A waterfront vacation doesn't have to mean a trip to the beach. River locales, such as charming San Antonio or rugged Snoqualmie, offer plenty of the same draws as oceans and lakes. Flowing past some of America's best cities, around mountain ranges, and through desserts, these rivers are the optimal alternative vacation spots for boating, fishing, hiking, and more while on vacation. So get ready to dive into our favorite river destinations.
1. May River in Bluffton, South Carolina
The May River is just one corner of gorgeous Carolina Lowcountry.
Carolina Lowcountry is a truly other-worldly corner of the United States. Here, salty marshes and mossy forests are connected by scenic waterways. The May, Cooper, and New Rivers wind through the region’s haunting landscapes, providing visitors with unique ways to soak in the beauty of the region. Boating and kayaking are popular, especially since bottlenose dolphins are common in this area. You can also go fishing, crabbing, or shrimping.
STAY: The Inn at Palmetto Bluff
This "inn" in Carolina Lowcountry is really more akin to a sprawling estate, offering a range of recreational facilities, including golf, bicycling, tennis, croquet, kayaking, and swimming; plus, the luxury spa is highly acclaimed.
2. Rio Grande in Albuquerque, New Mexico
This historic river is a major tourist attraction in Albuquerque.
The Rio Grande flows through the Southwestern city of Albuquerque from north to south. Visitors can hike through the state parks that border the river — visiting the Rio Grande Nature Center, the Albuquerque Biological Park, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, or the Rio Grande Valley State Park along the way — and get up close and personal with turtles, beavers, coyotes, and great horned owls, just to name a few. The Paseo del Bosque Trail is Albuquerque’s most popular and accessible thoroughfare. This 16-mile paved trail attracts walkers, cyclists, in-line skaters, and equestrians. Many also choose to kayak, canoe, or raft down the river.
STAY: Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa
This upscale resort is a sprawling property on the Santa Ana Pueblo reservation 15 miles north of Albuquerque. Its gorgeous natural setting under vivid blue skies offers panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Trails lead directly to the Rio Grande and the resort features numerous activities, as well as a golf course, restaurants, and several pools.
3. Snoqualmie River in Snoqualmie, Washington
Prepare to be awed at this Washington State destination.
Best known as the home of Snoqualmie Falls, the 268-foot high waterfall, this town offers a lot in the way of outdoor adventures. Located about an hour from Seattle, Snoqualmie attracts visitors looking forward to hiking, as a variety of trails surround the falls (which reach a height 100-feet greater than that of Niagara Falls). Visitors can also rent mountain bikes, go fishing or kayaking, and play a round of golf. In the winter, visitors can go on day trips to the slopes and try their hands (er, feet, we guess) at skiing or snowboarding.
STAY: Salish Lodge & Spa
The Salish Lodge & Spa features 84 rooms in a gorgeous setting overlooking the falls in Snoqualmie. The historic property, which originally opened with only eight rooms back in 1916, is a popular romantic getaway and wedding destination.
4. Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois
This urban river offers a different spin on the typical waterfront vacation.
Connecting the Great Lakes with the Mississippi Valley waterways, the Chicago River is an important -- and beautiful -- waterway. Visitors can learn about Chicago’s modern architecture while aboard one of the city’s tour boats, or save a few dollars and hop on a water taxi for an inexpensive way to get around the city and check out the sights. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular, with some excursions leading visitors out to Lake Michigan. You can also stroll the River Walk for some great views.
STAY: Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront
This mid-range hotel is centrally located in The Loop, on the northern edge of Chicago's Theatre District. The bright fitness center with great river and city views, the casual restaurant, and its wonderful location make this a top pick.
5. Mississippi River in New Orleans, Louisiana
Hop on a steamboat in the French Quarter and experience historical NOLA.
For years, the only way to reach New Orleans was to travel down the Mississippi River by ship, and today that tradition perseveres — though it is significantly more localized. River tours through NOLA by steamboat of paddlewheeler are still extremely popular; visitors can learn about the city’s rich history, soak in the views, and listen to live jazz music while aboard. Travelers should also check out Louisiana’s stunning backcountry, with boat tours of the bayou’s unique natural wonders leaving from the city center daily. For those who prefer dry land, the Mississippi River Trail, a 3,000-mile bicycle path that stretches all the way from NOLA to the river’s starting point in Minnesota, is a must-visit.
STAY: Audubon Cottages
With a gorgeous Tuscan-style courtyard complete with a heated saltwater pool; seven exclusive one- and two-bedroom cottages; top-notch services; and a central location in the French Quarter, the Audubon Cottages is a great pick for travelers looking to splurge.
