9 Most Scenic Train Rides In Minnesota, USA

scenic train rides in minnesota
| 5 min read

Rail is an economical, convenient, and one of the most preferred mode of transport in the world. Also, in some parts such as Minnesota, trains have become a major recreational activity that continues to attract thousands of local and foreign tourists. The railway excursions in Minnesota take you through beautiful landscapes that boast an array of fascinating features, including streams, rivers, swampy areas, lakes, nature parks, and wilderness, among others. Whereas some of these excursions are seasonal, others are perennial. So, read through this article of the most scenic train rides in Minnesota, USA, to identify an excursion that coincides with your holiday plans.

If you’re planning to stay in Minnesota for a few days, consider one of the best lakefront hotels and luxury cabins for your accommodations.

1. North Shore Scenic Railroad

Soo Line 2719 steam locomotive 4-6-2 on North Shore Scenic Railroad at Lake Superior Railroad Museum
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user SoftwareSimian used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Every year in summer and fall, the North Shore Scenic Railroad offers exhilarating train excursions between Two Harbors and the historic Duluth. The distance between the destinations is 42km (26mi), which is quite sufficient for a half-day trip as there are countless attractions along the route to fill up your time. The tour takes you through the Canal Park on the shores of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Superior, and the beautiful north woods. Along the way, expect to see unique architecture, vast lakes, pristine rivers, and lush forests that are packed with different species of wildlife.

North Shore Scenic Railroad

Price: 7 USD (adults); 4 USD (children)

Website: North Shore Scenic Railroad

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2. Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

Posted by Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad on Saturday, October 8, 2011

Discover the history of the railroad industry and magnificent sceneries in one of the best places to live, Duluth. Enjoy the two-hour scenic train tour through beautiful countryside, which is packed with a variety of things to see and do. The route is famous for many things, among them, the beautiful fall colors of maple trees, the scenic Mud Lake, and a variety of wildlife including birds, geese, and turtles that have learned to coexist with humans and can be seen lingering along the railway in search of food and water. For a better experience, the last coach of the train has an open-top to give passengers the best views. You should record videos and take many pictures of the great sceneries along this route.

Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad

Price: 20 USD (adults); 10 USD (children); free (kids ages 3 and under; veterans and active duty military ride free on Sundays)

Website: Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad

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3. North Shore Scenic Railroad - Music & Pizza Train

Posted by North Shore Scenic Railroad on Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Another excellent train excursion for families by the North Shore Scenic Railroad is their special Music & Pizza Train trip. The Music and Pizza Train operates from the famed Union Depot to the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior during weekends in summer. This fun-filled adventure to the North Shore is unique in that the passengers are served light meals, including a 20cm (8”) pizza, soda, candy, chips, beer, and wine, among other snacks and beverages. The cost of some of these goodies is included in the ticket and therefore little, or no extra charge is imposed in the course of the trip. Just sit, relax, and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the North Shore.

North Shore Scenic Railroad

Price: 7 USD (adults); 4 USD (children)

Website: North Shore Scenic Railroad

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4. Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway

Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway - Burlington Northern caboose
Source: Photo by Flickr user August Schwerdfeger used under CC BY 2.0

Create an unforgettable experience with Osceola and St. Croix Valley train excursion. Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway offers two trips: to Dresser WI and another one to Marine on St. Croix MN. If you are looking for adventure and knowledge about the history of the area, the one heading to Marine on St. Croix MN would be a great fit for you, considering the variety of attractions along the way and those that await you at the destination. In this light, passengers can watch the beautiful sceneries of deciduous trees, that exhibit different shades of colors during autumn, over a glass of wine or juice served on board.

Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway

Price: 29 USD (ages 16 to 21); 21 USD (ages 3 to 15); 26 USD (seniors and veterans with valid ID); free (ages 2 and under)

Facebook page: Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway

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5. North Shore Scenic Railroad - Two Harbors Turn

One for two
Source: Photo by Flickr user Jerry Huddleston used under CC BY 2.0

Besides the trips to Canal Park and its environs, the North Shore Scenic Railway provides another exciting train excursion from Duluth to the Two Harbors Turn. This six-hour trip is the longest and probably the most exciting journey by the North Shore Scenic Railway. On the way, the train makes a few stops in some of the most notable recreational spots in North Shore, including Lake Superior Railroad Museum, which holds crucial information and exhibits about locomotives and other rolling stock. Also, in Two Harbors, the train will station for a little bit to give passengers ample time to shop, eat, and explore the lakeside town.

