I have a son who loves trains. For several years now we have plied the state, taking advantage of the various railroad attractions offerred here. So, here is my list of train-related things that we like to do in the Great State of Minnesota.
The Minnesota Zephyr offers rides and dinner tours out of Stillwater. I haven't done this yet, but it looks like fun.
Check out the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul. They have a nice museum, and give short rides with a diesel engine. We once saw the full sized Thomas the Tank Engine here, and that was worth a special trip for our young kids. We try to visit to the JS Roundhouse on our regular trips to the Twin Cities.
The Minnehaha Depot in Minneapolis is a neat place to visit to get a sense of what the old depot's were like.
The Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Rally operates some great old steam and diesel engines, but only during the labor day holiday. Kids love it, and its really worth a special trip. It's near Moorhead, MN, in Rollag. They also operate an old steam powered miniature train, which little kids love. Seriously, this a steam power wonderland for children. Arrive early in the morning, and plan to spend at least one entire day. You'll be a little dusty and sweaty at the end of the day, but that's how you know you've had a great time. Water bottles and wagons are ok.
The Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth is fantastic, worth a special trip. The museum is in an old depot, and its huge! Lots of trains that kids can visit and climb on. They offer tours along the beautiful Lake Superior shore. We rode the old "Budd Car" up the shore to visit a cool old lighthouse. It's worth a special trip! Plan to spend the whole day.
Take a ride on the historic Harriet-Como street car line in Minneapolis. My kids really loved this. You can get off (or on) near a bandshell, where you can get ice cream and toss bread to ducks in the lake (be sure to bring some bread crumbs with you). Not worth a special trip if you live out of town, because the ride is so short, but be certain to work it into your next visit to the Twin Cities.
In Dilworth, Minnesota, there is an old mothballed steam engine situated in the city park just off Higway 10.
If you learn of any other Minnesota train attractions, let me know!
Some other nearby train attractions that are within reach for Minnesotans:
The Prairie Dog Central Railway in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is worth a special trip. Our kids loved it. The train takes you up an railway old line where the crossing gates are lowered by hand. You will travel through some great little Manitoba towns where the local people turn out to play music, sell ice cream, art work, and provide you with a really fun time. Our kids were able to tour the cab of the Diesel engine, and also the steam engine repair works. Many of the volunteer are railroad retirees; they were truly representative of the "Friendly Manitoba" image, and it was clear to us that they were passionate about this little Railway. We'll be back.
There's also a miniature train in Fargo, ND, at the Yunker farm children's museum. Its great for little kids. Work it in the next time you're in Fargo.