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On the water

Scenic Northwest cruises, from lakes to sound

By CARY ORDWAY

Whether it's a scenic cruise up 55-mile-long Lake Chelan or a dinner cruise down the Columbia River, there are numerous options in the Northwest for those who want to spend a little time on the water. The choices are in every geographic region as well as every price range.

Cruising Northwest waters is one of the best ways to enjoy this part of the country. And, there are now cruise companies offering day or overnight excursions in the San Juan Islands, to and from Victoria, B.C., along the Washington Coast, up the Columbia River and on several lakes throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, in the U.S. or British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.

If you have friends or family coming from another part of the country this summer, a Northwest cruise can be the ideal choice, sure to create those lasting memories of a very special and scenic vacation.

Here then are some options for your Northwest cruising:

Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is just three and a half hours from Seattle and a cruise on the Lady of the Lake II takes you deep into the North Cascades wilderness on a trip that is one of the most scenic in the Northwest.

Lake Chelan is North America's third deepest lake and the largest natural lake in Washington. It�s most well-known for its clean, clear water and is popular with boaters, water and jet skiers and sun-seekers throughout the summer season. Sights along your four-hour (one-way) cruise include rugged snow-capped peaks, mountain goats and deer, waterfalls, wildflowers and thick forests.

At the far end of the lake you come to the rustic resort community of Stehekin, accessible only by boat or floatplane. The Lady stops at Stehekin where you can get a bite to eat at the restaurant there. You can also shop for local crafts or take a walk to a wonderful bakery just up the road, deep in the woods. Rainbow Falls is another excellent side trip.

For a faster trip up lake, the Lady Express will make the trip in 1½ hours each way with a one-hour stop in Stehekin to do some exploring. For more information on schedules and fares call 509-682-4584 or visit their website at www.ladyofthelake.com .

San Juan Islands and Victoria B.C.

The Victoria Clipper offers regularly scheduled service from Seattle's Pier 69 to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands where you can explore for a day or plan an extended stay to do some island hopping on these very scenic and diverse islands. The Clipper also cruises to Victoria, B.C. through Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca where you can enjoy afternoon tea, great shopping, museums, and beautiful Butchart Gardens.

The Victoria Clipper also offers several packages. For more information on packages, schedules, and fares call 800-888-2535 or visit their website at www.clippervacations.com.

View the wildlife of the San Juans from the Island Caper, a 110-foot vessel from Island Mariner Cruises, where you will see Orca and possibly minke whales, porpoises and the occasional bald eagle on this 70 to 90-mile cruise. This cruise has two naturalists on board to answer you questions and tell you about the area and what you will be seeing. They also offer a Bellingham Bay Harbor History Cruise, and private charter. For more information on schedules and fares call 877-734-8866 or visit their website at www.orcawatch.com.

Seattle

When in Seattle, you have a number of great choices for a sightseeing cruise. Argosy Cruises operates several boats daily year-round from downtown Seattle, Lake Union, and Kirkland City Dock. They feature brunch, lunch or dinner cruising with breathtaking views, live music, and freshly prepared food. Travel 2½ hours on a narrated cruise through the Locks. If you've never been on board a boat entering in and out of locks when the water is raised and lowered it is quite an experience. For more information on the many other cruises offered, schedules and fares call 800-642-7816, or visit their website at www.argosycruises.com.

Portland

Portland Spirit offers a variety of destinations and vessels to choose from. Along with their dinner cruise they also offer a brunch or lunch cruise where you can enjoy the scenery of Portland, Oregon and the Willamette Valley, cruise the waters of the Columbia River, listen to live bands, or hear an historical narrative as they take you back to the time that Lewis and Clark were exploring the area. They also offer Jetboat cruises to various areas. For more information on cruises, schedules and fares call 800-224-3901 or visit their website at www.portlandspirit.com.

Coeur d'Alene

There are several public cruises offered from Independence Point in downtown Coeur d�Alene, Idaho. A 90-minute cruise of the northern bays takes you on a scenic route where you will see wildlife, and the world�s only floating golf green. Or you can take a lazy six-hour cruise the length of the St. Joe River, (the world�s highest navigable river).

For more information on the cruises listed and other cruise options, schedules and fares call 800-688-5253 or visit their website atwww.cdaresort.com/activities/cruises.php.

Flathead Lake

Located just south of Kalispell, Montana, Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Far West Cruises offers charters, private parties and sunset cruises with a capacity of 200, or you can sail the lake with Questa Sailing Charters on one of two 51' Historic Q Class racing sloops. You will see beautiful tree-lined shores and abundant wildlife. Wild Horse Island, the lakes largest island, is a wildlife refuge for deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, bear and an abundance of birdlife. For more information contact Far West Cruises at 406-857-3203, or Questa Sailing Charters at 406-837-5569.

Edmonton

Cruising on a riverboat, life just doesn't get any better. The Edmonton Queen Riverboat sails Friday through Sunday as soon as the ice breaks up sometime in May, through June and then three times a day Thursday through Sunday in July and August. They offer Sunday brunch, Kids Days, and other themed excursions as they cruise the scenic River Valley. For more information on cruises, schedules, and fares call 877-281-2628 or visit their website at www.edmontonqueen.com

Photos, from top: Victoria Clipper III, Lady of the Lake, Columbia Gorge steamer, Argosy Cruises

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Salish Lodge, Skitchine Lodge, Lake Chelan and the Rocky Mountaineer.

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