These River Cruises Explore the Most Beautiful Coasts in the U.S. — From New England to the Great Lakes

Discover waterways close to home.

American Cruise Lines Paddlewheeler sailing down the on Columbia & Snake river
Photo: 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 river, lake, and coastal sailings right here in the U.S. Cruises in the U.S. traverse the Southeast, Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, New England, Alaska, and more, discovering natural, cultural, and historical attractions along the waterways and coasts.

But it's about the destinations on and off the ship, including shore excursions that cater to a variety of interests and activity levels. Passengers can zip line through Oregon's lush forests, sip wine on a vineyard terrace while enjoying the view of Columbia River and Mount Hood following a guided walk of Maryhill Winery in Washington, spend an afternoon sorting shrimp, blue crab, and more, or listen to Civil War history at Vicksburg. As for the Great Lakes, you can kayak through the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan or the sea caves of the Bayfield Peninsula while at Wisconsin's Apostle Islands. Or, opt for a naturalist-led hike on Wisconsin's Ice Age National Scenic Trail to discover glacial landforms and local wildlife along the way.

American Song by American Cruise Lines sailing down the on Columbia & Snake river
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

On these voyages, you'll sail with approximately 100 to 400 other guests on modern riverboats and small cruise ships, 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 in 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 three cruise lines that are expanding their offerings across the U.S.

American Cruise Lines

Exterior of the Redesign American Cruise Line Paddlewheel
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines
American Cruise Lines Project Blue Standard Stateroom
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines
The 5th-4th deck skywalk onboard the American Melody by ACL
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines
The outdoor lounge onboard an American Cruise Lines Coastal Ship
Thomas Loof/Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

It's hard to choose from American Cruise Lines' 35 domestic itineraries that sail in 33 states. The most popular river cruises are on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake, and Hudson rivers. Coastal cruises include Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, Alaska, New England, and the Southeast. The line features 15 modern riverboats, paddle wheelers (remodeled for 2022), and small cruise ships that accommodate 100 to 190 guests. New for 2022 are modern riverboats American Symphony and American Serenade sailing the Mississippi River.

New three- and seven-night National Parks Post-Cruise Packages allow you to extend select trips with visits to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. Look for the first two of 12 new class small ships to sail in 2023 on American's East Coast itineraries. In 2023, American will also add its 11th Mississippi River itinerary, the new eight-day Tennessee Rivers Cruise between Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

American Queen Voyages

The side of the American Queen Voyages sailing down Hannibal River
Sean McVeigh/Courtesy of American Queen Voyages

American Queen Voyages is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It recently renamed its company and divided it into three divisions: Rivers, Lakes & Ocean, and Expedition. Its fleet of seven vessels, including paddle wheelers, expedition ships, and small coastal ships, can hold between 166 to 417 passengers. The line added Expedition just this year, with two newly built 186-guest vessels. Ocean Victory will make its debut in the less-traveled regions of Alaska's Inside Passage in May, and the Ocean Discoverer will sail the region in 2023.

With increased demand to the Lower Mississippi this summer, new June 2022 voyages between Memphis and New Orleans have recently been added. They will feature culinary ambassador Regina Charboneau. The 11-day American Culinary Experience sailing from Detroit to Montreal is a new October 2022 itinerary in the Great Lakes.

American Queen Voyages river cruises sail along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers, as well as the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Lakes & Oceans encompasses voyages to Canada, the Great Lakes, New England, and the Eastern Seaboard, plus Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula.


Viking, known for sailing rivers, oceans, and lakes throughout the world, is bringing its first expedition and river voyages to the U.S. this year. The line launched Viking Expeditions in 2022 and it will feature Great Lakes itineraries beginning in April. The first of two 378-guest expedition ships, Viking Octantis, offers four itineraries with stops in both American and Canadian ports. The second new expedition ship, Viking Polaris, will start sailing on the Great Lakes in 2023. A 15-day Great Lakes Collection itinerary will be added in June 2023, visiting all five Great Lakes. Among their many amenities, the purpose-built expedition ships boast an abundance of indoor and outdoor viewing areas to take in the beauty of the locales. Viking will sail the Mississippi River for the first time, with five itineraries starting in June 2022 on the new 386-guest Viking Mississippi.

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