A Guide to Boat Tours and River Cruises around Minneapolis and St. Paul

boat tours and river cruisees twin cities

One of the coolest parts about the Twin Cities is their plentiful access to water.

That’s why exploring the Twin Cities via boat is one of our “must try” activities, no matter if you’re a long time resident or just visiting for the weekend.

But since narrowing down the many options is no easy task, we thought we’d lend a local’s hand with this detailed guide to boat and river cruise around Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Who, What, Where of Boat & River Cruises 

As the residents of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Twin Cities locals know a good riverboat cruise when we see one.  

  • A great location?  Check ✓ 
  • Easy-to-use reservations system? Check ✓
  • Dining and drinks onboard?  Check ✓ and Check ✓

Whether it’s exploring the architectural wonders spanning the Mighty Mississippi or sipping cocktails as the sun goes down, there are plenty of options for boat tours and river cruises in Minneapolis and St. Paul that meet all the requirements on our must-try list.   

What are the most popular boat tours and river cruises in Minneapolis & St. Paul? 

Before you decide on a vendor and dates for your Minneapolis-St. Paul boat tour, it’s best to decide what type of cruise you’d like to take.  Different boats offer different tour types; some are focused on the scenery, others are more focused on the food and entertainment onboard.  Here are some of the more popular boat tour and river cruise options: 

  • Sunset Dinner Cruise – Sunset dinner cruises are by far some of the most popular and first to book up reservations.  Most of the boat operators in the Twin Cities offer some form of a sunset cruise, departing the dock 1-2 hours before dark for dinner and drinks while the sun goes down.  These tours are great for long summer nights when the best place to be is on the water.
  • Sightseeing Cruise – End-of-the-day boat tours might not be the best option for families or visitors trying to fit in other items on the Twin Cities travel itinerary.  If that’s the case, you may want to consider a general sightseeing cruise.  The daytime trips for Twin Cities boat and river tours often fall in this category, with options to see bridges, well-known landmarks and do some wildlife watching. 
  • Brunch Cruise – It’s hard to go wrong with a Minneapolis brunch in general. But then make that brunch on a boat, and you’re pretty much set for a terrific outing. Brunch cruises typically depart at 10 AM, have a great menu, and are a casual way to relax and enjoy the water and the weekend.
  • Fall Color Cruises – From late September to mid-October, the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul light up with some of the best fall colors in the Upper Midwest.  We love to recommend it to out-of-town guests or friends; get out and enjoy the cooler temperatures and enjoy the mid-day or afternoon fall color cruise. 
  • Holiday Cruises – Mother’s Day?  4th of July?  Labor Day?  If there’s a summer holiday you love to celebrate, there’s a pretty good chance you can commemorate the day with a boat cruise on the Mississippi River.  All the major tour operators in the Twin Cities offer cruises for these events—just make sure to snag reservations well in advance. 
  • Private Party – If you’re checking out options for an upcoming private party venue, summertime boat cruises are a great option to explore. Getting a group together for a birthday, anniversary, class reunion, or corporate event is easy and more affordable than you might think. 

Where do cruises go? 

Not only are there options for the type of boat cruise, but there are also options for departure.  Choosing the tour location changes what you can expect to see and the type of boat you’ll end up taking.  Here are the 4 top departure locations for boat tours and river cruises in the Twin Cities: 

  • Mississippi River in Downtown Minneapolis – Departing from Bohemian Flats Park near downtown Minneapolis, taking a Mississippi River cruise from this location means excellent views of the downtown Minneapolis skyline, the historic Stone Arch Bridge, and the University of Minnesota campus.   
  • Mississippi River in Downtown St. Paul – For terrific views of the St. Paul skyline and the best chance to see wildlife in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, depart from downtown St. Paul.  You’ll also have an opportunity to board some historic riverboats at the docks on Harriet Island. 
  • Lake Minnetonka – Looking for the best drinks and food?  Want to take a cruise on a newer, luxury yacht? Best to head west for a boat tour on Lake Minnetonka.  We love these tours for ogling at the giant houses while we sip on sundowners.
  • St. Croix River in Stillwater – One trip over the I-94 bridge from Minnesota to Wisconsin, and it’s pretty clear that the St. Croix River is a top Twin Cities boating destination.  Several river tours depart the docks near Stillwater during the summer, with both traditional paddleboat options and upscale dinner cruises. This is our top spot for fall colors as well. 

The Top Twin Cities Boat and River Cruise Companies 

Ready to book your cruise?  Try out one of these Twin Cities boat and river cruise companies for the best tours and destinations: 

Padelford Riverboats

More than 5 million visitors have taken a riverboat cruise with Padleford Riverboats in downtown St. Paul.  They offer the largest selection of tour options (sightseeing, dining, themed cruises, school trips, and private events) and have some of the best deals on tickets and dining.  On Mondays, Padleford hosts a $10 cruise with 2-for-1 beers after 6 PM – an excellent happy hour option for co-workers and friends.

  • Location – Downtown St. Paul: 205 Dr. Justus Ohage Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55107
  • Website: Padleford Riverboats

Paradise Charter & Minneapolis Queen

As the largest tour operator in the Twin Cities (five vessels in two locations), Paradise Charters has more than 30 years of experience taking trips on the Mississippi River and Lake Minnetonka. They have an extensive portfolio of tour choices, including a full calendar of tours running seven days a week during the summer. Expect to shell out a bit more for tickets on Paradise cruises, with most tickets running $35-40 per person. 

  • Location – Downtown Minneapolis: 2150 W River Pkwy, Minneapolis, MN 55454
  • Location – Port of Excelsior/Lake Minnetonka: 2 Water St, Excelsior, MN 55331
  • Website: Paradise Charter Cruises 

Al & Alma’s

Consistently voted on “Best of the Twin Cities” lists, Al and Alma’s boat charters on Lake Minnetonka have been offering tours on the lake since 1973.  Their fleet includes the largest motorized yacht on Lake Minnetonka, the 83-foot “Bella Vista,” and some of Minnesota’s most expensive public yachts.  Al and Alma’s cruises also feature food prepped from their Cooks Bay supper club—expect better menu options than you’ll find on any other Twin Cities boat cruises. 

  • Location – Lake Minnetonka: Lake Minnetonka (multiple locations for departure)
  • Website: Al & Alma’s

St Croix Boat and Packet

Located on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway near Stillwater, St. Croix Boat and Packet (aka Stillwater River Boats) is home to one of the largest river tour boats in the Twin Cities Metro.  St. Croix operates six boats, seven days per week, with cruises from 11:30 AM to 8 PM.  Their largest boat holds more than 650 guests, with multiple floors of bars and dining and a terrific roof deck for river viewing.

Magnolia Blossom Cruises

Looking for an unforgettable party venue for a group of 60-100 friends, family, or co-workers?  The Magnolia Blossom Cruise company offers private charter cruises on their historic riverboat.  The tour boat docks on the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul, allowing trips customized to view downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul scenery.  The Magnolia is one of the few boats that will navigate the lock and dam at Ford Parkway, something your guests won’t soon forget.  Note, Magnolia does not offer public boat cruises; the tours are by charter contract only.

  • Location – Mississippi River near St. Paul: 2500 Crosby Farm Rd, St Paul, MN 55116
  • Website: Magnolia Blossom Cruises
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