For a rail adventure and change a scenery, plan a day or overnight train trip from Minneapolis. You can board Empire Builder trains in downtown St. Paul (view map) and travel through the Rocky Mountains, to the Pacific Northwest, and to cities big and small.
To get started, here are the best Amtrak trips from Minneapolis that don’t require a train transfer or middle-of-the-night travel.
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Two hours away from Minneapolis on Amtrak, Winona is a relaxing day or weekend trip. It’s a beautiful place to hike, or plan your trip around one of the unique festivals. For stunning views of the Mississippi River, be sure to check out Great River Bluffs State Park (pictured above), Garvin City Heights Park and Sugar Loaf Bluff.
Use rideshare to get around or rent a car at the nearby Enterprise (pickup service available). You can also walk from the Amtrak station to Lake Winona and the historic downtown area. If you decide to stay overnight, the charming Carriage House Bed and Breakfast and the Alexander Mansion B&B are a short walk away.
La Crosse, Wisconsin is on the Mississippi River and known for its large Oktoberfest and paddlewheel boat cruises. In the winter, you can also ski at nearby Mt. La Crosse. Use rideshare or taxi to get to the slopes and to the historic downtown area where there are restaurants, hotels and the charming Riverside Park. Nearby is a vintage car museum and a children’s museum for more things to do.
Amtrak travel time is almost three hours and you can spend the day in La Crosse and get back on the train or stay overnight. Rental cars are available at the nearby Enterprise (pickup service offered) if you want a more convenient way to get around.
A great destination for families, the Wisconsin Dells has many indoor and outdoor water parks, boat tours and outdoor activities. It’s about a four-hour train ride away from Minneapolis with an arrival in the afternoon next to the Wisconsin River and a village with shops and restaurants.
If the Empire Builder is running on time, you’ll have a few hours to explore if you want to do a day trip. Otherwise, it’s best to stay overnight. You can walk to White Rose Inns and Alpine Motel, two of the top-rated places to stay in town. Or book a room at a hotel with a shuttle (verify pickup service from Amtrak before booking).
Milwaukee is a six-hour Amtrak ride away from Minneapolis and is full of festivals and breweries. Trains arrive near the Historic Third Ward neighborhood and the RiverWalk. You can check out many types of sporting events, hang out on Lake Michigan, visit museums, or check out the popular Discover Iconic Milwaukee tour to see top sights and hidden gems.
View the top places to stay in the city to plan your visit. You’ll need to stay in Milwaukee at least one night.
For great food, live music and museums, head to Chicago. Travel time is about eight hours and you’ll arrive early evening near the Chicago River and a water taxi stop. There are many festivals and events to plan a trip around. Top attractions include the 360 Chicago Observation Deck, Millennium Park, Chicago Riverwalk, Navy Pier and Wrigley Field.
It’s best to stay two nights or longer to see the sights. Popular hotel areas include the Loop, West Loop and River North. You can also continue on your rail journey with an Amtrak trip from Chicago to reach destinations all across America.
Glacier National Park
Ride Amtrak overnight to reach the amazing landscapes in Glacier National Park. The East Glacier Park Station is about 21.5 hours away from Minneapolis, and you can walk five minutes to the historic Glacier Park Lodge after you arrive or use the hotel shuttle.
The lodge has a pool, golf course and connections to tour buses that will take you into the national park. Note that the lodge is only open late May through most of September.
Whitefish is a resort town full of events, restaurants and places to stay. Head to the Whitefish Mountain Resort to ski in the winter, hang out at City Beach in the summer, or rent a car and drive to Glacier National Park in about 30 minutes. Don’t want to drive? Book a national park tour with Whitefish Outfitters.
Many hotels and resorts in the area have shuttles (view the list), which can make getting around easier. Confirm shuttle availability before booking. You can also rent a car with Budget at the Whitefish Amtrak Station, use rideshare or taxis, and fly out of nearby Glacier Park International Airport if you don’t want travel 24 hours back to Minneapolis.
For a vacation full of outdoor adventures, plan a trip to Wenatchee, Washington. This small town is on the Columbia River and surrounded by mountains. The Riverfront Park is a relaxing place to visit, or rent a bike in town (Wenatchee E-Bikes or Trek Bicycle) and explore the waterfront bike trail. There’s also a large public market, a nearby ski resort and lots of hiking trails.
Uber and Lyft are options for getting around, or rent a car at Enterprise (pickup service available). The Hilton Garden Inn near the river is the hotel closest to the Amtrak station (walking time about 10 minutes). Amtrak travel time is about 33.5 hours and you’ll spend two nights on the train.
In the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed town with events, shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms. Winter is an especially charming time to visit with holiday lights, sleigh rides, a reindeer farm and nearby skiing/snowboarding. Hiking, whitewater rafting and other recreational activities are some of the non-winter things to do.
When booking your tickets, choose the Leavenworth Icicle Amtrak Station as your destination. To reach the village (where there are several hotels), plan to use the shuttle. Travel time is about 34 hours from Minneapolis.
On Puget Sound, Edmonds is a beautiful getaway in Washington State. In addition to beaches and places to walk along the waterfront, you can go on a whale watching tour with Puget Sound Express, scuba dive at the underwater park or ride the ferry to Kingston for a meal or ice cream.
After a day of exploring, you can eat dinner in the historic downtown area, where there is an Art Walk once a month, outdoor summer concerts and other events. Book a room near it all at Best Western Harbor Inn or check out a vacation rental for a more unique place to stay. Travel time from Minneapolis is about 37.5 hours.
A pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly city full of parks and gardens, Portland is a great place to enjoy nature. Mt. Hood (home to multiple ski areas) and the Columbia River Gorge are also nearby, and there are many great day trip options. In the city you’ll find many craft beers and interesting festivals to check out.
After spending two nights on the train, you’ll arrive at the Portland Amtrak Station. Nearby downtown Portland is a popular place to stay — rideshare or taxis are an easy way to get around. Light rail and Biketown bikes are other transportation options.
Seattle is a cultural getaway with many attractions and activities. Grab a coffee and stroll through the famous Pike Place Market, visit the Chihuly Gardens, tour the underground city, or head to Kerry Park for stunning skyline views.
Travel time from Minneapolis is over 38 hours and you’ll spend two nights on the train. Downtown Seattle hotels are near great restaurants and Pike Place Market, Belltown hotels are near nightlife and many museums, or stay near the waterfront for a quieter location with easy access to ferries, boat tours and the aquarium.
Top photo credit: Ken Lund (Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park)