If it weren’t for natural waterways, few of America’s cities would have ever been founded.
Rivers historically played a commercial and life-sustaining role in the origins of America’s towns. Today, stunning views, an exciting atmosphere and plenty of unique experiences are reasons travelers enjoy riverfront destinations. Delve into this smattering of riverfront cities sure to delight your group.
Before Las Vegas, a small Kentucky town held the title of Sin City thanks to its Prohibition-era reputation. Newport has been through a whirlwind of change since then, transforming into a popular riverfront community. The city sits just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and today’s groups visit Newport’s riverside for its Cincy skyline views, numerous festivals and popular activities.
Enjoy Newport on the Levee, a waterfront hub with restaurants, shops and the million-gallon, award-winning Newport Aquarium. Or quench your thirst on the B-Line, northern Kentucky’s collection of craft distilleries, bourbon bars and bourbon-centric restaurants. The Riverfront Commons pathway is a dream for runners, bikers and walkers. Take it to meander along the dozen miles linking Newport to Cincinnati, northern Kentucky’s river cities and other nearby trail systems.
Take to the water via Riverboat Row for a river cruise, go walking on the historic bridges crossing the Ohio River or visit Roebling Murals to contemplate public art on the water.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
If there’s anything that defines Green Bay, Wisconsin, it’s the city’s relationship to water. And in addition to the bay itself, running right through the middle of town is the Fox River.
Planners can engage any number of outfitters to help their groups experience Green Bay from the river. Try kayaking, canoeing, sailing and standup paddleboarding. And don’t worry if your guests haven’t grown into their sea legs yet. Classes and how-tos are readily available.
For can’t-miss waterfront activities, go to the Bay Beach Amusement park, right at the mouth of the Fox. Ride the Ferris wheel or the Zippin Pippin — Elvis Presley’s favorite roller coaster — for adrenaline-filled views of the landscape.
Take in the sights at a slower pace with the downtown river walk on the Fox River Trail. Stop at the National Railroad Museum, the Neville Public Museum and the South Bay Marina. Plan to spend a few hours savoring all the marina has to offer, from boat culture to restaurants and pop-up events.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The Big Sioux River encircles and runs through the heart of South Dakota’s largest city, culminating in the natural feature lending the town its name: Sioux Falls.
Groups can stroll through the very walkable downtown to the River Boulevard Greenway to explore Falls Park, Sioux Falls’ No. 1 attraction. Climb to the top of the five-story observation tower for panoramic views of the skyline and the city-defining river cascades.
Plan to do the Sculpture Walk to view the monumental Arc of Dreams, a landmark structure stretching over the Big Sioux River. Or view the city from the water by kayak or canoe.
Downtown Riverfest happens in August, with live music, food trucks, beverage vendors, and local goods and makers. And during the snowy season, Falls Park transforms into a walkable and drivable winter wonderland.
Mark Twain described traveling to Dubuque as “always through enchanting scenery, there being no other kind on the Upper Mississippi.” Iowa’s First Town was nominated as one of USA Today’s top 10 riverfront cities thanks to its relationship to the Mississippi. That means Twain’s enchanting 1882 scenery can still be relished today in Dubuque.
Here’s a piece of history that will help your group’s trivia team cinch the trophy: Dubuque was established 13 years before Iowan statehood. Visitors can learn these and other fascinating aspects of state history right on the riverfront. Add the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Dubuque Shot Tower — the only shot tower remaining west of the Mississippi — to your itinerary for just that. Once your group’s history craving has been satisfied, go to Dubuque’s Art Walk on the river to view a curated collection of sculptures. Want to see the town from the Mississippi River? Climb aboard an authentic paddleboat, just as Mark Twain would have done 100 years ago.
Resplendent with green spaces, Pittsburgh is akin to a city within a national park. Moreover, it is defined by the confluence of three rivers. The Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet at Point State Park, forming the Ohio River — right where downtown Pittsburgh’s cultural district is perched.
On the North Shore, check out the Carnegie Science Center or the Andy Warhol Museum. Sports fans can head to Highmark Stadium on the Ohio, home to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team, or PNC Park, the ballpark of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Plus, from hiking, biking and walking along miles of riverfront trails to kayaking, paddleboarding and boating, there are plenty of ways to re-create outdoors in the Steel City. Finally, for those who would rather let the professionals do the heavy lifting, book a riverboat cruise to take in the sights without breaking a sweat.
Columbia, South Carolina
The only place where you’ll find rapids alongside Spanish moss in a city center is Columbia, South Carolina. Whether you’d like to experience Columbia from the misty seat of a whitewater raft or you’d prefer to stay dry, the Palmetto State capital offers friendly, casual, artsy and intellectual pursuits for groups of all kinds.
The area’s must-do waterfront attractions start with the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, one of the nation’s finest. Feed the giraffes, indulge your wild side with zoo programs and zipline across the Saluda River from the zoo to the botanic gardens. Feeling adventuresome? Book an afternoon braving the rapids or plan a jaunt to Congaree National Park, the only national park in the state, just on the outskirts of town.
Step aside, Niagara Falls. Spokane, Washington’s iconic cascades put visiting this riverfront city on the top of many a bucket list. The vibrant cultural hub in the Pacific Northwest is full of unique waterside activities perfect for groups.
Raft whitewater on the Spokane for a truly immersive adventure five minutes from downtown. Or take it easy on rented paddleboards or kayaks. Meander upstream to grab a quick craft beverage before floating back down. Or play like a local in the summer and float on inner tubes downstream of the Spokane Falls. Fishing for Redband trout is always an option, too.
Then head to Riverfront Park to while away the day. For incredible views of the city and the upper and lower Spokane River falls, take a ride in Numerica SkyRide’s suspended cabins. While you’re there, soak up the sun, sculptures and the United States Pavilion from the 1974 World’s Fair. Just around the block, listen to a performance by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. Squeeze in a promenade exploring historic Spokane. There, over half of the downtown structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Missoula is unlike any other city in the Rockies. The Garden City earned its moniker for its location in the lush mountains of Western Montana’s Glacier Country. And its location on the Clark Fork River invites a thirst for adventure, as well as an appreciation for art and culture. On any given day, visitors may spot or join kayakers and surfers — you read that right, surfers — out on Brennan’s Wave, or appreciate painting and art on the downtown riverbank.
For riverside fun, make for the Carousel for Missoula and the Montana Natural History Center. Art lovers should head to the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, located within the University of Montana. Want to go outdoors? Let your group try a hand at rafting, surfing, or windsurfing through town.