As the USA expanded and industrialized during the 19th century, steam powered sternwheelers were the workhorses of the nation’s inland waterways. Many were basic in design, with minimal thought given to aesthetics; a few, however, were intended to carry upscale passengers. The finest of these passenger vessels were floating palaces with exterior decoration like that of a wedding cake.
Cruising the Saint Croix River
This form of travel has been brought back to life in a few places, mostly on the Mississippi River where a number of modern sternwheelers take tourists out on the water. This is particularly true along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, where several modern paddle-wheelers travel the Saint Croix River above its confluence with the Mississippi.
As a National Scenic Riverway, much of the Saint Croix flows through a lightly developed or undeveloped landscape and a few historic river towns.
The view from the Taylors Falls Princess
One of those old river towns is Taylors Falls, and this is where we hopped aboard the Taylors Falls Princess for an afternoon cruise.
This section of the river is famous for its dalles – a rocky gorge with steep vertical cliffs, pinnacles, and potholes. While fun to explore on foot, the area is gorgeous when viewed from the water.
As we travel along the river the cliffs get lower and less dramatic until they level out completely.
The quiet side channels in this less-dramatic area are enticing . . . I wonder what wildlife might be hiding in there.
Watching the paddlewheels
However, perhaps more than anything, I am mesmerized by the dual paddlewheels that power the boat from behind.
While these are not the steamboats of old (and thus far less dangerous), the throb of the engine, the steady beat of the paddles, and the splashing water are still pretty impressive.
Back to Taylors Falls
Too soon we are headed back to Taylors Falls. However, as if it were a consolation prize, we get to watch the Taylors Falls Queen pass us on its way down river.
And, of course, we get one more look at the rocky cliffs of the dalles before we disembark.
Plan your Saint Croix River cruise
The Saint Croix cruises from Taylors Falls begin at the north end of Interstate State Park. The park is a little more than an hour drive north of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. That makes it an easy day trip.
The Taylors Falls Princess and Taylors Falls Queen are operated by Wild Mountain. Boats run regularly (daily) throughout the boating season, with special cruises offered at various times. During summer it is often possible to find a Groupon or other discount (we used a two-for-one Groupon), but expect to pay full price and reserve in advance on holidays and fall weekends.
The boats dock adjacent to or inside the Minnesota section of Interstate Park (the location varies with the water level). Interstate Park is located on both sides of the Saint Croix River at Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin. It is both a Minnesota and Wisconsin state park.
A park permit is NOT required to take the river cruise, and the Minnesota side of Interstate Park has a an odd group of natural potholes, so you should take a look around before or after your cruise.
The Saint Croix River has a beautiful mix of hardwoods, so fall is the perfect time to view the changing leaves from the water.
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