west to east). In Jonathan Dickinson State Park, the river widens into a mangrove-gnarled estuary.

Loxahatchee River Trip Planner

Permit None Season Year-round Put-in/take-out Riverbend Park or Jonathan Dickinson State Park Outfitter canoeoutfittersofflorida.com

Noatak River, Alaska

Length 330 miles Designated 1980

No, it’s not easy to pull off an epic paddle trip in Alaska. Yes, it’s worth it. In June, way up in the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve , the 259,000 members of the Western Arctic caribou herd make their northward journey to their calving grounds, following the river for a portion of it. The best section of the gentle, 400-mile Noatak carves a 45-mile swath through the Brooks Range from Twelve Mile Slough to Lake Matcharak. Load crafts (inflatables are easiest to transport) into a floatplane in Bettles and fly over the granite spires of the Endicott Mountains to the slough near 8,510-foot Mt. Igikpak, where a 200-yard trail leads to the river. The waterway’s gentle gradient affords time to take in the surrounding Endicott and Schwatka Mountains and to scan the tundra benches for Alaska’s A-listers: wolves, Dall sheep, and grizzlies. Run it in June for your best shot at seeing the caribou migration, or in September for fall colors, ripe blueberries, and the aurora borealis.

Noatak River Trip Planner

Permit None Season June to September Put-in Twelve Mile Slough Take-out Lake Matcharak Outfitter arcticwild.com

Tuolumne River

Tuolumne River, California

Length 83 miles Designated 1984

For paddlers with solid whitewater chops, the Tuolumne offers thrills aplenty. The 18-mile canyon teems with Class III to V pool-drop rapids, interspersed with just enough moments of calm to let you catch your breath. Take two or three days to camp on sandy beaches, fish clear pools, and hike up side creeks. Put-in below Hetch Hetchy, and negotiate Class IV Rock Garden and Nemesis rapids in the first .5 mile. At mile 5.4, land your craft at Clavey River and grab your fishing rod to try for native coastal rainbow trout or take a dip. Just below lies Class V Clavey Falls, which requires punching through two giant hydraulic holes (or portage on river right). From here, the river calms down, with jumping rocks, swimming pools, and easier rapids before ramping back up to a Class IV per mile in the final 5 to the take-out.

Tuolumne River Trip Planner 

Permit Required ($15) May 1 to Oct. 1; Season May to September Put-in Meral’s Pool Take-out Ward’s Ferry Outfitter californiawhitewater.com

Buffalo river

Buffalo River, Arkansas 

Length 15.8 miles Designated 1992

Arkansas’s paddling options are outnumbered only by its crawfish, and the Buffalo River is the state’s heart and soul. The undammed waterway sinks hundreds of feet below the rim of limestone bluffs as it flows through the Ozarks’ forested hills. Plan a mellow weekend in the 24 miles from Ponca to Pruitt, where calm waters encourage swim stops, beaches and gravel bars invite picnics, and the waterway passes beneath 550-foot-tall Big Bluff, the tallest cliff between the Rockies and Appalachians. Beach your boat for the side hike to Indian Rockhouse, a massive but shallow cave where Native Americans once sheltered. If you catch rain on your trip, add the 20-minute walk to Hemmed-In-Hollow Falls, which cascades 209 feet—the tallest waterfall in the Midwest.

Buffalo River Trip Planner 

Permit None Season April to September Put-in AR 74 Take-out AR 7 Outfitter buffaloriver.com


Master Paddling a Canoe

Learn these basic canoe techniques to move well on the river.

Forward stroke WHAT: Conserve energy so you can paddle all day. HOW: Keep your paddle close to the boat (about 6 inches away). Dip the full blade of the paddle straight in and draw it straight back. Use your back and core, rather than just your shoulders. Swivel your torso slightly toward the paddle to further reduce fatigue.

J-stroke WHAT: Add a twist of the paddle to keep your canoe tracking straight. HOW: Start like a forward stroke, but twist the paddle gradually to turn your blade away from the canoe at the end of the stroke.

Sweep stroke WHAT: Change directions at speed. HOW: Pull the paddle in a C-shaped motion (the paddle head is farthest from you in the middle of the stroke) to propel yourself forward while turning. Do it in reverse to slow down while turning. ~Spencer Cox

pack a canoe

How to Pack a Canoe

Stow gear right to maximize space and stability.

1. Balance the load. Put lighter items in the front and back of the boat, reserving the middle for heavier gear (which boosts stability) and ensuring items are balanced left to right. Use small drybags: It’s easier to fit them snugly around each other to fill empty space.

2. Keep air in your drybags. Maintain a little dead space in your bags and lash them below the inside edges of your boat. That way, they’ll lend some extra buoyancy in a capsize and will be easier to salvage if they break loose.

3. Bring a bail bucket. Cut the bottom off of a gallon-size plastic jug (keep the cap) so you can hold the handle and use it as a scoop. When possible, do this between rapids to hit the next set without water weight sloshing around and hindering balance. ~Ryan Wichelns

Downstream V

How to Read a River

Follow these signs for safe passage.

Downstream V: This feature generally denotes a good path through rough water. Look for lines in the river that form a “V” shape with the wider part closer to you and narrowing downriver.

Upstream V: These are the exact opposite, with the point of the V shape closer to you. An upstream V usually indicates water flowing around a rock or other hazard. Steer clear.

Holes: Water flowing rapidly over a submerged rock results in a frothy area of rough water just behind the obstacle. The force can flip canoes and drag swimmers under. Paddle hard and keep your boat straight if one grabs you; if in the water, swim to the side. Last resort: Ball up and hope the current flushes you out.