6. Savannah River in Savannah, Georgia
Keep an eye out for dolphins and manatees in the southern sections of the river.
Savannah, settled in 1773, is one of the best-preserved spots in the south. It still has its Antebellum mansions, cobblestone streets, and scenic public squares, making visiting the city feel like walking back in time. The Savannah River also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the region’s beautiful natural surroundings. Riverboat cruises, like those in NOLA, are quite popular, as are canoe and kayak excursions. Some ambitious travelers even make a whole trip out of it, paddling the river’s length in pursuit of otters, snapping turtles, alligators, and even dolphins and manatees in the lower sections of the river.
STAY: The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
The 403-room Westin Savannah is an upper-middle-range resort located on an island across the river from Savannah’s Historic District. The main draws here are the PGA golf course and the high-end spa.
7. Hudson River in the Catskills, New York
The Hudson River is a gorgeous sight once it gets north of NYC.
Though many picture the Hudson River as it is seen in New York City -- questionable cleanliness, packed full of barges and cruise ships -- in Upstate New York, this waterway takes on a much more pleasant appearance. In the Catskill Mountains, the river is a beautiful site, and many people enjoy the colorful foliage along its banks in the fall months. Canoeing and kayaking are standard fun, as is whitewater rafting and tubing, which is particularly popular in the region. Fly-fishing for trout is a nice pastime that has been feeding farmers of the region for years.
STAY: Diamond Mills Hotel
The elegant Diamond Mills is one of the most upscale hotels in the area. It features 30 beautiful rooms with rustic European decor, balconies or terraces with views of the Esopus Creek falls, high-end amenities, and bathrooms with radiant-heat floors.
8. San Antonio River in San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio's Riverwalk is one of the city's most lively areas.
Downtown/Riverwalk truly is San Antonio's heart and soul. The San Antonio River Walk, a line of public walkways along the San Antonio River, is one of the most vibrant areas of the city, and is often called one of the top tourist attractions in all of Texas. Plus, it can easily be explored by foot. The city also capitalizes on the popularity of Downtown's Alamo, and offers tons of tours of the mission, as well as tours of other 18th-century missions in the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.
STAY: Omni La Mansion Del Rio
The Spanish Colonial architecture of the Omni La Mansion del Rio gives the upscale hotel a relaxed hacienda feel. The vibe is carried on in one of the city's best hotel restaurants, Las Canarias, as well as mariachi performances at the comfortable -- and lively -- heated outdoor pool.
9. Ashley and Cooper Rivers in Charleston, South Carolina
Southern charm is alive and well on these river banks.
This relaxed Southern city is known for its historic charm, romantic ambiance, and military heritage. Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, is formed by the coming together of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, both of which provide gorgeous scenery. Biking along the river banks is a great choice for families, as is boating. The Archaeological Canoe Trail will take you past historic shipwrecks and river houses, as well as introduce you to the area’s wildlife.
STAY: Courtyard Charleston Waterfront
The 179-room Courtyard Charleston Waterfront is located on the Ashley Marina, right off the highway and next to the Medical University of South Carolina. The waterfront pool with a landscaped patio and marina views is a highlight.
10. Potomac River in Washington, DC
The Potomac is just one of the many places to explore in DC.
The Potomac River runs through our nation’s capital, offering plenty of activities for those in town for more than just politics. Georgetown serves as the city’s waterside community, and is one of the most interesting places to shop and dine in D.C. In addition to the museums and historic sights to explore, visitors can also go kayaking and biking along the waterfront. There are also a variety of sightseeing cruises that provide great views of the Kennedy Center, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, U.S. Capitol Building, and more.
STAY: The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown
Forget gilded mirrors. The 86-room Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, housed in an historic industrial building, has the original brick and steel beams and a cozy slate fireplace in the lobby. Service is excellent and the hotel's central Georgetown location is superb, though rooms may leave something to be desired.
11. Eagle River in Beaver Creek, Colorado
Hike in the mountains or raft down the river: your choice!
This tributary of the Colorado River flows past some of the state’s best ski resorts, helping make the area popular year-round. In addition to hiking the various mountain trails, visitors to the area can go kayaking and whitewater rafting down the river. Or they can try their hand at fly fishing and try to snag themselves a trout for dinner.
STAY: Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain
Top-notch features at this luxe Westin include the celebrated Spa Anjali, a gorgeous heated outdoor lap pool, delicious restaurant options, and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Throughout the property, guests can take in stunning views of the mountains and Eagle River.