Readers Choice

WINNERS: Best U.S. Boat RideChosen by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best

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    #10 - Pearl Harbor

    Standing directly over the haunting site where the U.S.S. Arizona was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941 is so somber a moment, you can almost hear your own heart beating.  The Japanese assault on America's Hawaiian naval base destroyed nearly 20 vessels, including eight enormous battle ships.  USS Arizona held 1,000 of the 2,000 U.S. servicemen lost that way and was never retrieved.  The ferry boat ride to and from the harbor's USS Arizona Memorial is one you never forget.       

    Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

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    #9 - New York Harbor

    Taking a boat ride through New York Harbor offers some of the very same views countless immigrants to the U.S. witnessed upon their entry, including the symbol of our freedom, the Statue of Liberty. One of the best value boat rides in the country is the free Staten Island Ferry, a free 25-minute trip from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island, passing Lady Liberty and Ellis Island along the way. The sightseeing-dedicated Circle Line maintains a schedule of themed harbor tours.

    Photo courtesy of Vladone/iStock

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    #8 - Sunset in the Florida Keys

    Whether or not you've had a margarita, are "wasted away," or hope to be soon, a Florida Keys sunset by boat is an iconic American experience.  While any western side of a Key will do, the supreme boat tour might well be from Key West. Here, sailboats in the sunset make landlubbers sigh with envy, while ticket purchasers for late-day glass-bottom boat tours get double the pleasure as the sun sinks. Docking near Mallory Square's nightly celebration makes the experience complete.  

    Photo courtesy of Serge Mashtakoff

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    #7 - Chicago River

    An architectural tour by boat is one of the highlights of any visit to Chicago.  Not only are you amazed by the beautiful color of the water, you learn the history of the city while seeing iconic landmarks and learning how they tie in to names you've heard your whole life, Chicagoan or not.  It's a highly memorable and appealing way to spend a half day in this popular destination.

    Photo courtesy of ┬ęCity of Chicago

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    #6 - San Antonio River Walk

    One of the most famous boat rides in Texas takes passengers on an informative journey along San Antonio's famous River Walk. Floating along the shaded waterways, beneath stone footbridges and past al fresco restaurants and historic sites, makes a River Walk cruise the perfect way to get oriented for further exploration. The Rio Taxi offers a quick and easy way to get between 39 River Walk hot spots, so you can give your feet a rest.

    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau

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    #5 - Colorado River & Grand Canyon

    The Grand Canyon is certainly impressive from its rim, but wait 'til you see it from the bottom. One of the most popular ways to experience the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River which flows through it is by rafting through it, pulling up on various boat beaches to camp out under the stars or in historic Grand Canyon cabins. Visitors who prefer not to paddle can also float below the towering canyon walls on a pontoon or motorized raft.

    Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park

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    #4 - Alaska's Inside Passage

    Taking a boat ride through Alaska's majestic Inside Passage is like seeing America at its wildest. Whale watching, gold rush history and Native Alaskan culture abound, and you need not book passage on a pricey cruise ship to enjoy this great American boat ride; the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries offers an inexpensive, less crowded way to see one of Alaska's most beautiful areas.

    Photo courtesy of Eli Duke

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    #3 - Puget Sound

    Thanks in large part to the Washington State Ferry system, visitors to Seattle have an easy and affordable way to experience the sights and sounds of Puget Sound by boat. One of the most popular ferry routes travels between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, offering views of the city skyline and snow-capped peak of Mt. Rainier along the way. Another ferry heads through Puget Sound and on to the San Juan Islands, where passengers might spot sea lions, orcas and migrating whales.

    Photo courtesy of bpperry/iStock

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    #2 - Niagara Falls

    There's no better view of the power and grandeur of Niagara Falls than from the decks of the Maid of the Mist, a series of boats that get passengers up close to the falls, where the roar of 600,000 gallons of falling water is deafening and the "mist" can feel more like a downpour. The Maid of the Mist is the only way to see the falls by water on the American side, and while the included blue rain poncho isn't required, it's highly recommended...

    Photo courtesy of ineb1599/iStock

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    #1 - Thousand Islands

    New York's Thousand Islands region seems made with nautical tourism in mind. Glass-topped catamarans, triple-decker cruise boats and majestic paddlewheelers ply the waters, taking visitors past Boldt Castle and the mansions of Millionaire Row, Kingston Penitentiary and Fort Henry, all while offering interesting insight into the history of this scenic destination.

    Photo courtesy of Prayitno

New York boat rides dominate Top Ten

Thousand Islands, Niagara Falls, NY Harbor all winners

Visitors across America love to get out on the water, and - it seems - nowhere moreso than in New York.  After four weeks of voting, readers of USA TODAY and 10Best have selected, through their online ballots, their 10 favorite boat rides from the original list of nominees.   

The beautiful Thousand Islands (1000 Islands) area - between northern New York and southeastern Ontario - was called "Garden of the Great Spirit" by native Americans.  The combination of beautiful shoreline, where woods meet the lake, is an inspiring place to take a boat ride.

New York scored the second spot as well, as iconic Niagara Falls garnered the second largest number of votes.  Tour boats like Maid of the Mist thrill visitors by taking them close to the massive falls.

A boat ride on Washington's Puget Sound landed at #3, while Alaska's Inside Passage and a boat ride down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon, rounded out the top 5.  

Amazingly, New York state took a third spot in the top 10 with its nomination for a New York harbor tour.   

The full list of winners in the 'Best Boat Ride' contest category for 10Best Readers' Choice is as follows:

  1. Thousand Islands
  2. Niagara Falls
  3. Puget Sound
  4. Alaska's Inside Passage
  5. Colorado River & Grand Canyon
  6. San Antonio River Walk
  7. Chicago River
  8. Sunset in the Florida Keys
  9. New York Harbor
  10. Pearl Harbor

Now that summer's here, this list of winning destinations makes a perfect checklist for warm weather activity from coast to coast. We'll see you on the water!

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Meet the Experts

Libby McMillan

Senior Editor Libby McMillan may be one of the few longtime travel journalists who loves the water so much she's lived on a houseboat. She also co-owned a sailing charter business in southwest Florida for many years, and has visited many of America's great waterfronts in pursuit of a great boat ride.   Although she's adept at captaining a small powerboat and is a graduate of Colgate Sailing School, Libby is just as happy as a passenger, so she can sightsee.  While she won't name her favorite, she's personally enjoyed the majority of the boat rides in this category.   

Travis Seward

10Best Editor in Chief Travis Seward is an adventure and foodie traveler.  When he's not on a grand journey, he makes regular treks to the coast near Charleston, where he's been known to take a sunset sail.  Travis appreciates the great outdoors, beautiful vistas, relaxing with friends and a great story . . . all of which can be enjoyed on these 20 nominee boat rides.  

Lydia Schrandt

Having grown up in the middle of the desert Southwest, Lydia never considers a trip a true vacation unless it involves the water. Boats are by far her favorite form of transportation. She spent two years on the Texas A&M varsity sailing team out of Galveston, and she's experienced many of the nominated boat trips. Others, especially the Inside Passage, are high up on her bucket list.