Color bands: Areas of water with slightly different colors parallel to each other indicate variable flows. Straight rivers tend to flow fastest in the center, while curving rivers flow fastest along the outside of a bend. Look downstream, and avoid entering faster bands that could force you into obstacles. Follow these signs for safe passage. ~Spencer Cox

Buy the Right Paddling Gear First

A great trip starts with great gear. Find boats, paddles, PFDs, and other water gear for any trip in our collection of paddling gear reviews .

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Mississippi river cruises.

Stretching for 2,350 miles down the United States, from Minnesota's Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, our new cruises on the "Mighty Mississippi" offer a different type of cross-country journey for the curious explorer—one that allows you to be immersed in American history and culture.

Step on board the newest and most modern ship on the Mississippi with all outside staterooms, private verandas, spacious public areas and our signature, clean Scandinavian design, reimagined for the Mississippi River.

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Heart of the Delta

New orleans, louisiana to memphis, tennessee, reduced cruise & airfares | $25 deposit.

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St. louis, missouri to twin cities, minnesota.

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New orleans, louisiana to new orleans, louisiana.

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St. paul, minnesota to new orleans, louisiana.

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Memphis, tennessee to st. paul, minnesota.

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New orleans, louisiana to st. paul, minnesota, free roundtrip airfare* & reduced cruise fares | $25 deposit.

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New orleans, louisiana to st. louis (alton), missouri.

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New orleans, louisiana to red wing, minnesota, highlights of mississippi river cruises.

A Mississippi River cruise offers the rare opportunity to sail through America's heartland on the world’s #1 river cruise line. Explore picturesque towns and boom cities; take in views of pastoral farms and towering bluffs; and immerse yourself in the region's rich history and culture with an included excursion in every port. Here are a few highlights Viking reveals to you:

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The 9 top river cruise lines for 2024.

Sail through Europe, Asia, the U.S. and more on one of these exquisite river cruise lines.

The Top River Cruise Lines

Top River Cruises

Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Not one for the high seas? Explore the world along its rivers instead.

If you'd like to take a cruise but aren't interested in the hustle and bustle of a massive ocean liner, consider a river cruise. River cruises offer the chance to visit lesser-known ports around the world, thanks to the small size and maneuverability of the vessels. These sailings are known to provide exceptional, personalized service, as most welcome fewer than 200 guests at a time. On top of that, you'll spend the majority of your trip exploring a different port each day, as most destinations along the waterways are fairly close together.

Read on to discover the best river cruise lines around the world, with details about where they sail, the number of passengers you can expect onboard, a snapshot of amenities and experiences, and sentiment from recent travelers.

Viking River Cruises

Uniworld boutique river cruises, american cruise lines, amawaterways, avalon waterways, emerald cruises.

  • Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

CroisiEurope Cruises

Viking Longship Idun on the Main River in front of Johannisburg Palace, Aschaffenburg, Germany.

Number of passengers: 75 to 250 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, U.S.

Viking's 60-plus ships – known as longships – traverse major rivers across Europe, including the Danube , the Rhine, the Douro and more. Other popular routes sail Egypt's Nile River as well as the Mississippi River , and newer options include a series of Great Lakes itineraries.

What to expect: Travelers may be familiar with Viking Ocean Cruises , which operates larger ocean voyages with an emphasis on opulent accommodations and diverse enrichment activities. Viking's river cruises follow a similar road map, with meals, daily walking tours and Wi-Fi access (where applicable) included in the base fare. Other amenities and activities span guest lectures, cooking demonstrations, musical performances, libraries, outdoor decks and more. Select Viking riverboats are also equipped with swimming pools, while cabins feature minibars, premium toiletries, purified water and TVs.

On board, you can expect to find mostly English-speaking passengers. Viking's price point generally attracts older crowds in the 55-plus age group, and travelers must be at least 18 years old to cruise on the line.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers thoroughly enjoyed their experience with Viking, praising the scenic shore excursions, top-notch service and comfortable rooms. Some, however, expressed disappointment with the service as well as the food.

Book a Viking River Cruise on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.

Pool and pool chairs on a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises ship.

Courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Number of passengers: 32 to 159 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Uniworld offers luxurious sailings in historic cities across central Europe, France , Italy , Portugal , India, Egypt and Peru.

What to expect: Its 17 ships aim to create the feel of a boutique hotel with stylish decor, antique artwork and specialty restaurants. The ships hold an average capacity of 120 cruisers, and the company boasts one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry: about one crew member for every two travelers.

Stateroom amenities vary by vessel but may include marble bathrooms, Egyptian cotton linens, French balconies, iPod docking stations, Nespresso coffee machines, rainfall showers and more. The line's all-inclusive rates cover meals, alcoholic beverages, select excursions, gratuities, onboard fitness classes and Wi-Fi access, on top of entertainment and enrichment classes. Uniworld prides itself on its top-notch cuisine, which is made with local ingredients sourced from the ports on your itinerary and also includes vegetarian and vegan options.

Uniworld's typical clientele tend to be in their 50s or 60s and reside in North America, the U.K. and Australia . The river cruise line has select itineraries aimed at families, LGBTQ cruisers and solo travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers offered abundant praise for Uniworld's voyages, complimenting the stylish accommodations, attentive staff and fascinating excursions. Though complaints were few and far between, a handful of past travelers felt the experience was not worth the high price point.

Compare Uniworld Boutique River Cruises on GoToSea.

 American Cruise Lines ship on river during sunset.

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Number of passengers: 90 to 180 Sails to:  U.S.

As the name suggests, American Cruise Lines sails exclusively on the rivers and coastlines of the United States. Popular cruises visit destinations along the Mississippi River, on the Hudson River, throughout New England , and lining the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The line also tours Alaska , the Southeast coast including Florida , and the Puget Sound between Washington state and the Canadian border.

