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American River Rafting Trips and River Cruise Vacations

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Paddle on the riverQuick, how many American rivers can you name? Offhand, I can name about three. Well, as it turns out, there are more than 250,000 rivers in the United States alone. Sure, you could dip in your toe and leave it at that, but why not splash into summer the right way? Courtney Crowder investigated cool and adventurous ways to experience five of America’s favorite waterways.

Colorado River

Running 1,450 miles long, the Colorado River flows down from the Rocky Mountains and through the Grand Canyon before draining into the Gulf of California.

Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado RiverRiver conservationist Robert Kennedy will tell you there’s no better way to experience the great Colorado than by river raft. Adventure outfitter O.A.R.S was one of the pioneer companies to navigate the Grand Canyon via oar-powered raft. Trips range from four to 18 days, accommodating all levels of whitewater rafting.

A good introduction to the Grand Canyon is the six- to eight-day adventure from Less Ferry to Phantom Ranch. The water is fast-moving throughout, but the rapids gradually get larger, which helps newer rafters acclimate to the movement. This section of the river offers unbeatable views of the naturally vibrant colors and the grand scale of the Canyon’s many cliffs and rock layers. The experience ends with a 9.7-mile hike out of the South Rim along Bright Angel Trail. Trips leave multiple times every month and start from $2,34 per person.

Captain Doyle’s BoatOr take it little easier and cruise down the Colorado River on an hour-and-a-half charter boat through Topock’s Gorge, guided by lifetime local Captain Doyle. The captain, a USCG licensed captain and fishing guide, shares the river’s history and mythology, including the stories of the indigenous people and the tale of how Devil’s Elbow got its name. In the middle of the trek, the boat docks for passengers to take a short hike among ancient Indian ruins. The boat carries up to six passengers, and cost $35 per person, with a minimum of $100 for each charter.

Snake River

From Yellowstone National Park, the Snake River runs through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Lewis and Clark explored the river in the early 19th century—in fact, it was known as Lewis River for quite some time—but it’s thought that civilization has thrived around the Snake River for more than 11,000 years.

Snake River View in IdahoThe section of the Snake River that travels through the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area comprises the deepest river gorge in North America. The Coeur d’Alene-based ROW Adventures offers a fly-fishing float trip along this stretch of river. Available between May and September, this three- to six-day trip covers up to 81 miles from Cambridge to Lewiston, Idaho. Each day the boat floats along with ample opportunity to fly fish for rainbow trout, steelhead, small-mouth bass, and sturgeon, followed by fully guided cookouts and camping. Three-day excursions start at $990 per adult.

Or, get your thrills on a whitewater adventure in just a couple of hours. Mad River offers eight-mile whitewater rafting experiences that departs every two hours from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., available daily between May and September. And here’s a tip: The 4 p.m. excursion includes a barbeque dinner. Boats accommodate an average of 12 passengers and start at $59 per adult.


Hudson boatsHead northeast to visit the Hudson River, which begins in the Adirondack Mountains and forms the watery border between New York City and New Jersey.

Did you know that even New Yorkers can kayak along the Hudson … for free? Downtown Boathouse is a non-profit venture that provides kayaks in three spots throughout New York: Pier 40 at Houston Street, Pier 96 at 56th Street and at 72nd Street in Riverside Park. Dates and times vary by location, but most offer daily walk-up kayaking on weekends and holidays, and some evenings. Guided excursions and kayaking lessons are also available.

But DIY paddling isn’t limited to Manhattan locations. The Hudson River Watertrail stretches north from New York City to the town of Waterford, New York. The trail provides access for kayaks and canoes at several spots along the 156 miles of the river.

The Hudson River Watertrail Association recently published a book called The Hudson River Watertrail Guide, which provides routes and sample itineraries to explore this special river. The book also includes points of interest, and explains the river’s natural environment, tides and currents. Pick up a copy of this guide, rent a canoe or kayak from any town along the river and get moving.


Yukon MountainDon’t forget about Alaska! The Yukon River is the longest river in Alaska, clocking in at about 2,300 miles long, and empties in the Bering Sea. Paddle-wheel riverboats were the main means of transportation on the river during the Klondike Gold Rush from 1989 through the 1950s.

Follow the Gold Rush trail with a guided canoe trip from Timberwolf Tours. The Yukon River Classic covers more than 400 miles from Whitehouse to Dawson City, passing old preserved settlements and wildlife refuges. The tour can be done in one shot over 21 days or broken up into segments of eight and 13 days each. Included are hotel stays at beginning and ending destinations, all meals, all canoe and safety equipment, and all other nights in spacious tents. The shortest option, eight days from Whitehouse and back, starts at about $1,400 per person.

Riverboat wheelMississippi

You’ll be humming “Ol’ Man River” before you know it. It’s the second-longest river in the United States (second to the Missouri River), traveling through 10 states before empting in the Gulf of Mexico.

There are Mississippi River cruises aplenty in various states, but one standout experience is an evening on the Creole Queen from New Orleans. The wrought-iron grills, traditional Creole cuisine, and the sounds of jazz will make you feel like high-society of Old World New Orleans. Each excursion lasts three hours and costs $64 per adult including dinner.

And for history buffs who prefer to stay dry, the Great River Road stretches all the way from Louisiana to Minnesota, one of the most scenic drives in the country. Whether embarking on a day trip or a full-on American road trip, check out the Great River Road Interpretive Centers—a network of 62 museums and historic sites that detail the history of the river through all 10 states.

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By Courtney Crowder for