America’s Best River Towns

By Sarah Ross and Alison M. Jones
Photos by Alison M. Jones

American River’s recent blog, “America’s 8 Best River Towns” features four towns NWNL has also enjoyed while on its US watershed expeditions. This inspired us to create this mini “River Town Photo Log” of those 4 historic and unique river towns and 5 other NWNL “honorable mention” choices that didn’t make the list.

Comment below to tell us about your favorite river town!

Cleveland, OH

In 2019, NWNL advisor Judy Shaw invited our Director Alison Jones to Cleveland to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the “Burning of the Cuyahoga River.” It was a great opportunity to document how a concerned river community can reimagine and reclaim a highly-polluted and formerly-disdained waterway.

Bozeman, MT

In 2008, during an expedition documenting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, NWNL Director Alison Jones and NWNL Advisor Robin MacEwan based themselves in Bozeman, a town close to both the Yellowstone River and the three rivers that join to form the Missouri River – all western tributaries to the Mississippi River.

Pittsburgh, PA

In 2013, NWNL completed its Ohio River expedition on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a great confluence of 3 major rivers. At this point, the Allegheny River, which flows over a granite riverbed, and the Monongahela River, which flows over sandstone, unite to form the Ohio River, the Mississippi River’s largest eastern tributary.

Bend, OR

In 2017, Gussie Baker, a NWNL Expedition Guest to Egypt’s Nile River and Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, invited NWNL to visit Bend to document the Deschutes River, a southern tributary to the Columbia River. The town’s name was originally a designation used by early pioneers referring to a part of the Deschutes River that offered one of its few fordable points.


New Orleans, LA

Surrounded by the Mississippi River, its Delta and the Atchafalaya Basin, New Orleans is favored destination for travellers world-wide. NWNL sends all who suffered from Hurricane Ida a speedy recovery and return to their renowned “laisser les bonnes temps roulez” attitude. Fortunately, the post-Katrina levees held.

Keyport, NJ

Keyport, fondly called the “Pearl of the Bayshore” was once the world’s largest suppliers of oysters. On the south shore of the Raritan Bay in the NY-NJ Hudson River Estuary, its waterfront parks, beaches and promenades vie for visitors’ attention against local fish markets, restaurants and a marina full of commercial and recreational fishing boats.

Hannibal, MO

Hannibal is north of St Louis and St Charles MO, which serve as bookends to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers’ confluence. While a much smaller town, Hannibal perhaps has more name recognition, since it is the home of Mark Twain, Mississippi River author and creator of literary heroes Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Penawawa, WA

The opposite of jazzy New Orleans, Penawawa is a ghost of a village in Eastern Washington passed only by trains, yet still known for its peach orchards. A slight peninsula on the Snake River, the Columbia’s longest tributary, the residents and visitors hope efforts to breach the 4 Lower Snake River Dams will restore their river to a healthier habitat for salmon migrations and better fishing.

Astoria, OR

At the mouth of the Columbia River, just as it meets a wild Pacific Ocean, Astoria was the western end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Here they spent a cold and difficult winter, finally stealing a canoe from the Chinook Indian Nation for their trip back east. Seven generations later, William Clark’s family gifted a replicated canoe to the Chinook in the spirit of reparation in Astoria.

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