North Shore Scenic Railroad

Price: prices vary per season

Website: North Shore Scenic Railroad

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6. Excelsior Streetcar Line

Duluth Street Railway Company No. 78
Source: Photo by Flickr user Jerry Huddleston used under CC BY 2.0

Excelsior Streetcar Line offers tourists a unique chance to relive the days when streetcars used to ferry people from the hot urban centers to the beautiful shores of Lake Minnetonka. Today, Excelsior Streetcar Line provides 1.6 km (1 mile) round trips through the old Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railway. Along the way, the car will stop by the carban for visitors to check out the beautiful display of paddlewheel boards, historic hotels, landmarks, and trains dating back to the 19th century. The train also makes another stop at Lake Minnetonka Historical Society for guests to view the beautiful artifacts and many exhibits detailing the rich heritage of the south.

Excelsior Streetcar Line

Price: from 2.50 USD

Website: Excelsior Streetcar Line

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7. Friends of the 261

TC&W 30th Anniversary Special, Bongards, Minn.
Source: Photo by Flickr user Jerry Huddleston used under CC BY 2.0

Join Friends of the 261 for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride a vintage train, the Milwaukee Road 261. The steam locomotive offers several scenic rides, including the famous fall color excursion, which operates from St. Paul in Minnesota to Lacrescent through Winona and back. The route features a beautiful landscape comprised of extensive plantations, grasslands and lush canopies which are inhabited by different bird species. With the 261’s Skytop lounge and open vestibules, the views are unbeatable. What’s more, the guides are very knowledgeable and they take great pride in explaining the history of the railroads and steam locomotives in Minnesota. Clearly, this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the evolution of trains.

Friends of the 261

Price: from 90 USD

Website: Friends of the 261

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8. The Zephyr

Minnesota Zephyr Train
Source: Photo by Flickr user Richie Diesterheft used under CC BY 2.0

You can explore Duluth, one of the best places to visit in Minnesota, this summer aboard the famous tourist train dubbed Zephyr. With an all-window seating, the Zephyr guarantees some of the best views of different attractions in downtown Duluth, along the shores of Lake Superior and the picturesque Congdon Estate. Also, depending on your preferences, you can move back and forth on the train, admiring the mansions, forests, and other beautiful features along the route. Luckily, the passengers in the Zephyr are not assigned specific seats, and so you can sit at any spot that pleases you. The trip is suitable for all ages and therefore, it would be a good idea to bring your kids for a slice of this fun and adventure.

The Zephyr

Website: The Zephyr

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9. Amtrak Empire Builder

Amtrak "Empire Builder" @ Two Medicine Trestle Montana
Source: Photo by user Loco Steve used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Besides ferrying passengers across three major cities namely Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Amtrak’s Empire Builder provides six-and-a-half-hour trips through a variety of highlights in Minnesota heartland. In this regard, the train traverses the vast plains of Minnesota, its pristine lakes, rivers, and lush forests that are home to species of plants and animals. To better explore these attractions, the Amtrak Empire Builder offers alternative routes within or outside the state. For those who do wish to go beyond Minnesota, you can start your trip at Winona in the South and head northwards to Detroit Lakes, a city where you can do your shopping or have a quick lunch. Along the way, the train will also take you through other cities, including St. Paul and St. Cloud, among others.

Amtrak Empire Builder

Price: from 150 USD

Website: Amtrak Empire Builder

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Most scenic train rides in Minnesota

In conclusion, the train tours in Minnesota make the state an excellent destination for lovers of nature and great outdoor exploration. Plan your trip to embark on our article’s most scenic train rides in Minnesota, USA, for a chance to get up close with the state’s beautiful countryside. Don’t forget to consider the top romantic hotels and bed and breakfasts in Minnesota for the best places to stay.

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Josiah Ndung'u is a Mechanical Engineering graduate and a travelling enthusiast who loves networking with new people, learning new cultures, having fun (especially at the beach), and sampling new...Read more

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