Vacation boats bring luxury to Snake, Columbia rivers

  • Sat May 26th, 2012 6:59pm
  • Sports

By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald

Sure, you can blow nearly $8,000 on a rental houseboat for a week in the sun, and that’s in Washington, not down on Lake Mead or Lake Shasta, or any of the other well known southwest vacation boating destinations.

But think of the advantages: no packing and unpacking of luggage; accommodations more luxurious than many upscale hotel suites, with full kitchen, hot tub, water slide, and maybe a ski boat waiting off the back deck; fishing at your fingertips; and enough room to enable a family reunion or a business trip, or to share costs with friends or neighbors.

And you can’t beat the view.

Besides, with the wide range of boat sizes and equipment, high and low seasons, and number of days involved, you can — with a little judicious shopping — trim that weekly rate to something more like $1,850 or so.

There are four houseboat rental firms in eastern Washington catering to sun lovers. The newest is based at Burbank, just outside the Tri-Cities, and boats the Snake and Columbia rivers. The other three are on Lake Roosevelt, two at the mouth of the Spokane River north of Davenport, and the third way up toward Canada at Kettle Falls.

There was a fourth on the big Columbia River impoundment, and probably will be again, at Keller Ferry, closer to Grand Coulee Dam, but Marcia Buchanan, with the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, said the lease arrangement there with a private contractor is being restructured.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s available:

River Ranch Houseboats

This is the third year of operation for this firm, in the Tri-Cities, and it has three 59-footers which can be sited on either the Snake River or the Columbia. From Charbonneau Park above Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake, you have about 40 miles of river up to Lyon’s Ferry Park, and from Ice Harbor Dam down the Snake and Columbia to McNary Dam, about the same river mileage.

The boats sleep 12, have two baths, full kitchen, barbecue facilities, and water slides, and are often booked for weddings, birthday and office parties.

August is the most popular month, and the Snake is probably the more popular destination of the two available. But the Columbia offers the unique opportunity to dock and enjoy the cosmopolitan dining and shopping — and dozens of wineries — of the Tri-Cities urban experience, as a break from sand and water. September is also a good month in the area, with excellent weather and fewer people on either river.

Very good fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass is the rule in many parts of the River Ranch venue. National bass tournaments have been held there, and the state record walleye — 19.3 pounds — was caught in 2007 in the Columbia below the mouth of the Snake.

Prices: Four-day midweek, $1,800; weekend, $2,200; full week, $3,600; weekdays, $1,000 per day. Jet skis also available for rent, at $300 per day.

Lake Roosevelt Houseboat Vacations

This is the big guy on the 150-mile long reservoir, boasting 14 boats and the wide range of choices that comes with that much equipment. Kettle Falls is a long drive from the Puget Sound area, yes, but if you’re looking for the wilderness feel, this is your spot.

“We’re up in the pine trees and sandy beaches,” says co-owner Ed Wimberly.

July and August constitute prime season, Wimberly says, and a typical week’s itinerary would include two or three days uplake, toward Canada, then the remainder back downlake. Towing a ski boat is a popular option, Wimberly says, either the customer’s own or a rental SeaRay open bow at $796 for three days or $1,500 for a week.

An abundance of wildlife in the area is an attraction, and Lake Roosevelt is an established sportfishing destination, particularly for walleye, trout and smallmouth bass.

Wimberley’s fleet includes 62-footers and elite series 64-footers, the only luxury boats on Roosevelt, he says, all sleeping 13.

Prices are broken down by boat type: Supercruiser, Supercruiser with hot tub, and Supercruiser Elite, into two season frames — prime season (7-1 to 8-26) and value season (5-01 to 6-30, and 8-27 to 10-31), and into three day-groups — weekends, 4-day midweeks, and full weeks. They range from a high (best boat, full week, prime season) of $7,895, to a low (value boat, value season, weekend) of $2,495.

Dakota Columbia Houseboats

This is a family-owned firm based just south of the mouth of the Spokane River on Lake Roosevelt, at Seven Bays Marina, roughly 20 miles northwest of Davenport and 50 miles uplake from Grand Coulee Dam. Location gives vacationers a choice of three directions: west, downlake, toward Grand Coulee Canyon; north, uplake, toward the lake’s alpine section; or east, into the warm, quiet Spokane River Arm.

Dakota Columbia rents three classes of houseboats, during “high” (July-August) and “low” (before and after high) seasons, and for three days, four days and seven days. Prices range from $1,095 for three days in a value boat, low season ($1,850 for a week) to $7,495 for a week, best boat, high season.

The firm also rents Maxum ski boats and aluminum fishing skiffs with 10 hp motor.

Two Rivers Houseboat Adventures

This is a Spokane tribal enterprise on Lake Roosevelt, also based near the mouth of the Spokane River, which has five boats and is in the process of adding three more. According to Tricia Wynne, they currently rent two 56-footers, two 62-footers, and one 67-footer; no small boats or jet skis. All houseboats sleep 15, Wynne said, and have various combinations of hot tubs, fireplaces and water slides. Two come equipped with satellite television, and all are furnished, except for bedding.

Prices are divided into two boat classes, three seasons (economy, may 1 to June 15 and Sept. 5 to Oct. 31; mid-value, June 16 to July 13 and Aug. 25 to Sept. 4; and high season July 14 to Aug. 24), and length of stay — three days, four days or seven days.

Prices range from a low of $1,995 for a value boat, low season, three days to a high of $5,795 for best boat, high season, full week.

If you want to try it

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area www.nps.gov/laro/contacts; 509-633-9441

Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau

www.visittri-cities.com; 800-254-5824

River Ranch Houseboats

www.riverranchboats.com; 877-277-6111

Lake Roosevelt Houseboat Vacations

www.lakeroosevelt.com; 800-635-7585

Dakota Columbia Houseboats

www.dakotacolumbia.com; 800-816-2431

Two Rivers Houseboat Adventures

www.two-rivers-resort.com; 509-633-9441