What to expect: American Cruise Lines operates 19 relatively new small ships and river vessels (the average ship is about 5 years old), ranging from modern riverboats to small coastal ships to authentic paddlewheelers. Comfortable cabins can accommodate up to three people per room, and all ships offer single staterooms designed exclusively for solo travelers . Each room boasts picture windows, a spacious bathroom and – in some cases – a private balcony. In the ships' public spaces, cruisers can enjoy daily onboard entertainment like jazz and blues performances, as well as presentations by historians and area experts.

The line promises an all-American experience. As such, you can expect to find American staff aboard the American-built ships as well as food that pays homage to the destinations you will visit, from New Orleans -style andouille sausage gumbo to New England-inspired seafood boils. Complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served every night prior to dinner; all meals, snacks, and wine and beer are included in the base fare. Shore excursions are not typically included in the rate.

Passengers on American Cruise Lines tend to lean North American and are typically mature retired travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers enjoyed their experience, particularly on the line's themed cruises.

Read:  Cruise Packing List: Essentials for Your Next Cruise

AmaWaterways cruise ship on river near town.

Courtesy of AmaWaterways

Number of passengers: 28 to 196 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America  

Consider a river cruise with AmaWaterways, whether you're looking to sail through the heart of Europe or seeking a once-in-a-lifetime adventure touring destinations like Vietnam, Egypt, South Africa or (beginning in 2024) Colombia. A family-owned business founded in 2002, AmaWaterways operates 29 river cruise boats that welcome 150 passengers on average.

The cruise line aims to provide excursion-rich experiences and offers unique themed sailings for passengers with certain interests. Wine-themed voyages are perfect for oenophiles wishing to explore some of Europe's most popular wine regions, while a concierge golf program will transport passengers from one famous golf course to the next. Or, opt for a holiday river cruise to visit magical Christmas markets around Europe. In 2024, AmaWaterways will offer three new Black history-themed itineraries.

What to expect: On board, guests can expect cabins suitable for couples or single travelers, as well as a set amount of connectible rooms designed for multigenerational families. Staterooms are spacious, with perks like bathrobes, slippers and plush bedding. Cabins can feature up to two balconies with AmaWaterways' twin balcony design, which allows for a full, step-out balcony alongside a French balcony with sliding glass doors. In-room Wi-Fi is complimentary, and guests will have access to movies and music on demand.

Outside of their cabins, passengers can enjoy amenities spanning small pools, sun decks, fitness equipment, a hair salon, massage services and more.

AmaWaterways primarily attracts North American travelers in their 50s who enjoy taking part in active shore excursions that involve walking or cycling. Passengers from the U.K. and Australia sail on this river cruise line as well. You can expect to find a mix of couples, families and solo cruisers – including a growing number of millennial travelers – on your vessel, thanks to AmaWaterways' diverse cabin offerings. Adventures by Disney charters AmaWaterways ships for select sailings each year as well.

What travelers say: Recent travelers say AmaWaterways exceeded their expectations, with many noting it was especially enjoyable for families. Still, some were disappointed, particularly with the food.

Find AmaWaterways cruises on GoToSea.

Interior of guest cabin on an Avalon Waterways river cruise ship.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

Number of passengers: 16 to 166 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Avalon Waterways sails 19 riverboats along popular thoroughfares like the Danube, the Rhone, the Seine, the Nile, the Rhine, the Moselle, the Mekong, the Ganges and more. In 2024, it will also sail the Douro River in Portugal.

What to expect: Launched in 2004, Avalon stands out for its spacious vessels – known as Suite Ships – which feature some of the largest rooms in the river cruise industry and beds that face wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, providing panoramic views. Additional stateroom perks include complimentary breakfast in bed, L'Occitane toiletries, sitting areas, ample storage space and mattress toppers.

Across the ship, passengers can enjoy amenities like a sun deck with lounge chairs, whirlpools and a game area, in addition to numerous restaurants and bars and a 24-hour self-serve coffee station. You will also have your pick of Classic, Active or Discovery shore excursions – ranging from standard tours with a local guide to hiking outings along a hilltop castle – depending on your interests and physical abilities.

Avalon Waterways attracts English-speaking cruisers from a variety of countries, typically in their 50s and 60s. However, children ages 8 and older are welcome on board (though there are no designated kids clubs), and some voyages draw younger or older passengers.

What travelers say: Most recent reviews are positive, with travelers highlighting the friendly, knowledgeable staff and tasty food.

Explore Avalon Waterways cruise deals on GoToSea.

Dining area on Tauck river cruise ship.

Courtesy of Tauck

Number of passengers: 84 to 130 Sails to:  Europe

Travel company Tauck wears multiple hats: It operates small-ship voyages around the world, land tours across seven continents, small group journeys for an average of 24 travelers at a time, family tours and – finally – European river cruises. Six new river itineraries in Europe are on the docket for 2024. Take your pick from nine river vessels to explore popular waterways like the Douro, the Moselle, the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone.

What to expect: All-inclusive fares cover shore excursions, onboard activities and entertainment, gratuities, beverages and more. Plus, Tauck offers exclusive access to unforgettable experiences like wine tastings at private vineyards and gala dinners in historic castles.

More than 80% of the staterooms feature French balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing for excellent views. Other in-room amenities may include adjustable climate controls, satin linens, pillow-top mattresses, terry cloth robes and more. Outside of your cabin, you'll find perks such as a sun deck, a putting green, enrichment programs like cooking demonstrations, a fitness center and complimentary bikes for onshore exploring.

