If you are a train lover or have train lovers in your family, then the Twin Cities is a fantastic place for you. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, James J. Hill–a native of Ontario, Canada–was a pioneer in Minnesota developing the Great Northern Railway and pioneering the Pacific Northwest Railway. Because of his legacy, the Twin Cities has a rich railroad history making it a great location for any train lovers and train fun abounds around the metro area. We have train museums, historic depot restorations, model trains and family-friendly events all year long.
CALENDAR OF TRAIN EVENTS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
May 13, 2023: National Train Day
Begun by Amtrak, this holiday has taken on a life of its own. Who doesn’t want to celebrate trains? Although the official National Train Day in 2023 is May 13th, Amtrak doesn’t actually celebrate it anymore and the Transportation Museum and Union Depot sometimes pick their own dates to celebrate. Watch for more details in the spring.
May 13-14, 2023: Celebrate National Train Day @ James J. Hill House.
James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Ave, St Paul, MN 55102
Tons of train-themed family fun in the Railroad Tycoon, James J. Hill’s mansion, including fun workshops, bluegrass music, a chance to learn train whistle code, selfie station, a train table for the little kids and more. Included with museum admission. Tickets are $8-$12 and can be pre-purchased. There is also a sensory-friendly program Saturday morning. Learn more here.
June 3-4, 2023: Union Depot Train Days
Union Depot, 14 4th Street East, St. Paul,
A full weekend of train activities including tours of locomotives, model railroads, musical entertainment and special events for all ages. FREE.
Ongoing Wednesdays: Tots & Trains
Jackson Street Roundhouse, 193 Pennsylvania Ave, St. Paul, MN, 55130
Held the first and third Wednesday of each month and geared towards preschoolers, kids can enjoy the museum, play with the train tables and interactive activities, make a craft, hear a story while parents enjoy coffee and treats. $35/family or $13/adult & $10/child. 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Book your tickets here.
Second Saturdays – September through April: Trains After Dark
Overland Railway Historical Society, 2501 East 38th Street, Minneapolis
Visitors can enjoy the displays in reduced light levels to simulate night operation. 6pm until 9pm. $7/person $20/family.
Coming Again Fall of 2023: Night Trains
Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum, 668 Transfer Road, Suite 8 Saint Paul, MN 55114
A favorite annual train event, featuring model trains decked out for the Holidays and winter. 3pm-7pm. $15/pp.
RAILROAD & TRAIN FUN AT HOME
Learn More about Trains and Railroads with NPS
School age kids can earn a Junior Ranger Virtual Badge from the National Park Service by working through the Junior Ranger Explorer Booklet. Kids can learn about railroad safety, the tools and supplies needed to build a railroad, the cities the railroad connects between New York City and San Francisco and the landscape of the land between, and they can explore how the railroad made it possible to share resources across the U.S. They will also get to decipher a Morse code message and use their math skills to calculate travel costs. They will also learn about the history of the westward expansion of the rail system, the people who built it, the Native American homelands that were lost to the railroad and the unexpected loss of Bison that this expansion caused. Print and Complete the Junior Ranger Railroad Explorer Booklet.
A SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF TRAIN FUN IN THE TWIN CITIES
If you want to explore our rich train history at your own pace, you can learn more about James J. Hill on MNOpedia, and then investigate the fun train-destinations below:
Or use the map showing the best places to watch trains in the Twin Cities created by Minneapolis Photography. These are all spots where families can safely watch real trains on the move.
MINNEAPOLIS DESTINATIONS FOR TRAIN FUN
Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis
Located in Minnehaha Park in South Minneapolis this historic gingerbread depot boasts one of the prettiest settings in the Twin Cities. Learn more. Open Sundays, Memorial Day – Labor Day. FREE admission.
The Hennepin Overland Railway Historical Society
2501 East 38th Street, Minneapolis
Offers for the most sincere model train lovers a 400 square foot layout in a nondescript building. If you are unfamiliar with Minneapolis, finding the building could be a challenge but well worth your time. Open weekends, 1- 4pm, September thru April (closed for the summer months). $7/pp or $20/family.
Minnesota Streetcar Museum – Como Harriet Streetcar Line
2330 W 42nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55410
Take a ride on the retro Como-Harriet Streetcar Line, shuttling riders on a scenic route between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Trains run May – October, please see the link for the schedule. $3/pp.
Mill City Museum
704 South 2nd St., Mpls, MN 55401
Flour milling and lumber industries were reliant on barge and rail traffic, which made the selection of this site for a flour factory, a strategic choice. Small children will love playing with the toy train at this museum. There is also an 1879 boxcar on display in the museum’s Rail Corridor. After your visit, get out and explore the railroad features that still stand in the Washburn A Mill and walk across Minneapolis’s landmark railroad bridge, The Stone Arch Bridge. Adults $12/children $8.
SAINT PAUL DESTINATIONS FOR TRAIN FUN
Twin City Model Railroad Museum
668 Transfer Rd Ste. 8, St Paul
If you like to putter with model trains, you will enjoy a visit to the Twin City Model Railroad Museum. With the World Famous O Scale reproduction of the St. Anthony Falls Milling District, you will be able to see how the railways played a specific and important part in history. Learn more here.
