Explore America’s Most Beautiful Coasts With the 5 Best U.S. River Cruises

Discover waterways close to home.

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

There's no need to fly to Europe for a river cruise, with new ships and routes bringing even more options in waterways right here in the United States. The most popular river cruises in the U.S. traverse the Mississippi, Hudson, Columbia, and Snake rivers, discovering natural, cultural, and historical attractions along the way. Passengers can visit wineries in Washington state, taste Creole cuisine in New Orleans, or hear about Civil War history at Vicksburg.

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

On these voyages, you'll sail with approximately 100 to 400 other guests on modern riverboats or even 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 in the U.S. to consider for your next domestic voyage.

American Cruise Lines’ Music Cities Cruise from Memphis to Nashville

It's hard to choose from American Cruise Lines' 35 domestic itineraries that sail in 33 states. But 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 (inaugurated in 2023) and the classic American Splendor paddle wheeler.

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

The voyage begins in Memphis, Tennessee, where passengers can learn about the life and career of Elvis Presley or tour the blues and jazz clubs, restaurants, and shops on legendary Beale Street. After a day of cruising, the ship stops in Paducah, Kentucky, home to a vibrant street art scene. Another day of cruising will bring you past the stunning coves and limestone bluffs between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake – a view best enjoyed from the balcony of your stateroom. On day five, a stop in Dover, Tennessee, brings guests to the historic Fort Donelson National Park, a key location during the Civil War. The next day, passengers are invited to tour the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center and Fort Defiance in Clarksville, Tennessee, and cap off the experience with a whiskey and bourbon tasting at Old Glory Distilling Co. The voyage ends in Nashville with a Grand Ole Opry show and further explorations of the home of country music.

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

History lovers will enjoy this nine-day cruise along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers on American Queen Voyages' 245-passenger American Countess paddle wheeler. The itinerary offers guests a chance to explore the idyllic river towns that inspired Mark Twain.

After departing St. Louis, the cruise arrives in Alton, Missouri, where guests can play golf on championship courses and stroll around the town's quaint districts. Day three brings guests further up the Mississippi River to Hannibal, which served as Mark Twain's muse for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other novels. The next day, a scenic river crossing invites guests to appreciate the view from their balcony as the ship enters the Quad Cities metro area. The first stop in Bettendorf, Iowa, offers a hop-on hop-off tour of museums, artist studios, the German American Heritage Center, and the Quad City Botanical Center. The next stop is Dubuque, Iowa, where guests can appreciate a mix of monuments, nature, and local wines. On day nine, the ship arrives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, one of the spots along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, famous for its rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas. The final port is Red Wing, Minnesota, where beautifully preserved artisan workshops, factories, and pioneer-era architectural gems await. After disembarking, passengers can explore Minneapolis before going home.

Courtesy of American Queen Voyages
Courtesy of American Queen Voyages

American Cruise Lines’ Hudson River Fall Foliage Cruise

Leaf-peeping is taken to a new level on this eight-day fall foliage-themed cruise with American Cruise Lines. The round-trip voyage out of New York City takes nature lovers along the Hudson River, with stops in the Catskills, Albany, Hyde Park, West Point, and Sleepy Hollow – all prime locations for seeing autumnal leaves turn bright orange, red, and yellow.

In addition, guests will be captivated by the region's majestic waterfront mansions, including Franklin D. Roosevelt's childhood home and sites like the West Point Military Academy. Whether you cruise on the classic 48-stateroom American Star or the 100-passenger American Eagle (inaugurated in 2023), you'll enjoy a stunning display of colors from the comfort of your balcony.

Viking Cruises’ New Orleans & Southern Charms Lower Mississippi Cruise

Viking, known for luxury cruises on rivers, oceans, and lakes around the world, brought its first river voyages to the U.S. in 2022. And with its 193-stateroom Viking Mississippi among its sleek vessels, this itinerary is perfect for anyone seeking an elegant southern adventure. The eight-day round-trip cruise from New Orleans traverses the Lower Mississippi River, with stops at historic estates, Civil War sites, and port cities bursting with French and Cajun flavors.

After departing New Orleans, the ship stops in Darrow and St. Francisville, Louisiana, which boast grand homes, Spanish moss-draped avenues, and more than 140 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Day four brings travelers to the oldest city on the river, Natchez, Mississippi, with more than 200 historic estates. The next day, guests can learn about an important Civil War battle at the Vicksburg National Military Park before setting sail for the vibrant capital of Creole culture, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The ship returns to New Orleans, where guests can stay longer or catch a flight home.

<p>Courtesy of Viking</p>

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, guests are treated to action-packed days filled with rainforest hikes, rafting adventures, wineries visits, and scenic kayaking excursions through dramatic canyons.

After the Champagne embarkation in Portland and a stop in Astoria, Oregon, the ship heads to the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area and Hood River Valley for a guided hike followed by a wine tasting with an onboard sommelier. The gourmand adventures continue in Walla Walla, Washington, with 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 and paddleboard while birding before cruising a scenic stretch of the Snake River. 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 in Oregon for whitewater rafting or a relaxing winery tour. The adventure ends in Portland following a farewell dinner while floating along the Columbia River Gorge.

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