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Permission to Come Aboard? Touring Minnesota’s Lakes and Rivers


Minnesota is a state with more than 10,000 lakes and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. There really is water everywhere. And when the sun is shining, why not hop aboard and enjoy a tour of this great state from the deck of a boat. I’ve toured the Mississippi River, the St. Croix River, and Lake Superior over the years and I’ve loved every trip. We posted about some of these cruises last fall, but summer is a great time to revisit your options, both in the Twin Cities and across the state.

Padelford Riverboats, St. Paul

Padelford Riverboats
Docked at Harriet Island in St. Paul, Padelford Riverboats offers a fleet of vessels to take guests on the Mississippi River. The company was founded in 1969 and features an authentic sternwheeler, the Jonathan Padelford.

Narrated sightseeing tours last an hour and a half and take passengers past the mouth of the Minnesota River, Pig’s Eye Cave, Fort Snelling, and the St. Paul skyline. Schedule: Daily at noon and 2 p.m.; Mon. at 6 p.m.. Tickets: $16 adults, $14 seniors, $8 kids 3-12, $8 on Mondays. Other cruises include the sunset dinner cruise and margarita cruise. Check online for more information.

During the summer, the University of Minnesota Showboat Players entertain on the stage of the Victorian-styled Minnesota Centennial Showboat, part of the Padelford fleet. The floating theater, which stays docked at Harriet Island, features a 225-seat jewelbox theater. On stage: The Vampire (through Aug. 25). Schedule: Tues.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Tues., Thurs. and Sat. matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $20-$25; $5 kids under 18 on Fridays (with adult purchase); $20 rush (one hour before curtain).

Paradise Charter Cruises, Minneapolis and Excelsior

Paradise Charter Cruises
Whether you find yourself on the Mississippi River or on Lake Minnetonka, consider Paradise Charter Cruises. Founded in 1985, Paradise Charter cruises has grown and serves more than 50,000 passengers a year on these two popular waterways.

The 78-foot Minneapolis Queen Paddleboat offers a signature cruise experience. The modern-day replica of the grand riverboats that once traveled the Mississippi River docks at Boom Island in Minneapolis. Rides on the Queen last an hour and a half and take passengers past the Minneapolis skyline, Stone Arch Bridge, the University of Minnesota campus, and through the Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. Schedule: Daily at noon and 2 p.m. Tickets: $18 adults, $16 seniors, $10 kids. Reservations recommended. Other cruises include happy hour pizza, Friday night dinner, and Sunday brunch. Check online for more information.

Depart from the Port of Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka to see the wonders of this large suburban lake and view the cottages and mansions that dot the landscape. Schedule: Mon., Wed. and Fri. at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets: $14 adults, $12 seniors, $9 kids. Reservations recommended. Other cruises include happy hour pizza and cocktail and Sunday brunch. Check online for more information.

Vista Fleet, Duluth

Vista Fleet
Since 1959, Vista Fleet Harbor Cruises has been helping passengers explore the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth.

The Vista Star and Vista Queen cruises last an hour and 45 minutes, take you around the harbor, under the Aerial Lift Bridge, and up to the St. Louis River. Learn about the history of the port city from the experienced narrators. Vista Star Schedule: Daily 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tickets: $16 adults, $8 kids (under 10 free with paid adult). Vista Queen Schedule: Daily at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tickets: $20 adults, $10 kids. Reservations recommended. Other cruises include pizza sightseeing, elegant sunset, and Fourth of July fireworks. Check online for more information.

St. Croix Boat and Packet, Stillwater

St. Croix Boat and Packet Company
Head out on the St. Croix River in Stillwater with St. Croix Boat and Packet. With a luxury yacht and several paddleboats in its fleet, St. Croix Boat and Packet offers a variety of experiences.

Depending on bridge lifts and water levels, tours will take you either north or south on the St. Croix River, spending an average of two to three hours on the water. Lunch Schedule: Mon.-Sat. at 11:30 am. Tickets: $17.95 adults, $13.95 kids 4-12. Dinner Schedule: Mon.-Fri. at 6:15 p.m. Tickets: $19.95-$25.95 adults, $16.95-$20.95 kids. Brews Cruise (sample from Lift Bridge Brewing Company): July 20 and Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $30. Reservations required for all public cruises. Other cruises include Dixie Band, brunch buffet, and Sunday jazz. Check online for more information.

Spirit of the Water, Treasure Island Resort and Casino

All photos courtesy
of cruise company

Treasure Island Resort & Casino
Besides card games and slots at its casino, Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Welch, Minn., offers its own vessel for exploring the Mississippi River.

The Spirit of the Water docks about a quarter mile away from the casino hotel and offers two and a half hour cruises that showcase the beauty of the river. Schedule: Wed.-Sat. at noon and 6:30 p.m., Sun. at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tickets: $26.95-$34.95 adults, $19.95-$24.95 kids.

The next time you find yourself by the lake or the river, look for these and other options and enjoy the adventure.

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About This Blog

Whether you are a seasoned Twin Cities traveler or planning your first trip to Minnesota, this blog will introduce you to many new adventures to add to your itinerary. From day trips and scenic discoveries to luxurious girls weekends, travel tips, and insider scoops, our editors will give you all the information you need to enjoy your stay Up North.

Learn about the contributing writers.

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