Minnesota has a long history with the railway. Names like James J. Hill are famous and 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 have transformed into the best scenic train rides in Minnesota.
I’ve gotten the opportunities to ride on both the Osceola & St Croix Valley Railway and the Duluth Railway. And I had so much fun on these adventures.
Put on your Favorite Sunglasses as 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 and St. Croix Valley Railway
The Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway is the closest recreational train to the Twin Cities. Operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum, the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway has a variety of cars, each with its own history and character.
The train travels round trip from Osceola, Wisconsin to Marine on St Croix in Minnesota. A ride lasting 90 mins, and it just flies by. The train will reach top speeds of 25mph.
TIP: Book your tickets in advance. Fall Colors and Pizza Trains fill up!
The Osceola train has a variety of unique events, like a Fall Colors Trip, Music and 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 superb view. They are also running a Pumpkin Express train up to Dresser, WI.
It’s a little shorter of a trip, making it ideal for younger kids, plus there will be music, games, food, and pumpkins!
Spend the whole day in Taylor’s falls if you can. There are tons of fun things to do! Find all the fun things to do in the area by clicking here!
The Duluth Scenic Railroad
Taking off right out of the heart of Duluth, the Duluth Scenic Railroad, also known as the North Shore Scenic Railroad has been transporting passengers since 1990.
They have a variety of different cars and will accommodate both First-Class and coach passengers.
On this trip, I recommend arriving early because people will start lining up 30 minutes early to get some of the best seats.
All the Duluth Scenic Railroad rides are round trips. Their most popular trip is a 90-minute ride on the Duluth Zephyr.
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 excursion, 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 shop and have a great lunch before returning home.
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’s an experience you will not forget.
Both trips on the scenic railway will give you views of the shore of Lake Superior and downtown Duluth.
Show up for this adventure an hour early so you can visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum before. You can climb abord locomotives throughout history. Find out how they remove snow from a track or sit in the engineer’s seat. It’s perfect for any historic train lover.
Duluth is another great town with fun things to do. 28 Amazing Family-Friendly Things to do in Duluth MN | The Perfect Getaway
Make sure to Book your trip before you leave. Fall colors fill up in advance. They also have Christmas Trains to do!
The Zephyr Route
In the Fall, the Zephyr Route appears in Minnesota. Picking one of the best views in MN, you can travel in style while getting some breathing scenic views of the most popular locations around the state.
The train ride reminisces of the 1950s travel in a domed car. Tours typically include food and accommodations.
*Not Running in 2023
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 and 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 tickets.
Running this year, June 6 & 22, 2023
Consider taking a commuter train along down to Red Wing or Winona. Amtrak Empire Builder Train runs Between Chicago to Seattle, making stops at Red Wing, Winona, St Paul, St Cloud, Staples, and Detroit Lakes MN.
My favorite route is from St Paul to Red Wing. Everything is within walking distance of downtown and you’ll get views of the Mississippi River. You can also bring your bike with you to help you get around.
You can jump on a train and enjoy a Day Trip to one of these great small towns before making your way back home. The train leaves out of Union Depot in St Paul.
Need more inspiration on what to do in these small towns? Check it out!
19 Things To Do in Red Wing MN: A Complete Guide
22 Fun Things to do in Winona Minnesota
11 Top Things to do in St Cloud MN: Fun Day Trip
Excelsior Street Car
If you are looking for a quick sampler train ride, check out the Excelsior Streetcar. They run two demonstration railways, the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line and the Excelsior Streetcar line.
The trips are short, with only a half-mile of track. At the end of the track, you’ll stop at their carbarn so passengers can see some of their restoration projects, before returning you back.
The tours are run by the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. This is a short ride in the Metro Area, perfect for younger kids.
While it’s not a big trip, it’s enough of one to whet your appetite.
Stick around in Excelsior for more fun things to do: Over 20 Things to do in Excelsior MN: A lake lover’s dream
Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad
The Lake Superior and & Mississippi Railroad take riders on a ride from Duluth to Oliver MN twice a day on weekends. This train is planning on reopening in 2023. 2 Coaches, Safari Car, and, of course, the Switch Engine.
They offer charters for events. One of the coolest things they do is the Choo Choo Paddle. This is where you paddle down, and take the train back! Seriously, it’s genius!
Tips for 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 may be even better.
Also, each car is different. They have their own feel, history, seating, and accommodations. 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 round-trip rides is when the engine stops to hook up to the other side. You’ll have time 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 Osceola Scenic Train, after the engine moved, we stood on the back of the train the entire time.
Not only did we get to watch the tracks and world go by, but we also got to have amazing conversations with the Conductors. He was a wealth of information about train life.
Fun Fact, if you are 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 in your Tote Bag that aren’t messy.
You be the judge of what your kids can eat. I have a chronic problem of never carrying cash, otherwise, I would have gotten some of their delicious treats onboard the train.
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 on these fun Scenic Train Rides
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, reserve your tickets and enjoy this forgotten treasure.
These scenic Minnesota train rides will create memories that last a lifetime, but the trains wont. Make sure to plan your train excursions this summer!