The 10 Best Scenic Train Rides in Minnesota

minnesota scenic trian rides

If you’re anything like me, you might secretly be a railroad nerd.

Something about the idyllic throwback to yesteryear, traveling the beautiful countryside via train, makes for a totally bucket-list-worthy trip idea.

If you want to explore Minnesota in a way that will make your friends jealous and your grandparents proud, I found the most dreamy way to do just that.

These 10 scenic train rides in Minnesota are exactly what the doctor ordered.

Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway

Ask any serious railfan about the most scenic railway trip in Minnesota, and chances are they’ll point you in the direction of the Osceola/St. Croix Valley Railway tours operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum.

Departing from Osceola, Wisconsin, just across the border from Stillwater, the 1 ½ hour train route then travels along the scenic St. Croix National Scenic Riverway to Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota.

These tours are exceptional in the fall during peak color season. A good option for all ages.

  • Season:  April to mid-October
  • Fare: $25 for adults, $17 for children – discount packages for 4, 5, and 6 riders
  • Departs: 114 Depot Road, Osceola, WI 54020.
  • Website: Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway

Dresser Pumpkin Express

The Minnesota Transportation Museum hosts a ride on the Fall Pumpkin Express train every fall.

Riders of all ages board the train in Osceola, Wisconsin, for a short 25-minute train ride to nearby Dresser. Hop off there and into the pumpkin patch to choose a pumpkin to take home. Enjoy music, a hayride, food, and games at the patch before departing back for the station in Osceola.

  • Season:  October
  • Fare: $30 for adults, $25 for children
  • Departs: 114 Depot Road, Osceola, WI 54020
  • Website: Pumpkin Express Train

North Shore Scenic Railroad – The Zephyr Route

One of the most popular train rides in Minnesota, Duluth’s North Shore Scenic Railroad company offers this 75-minute historic route through downtown Duluth and up the North Shore of Lake Superior. Take in the scenic views from their first-class Skyview Dome Car, which offers panoramic views and seat-side snack and beverage service.

A great tour for all ages, and one of the most popular tourist activities in Duluth.

  • Season:  April to mid-October
  • Fare: Coach & First Class Rates Vary
  • Departs: 506 West Michigan Street, Duluth, MN 55812
  • Website: North Shore Scenic Railroad

North Shore Scenic Railroad – Music & Pizza Trains

If the standard scenic train ride seems a bit low-key, try out one of the other North Shore Scenic Railroad offerings. Their weekend music and pizza train schedule offers some extra perks that you won’t find anywhere else on the list. Each passenger receives a fresh 8″ personal pizza and pop when you board the 2 ½ hour train ride along the North Shore.

On the way up, the route is narrated to include some of Duluth and Lake Superior’s rail and natural history. Then, head to the concessions car to enjoy live music from a local band on the way home.

  • Season:  weekends only – Summer & Fall
  • Fare: Coach & First Class Rates Vary
  • Departs: 506 West Michigan Street, Duluth, MN 55812
  • Website: North Shore Scenic Railroad

North Shore Scenic Railroad – The Two Harbors Turn

For riders who want an option for a lunch and shopping date, the North Shore Scenic Railroad also provides a longer full-day excursion on the Two Harbors Turn route.

This six-hour trip departs from downtown Duluth and travels the historic rail line along the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior to Two Harbors. Stop there for a layover for lunch and explore the shops downtown before hopping back on the train to return to Duluth.

  • Season:  July to mid-October
  • Fare: Coach & First Class Rates Vary
  • Departs: 506 West Michigan Street, Duluth, MN 55812
  • Website: North Shore Scenic Railroad

Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad

The Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad (LS&M) built the first railroad in Duluth in the 1870s. The current LS&M reserves 5.2 miles of this original railroad right-of-way into Duluth to operate vintage railroad equipment from the early to mid 19th century.

The 2-hour route travels south out of Duluth about 6 miles and returns on the same track. In the fall, this is one of the best leaf viewing train rides in the entire Upper Midwest.

Friends of the 261

In 1991, railroad enthusiasts and hobby collectors from around the Twin Cities got together to support the operation of Milwaukee Road 261, a steam locomotive based in Minneapolis that was nearing its end. Since then, what has grown is a bustling non-profit organization that owns a fleet of passenger cars, with most of them painted in Milwaukee Road maroon and orange passenger train colors that travel with the 261.

Today, the organization runs various scenic and historic railroad trips year-round. During the holiday season, the North Pole Express departs from the St. Paul Union Depot and is one of their most popular rides.

Scenic train rides change here from season to season based on volunteers and interest, so check their website for the most current information about upcoming events.

  • Season: Year-Round
  • Departs: Various routes – the train often departs from St. Paul Union Depot
  • Website: Friends of the 261

Como-Harriet Streetcar Line

At one time, the streetcar was the easiest way to move about Minneapolis and St. Paul, with dozens of trolly lines zig-zagging across the city. Unfortunately, by the 1950s, nearly all of the existing streetcar track was gone.

Today, the Minnesota Streetcar Museum still operates the Como-Harriet historic streetcar tour to commemorate this bygone transportation era, with a 15-minute ride in a fully restored streetcar. The train runs between Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet throughout the summer. Not the longest or the most scenic on this list, but for a train-loving toddler, it makes for a good summer activity.

  • Season:  end of April to end of August
  • Fare: One ride: $3 per person, children 3 and under ride free – Day Pass: $7 for rides all day.
  • Departs: 2330 West 42nd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55410
  • Website: Como Harriet Streetcar

Excelsior Streetcar Line

Along with the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line, the Minnesota Streetcar Museum also operates a half-mile historic streetcar ride at the Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka Historical Society’s Museum.

The Excelsior Streetcar Line runs on the former right-of-way of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway and gives travelers a chance to see what public transportation looked like over 100 years ago in Minnesota.

  • Season:  end of April to end of August
  • Fare: One ride: $3 per person, children 3 and under ride free – Day Pass: $7 for rides all day.
  • Departs: near the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society Museum 305 Water St, Excelsior, MN 55331
  • Website: Excelsior Streetcar Line

Amtrak Empire Builder

Although the other train rides on this list all fall into the historic or novelty category, there is one existing commuter rail trip worth checking out in Minnesota. The Amtrak Empire Builder route travels across Minnesota with stops in Winona, Staples, St. Paul, St. Cloud, Red Wing, and Detroit Lakes. So hop on in the Twin Cities and take the train to Red Wing and back.

Or, for some of the best scenery you’ll find in the US, take the Empire Builder west to destinations like Glacier National Park, Seattle, and Portland.

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