Tauck caters to affluent, English-speaking cruisers – primarily Americans in the 55-and-older age group – though you may also find families with adult children on board. The line appeals most to travelers who prefer all the details of their trip to be taken care of for them, versus those who like to plan activities independent of the cruise line.

What travelers say: Recent passengers generally speak highly of their Tauck river cruise experiences, pointing to the exceptional level of organization and spacious, luxurious accommodations. Others said they were underwhelmed for the price.

Aerial of Emerald Cruises river cruise ship on river in Urbar, Germany.

Getty Images

Number of passengers: 84 to 180 Sails to:  Europe, Asia

Previously known as Emerald Waterways, Emerald Cruises transports travelers across some of the most popular rivers in Europe and Asia, including the Danube, the Rhine, the Douro and the Mekong.

What to expect: The cruise fare covers all meals, beverages with lunch and dinner, daily shore excursions − which include more physically rigorous options called EmeraldACTIVE – Wi-Fi access and gratuities.

Emerald operates nine river vessels, all of which boast luxurious public spaces and accommodations with en suite bathrooms and flat-screen TVs. Common-area amenities span heated indoor pools, sun decks, spa and wellness facilities, and a variety of eateries. Onboard fitness classes are available, as are other forms of entertainment. On shore, cruisers can borrow bicycles to explore historic city centers.

Typical clientele aboard Emerald Cruises' voyages includes American and British passengers around retirement age, though some younger travelers may make an appearance as well. Children 12 and older are permitted on board and on tours, but there are no kids clubs or designated activities for younger cruisers. Special rooms and dinner reservations are available for solo travelers.

What travelers say: Cruisers on recent sailings – especially first-time sailors – enjoyed their experiences on Emerald Cruises. High points included the attentive crew members and the stress-free booking and planning process. However, some felt that customer service and communication were subpar.

Interior of guest cabin on Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours river cruise ship.

Gillies Zaiser | Courtesy of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

Number of passengers: 68 to 163 Sails to: Europe, Asia

From the Danube to the Mekong, Australian travel company Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours offers lavish, all-inclusive river sailings with an emphasis on customization. The more upscale sister brand of Emerald Cruises, Scenic affords travelers the opportunity to do as much or as little as they want while on board and ashore.

What to expect: Enrichment activities are hand-picked by the line's "Journey Designers," and vessels provide a top-notch level of service thanks to their high crew-to-passenger ratios. In fact, each passenger receives a designated butler who can complete nightly turndowns and make laundry arrangements, among other tasks.

Spacious suites on board are larger than those on most other riverboats (ranging from 160 to 510 square feet). High-tech balcony controls allow lodgers to let in as much air as they'd like with the touch of a button. Cruisers will also enjoy special in-room touches like pillow menus, slippers and robes.

When it comes to dining, Scenic sources local ingredients and culinary inspiration from the ports visited on the itinerary to provide an authentic experience. All meals are included in the base cruise fare, along with beverages, gratuities, Wi-Fi access, shore excursions and electric bicycle usage in select destinations.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers were pleased with their experiences aboard Scenic's vessels, praising the spacious cabins, pampering butler service, and knowledgeable crew members and tour guides. However, some travelers were particularly disappointed with the food.

Side view of CroisiEurope Cruises river cruise ship.

Helwin Goetzinger | Courtesy of CroisiEurope

Number of passengers: 22 to 200 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa

CroisiEurope is a family-run French cruise line that has been in business since 1976. This line has more than 50 ships and barges that sail to countries around the world, including Egypt, Cambodia and Spain . Unusual in river cruising, the line operates two custom-built ships that sail on Lake Kariba in southern Africa. Additionally, CroisiEurope has a division that sells barge cruises throughout France on six different canals, such as Burgundy or Provence.

What to expect: CroisiEurope is known for its wide range of destinations and is one of the only river cruise lines that operates custom-built ships on Germany 's Elbe river, the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Spain and Portugal, and Venice 's canals. Onboard accommodations are relatively basic, which keeps the cruise fare to a budget-friendly minimum. The cruise line aims to provide the best value for money in the cruise industry. Cuisine is focused on French food with some local flair in the main dining room, which is included in the cruise fare.

The passenger mix on a CroisiEurope cruise is relatively international, featuring large contingencies from France, Germany, the U.K. and North America. Announcements are typically given in both French and English. The cruise line sees a mix of older couples and groups as well as younger families, depending on the itinerary and time of year.

What travelers say: Several cruisers echoed that some of CroisiEurope's river ships are due for a refurbishment and that internet connectivity leaves a lot to be desired, while others maintain that the experience was superb.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Size: River cruise ships are smaller in size and the number of passengers they can accommodate, with one lounge and one main dining room being a typical setup.
  • Atmosphere: The overall vibe on a river cruise is more relaxed and far less busy than that of an ocean liner.
  • Onboard entertainment: River cruising is notoriously sleepy at night, with a focus instead on local enrichment like cooking demonstrations or liqueur tastings. Due to the busy schedule of port calls and excursions, most passengers are tired after a long day of sightseeing and don't mind a lack of nightlife.
  • Excursions: Most of your time on a river cruise is spent out exploring the destinations, which can sometimes be two stops in a single day. Passengers can choose from a variety of activities in port – including biking, kayaking and hiking – or explore the destination at a leisurely pace.
  • Cuisine: Cuisine tends to be focused on local specialties but is prepared to accommodate predominantly American tastes. Not every river cruise line offers unlimited drinks, but the majority include beer and wine at lunch and dinner, often showcasing regional varieties.
  • Price: River cruising typically comes at a much higher price point than ocean-based itineraries.
  • American Queen

Note that inclusions can vary by cruise line. For example, Viking rates – while not fully all-inclusive – cover beer and wine at meals and one tour per day, while gratuities and other drink packages are left to the discretion of the guest.

