PHOTO: North Cascades National Park. (Courtesy Flickr/Jeff Hollett)
A cruise through the Pacific Northwest aboard an American Queen Steamboat Company ship is, for many, the journey of a lifetime.
Passengers have the opportunity not only to experience some of the country’s most stunning scenery, but can immerse themselves in the history of the area while learning about those who, today, are making history there themselves.
Voyages on the Snake and Columbia Rivers also serve as the perfect jumping-off point for further exploration of the region, but with so many stunning national parks and cities from which to choose, it can be hard to winnow down your itinerary.
Here are seven of our favorite destinations:
Portland/Multnomah Falls. Depending on the itinerary your cruise may start or end in Portland, a city that epitomizes the word “quirky.” It’s a fantastic place for shopping and visiting brewpubs and, needless to say, people watching. Just 30 minutes outside the city, Multnomah Falls plunges more than 600 feet down, making it one of the tallest falls in the country. Ambitious hikers can take the 1.2-mile trail to the top, while those who just want a quick view can take it all in from a viewing area just off the parking lot.
Snoqualmie Falls. Fans of “Twin Peaks” will recognize the spectacular scenery in and around the Snoqualmie River, including a lovely park that beckons you to plop down with a picnic basket in warmer months.
North Cascades National Park. It might be the least visited park in the national park system but that is no reflection of its natural beauty. Home to the greatest number of glaciers outside of Alaska, this park’s rugged landscape is home to bald eagles and osprey, as well as wolverines, gray wolves, moose, fishers and both black and grizzly bears.
La Conner and Deception Pass. Located in the Skagit Valley, this town is frequently ranked as one of America’s best small towns and with good reason. In addition to offering visitors art and history, it is home to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people from around to world each April. And just 15 miles to the west lies Deception Pass, where a rugged shoreline meets emerald green waters. Visitors regularly can see orcas and porpoises, as well as the occasional gray whale.
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Port Townsend. Like many places in the Pacific Northwest, Port Townsend manages to combine quirky and quaint and turn it into something special. Port Townsend is a Victorian seaport town that is today inhabited by artist colonies, as well as fans of the great outdoors.
Columbia River Gorge. Dividing Washington and Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge is nothing short of dramatic. Take a drive down the Historic Columbia River Highway and stop along the way to take in the view or sample some of the varietals from area vineyards.
Victoria, B.C. Google “charming town” and no doubt Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, will pop up again and again, thanks in part to its beautiful parks, charming buildings and horse-drawn carriage rides through the streets. And with sweeping views of the harbor and surrounding mountains, it’s picture-worthy no matter which way you turn.