We've just done a little looking as we plan on cruising the Ohio River in 2018. My first question would be how much time do you have?
The places we've initially earmarked as places of interest are Paducah, Henderson, Cave in Rock, Evansville, Leavenworth, Louisville, Cincinnati, Maysville, Pomeroy, Marietta, Pittsburgh. Here are some links we've found useful.
Capt John gives a bit of an overall impression. Look at the traffic.
Cruising the Ohio River, by Capt John
Boat US has an informative document.
The Ohio River: Long Water From Point to Point - Trailering - BoatUS Magazine
Here is the link to the Ohio DNR division of watercraft. It's filled with information including rules and regulations.
While cruise ships go much more quickly than any of us desire to, they also make sure to hit the highlights.
I would think the minimum time would be two months. Our intent would be probably closer to three. There are 20 locks on the Ohio River and you're talking at least 1900 miles round trip. Covering 60 miles a day cruising and cruising every other day, that's still 63 days. There are many places I'd want to spend several days though. I've never been to any of the area. I could see 4, 5, and 6 days at some cities.
As to anchoring, it's not the most favorable river in the world for anchoring from what I've learned. There are some anchorages though and even a free wall in Cincinnati and quite a few tributaries. However, it's all pretty much on the main part of the river with traffic passing by. Very few places to anchor and then dinghy to town. I'd plan on marinas in the towns I really wanted to explore. I think for some anchorages you're probably going to have to communicate with some people along the way, perhaps coming from the opposite direction to find them.
Now one thing additional in our plans. The water world does not end in Pittsburgh, hence Three Rivers. You can take the Allegheny River which has 8 locks but only 5 of them normally open. So, normally you're limited in travel to around Freeport, PA, about 30-40 miles I think. The others are in "Caretaker Status" but do occasionally get opened for special occasions. There are 9 locks on the Monongahela taking you about 120 miles to Fairmont, W Va. I would at least want to take it to Morgantown. A very different area from that you see on the Ohio.
So, I just added about 250 miles to the total round trip, making it about 2150 miles. At 60 miles per cruise day and, on the average cruising every other day, that requires just over 70 days. Our plans are to allocate as much as 84 days. Six weeks to Pittsburgh, then six weeks for the other two rivers and the return.
In a cruise like this one, we tend to stop in every other town we want to see each way. So, we'd get town 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 going and 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 returning. That way we balance cruising vs. sight seeing and relaxation and don't create several consecutive days of just cruising with nothing to see.
The least attractive part of the trip is that if we do it all including the side trips then we'll be locking 66 times. Just doing the Ohio, you'll lock 40 times. Some days of locking will go very well with lock openings just lining up with each other and many locks on a day. Other times you will get held up as the locks are single chamber locks. If you've done the Erie Canal then you have a feel for the amount of locking. The other negative is you must come back the same way you go so that's why you want to alternate your stops and sight seeing along the way.
We're excited about the trip as we feel many loopers just miss out on the inland rivers. We're doing the Tennessee and Cumberland next summer, the Ohio in 2018. Perhaps the Missouri and Arkansas in 2019. Much can change between now and then including skipping a year of river boating.