Avalon Waterways, on the other hand, offers a number of included tours in every port on select itineraries that range from cultural or culinary-focused to active.

In terms of inclusions and service ratios (the number of crew on board to guests), the following river cruise lines are considered the most luxurious:

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top Cruises on Small Ships
  • The Top Adults-Only Cruises
  • The Best Cruise Insurance Plans
  • The Best Annual Travel Insurance Plans
  • The Best Travel Insurance for Seniors and Retirees

Vacation Ideas for Every Traveler

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Wet and wild or nice and slow, New River Gorge National Park has something for everyone

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A lot of places claim to have something for everybody, but New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia delivers. 

Its 70,000 acres are a wonderland for outdoors enthusiasts of all kinds.

“But then you've also got the cultural impacts here to the forest you see here today. It's hard to imagine because it looks so lush and thick, but it's all second, third growth forest,” said Dave Bieri, district supervisor of Interpretation for New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Bluestone National Scenic River and Gauley River National Recreation Area. “We had a lot of industry through this area, mainly coal mining and the railroad … You got a lot of history kind of buried in the forest and the natural resources here.”

Here’s what travelers should know about New River Gorge, the latest national park in USA TODAY’s yearlong series .

(Not so) hidden gems: More travelers are discovering America’s least visited national parks

What is New River Gorge National Park famous for?

“New River Gorge is well known for its huge whitewater that attracts rafters and kayakers to run the class 4 and 5 rapids, but lesser known is the fact that the park is also one of the best rock climbing destinations in the eastern U.S.,” Bieri said. “The Sandstone cliffs of Endless Wall offer over 1,400 climbing routes.”

New River Gorge also offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of mountain biking trails .

“But I also like to let people know it's not all extreme sports either,” Bieri said. “You don't have to be flying down the trail on a bike or hanging on a rope to enjoy the park.”

What is special about New River Gorge National Park?

The word that keeps coming back to Bieri is diversity – in all aspects.

 “Abundant wildlife, scenic views, biological diversity, and the longest and deepest gorge in the Appalachians add to the unique natural history while old subsistence farms, railroad towns, and coal camps add to the cultural history of the area,” he said. 

“At the time of the Industrial Revolution, most of the coal fueling the industrialization of our country was coming from the New River Gorge,” he continued, naming Nuttallburg and Kaymoor among the coal mine sites still standing today. “Nuttallburg is probably the best preserved and most substantial remains of a coal town from that time period anywhere in the country.” 

What is the closest city to the New River Gorge?

Hinton , West Virginia, lies along the southern edge of New River Gorge, while the town of Fayetteville is closest to the northern end.

Beckley is about a 15-minute drive. The state capital of Charleston is a little over an hour away and home to the closest major airport, West Virginia International Yeager Airport.

“There are actually a lot of pieces of private land within the park, including entire towns within the park boundaries,” Bieri said. “And then there's some places like Thurmond , where the Park Service actually owns most of the town and the buildings there.”

He said Thurmond used to be a bustling railroad town with more revenue passing through it than anywhere else on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway line. Only a handful of people still live there, but Amtrak’s Cardinal line still makes flagged stops in Thurmond as well as scheduled stops in Hinton and Prince.

How long does it take to see New River Gorge National Park?

Bieri says travelers can easily spend two days driving around to overlooks and other sites in New River Gorge.

“There's no road that runs through the length of the park, so anywhere you go, you have to kind of go into the park and you have to leave, drive around, and come back in somewhere else,” he said. “Any of the roads in and out are windy and slow-moving, so it takes a while.”

Visitors who want to hike, rock climb or raft will need at least four days in the park, but he said many stay a week.

What not to miss at New River Gorge

Bieri recommends starting trips at one of New River Gorge’s four visitor centers . 

He said the busiest is Canyon Rim Visitors Center, near New River Gorge Bridge, which  features overlooks of the gorge and as of Saturday, brand new exhibits. 

“Beside the visitor center, there’s a walkway out to the overlook … takes about a minute from the parking lot, and it's a nice easy walk up,” he said. “There's a lower overlook that's even better. It's not far, but there’s 170 stairs down to it, so it is one that you have to expend a little energy to get back up from.”

For a different perspective, visitors can drive to the bottom of the gorge, along Fayette Station Road .

“It's basically the old road that people used to have to drive on before they built the New River Gorge Bridge,” Bieri said. “Used to take 45 minutes to cross the gorge there. Now it takes 45 seconds across the bridge.”

Popular hikes include Long Point Trail and Endless Wall. 

“ Grandview is definitely a don't miss. That's one of the best views in the park. It's the deepest part of the gorge,” he said. “Sandstone Falls is the largest waterfall in New River, and it's pretty spectacular, too.”

History lovers will also want to see sites like Thurmond.

Can you walk across the bridge at New River Gorge?

“The New River Gorge Bridge is a highway, not a pedestrian bridge,” the park writes in bold red letters on its website.

Visitors can walk on a catwalk beneath the bridge with a third-party company called Bridge Walk . Guided tours start at $75 and take two to three hours.

Otherwise, they can wait for Bridge Day , the one day in October when people can walk on top of the bridge and watch daredevils BASE jump and rappel off it.

Who are the Indigenous people of New River Gorge?

Bieri said the Shawnee and Cherokee are most closely associated with New River Gorge, but numerous Native tribes are historically tied to it.

It’s believed tribes hunted in the area and traveled along the rivers. 

“The terrain was so difficult to get through, with the ruggedness of it where the river cut through the mountains, that was like a natural roadway for them,” he said, noting that spears and other Native artifacts dating back to the last Ice Age have been found in New River Gorge.

