MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Cruising into fall

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

Dells Boat Tours.

© Beth Gauper

A Dells Boat Tours excursion returns from the Upper Dells.

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 and in the Dells, paddlewheelers, launches and amphibious Ducks give passengers plenty to look at. 

Here are some of the best tours.


Steamboat Minnehaha from Excelsior. The autumn tours around Lake Minnetonka are very popular on this restored streetcar steamboat. The one-hour cruises go out at 12:40 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:20 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through early October.

It's smart to reserve in advance, 952-474-2115. For more, see Cruising around Excelsior.

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. 651-465-6315.

For more, see Sightseeing on the St. Croix.

Padelford Riverboats on the Mississippi in St. Paul: Boats from Harriet Island, across from downtown, give 1-hour narrated sightseeing cruises upriver through a wooded area that shows beautiful colors. Check for meal and specialty cruises.


A paddlewheeler on the St. Croix.

© Beth Gauper

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

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.

Ghost Boat tours go out Friday and Saturday evenings in October. The 1-hour tours are not recommended for children under 11. 608-254-8555.

For more, see The quiet side of the Dells.

Wisconsin Ducks in the Wisconsin Dells: The amphibious Ducks trundle along forest trails and into the Wisconsin River or Lake Delton. One-hour, 8-mile tours go out through October. 608-254-8751.

Door County Fireboat Cruises from Sturgeon Bay. A former Chicago fireboat offers 1- or 2-hour narrated tours of the bay and ship canal, past three lighthouses, through mid-October. 920-495-6454.

For more, see The door to Door County.


Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises on Lake Superior from Munising: The 2- to 3-hour cruises along the national lakeshore go out through the third weekend in October. 800-650-2379, 906-387-2379. 

For more, see Michigan's Pictured Rocks.


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.

Last updated on September 23, 2018