Bonus Fun: All Year, check out TCMRM’s TRAKS (“Train Related Activities for Kids”) page for activities, coloring pages and more train activities.
Union Depot is an historic station along the Amtrak national train system. Visit on Wednesdays when they put out games or for one of their many public events. There’s a designated picnic area set aside next to the tracks; bring a lunch and watch the trains come through! Read more: Indoor Delights: Union Depot Family Fun!
Jackson Street Roundhouse
193 Pennsylvania Ave, St. Paul, MN, 55130
The historic Jackson Street Roundhouse is the former steam engine maintenance facility for the Great Northern Railway. The interactive exhibits feature local and regional railway history, and you can experience an operating roundhouse turntable and real passenger train rides! Bring littles ones the first or third Wednesday of the month for Tots ‘N Trains special programming. Look for special events throughout the year such as fall color train rides and meets with Santa. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays, Must purchase tickets online. $8-$13/pp, family rates available.
James J. Hill House
240 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102
This museum will be of more historical interest to older kids and adults as the mansion home of the creator of the Great Northern Railway, James J. Hill. Get an idea of the great wealth that the railroads created for a their builders.
Minnesota History Center
345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102
You can’t discuss Minnesota history without the railroad industry. Climb on a vintage box car and explore the path of the modern light rail. Find a video of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Railroad Collection here.
FUN TRAIN DESTINATIONS IN THE TWIN CITIES NORTH METRO
New Brighton History Center
Long Lake Park, New Brighton
This history center is built in an old train depot with an historic train that kids can climb on. It is located in Long Lake Regional Park, so you can make it part of a day at the beach. The museum opens in early June and you can visit summer weekends between 1-4pm. FREE.
North Metro Model Railroad Club
1929 Coon Rapids Blvd NW, Coon Rapids
Occasionally, the club invites the public inside for open houses or to watch the trains operate. Admission is free, donations appreciated.
FUN TRAIN DESTINATIONS IN THE TWIN CITIES WEST METRO
Historic Wayzata Depot
402 East Lake Street, Wayzata,
The Wayzata Museum offers hands-on experiences from the James J. Hill train era, including using a Morris code machine to send your own messages. The tracks that pass the depot are still busy today. And all ages will love the Garden Railroad, an outdoor landscaped miniature railway track. The depot is open April-October, Wednesdays, weekends and holidays, 1-4pm. FREE.
Excelsior Streetcar Line
All aboard for an old-fashioned trolley ride through downtown Excelsior. Trains run May – September, please check the link for the schedule. $2.50/pp.
FUN TRAIN DESTINATIONS IN THE TWIN CITIES EAST METRO
St Croix Railroad
Three railroad lines operate miniature locomotives the public is invited to ride on the last Sunday of the month, May – September from 12-4pm. There is no official charge for tickets, but a donation of $5/pp is suggested.
TRAIN THEMED PLAYGROUNDS IN THE TWIN CITIES:
- Teddy Bear Park, 207 Nelson Street East, Stillwater, MN 55082
- Kenwood Park, 2101 West Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403
RAIL TRAVEL FAMILY FUN OUTSIDE THE TWIN CITIES
Chugga chugga! You’ll have to travel a little farther from the metro to visit these trains, but they make for a lovely day trip destination.
Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway
Just across the border into Wisconsin, train rides depart every Saturday and Sunday throughout the weekend, spring through fall. 50 or 90 minutes in length, these scenic trips through the the beautiful scenery of the St. Croix Valley offer a one of a kind appreciation for vintage trains. Guests can book meal excursions on the 90-minute rides, such as the family-friendly pizza train. Rates vary so please make sure to check the website for more details.
Learn More About the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway: Meet the 6 National Parks of Minnesota.
Chippewa Valley Railroad
Carson Park, Eau Claire, WI
This pint-sized train travels in a half-mile circle along Half Moon Lake during between Memorial Day and Lab or Day. Coaches are pulled by coal fired, steam locomotive. Open Sundays and holidays noon-5pm. Adults $3.00; Kids 3-12 $2.00; 2 and under FREE.
North Shore Scenic Railroad & Duluth Depot Museum in Duluth
Anne recommends a ride on the Duluth Zephyr, when visiting Duluth.
Lake Superior Railroad Museum
More Train Depots in Minnesota
We haven’t even scratched the surface with depots to visit in Minnesota. Check out DepotMaps.com to find all the depots in Minnesota.
- Find our full list of Holiday Season Train Events here.
- Find hundreds more things to do in Minneapolis & St Paul with kids!
- Plan a DIY Train-Themed Birthday Party at Van Cleve Park in Minneapolis!
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3 thoughts on “Minneapolis/St. Paul: A Train Lover’s Destination”
Pingback: Trains in the Twin Cities – Discover ~ Explore ~ Delve Deep
I’d also recommend the railfan park on the far northeast (as in downriver) end of St. Paul Union Depot’s property for watching freight trains in a fenced-in, kid-friendly place, as well as the playground at 4th and Sibley, which is next to the light rail station at St. Paul Union Depot.
The pedestrian overpass on the south end of Tinucci’s parking lot in Newport is also a relatively good, kid-safe place to watch the big trains go by.
Thank you for these recommendations, Nick. My kids always complain when we get stuck behind a train and ARE NOT first in line. Maybe we should go have a train-watching outing!