Last updated on August 22nd, 2019
Minnesota has a long history with the railway. Names like James J Hill are famous around here that helped shape our town. As the industry has changed, these train cars could have become relics. Today, the railroad is still very active. These cars are have transformed into the best scenic train rides in Minnesota.
I’ve gotten the opportunities to ride on both the Oscela & St Croix Valley Railway and the Duluth Railway. And I had so much fun on these adventures. They take you back to a different time of travel. Instead of worrying about making the traffic light, you can enjoy just looking out the window at what passes by and enjoying the company of everyone around you. Thankfully both trains have some of the best scenic views in Minnesota.
Scenic Train Rides in Minnesota
Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway
The Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway is the closest recreational train to the Twin Cities. Located in Oscelo Wisconsin, it is run by the Minnesota Transportation Museum. The train has a variety of cars, each with its own history and character. The train travels round trip from Osceola Wisconsin to Marine on Saint Croix in Minnesota. The ride lasts 90 mins, and it just flies by. The train will reach top speeds of 25mph.
The Osceola train has a variety of different events, like a Fall Colors Trip, Pizza Train, and Pumpkin Express. The Pizza Train can accommodate both Gluten and Dairy dietary restrictions as long as you order ahead of time. If you miss out on the Pizza Train or just want to sit in coach, you can still get pizza too. Just bring some extra cash with you.
The Fall Colors trip is a great way to see a lot of the foliage along the river. Even if it’s not Fall yet, they still have a great view. They are also running a Pumpkin Express train up to Dresser. It’s a little shorter of a trip, making it ideal for younger kids, plus there will be music, games, food, and pumpkins! They offer train rides in winter too! While in the area, also check out some of the great things to do in Taylors Falls.
The Duluth Scenic Railroad
Taking off right out of the heart of Duluth, the Duluth Scenic Railroad has been transporting passengers since 1990. They have a variety of different cars and will accommodate both First Class and Coach passengers. This trip, I recommend arriving early because people will start lining up 30 minutes to try and get some of the best seats. One of the most impressive parts of their operations is their connection to the Duluth Depot Museum. It costs additional to go in, but it an experience you will not forget. Inside the fantastic museum are historic trains after trains. Find out how they remove snow from a track or sit in the engineer’s seat.
All of the Duluth Scenic Railroad rides are round trip. Their most popular trip is a 90-minute ride on the Duluth Zepher. It travels along the North Shoreline and through the Congdon Neighborhood before making its return trip back. They also have a 2.5hr North Shore trip that includes a Pizza and live musical entertainment. If you want to make a full day of the trip, I recommend going on a Two Harbors tour. It’s a half-day, 6hr trip up the North Shore with a layover stop in Two Harbors. You’ll get the opportunity to shop and have a nice lunch before returning home.
Once a year the MN Zephyr makes an appearance in Minnesota. Starting out in St. Paul the round trip train takes passengers to Chicago and back in style. Seeing some of the best views of the Mississippi River until they start heading east through Wisconsin and to Chicago. The train ride reminisces of the 1950’s travel in a domed car. It includes meals and lodging at the Hotel St Paul and tours of the Twin Cities.
Friends of the 261
The Railroading Association of the Midwest is the official name of the Friends of the 261. The steam engine based in Minneapolis has a fleet of cars is a premier railroad in the cities. Using refurbished cars, they travel about once a month with routes taking passengers to Chicago, Hudson Bay or Manitoba. They have various levels of tickets to purchase anywhere from coach to presidential depending on the experience you want. Keep an eye out at the 261 websites for available tickets.
Tips for both Scenic Train Rides in Minnesota
Don’t Be Afraid to Move Around
The first time I took a train ride, I was so concerned that I would lose my seat if I wandered around. Chances are the train isn’t that full. And if you lose your seat, oh well. The next one you see maybe even better. Also, each car is different. They have their own feel, history, seating, and accommodations. Take a look at all the cars before committing to some of the best cars. It usually ends up being the one at the back of the train.
Speaking of the back of the train, it changes. One of the best parts about the rides is when the engine stops to hook up to the other side. You’ll get a chance to wave at the engineer, and those at the front of the train, now get to be in the caboose!
Talk to the Conductors
The conductors have such a wealth of information. They know the trains inside and out. The last train ride we went on, we hung out at the back of the train, watching the tracks and world go by. Fun Fact, if you are caught playing around train tracks, you can have up to three different police coming after you. One was even Canadian.
Most trains have cash-only snack cars. If you are traveling with little ones, they will probably love something to munch on. Just remember that these are historic trains, so bring things that aren’t messy. You be the judge on what your kids can eat.
Reserve your specialty trips ahead of time. Fall Colors trips will sell out fast. You can make reservations ahead of time online. Depending on the train, length and specialty rides, you can expect to pay anywhere from $12-36 per ride. Kids 2 and under are free.
Don’t Miss Out
Getting to ride on these trains can seem like a novelty. But with the costs associated with running a train and creating an unforgettable experience, we need to get on them before they go away. They are at risk of becoming a thing of the past. I for one do not want to see that happen. To make sure you get on one of these trains, make sure to reserve your tickets and enjoy this forgotten treasure.