A little lesson in geography and some interesting facts:

Rivers of the USA

In this big, wonderful country called the USA, there are a wide variety of waterways, but only a few of the rivers are considered reliably navigable for cruise ships. We have plenty of bays, sounds, coastlines, straights, and lakes (and some are pretty Great!) but here, we’ll focus on the great rivers of the USA just waiting for you to explore on a cruise ship (in no particular order):

Columbia River

  • Divides the states of Oregon and Washington, but begins in Canada
  • Is 1,240 miles long
  • Was traveled by Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery
  • Only U.S. river to travel through a mountain range. It travels through the Cascade mountain range as a result of the unique geology which formed the famed Columbia River Gorge 
  • Largest port cities: Astoria, Oregon; Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, Washington; The Dalles, Oregon; Richland, Washington
  • Is the largest river flowing into the Pacific Ocean in North America
  • Ocean going vessels can only reach as far as the Portland/Vancouver area. 
  • 11 dams are on the main river

Mississippi River

  • Travels almost the entire width of the U.S.A. – from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico
  • Is the USA’s 2nd-longest river at approximately 2,340 miles (first place goes just barely to the Missouri River.)
  • Highly prized and hard-fought during the Civil War
  • Famed for paddle boats made common in the late 1800s
  • “Ol Man River just keeps rolling along” from the movie “Show Boat” is probably the most famous song ever written about a river. It was written in 1927 about life along the Mississippi River.  
  • Largest port cities: Minneapolis/St. Paul; Red Wing, Minnesota; St.Louis, Missouri; New Orleans, Louisiana
  • One of the world’s most important commercial waterways
  • The width varies from over 11 miles wide near Bena, Minnesota to just 20-30 feet wide at Lake Itasca
  • The slow-moving river averages just 1.2 mph, or half the speed of a person walking.

Ohio River

  • 981 miles long
  • Travels between Pittsburgh and the Mississippi River
  • Although it is named the Ohio, it actually flows through or borders 6 states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia
  • There are 20 dams on the Ohio River
  • At its widest point, it is approximately 1 mile wide near Smithland, Kentucky
  • The largest recorded fish ever caught in the river was a 49” longnose gar weighing 25 pounds, in 1966. 

Hudson River

  • 315 miles long
  • Famous home of West Point Military Academy which overlooks the river
  • A strategic waterway during the American Revolution
  • Known for inspiring the Hudson River School of Landscape Painting
  • Flows mostly through New York State, but briefly borders New Jersey
  • A favorite location for summer homes of wealthy families in the late 1800s and early 1900s. You can see several mansions on the banks overlooking the river.
  • Home to the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. When built in 1889 as a railroad bridge,  it was the world’s longest bridge at 1.28 miles long. Rebuilt in 2009 as the “Walkway Over the Hudson” it is now for pedestrians only.

Napa River

  • The 55 mile long river is a relatively short river only recently being sailed by a small cruise ship
  • Begins in Napa Valley and empties into the San Francisco Bay
  • Although numbers diminished in the early 20th century, native wildlife species are rebounding  including the Californian golden beaver, Pacific lamprey, several species of salmon, and white sturgeon
  •  What begins as a creek at its head, becomes a lazy river up to 50’ wide
  • The last 17 miles before it combines with the bay area, is an estuary with fluctuating tidal system where salt water mixes with fresh water.

Tennessee River

  • Flows between eastern Tennessee and Alabama then into Kentucky where it joins the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky.
  • Its u-shaped course is approximately 652 miles long
  • The lower course of the river was especially strategic during the Civil War
  • A series of locks were added beginning in the 1930s to improve navigation of the upper course of the river. 
  • Once called the Cherokee River, its current name comes from the Cherokee town called Tanasi. 
  • It is the only river in the U.S. to leave a state, and then enter it again further downstream.
  • Its average depth is only 9 ft, limiting the type of cruise ships that can sail it.


Why not the Missouri River? It is the longest river in the United States….   

Just barely longer than the Mississippi River by about 100 feet, the Missouri is technically the longest river in the USA. The Missouri River begins in the Rocky Mountains flowing eastward and joins the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. Averaging only between 10-20 feet deep, the Missouri is not reliably deep enough for small cruise ship traffic, although several small dinner cruise ships do sail some short sections of the waterway.

Why are we named USA River Cruises?

While we love sailing the waterways all over the USA including cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, New England, the Great Lakes, Florida, Chesapeake Bay, and the Southeast coastline, we began specializing in river cruises. Over 20 years or so, we have grown to include rivers and waterways all over the United States. We are big fans of the smaller cruise ships that sail these waters. Think of us as the “Small Ship” cruise agency exploring all the waterways of the USA!  


We also are happy to help you find a cruise to anywhere in the world your heart desires. We’ve helped clients visit exotic places such as Tahiti and Bora Bora; sail through the Panama Canal; tour the Christmas Markets along the Rhine River, and tick off bucket list locations such as Iceland, the Greek Islands, Scotland, Venice, Japan, and Portugal. Where would you like to go?  We’d love to help make your travel dreams come true!


A sampling of some regional river cruises you might enjoy:

San Francisco Bay Cruise

Roundtrip San Francisco, CA

  • 7 Nights
  • February 17, 2023,February 24, 2023,March 3, 2023--
    11 more dates available.
  • From $5,990
  • American Jazz
  • New Itinerary for 2023!! Save up to $800 off per Stateroom on Select Cruises!!
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Viking Heart of the Delta

New Orleans to Memphis

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7-Day Round Trip Portland Cruise

Roundtrip Vancouver

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St. Louis to Minneapolis | 9-Day Voyages

St. Louis to Minneapolis

  • 8 Nights
  • July 21, 2023,July 28, 2023,August 4, 2023
  • From $2,699
  • American Queen
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Columbia & Snake Rivers Cruise – American Song

Portland to Clarkston

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Louisville to Pittsburgh | 9-Day Voyages

Louisville to Pittsburgh

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Hudson River

Roundtrip New York City

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Hudson River

Roundtrip New York City

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