Lower Mississippi River Cruises

The Mississippi River is filled with diverse, culturally rich regions that promise historical, musical, and gustatory experiences unlike those found anywhere else in the world.

For this reason, our cruises are customized to suit the experience you are seeking — whatever that may be.

Are you a Civil War history buff? Do you treasure the writings of Mark Twain? Or do you seek a Mardi Gras full of dance, color, and delicious food? Prefer small towns and Southern hospitality?

No matter what aspect of this mighty river and its many facets appeals to you, we have the cruise of your dreams.

With ports of call that span the region — from St. Paul, Minnesota, (for our Upper Mississippi river cruises) to New Orleans, you’ll feel like the king and/or queen of the Mississippi.

Explore from St. Louis to St. Paul to St. Francisville — and points both north and south — with USA River Cruises on one of our quintessential American cruise line adventures!

Your Lower Mississippi Itinerary

You’ll enjoy between six and 22 days of fabulous food, music, camaraderie, and relaxation. Sit on the deck of one of our gorgeous paddle wheelers. This fantastic mode of travel slows life down and allows you to soak up every ounce of beauty along this iconic body of water.

Consider just a few of our fabulous Mississippi cruises: New Orleans to Memphis.

If you arrive in New Orleans a few days before the cruise launches, you have the opportunity to fully explore and experience the wealth of cultural amenities that abound in the Big Easy, including:

The Garden District : A fabulous and historic neighborhood, filled with oak-lined boulevards, grand mansions, and, of course, lush gardens. It’s also the location of the famed Lafayette Cemetery, which is the final resting place of several historical figures, including John Howard Ferguson, who was the defendant in the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision that established the “separate but equal” doctrine that was later overturned in the 1950s.

French Quarter : No trip to New Orleans is complete without at least a walk-through of the famous district. Here you’ll find Bourbon Street — the beating heart of Mardis Gras — and Jackson Square, where ceremonies marking the transfer of the Louisiana Purchase territory from France to the United States took place in 1803.

Once you board our magnificent cruise ships, you’ll get to explore both the history and the modern amenities of the Big Muddy — as the Mississippi is sometimes called. You’ll cruise from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee (or the reverse!). It’s Mississippi Delta living at its finest.

Along the way, you’ll visit several more fabulous locations, including Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the state capital and home to Louisiana State University.

You’ll also experience wonderful Natchez, Mississippi, home to indigenous culture stretching back hundreds of years. You can even visit Longwood Plantation, which remains unfinished because workers abandoned it to fight in the Civil War. This is history at its most intimate and immediate.

One last point of interest (among many on your journey): Vicksburg, Mississippi, where you can tour the Vicksburg National Military Park and see for yourself artifacts of early American history, including gunboats and Civil War battlefields.

If you travel upriver, you’ll disembark at Memphis, but there’s a lot more to explore along the Mississippi, including St. Louis, Missouri, just a few hours upriver from Memphis. (Check out our other Mississippi cruises for more info.) If you travel downriver (Memphis to New Orleans), the sights and scenes are just as magical, and the sounds — from blues to bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll — are as diverse as the scenery.

  • American Serenade

We want to pause for a moment to make sure our guests know about an exciting addition to our Lower Mississippi river cruises: the American Serenade — ready to set sail in 2023!

It’s fitting that the overture to American Serenade’s cruise season will begin on the legendary Mississippi River. A with her sister ship, the American Symphony, the 175-passenger American Serenade features an updated modern interior design that integrates an elegant and refined aesthetic into our tradition for spacious comfort.

This ship’s interior design was inspired by the geography of the United States of America. The new interior design highlights natural textual elements and serene color palettes.

American Serenade also showcases panoramic views throughout, including an impressive four-story glass atrium in the center of the ship.

And let’s not forget the accommodations. Ranging from a cozy 250 square feet to an expansive 650 square feet, all of its spacious staterooms offer full-size bathrooms, roomy closets, and private balconies where you can enjoy daily breakfast room service.

The new ship also features an onboard fitness center and many spacious lounges where you can relax after the day’s adventures.

Ready to set sail on a Lower Mississippi River cruise?

USA River Cruises: Your Destination Awaits!

Our booking agents are ready to answer any questions you may have and to accommodate any and all special needs.

Each member of our staff is uniquely qualified to customize the trip of a lifetime. Most of us have taken these cruises ourselves and are intimately familiar with every detail of the journey, making us the best possible resource for you.

USA River Cruises specializes in rail trips and small-ship cruises. This means our ships typically hold fewer than 900 passengers — more often than not it’s much fewer than that!

We’re based in Vancouver, Washington, just across the mighty Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Thus, our passion began locally, with ships on the Columbia. However, we have grown to appreciate river cruise vacations all over the United States — as well as all over the world!

Our agents are friendly and responsive; most have personal experience on board many of our ships. That’s why USA River Cruise agents are the small-ship cruising and cruise vacation experts.

Call us! We’re excited to help you launch your Mississippi River cruise.

The Tennessee Rivers Cruise

Chattanooga, TN to Nashville, TN

  • May 10, 2024, May 17, 2024, May 24, 2024 -- 9 more dates available.
  • From $5,190

Music Cities Cruise-American Symphony

Memphis, TN to Nashville, TN

  • August 2, 2024, August 9, 2024, August 16, 2024
  • From $4,530
  • American Symphony

Grand Heartland Cruise-American Serenade

St. Paul to New Orleans

  • September 17, 2024, August 15, 2025
  • From $11,090

Grand Heartland Cruise-American Melody

  • August 2, 2024, October 17, 2025
  • From $11,755
  • American Melody

Lower Mississippi River Cruise-American Symphony

Memphis, TN to New Orleans, LA

  • March 15, 2024, March 22, 2024, March 29, 2024 -- 14 more dates available.
  • From $5,900

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – American Symphony

Knoxville, TN to Nashville, TN

  • May 24, 2024, June 7, 2024, June 11, 2024 -- 1 more date available.
  • From $7,690
  • New Itinerary for 2024!!
  • August 6, 2024, August 13, 2024, August 20, 2024 -- 3 more dates available.
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  • American Splendor
  • October 29, 2024

Music Cities Cruise-American Splendor

  • June 18, 2024, June 25, 2024, July 2, 2024 -- 4 more dates available.

