Quirky Cruise
June 6, 2019

Climbing & Descending the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia & Snake Rivers

The Pacific Northwest’s Scenic Columbia & Snake Rivers.

By Ted Scull.

Few passengers aboard UnCruise Adventure‘s 90-passenger SS Legacy had the slightest inkling of just how dramatic a river journey could be and how they can become personal explorers.

At dawn on the first morning of the cruise, I awoke to the sight of Pacific breakers pounding the breakwater at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Days later we had arrived at the headwaters of navigation where Idaho, Oregon and Washington borders meet, for a jet boat ride up through the Hells Canyon Snake River rapids. Herds of big horn sheep watched us from the slopes above. We step ashore to become acquainted with our natural surroundings.

Sailing upriver, the soggy coast gives way to the dramatic Columbia Gorge and the flanking rain forests. We stopped at the foot of pencil-thin 620-feet high Multnomah Falls and enjoyed a hike up to a bridge directly opposite the cascading waters that literally spill over a cliff edge from a point high above.

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

UnCruise guests on the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. * Photo: UnCruise

The Columbia Gorge, Locks & Dams

Just above the Columbia Gorge, a wide section of the river subject to high winds, became the birthplace for windsurfing and kite surfing, highly popular pastimes in the warmer months.

At Bonneville Dam and Locks, a guide told us about hydroelectric power. She also explained that she counts salmon and shad to keep an annual record of these important fish numbers. While she spoke, lamprey eels and fish passed by the lounge windows to climb the ladders — a series of pools that allow them to make their way upstream.

Many of the eight locks we would pass through have lifts of 100 feet; that’s 15 feet higher than the combined three Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal.

Then at the nearby Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center, the exhibits and a film explained the cataclysmic geological creation of the gorge and the tribal history of Nez Perce.

Explorers such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came this way in the first years of the 19th century. They were followed by missionaries and early settlers, using the Oregon Trail and Columbia River.

There are 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.

The Legacy transits 8 locks on the Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

Out of the Forest and Into Hells Canyon

Leaving the Columbia River and climbing the Snake, the land becomes increasingly arid with colorful plateaus and basalt rock formations flanking the river, taking on a distinctly southwestern appearance.

At times, there was no sign of human habitation. Then a long freight train carrying grain would slide by on the shore, give us a whistle, then disappear returning the landscape to silence.

Docking at Clarkston, Washington opposite Lewistown, Idaho, we boarded jet boats for the white-water 50-mile day trip up into the Snake River’s Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, recently reintroduced following their decimation in 1926, dotted the cliffs and tiny patches of sand at water level.

Jet Boat Tour into Hell's Canyon on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Jet Boat Tour into Hell’s Canyon. * Photo: UnCruise

Fishermen were out in force in boats angling for steelhead trout as we passed from Washington to Oregon and Idaho. We stopped three times, for a stroll up to a naturalist site with a great view along the canyon, for a picnic lunch, and for a close-up study of some ancient Indian petroglyphs drawn on a flat rock surface.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

The SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull

Downriver to Maryhill

En route downriver, we made a visit to Maryhill, a mansion-now-museum built by railroad baron Samuel Hill high up a cliff overlooking the river and housing an eclectic art collection. It features Rodin sculpture, chess sets, costumes, Fabergé eggs and jewelry that had belonged to Queen Marie of Romania.

When & What

The one-week Columbia & Snake Rivers trips operate in September, October and sometimes early November with the wine and culinary departures in the later part of the season. Vineyards undulate through the Hood River Valley in both Oregon and Washington.

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Overhead view of a vineyard near Hood River. * Photo: UnCruise

The plethora of activities during the week may include hiking (walking poles available), kayaking, inflatable skiffs, paddle boarding, and of course, presentations by naturalists in the ship’s lounge and ashore. Out on deck look for osprey, white pelicans and bald eagers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

John & Colleen kayaking in the Palouse River. * Photo: John Roberts

SS Legacy: A Classic Beauty

The SS Legacy provides the perfect stage, both inside and out, to witness the stunning landscape of this region. A 1985-built product of Bender Shipbuilding & Repair, Mobile, Alabama, twin Caterpillar diesels drive her at up to 15 knots, a generous speed for a small coastal passenger vessel.

At 192 feet in length, the SS Legacy carries up to 90 passengers and an All-American crew of 34-35.

Dan Blanchard, Un-Cruise Adventures owner and CEO, has spent his entire life living and working in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, He knows that with the SS Legacy he has a gem on his hands.

In her current guise, the hull at the main deck is black with a thick gold stripe above that. The black funnel has a narrow gold top and is embossed with a gold star. Her three masts are black with gold at the forepeak.

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff on a Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

Guests moving to and from the SS Legacy by skiff. * Photo: UnCruise

Within the Vessel

Both the Main Lounge and the Dining Room have retro patterned tin ceilings, while wooden panels enclose the square columns and surround the wooden dance floor.

