Cruising into fall

For lovely views of the hues, try a float on a boat.

A paddlewheeler on the St. Croix.
A paddlewheeler heads down the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls, Minn.

As wooded shorelines erupt in fall colors, narrated river cruises become especially popular. That's easy to understand — why not kick back and let the scenery come to you?

On the most scenic part of the Mississippi, pontoons glide past 500-foot bluffs and into backwaters. In the Upper Peninsula, they pass a national lakeshore.

On the Dalles of the St. Croix and in the Wisconsin Dells, paddlewheelers, launches and amphibious Ducks give passengers plenty to look at.

Here are some of the best tours.


Scenic Boat Tours on the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls. Narrated paddlewheeler cruises take passengers past the evocative formations of the St. Croix's Dalles, formed at the same time and in the same way as Wisconsin's Dells.

For more, see Sightseeing on the St. Croix.

Padelford Riverboats on the Mississippi in St. Paul. Boats from Harriet Island, across from downtown, give 1½-hour narrated sightseeing cruises upriver through a wooded area that shows beautiful colors.

Check for meal and specialty cruises. For more, see Sightseeing in St. Paul.


Dells Boat Tours in the Wisconsin Dells. Narrated tours on the Wisconsin River, past the famous sandstone formations, go out daily through October. Upper Dells rides are two hours; Lower Dells are one hour.

Dells Boat Tours.
A Dells Boat Tours excursion returns from the Upper Dells.

Ghost Boat tours go out Friday and Saturday evenings in October. The 1½-hour tours are not recommended for children under 11.

For more, see The quiet side of the Dells.

Wisconsin Ducks in the Wisconsin. The amphibious Ducks trundle along forest trails and into the Wisconsin River or Lake Delton. One-hour, 8½-mile tours go out through October. 608-254-8751.

Door County Scenic Boat Tours in Sister Bay and Fish Creek. The double-decker tour boat offers narrated trips south to Peninsula State Park and Eagle Bluff Lighthouse as well as trips north to Death's Door.

It also offers sunset tours with live music.

For more, see At sea in Door County and Outdoors in Door County.


Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises on Lake Superior from Munising. The 2½- to 3-hour cruises along the national lakeshore go out through the third weekend in October.

For more, see Michigan's Pictured Rocks.


Maiden Voyage Tours in Marquette. This pontoon boat gives 1½-hour Eco Tours of the Mississippi backwaters from mid-May through mid-October.

Riverboat Twilight between Dubuque and LeClaire. This paddlewheeler offers a full-day excursion along the Mississippi bluffs from Dubuque to Guttenberg and back, with breakfast and lunch.

It also offers two-day cruises from LeClaire to Dubuque and sightseeing tours in LeClaire.

Celebration Belle from Dubuque. This Moline-based paddlewheeler offers all-day trips to Prairie du Chien and Savanna, Ill., in October.

Cruise boats on the Fox River.
On Illinois' Fox River, the St. Charles Belle offers weekend cruises.

Blue Heron Eco Cruises in Camanche. From Rock Creek Marina & Campground, south of Clinton, naturalists lead pontoon-boat tours through backwaters and sloughs of the Mississippi River, looking for wildlife.

The sunset tours are held at 7 p.m. Thursdays from May through October and some Saturday mornings in summer. Reserve by calling 563-259-1876.


St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats in St. Charles. On the Fox River west of Chicago, paddlewheelers offer hour-long narrated sightseeing cruises on weekends through mid-October.

For more, see Towns of the Fox River.

Pride of Oregon paddlewheeler on the Rock River in Oregon. This boat offers daily brunch and dinner cruises up the Rock River past the famous statue of Black Hawk.

It docks at Maxson Riverside Restaurant just north of Oregon on Illinois 2. Reserve at 800-468-4222.

For more, see On the Rock River in Illinois.

Celebration Belle from Moline. This paddlewheeler offers fall-foliage cruises.

Last updated on September 18, 2020

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