Music Cities Cruise-American Serenade

  • October 15, 2024, November 5, 2024
  • From $4,840

Lower Mississippi River Cruise-American Melody

New Orleans to Memphis

  • April 5, 2024, April 10, 2024, April 12, 2024 -- 15 more dates available.

Grand Heartland Cruise-American Symphony

  • October 4, 2024
  • From $11,255
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On the Rio Grande, 300 miles apart, Biden and Trump try to use immigration to election advantage

Split screen: Three hundred miles apart, President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger Donald Trump walked the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, dueling trips underscoring how important immigration has become for the 2024 election. (Feb. 29)

riverboat trips in usa

Saying, “hope springs eternal,” President Joe Biden told reporters he remains “hopeful” about the prospects for a pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Biden made the comments as he departed the White House for the US-Mexico border. (Feb. 29)

President Joe Biden, second from the right, looks over the southern border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas. Walking with Biden are from l-r., Peter Flores, Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Jason Owens, Chief, U.S. Border Patrol and Gloria Chavez, Sector Chief, U.S. Border Patrol. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden, second from the right, looks over the southern border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas. Walking with Biden are from l-r., Peter Flores, Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Jason Owens, Chief, U.S. Border Patrol and Gloria Chavez, Sector Chief, U.S. Border Patrol. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump talks with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

President Joe Biden arrives at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport for a trip to visit the southern border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump listens as he visits the boat ramp at Shelby Park during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. Biden and Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, following the failed border deal that was opposed by the Republican front-runner. (AP Photo)

A member of the National Guard directs a vehicle at the gate to Shelby Park along the Rio Grande, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the area Thursday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

FILE - Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. A federal judge on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024 blocked a new Texas law that gives police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of illegally entering the U.S., dealing a victory to the Biden administration in its feud with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over immigration enforcement. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, file)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — On the banks of the same Rio Grande but 300 miles apart, President Joe Biden and GOP challenger Donald Trump on Thursday surveyed the U.S.-Mexico border and tussled from a distance over who is to blame for the nation’s broken immigration system and how to fix it.

Immigration has emerged as a central issue in the 2024 presidential campaign, which is widely expected to be a Biden-Trump rematch, and each man is seeking to use the border problems to his own political advantage.

Their itineraries were remarkably similar: They arrived in Texas within a half-hour of one another. Each chose an optimal location from which to make his point, got a briefing on operations and issues, walked along the scrub brush by the Rio Grande and spoke directly to the public. Their remarks even overlapped in time for a bit.

But that’s where the parallels ended.

Biden sought to spotlight the necessity of a bipartisan border security bill that was tanked by Republicans on Trump’s orders, and flat-out asked the Republican front-runner to join him in supporting a congressional push for more funding and tighter restrictions.

“Here’s what I would say to Mr. Trump,” Biden said. “Instead of playing politics with the issue, join me, or I’ll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bill. You know and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country’s ever seen.”

Biden went to the Rio Grande Valley city of Brownsville , which for nine years was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The numbers have dropped in recent months, which officials credited in part to Mexico for stepping up its own border security. The visit was a nod to how the Biden administration views migration: as a regional and global issue, not just a U.S. problem.

The president walked along the Rio Grande and received a lengthy briefing from Homeland Security officials, who spoke bluntly about what they needed to do their jobs effectively — in short, more money to hire more officers along the border and for use across the asylum process to help clear out massive backlogs.

“I want the American people to know what we’re trying to get done,” Biden said. “We can’t afford not to do this.”

Trump simply blamed Biden.

He traveled to Eagle Pass, roughly 325 miles northwest of Brownsville, in the corridor that’s currently seeing the largest number of migrant crossings. He met with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas National Guard soldiers who have commandeered a local park and put up razor wire fencing at the river’s edge to keep migrants from crossing illegally. The park has become a Republican symbol of defiance against the federal government.

“This is like a war,” Trump said.

Gazing out over the river through the razor wire, Trump raised his fist and waved and shouted to people on the Mexico side, who waved back. Then, he declared that migrants arriving to the border were criminals and some were terrorists, a dialed-up version of the accusations he often used during the 2016 campaign. This time, he’s started to harness rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue migrants are poisoning the blood of America .

FILE - Agents walk among rooms at a Border Patrol holding facility on Dec. 15, 2023, in Tucson, Ariz. U.S. asylum officers were instructed nearly a year ago to apply a higher screening standard on people who cross the border illegally to claim asylum after passing through another country. But they are too understaffed to have much impact. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

“They’re being let into our country and it’s horrible,” Trump said. “It’s horrible.”

Trump also brought up the killing of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia recently. The suspect is a Venezuelan migrant.

“Crooked Joe has the blood of countless innocent victims,” Trump said. “It’s so many stories to tell, so many horrible stories.”

Despite Trump’s claims, many studies have found immigrants are less drawn to violent crime than native-born citizens. One published by the National Academy of Sciences, based on Texas Department of Public Safety data from 2012 to 2018, reported native-born U.S. residents were more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes as people in the country illegally.

