Minneapolis/St. Paul: A Train Lover’s Destination

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.

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    CALENDAR OF TRAIN RIDES & EVENTS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

    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.
    Purchase tickets here.

    Girl by train car at the Minnesota Transportation Museum in Saint Paul, MN
    Minnesota Transportation Museum – Jackson Street Roundhouse Displays Railroad Artifacts and Real Train Cars

    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.

    April 2024: Circus Trains

    Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum, 668 Transfer Road, Suite 8 Saint Paul, MN 55114
    Throughout the month of April, TCMRM features its o-scale circus models.  $10/pp; 4 and under FREE.

    May 3, 2024: Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store reopens in Union Depot

    Union Depot, 214 4th St East, St Paul, MN 55101
    Saint Paul’s favorite toy train store comes home with a new store in Union Depot. Drop by opening weekend for half-price admission to the indoor play area. Only $5/child and $1/supervising adult
    .

    May 11, 2024: National Train Day

    Begun by Amtrak, this holiday has taken on a life of its own. Who doesn’t want to celebrate trains? Amtrak doesn’t actually celebrate it anymore but it can be a good excuse to visit some of the old depots and museums on this list.

    June 1-2, 2024: Train Days

    Union Depot, 214 4th St East, St Paul, MN 55101
    Families can tour train equipment, watch model trains, and view an historic photo exhibit. There will also be kid-friendly activities. Parents can shop the vendor marketplace or food trucks. 10am-4pm both days. FREE

    Engineers working the 261 Boiler at Union Depot Train Station in Saint Paul, Minnesota
    image courtesy Union Depot

    August 2-11, 2024: A Day Out with Thomas

    North Shore Scenic Railroad, 520 South Avenue, Two Harbors, MN 55616
    The day includes live entertainment, photo ops, games and a real train ride with Thomas. Tickets $20.

    Girl riding Thomas Train during national train day evebt
    Thomas Train

    Holiday Trains:

    October 19 2024-February 22, 2025: 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. Night Trains runs from October through February with additional bonus nights throughout the year. 3pm-7pm. $15/pp.

    Model train and boat lit up in a dark background. Text reads: "All Aboard for Night Trains"
    Photo Credit: Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum

    2024 TBA: Santa’s Train Shop

    Minnesota Transportation Museum, Jackson Street Roundhouse, 193 Pennsylvania Ave E, St Paul, MN 55130
    The museum, located in St Paul, is transformed into Santa’s Train Shop with live music, activities, train rides, pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and lots of museum fun. Weekends, 10am-4pm, $9-$18/pp or $50/family. Pre-Purchased Tickets Required.

    Dec 6-7 & Dec 13-14, 2024: North Pole Express

    Union Depot, 214 4th Street East, St Paul, MN 55101
    Join Santa on a train ride to the North Pole where you can visit special shops. This event sells out very quickly. Sign Up to Get Ticket Alerts

    2024 TBA: Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

    The Holiday Train traditionally rolls through the Twin Cities each December. Read more here.

    Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
    Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

    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:

    MINNEAPOLIS DESTINATIONS FOR TRAIN FUN

    Minnehaha Depot

    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.

    Old street car with boy in front
    Take a trolley ride

    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.

    Little Girl playing with train table at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota

    SAINT PAUL DESTINATIONS FOR TRAIN FUN

    Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store

    Union Depot, 214 4th St East, St Paul, MN 55101
    The store offers pay-to-play train tables. $10/child and $2/supervising adult. Storytimes are offered on Monday’s and Fridays and music on Saturdays. These events are covered in the pay-to-play price.

    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

    214 4th St East, St Paul, MN 55101
    Union Depot is an historic station along the Amtrak national train system. This is where you will catch a train for real vacations. They offer rail lines to Chicago, the Rocky Mountains, Chatanooga and more.

    Families will love visiting 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: Family Fun at Union Depot, St. Paul.

    Burlington Northern Train at Union Depot Train Days

    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, round-trip, rides to pick pumpkins and a Santa Train. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays, Must make advance reservations online. $9-$16/pp, family rates available.

    The Minnesota Transportation Museum's Jackson Street Roundhouse

    James J. Hill House

    240 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102

    This National Historic Landmark 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.

    New Brighton History Center in Long Lake Park

    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.

    Garden Railroad, Wayzata Depot

    Excelsior Streetcar Line

    Excelsior
    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

    Hudson, WI
    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 train tickets, but a donation of $5/pp is suggested. 

     

    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

    Osceola, WI
    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.

    Great Northern Train

    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-powered locomotive. Open Sundays and holidays noon-5pm. Adults $3.00; Kids 3-12 $2.00; 2 and under FREE.

    Conductor taking kids tickets on miniature train at Carson Park in Eau Claire WI
    Conductor taking kids tickets at Carson Park

    North Shore Scenic Railroad & Duluth Depot Museum in Duluth

    North Shore Scenic Railroad, 506 W Michigan St, Duluth, MN 55802

    Anne recommends a ride on the Duluth Zephyr, when visiting Duluth.  For families with older kids, plan a trip around a Murder Mystery Express!

    North Shore Scenic Railroad

    Lake Superior Railroad Museum

    When visiting Duluth, train-loving families will want to visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, where kids can climb and explore.

    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.

    WHERE TO PLAY WITH TRAIN TABLES

    We have several museums and small businesses in the Twin Cities where kids can play with train sets. No need to find your own space for a play table and storage.

    Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store

    Union Depot, 214 4th St East, St Paul, MN 55101
    Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store has train track
    activity tables set up with wooden train sets and accessories. Open Mondays, Fridays and weekends, families can drop in for imaginative play. $10/child and $2/accompanying adult.

    Firefighters Hall and Museum

    664 22nd Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418
    You might not get to the train tables once they see the fire trucks, but the Firefighters Museum has a good sized train table. Admission: $6-$7/pp.

    Jackson Street Roundhouse

    193 Pennsylvania Ave E, St Paul, MN 55130
    Besides the real train cars, Jackson street roundhouse has train tables in an area designed for toddlers. Sometimes there will be crafts and other tot-friendly things to do in this area. Wednesdays $9-$15/pp. Saturdays $9/$18/pp.

    Mill City Museum

    704 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN, 55401
    Part of the Market to Market exhibit, Mill City’s train table shows how flour is transported to various places. Kids can load the trains with flour sacks and spend playtime learning about how trains aided the flour industry. Admission $8-$12/pp.

    Twin City Model Railroad Museum

    668 Transfer Road, Suite 8, Saint Paul, MN 55114
    TCMRM has some train tables toward the back of the museum. Kids will also enjoy the interactive layouts that allow them to control some of the trains and layouts. Admission: $8-$10/pp.

     

    TRAIN THEMED PLAYGROUNDS IN THE TWIN CITIES:

    Playground at Teddybear Park, Stillwater, Minnesota
    Obviously, Teddy Bear Park has a teddy bear theme, but it has a train structure to play on.
    • Kenwood Park, 2101 West Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403
    Girl playing on train on the playground of Kenwood Park, Minneapolis, MN
    Kenwood Park

    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.

    5 thoughts on “Minneapolis/St. Paul: A Train Lover’s Destination”

    1. My boys loved going to Jackson Roundhouse when they were little. With lots of trains to see and climb around! Train tables that younger children enjoy, and sometimes caboose rides.

    2. Pingback: Trains in the Twin Cities – Discover ~ Explore ~ Delve Deep

    3. 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.

      1. 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!

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