Fishing & Boating in the Northwoods

Zephyr Dinner Train – Stillwater MN

Stillwater MN Depot

It’s pretty easy to fall into the same old “flowers and chocolate” trap for Valentine’s Day. This year, I decided to look for something different, something unique. Perhaps a “yeah, that’s it, a romantic getaway!” But where to go was the big question. This needed to be something very special, and not so close by. When I really want to “get away,” my instincts seem to always direct me North.

stillwater drawbridge

I had heard about the town of Stillwater, MN but had never visited it. I did a little research, and when I literally stumbled upon something called the dinner train (The Minnesota Zephyr), my mind was made up. This was something I knew we were going to enjoy.

The drive from Chicago is about 6 hours. For some, that may seem like a long way to go for dinner. But it is a very easy drive, and this particular dinner was well worth the trip! With Minneapolis so close (to Stillwater), there is plenty to do, and a wide range of accommodations is available.

Note: Unfortunately, the Minnesota Zephyr Dinner Train is no longer running. A Stillwater tourism icon for more than two decades, The Zephyr has carried more than a million passengers while cruising back and forth along a 6-mile route north of Stillwater and along the bluffs of the St. Croix River, before heading west along a creek. High fuel prices and a terrible economy forced owner David Paradeau to declare that New Year’s Eve 2008 would be the final run of the famous Dinner Train before going out of business.

It is quite unfortunate, since the trip and dinner, while a tad pricy, was definitely worth it: a super fun affair. The Minnesota DNR has acquired the rights to the property and has plans to convert the rail line into the Brown’s Creek State Trail. Fortunately, I at least have the memories… rk

limestone detail on depot

Driving into the town of Stillwater is like stepping into the past. The downtown area is lined with specialty stores and antique shops. Building materials are mostly limestone and brick. Main Street (Route 95) runs parallel to the beautiful and scenic St. Croix River.

One boards the dinner train on the north end of town at a restored railroad station*. Prior to boarding the Zephyr, browse through the gift shop or soak up some of the railroad and logging history of the area by perusing the many fascinating displays and old pictures.

*Thanks for a heads-up from RGH on 1-03-03: “The ‘restored railroad station’ statement is not accurate. The original station was built in 1888 and located near the interstate bridge. It was torn down 42 years ago to make way for a grocery store, of all things, which has since been converted into a sorry excuse for a hotel. The station you visited is only a few years old and ‘styled’ after the original, albeit tastefully done.”

The train itself is comprised of circa 1940 Pullman rail cars. Each car is decorated accordingly with a slightly different theme and each table is dressed “to the nines” with white linen tablecloths, silverware, and crystal in preparation for the upcoming five-course meal.

Minnesota zephyr

We were seated at our table and immediately noticed the waiting shrimp cocktail and glasses of ice water, complete with lemon slices. A waitress delivered cocktails, and soon the lights were dimmed, as the train began its slow journey into the night.

Zephyr dining table

Over the course of the evening (about 3 1/2 hours) we were presented with more food than a hungry lumberjack could possibly eat! We dined on shrimp, cream of chicken and wild rice soup, salmon, old-fashioned cheesecake and more as the countryside slowly rolled by.

dining car

Periodically, a quartet of period-dressed, smiling troubadours wandered through the car crooning melodious renditions such as “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Sentimental Journey”. It was almost as if the train were a time machine and had taken us back to the 1940’s!

The evening was a memorable and enjoyable one indeed. I stepped off the train back in Stillwater feeling relaxed, reminiscent, and very full. I am looking forward to a return trip to Stillwater, although next time I will plan a longer stay so I am able to do more exploring in this charming, old-fashioned town.

R. Karl

I will forever be sorry and disappointed that the Stillwater dinner Train was never to run again. However, I discovered another in nearby Spooner, Wisconsin. Read about it here: You won’t be disappointed!

Related Articles

Stillwater’s Zephyr locomotives finally pulling out of the station, by Mary Divine, Twin Cities Pioneer Press (12/13/14)


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R. Karl

Angler, Author & Epicure

Fishing since the age of eight.  Seriously writing since the age of 16. Chef and foodie from the age of 22 years… and counting. So much to learn and so little time. I have enjoyed every minute of it all.  Whether on the water (where I like it best), in the kitchen, or at the keyboard, churning out content, I feel like I have found my place.  I am sharing it with you in the hope that some of what I love to do will rub off on you. I hope to see you On the Lake!

R. Karl