6 River Cruises You Can Take Without Leaving the U.S.

by  Donna Heiderstadt | Updated on Jun 16, 2022
Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Editor's note: American Queen Voyages ceased operations in February of 2024.

As international travel — and cruising, in particular — sorts out pandemic-related logistics, several easier options for fans of river cruising exist right here in the U.S. Bookable now for travel through 2022, these itineraries are currently offered by two river cruise companies, American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company (while Viking River Cruises is slated to set sail on the Mississippi in summer 2022). 

These U.S. itineraries include port calls on legendary American cities, smaller river towns, and both state and national parks. They focus on both history and culinary specialties, as well as architectural landmarks (the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, for example) and natural wonders (Mount St. Helens on Oregon's Columbia River). Here are six river cruises you can take without leaving the U.S.

The Lower Mississippi

Sean Pavone/iStock

Whether it's a New Orleans-to-New Orleans itinerary or one that starts in New Orleans and ends in Memphis (or vice-versa), Lower Mississippi cruises are typically seven nights long. Expect to visit top historic sites in three southern states: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Highlights include the French Quarter of New Orleans, Beale Street and Graceland in Memphis, the Civil War battlefields of Vicksburg, and the historic mansions of Natchez (both in Mississippi). American Cruise Lines offers this itinerary on its modern river ships (190-passenger American Jazz and 175-passenger American Melody) and its traditional 150-passenger paddlewheel steamer Queen of the Mississippi. American Queen Steamboat Company's sailings are aboard its flagship paddlewheel steamboat American Queen, the new 245-passenger paddlewheeler American Countess and the 166-passenger American Duchess. In November 2022, the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi will offer roundtrip sailings from New Orleans as well as from New Orleans to Memphis

The Upper Mississippi

Bartus Hendrikse/iStock

The Upper Mississippi offers an entirely different experience with seven-night voyages from St. Louis to Minneapolis/St. Paul (or vice-versa) that explore the heart of the American Midwest. Itineraries call on Hannibal (in Missouri) for all things Mark Twain; several Iowa cities, including Fort Madison, Davenport, Dubuque, and Quad Cities (where you'll find agritourism, Victorian architecture, museums, and festivals); plus Winona and Red Wing in Minnesota (for exploration of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and a visit to the National Eagle Center). American Cruise Lines offers this itinerary aboard its 175-guest American Melody modern river ship (to be joined in summer 2022 by American Symphony). Meanwhile, American Queen Steamboat Company's Upper Mississippi itineraries take place aboard both the166-guest American Duchess and the 245-guest American Countess. Viking Mississippi is also slated to debut in summer 2022 with a seven-night America's Heartland itinerary.

The Complete Mississippi

Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Passengers can also explore the entire 2,320-mile length of the country's most famous river — spanning from New Orleans to Minneapolis — on 14-night cruises. Combining the Upper and Lower Mississippi ports, these itineraries (from American Cruise Lines, American Queen Steamboat Company, and Viking Mississippi, respectively) immerse passengers in Americana as they visit 12-plus cities and towns and the evolving landscape from the Deep South to the Upper Midwest. 

The Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers

Travelers with a fondness for music and American history can indulge both on a selection of eight-night itineraries from American Queen Steamboat Company that sail through the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Ports of call include Nashville, Memphis, and Clarksville (in Tennessee); Paducah (in Kentucky); and a few cities in Alabama. American Cruise Lines also has a seven-night Music Cities Cruise from Memphis to Nashville aboard American Jazz. Similarly, American Queen offers special-edition Rhythm of the Rivers sailings with a musical theme. 

The Ohio River

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Passengers aboard an Ohio River sailing will cruise not only this river— which stretches from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Paducah, Kentucky — but also the central heart of the Mississippi River (from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis). Highlights in the four states visited (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri) include Louisville (known for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Jim Beam bourbon, and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory); Cincinnati (home to museums, parks, and a botanical garden); Henderson, Kentucky (site of the Audubon Museum and Nature Center) and, of course, St. Louis with its landmark Gateway Arch and re-invigorated riverfront. American Cruise Lines offers a 10-night Ohio River Cruise on the Queen of the Mississippi paddlewheel steamer. In 2022 and 2023, American Queen Steamboat Company will offer an eight-night Louisville to Pittsburgh itinerary (and vice-versa) — along with sailings from St. Louis to Cincinnati and Cincinnati to Louisville.

The Columbia & Snake Rivers


Travelers who love the great outdoors, Pacific Northwest cuisine and wines, and Lewis and Clark lore will appreciate a cruise along the Columbia & Snake Rivers, which wind from the Oregon coast to Clarkston, Washington. American Cruise Lines offers four-, seven-, and 10-night itineraries, all of which visit historic Astoria, Oregon, the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls, and Mount Hood. The cruise line operates two modern riverboats, 190-passenger American Harmony and 184-guest American Song, and two classic paddlewheelers: 100-passenger Queen of the West and the 150-passenger American Pride. Similarly, American Queen Steamboat Company's Columbia & Snake Rivers itineraries range from six to eight nights in length (both aboard American Empress, the largest overnight paddlewheeler west of the Mississippi), and there's even an eight-night Wine Cruise for serious oenophiles. 

For updates on the testing and vaccination requirements for American Queen Steamboat Company passengers, check here. Those sailing on American Cruise Lines should check here.

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