As the politicians traded barbs over who was to blame, migrants were still making the dangerous journey into the U.S. Trump stood on a concrete boat launch where a day earlier, a man had been pulled from the river, drowned, trying to cross. In Brownsville where Biden spoke, a group of migrants had crossed illegally overnight.

Across the border from Brownsville, in Matamoros, makeshift shelters dotted the ground for migrants who hope to come to the U.S.

“I come completely alone on this journey, I have been on this journey for about six months and the only important thing I have in my life are my mom, my little sister and nobody else,” Joseph Elián Gutierrez Castillo, a Nicaraguan migrant, said in Spanish. “With God’s favor everything will go well.”

The number of people who are illegally crossing the U.S. border has been rising for years, for reasons that include climate change, war and unrest in other nations, the economy, and cartels that see migration as a cash cow.

Migrants ask for asylum whether they come illegally or through ports of entry; in some cases they are turned away because of current policies, but many families are allowed into the U.S., where they often wait years for a court date to determine whether they can stay.

The administration’s approach has been to pair crackdowns at the border with increasing legal pathways for migrants designed to steer people into arriving by plane with sponsors, not illegally on foot to the border. The numbers of migrants flowing across the U.S-Mexico border have far outpaced the capacity of an immigration system that has not been substantially updated in decades.

Arrests for illegal crossings fell by half in January, but there were record highs in December.

Since the president was last at the border a year ago , the debate over immigration in Washington has shifted further to the right, with Democrats increasingly eager to embrace border restrictions now that migrants are sleeping in police stations and airplane hangars in major U.S. cities without the ability to legally work.

During bipartisan talks on the deal that would have toughened access for migrants and funded enforcement and immigration court, Biden himself said he’d be willing to “shut down the border” right now, should the deal pass.

The talks looked promising for a while. But Trump, who didn’t want to give Biden a political win on one of his signature campaign issues, convinced Republicans to kill the deal. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., declared the deal dead on arrival.

Republicans claim Biden has the power he needs to fix the issue, but absent legislative action, any major policy changes are likely to be challenged or held up in court. Under Trump, too, new hardline policies were often held up or stopped by the courts.

Among voters, worries about immigration are rising on both sides of the political divide, which could be especially problematic for Biden.

According to an AP-NORC poll in January , the share of voters concerned about immigration rose to 35% from 27% last year. Fifty-five percent of Republicans say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That’s up from 45% and 14%, respectively, from December 2022.

Trump has laid out updated immigration proposals that would mark a dramatic escalation of the approach he used in office and that drew alarms from civil rights activists and numerous court challenges.

Some of those include reviving and expanding a travel ban, imposing “ideological screening” for migrants, terminating all work permits and cutting off funding for shelter and transportation for people who are in the country illegally.

Associated Press writers Valerie Gonzalez in Brownsville, Texas, Alexis Triboulard in Mexico City and Michelle Price in New York contributed to this report.


2 charged in Hudson River capsize deaths of woman, 7-year-old nephew

Two men have been arrested for allegedly causing the deaths of a 7-year-old boy and his aunt when the  boat their group had chartered for a Hudson River tour capsized in 2022 , throwing more than a dozen people overboard, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Richard Cruz and Jaime Pinilla Gomez were taken into custody in Elizabeth earlier in the day and are expected to appear in federal court. Attorney information for them wasn’t immediately available.

Lindelia Vasquez, 48, and 7-year-old Julian Vasquez, were among a group of family and friends who chartered a boat out of New Jersey on July 12, 2022. They were trapped under the vessel when it flipped over in the Hudson near Pier 86, in front of the USS Intrepid in the middle of the afternoon.  They later died.

Cruz had purchased the boat, which he called Stimulus Money, about three months prior and was the owner and captain. Gomez was his pilot. Both were operating the vessel the day of the accident. The two men allegedly conducted boat “tours” for paying customers onboard the vessel on multiple occasions in the months leading up to the capsizing, although they did not have the required United States Coast Guard credentials and certifications to do so.

A capsized boat in the Hudson River, in New York City, on July 12, 2022.

According to prosecutors, Cruz’s and Gomez’s allegedly negligent actions and omissions caused the capsizing and, therefore, the two deaths. Aside from required documentation issues, prosecutors say Stimulus Money had 13 people on board at the time of the capsizing, which is more than the max capacity for that boat. They allege Cruz and Gomez drove the boat at a high rate of speed while small craft advisory for high winds and heavy seas advisory was in effect.

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They claim Gomez lacked sufficient experience as a mariner, and piloted the boat dangerously before the capsizing, rapidly accelerating an engine and contributing to its overturning. He also allegedly wasn’t wearing a safety device, which kept the engine going even after Gomez shifted. Everyone fell overboard when the boat capsized.

Ten passengers and Gomez were recovered conscious and in varying medical conditions. Cruz was among several who were critically hurt. The bodies of Lindelia Vasquez and her nephew were found under the capsized boat about a half-hour after the others were pulled from the water. They had drowned.

Lindelia Vasquez had planned the excursion for the visiting group. She owned a restaurant in the heart of the Colombian community, of which she was a huge part, in Elizabeth.

Friends said she was generous, hardworking and kind.

In a video exclusive obtained by NBC New York, the family could be seen in Brisas Bakery and Restaurant in Elizabeth hours before boarding the doomed boat. They were buying food for what should have been a beautiful day, loading up on hundreds of dollars worth of empanadas, cheese, bread and sweets. Little Julian was seen holding an armful of frozen drinks, happy and excited for the day of cruising the Hudson.

Stimulus Money was a 24-foot Yamaha AR-240 jet boat with a top speed just below 52 mph and a 12-person capacity, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.


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