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Greg: Columbia River Cruise
Cruising the Columbia River Aboard American Safari Cruises
Story and photos by Greg Aragon

t took 15 grueling months for explorers Lewis and Clark to reach the Pacific Ocean on their epic Corps of Discovery expedition. The journey, which began in St. Louis in 1804, took them up the Missouri River, over the Rocky Mountains, and down the Snake and Columbia Rivers, to the sea.

It was here, near Astoria, Oregon, that the team celebrated the first American overland expedition to the Pacific Coast. It was also here that my own journey down the Columbia River began.

Led by American Safari Cruises, the eight-day sojourn down the river covered much of the same Pacific Northwest territory that Lewis and Clark investigated 150 years earlier. The only major difference between my trip and that of the historic explorers was that I traveled safely aboard a 105-ft luxurious motor yacht while they traversed unknown dangers, slept on the ground, and relied on canoes with paddles for mobility.


The Safari Spirit prepares for a journey down the Columbia River

My journey began at an old wooden dock in Astoria, where a friend and I first saw our yacht. I say “our yacht” for good reason. With a total of only 8 passengers, the 105-ft. vessel is a private, floating paradise.

And that’s the beauty of American Safari Cruises. The company separates itself from competition by providing an upscale, private approach to cruising aboard actual yachts. Their boats carry between 12 and 36 passengers in plush comfort, with homey lounges, hot tubs, and spacious cabins.

dining room on board the Safari Spirit
The cozy dining room on the Safari Spirit comfortably
seats 8 people

Once aboard the Safari Spirit, we enjoyed a cocktail reception and met the captain, his four crew members, and our six fellow passengers. We were then shown our stateroom, located on the first deck, about mid-boat. Quaint and efficient, the cabin boasted a large comfy bed, DVD player, big windows, desk area, tub and shower, and best of all, a heated bathroom floor.

That night, as the Spirit cruised along the canyons of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, we joined the others in the dining room for three-cheese tortellini with Dungeness crab, roast beef, mashed potatoes, fresh-baked bread, veggies, and Washington wines.

After dinner we dropped anchor in a secluded cove and were joined by a local historian who told fascinating stories about Lewis and Clark, and the Columbia River, which has become one the country’s most important waterways.

In the morning we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum. One of the best museum’s of the sea on the West Coast, the facility is highlighted by interactive exhibits on tug boats, lighthouses, the Coast Guard, and the dangers vessels face when crossing between the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, a deadly confluence known as the “graveyard of the pacific.”

After the museum, the captain docked in Cathlamet Bay in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. We then took a skiff ride down river, during which we saw a bald eagle and cruised past tiny islands and a forest of brown yellow, orange and green trees lining the coast.

passengers from The Safari Spirit on a skiff to tour secluded coves
American Safari boats are equipped with kayaks and skiffs to explore secluded coves

Back onboard I explored our motor-yacht, which was completely rebuilt in 2005. The boat features six staterooms. Four are like my aforementioned cabin and two are upscale Admiral Staterooms on the Library Deck. These feature sliding glass doors, a small balcony, spacious bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and showers, office areas, and living rooms.

Aside from the cabins, the salon on the Main Deck is the place to relax, entertain and mingle while aboard the Safari Spirit. This is where guests watch movies, read, mingle and view wildlife and traffic along the river. Next to the salon is an outdoor aft-lounge area with seating and a sports deck to enter the water. This deck also features the captain’s bridge, which is open at anytime to guests who want to drop by and look at the scenery, study sea charts, or chat with crew members on duty.

The next day we cruised into the Bonneville Dam. To reach the dam our vessel entered a massive steel lock, which filled with water, floating us up 74 ft to the higher part of the Columbia River. We docked here and drove to the Bonneville Dam.

the Safari Spirit entering a steel lock to take it to the higher part of the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam
The massive Bonneville Dam lock on the Columbia River lifts boats 74 feet

At the dam we toured the eight-story hydro-electric powerhouse the runs everything, and also got an underwater view of a salmon ladder. We then drove to a nearby hatchery to meet Herman, a 68 –yr-old, 10-ft-long sturgeon, then to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River
Tours of Bonneville Dam are a unique highlight on the Columbia River

Back on board, we enjoyed crusted rockfish and Washington wine for dinner and then cruised into the Dalles Dam and entered a lock with a beautiful big paddle boat beside us.The next morning I sat in the Jacuzzi on the top deck and waved to passing barges and boats. I then walked around charming Walla Walla, Washington. For dinner, we docked in beautiful Richland, Washington and met author Roy Gephardt in the salon, who spoke about Hanford Dam and its nuclear past.

the writer in a Jacuzzi on board the Safari Spirit with the Columbia River in the background
Sitting in a Jacuzzi on deck is a great way to relax on the river

In the morning, we rode a jet boat beneath the towering cliffs of Hell’s Canyon, where we zoomed over rapids, had a picnic lunch, and studied ancient Nez Perce Indian pictographs. This experienced was only equaled by our kayaking excursion down the Palouse River, where we explored hidden caves and islands, and were buzzed by a military jet, which appeared out of nowhere.

the captain and a crewman of the Safari Spirit in front of their yacht
The captain and crew on the Safari Spirit make great friends after a week on the river

American Safari cruises the Columbia River between September and November. For more information on taking an American Safari yacht cruise down the Columbia and Snake Rivers, Hawaii, Mexico, Alaska, or Washington and British Columbia, visit www.amsafari.com or call (888) 862-8881.

Related Articles:
Lewis & Clark Expedition Cruise; St. Louis; St. Louis and Kansas City; Cruising the St. Lawrence River; River Cruises


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Let Greg know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Going to Universal Studios Hollywood to see the Harry Potter "land" is on my bucket list!!

-- Nancy, Hawaii

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Feedback for A Spring Escape to Maui And Hotel Wailea

I leave here April 21 for Maui and can hardly wait. It'll be my 15th trip, more or less and I love it, and your pictures.

-- Ellie – Port Ludlow, WA

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Hi Greg,

It's not a forest of banyan trees in Lahaina by the harbor. It's one huge tree, about 140 years old. It's an important landmark of Lahaina, and one of our favorite views.We always stay at the Pioneer Inn, overlooking the harbor and the banyan tree. Every evening thousands of mynah birds fly into the tree, chattering and fluttering until they settle down for the night. Otherwise, great article.

-- Virginia – Northridge, CA

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Feedback for Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa

Very nice story, Greg.

-- Maris Somerville – Los Angeles, CA



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