The lounge’s wooden bar with its elaborately wood-framed mirrored-glass backdrop is particularly inviting whether taking to one of the five stools or standing at either end to chat up the bartender and fellow passengers.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Business as usual at the ship’s bar. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge, seating all passengers at one time, is furnished with formal wood-framed chairs surrounding small marble-topped tables, and by the windows, plush armchairs and settees. The deep blue carpet is studded with symmetrically arranged stylized stars. Views to the outside encompass a 270-degree arc.

relaxing in the lounge on a Columbia & Snake River cruise

Relaxing on board the SS Legacy. * Photo: Ted Scull


In the dining room one deck below and aft, the seating is banquettes and round tables for six with views through the large port and starboard windows. A handsome dark-wood serving buffet with a mirrored backdrop is framed by fluted wooden pilasters.

All meals are waiter-served with ample seating for all passengers to dine at once. Depending on the daily itinerary, breakfast service starts at 7:30 or 8:00, while lunchtime is between noon and 1:00 and dinner at 6:30 or 7:00.

The Klondike dining room aboard the Legacy

The Klondike dining room. * Photo: UnCruise

The friendly American staff, exhibiting a wide range of ages, provides good service, and the food is varied and very well prepared.

Dinner may start with a chef’s amuse, something creative and tangy, then moves onto black bean soup, smoked salmon chowder or melon with prosciutto chips. The main course (a choice of three entrees) might be seared jumbo prawns, poached arctic char, rack of lamb chops, veal saltimbocca, and for vegetarians, goat cheese and spinach lasagna, linguini with mushrooms or a saffron vegetable risotto.

Freshly made desserts are peach and blueberry Napoleon, citrus cheese cake and, perhaps, Baked Alaska. Complimentary beers from Alaska and Seattle and red and white wines, featuring Columbia River Valley origins, accompany lunch and dinner.

Breakfast service has a daily changing special and always available eggs of any style, along with bacon, sausages, toast, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit and juices.

An early riser breakfast is served on the Grand Salon’s buffet, and it includes a couple of daily changing hot dishes. Most passengers who start their breakfast here, then descend to the dining room for the multi-course affair.

Fresh fruit is available all day, with homemade baked cookies in the afternoon and a generous selection of changing hors d’oeuvres before dinner. Wine, beer, soft drinks, cocktails, coffee and tea are complimentary and available throughout the day.

In the corner of the dining room is a wine bar and then keep going aft and you hit the Pesky Barnacle, a gathering space wrapped around the stern for donning life jackets for excursions. From here you step into the Sea Dragon that provides easy access to the inflatable skiffs, kayaks and other waterborne activities.

Other Amenities

Additional amenities are a sauna on the Upper Deck, two hot tubs on Bridge Deck, plus exercise cycles aft and under cover on the same deck. Yoga classes are conducted here as well.

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Yoga session on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

All About Cabins

The 45 cabins on three decks are all outside, ranging from 100 to 297 square feet, with those on Lounge and Upper decks having doors that open onto side decks for super quick access to what’s outside. The Upper Deck promenade provides a circular constitutional walk with 14.4 circuits equaling a mile. Cabins on Main Deck have portholes, and a large 600-square-foot, two-room Owner’s Suite sits in splendor isolation atop the Sun Deck just aft of the bridge. It comes with all sorts of amenities such as a stocked wet bar, private DVD collection, two TVs and a small library.

Bed arrangements are fixed twins, double beds or queens. Two forward cabins sleep up to three and the suite up to four. Cabins have individual temperature control, flat screen TV/DVD and a iPod docking station. All have a vanity-cum-desk, chair, adequate drawer and closet space, and small bathrooms with showers. Antique-style mirrors are attached to the bathroom doors.

The cabins have wood-framed padded headboards, frosted reading lamps, brass window trim with the top pane a drop window, thus allowing a flow of fresh air. An elevator connects three of the four passenger decks.

Columbia & Snake Rivers

Here is a Commander category cabin. * Photo: UnCruise

Topside & in the Pilothouse

Three forward viewing areas are on the Lounge Deck with stairs up to the Upper and Bridge decks. The pilothouse is roomy and open to passengers unless otherwise stated, usually when maneuvering in tight spaces. The captain and the first mate are welcoming and often have company. Converse about whatever is on your mind, perhaps about navigation in still and rapidly flowing waters.

Most impressive are the large wooden wheel and handsome twin brass telegraphs along with all the modern equipment needed to navigate the boat in open and constricted coastal and inland waters.

The SS Legacy’s classic steamboat style and period interiors provide the perfect vehicle for appreciating the historical nature of the trip as well as the spectacular scenery from vantage points all over the vessel.

C’mon in! The Legacy’s bridge. * Photo: Ted

The Best Part?

We’re giving a free cruise for two aboard the SS Legacy — 7 nights on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Click here to enter and sign up today; the contest ends June 30, 2019.

Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary

The Columbia & Snake Rivers itinerary.


Read more about cruising on the Columbia & Snake Rivers in contributor John Roberts’ article!


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