Experience the Empire Builder
Have you ever traveled via the Empire Builder? Amtrak’s long-distance train travels between Seattle, WA and Chicago, IL with service to Union Depot in Saint Paul, Red Wing, and Winona along the River Route as well as stops in St. Cloud, Staples, Detroit Lakes, and Fargo/Moorehead. This is the only Amtrak service offered in Minnesota and there is currently only one train a day in each direction. The TCMC Second Train project proposes to add a second daily round trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago, which would increase opportunities for those areas.
Travel on Amtrak is a great experience. People choose passenger trains because they are convenient, safe, productive, and efficient. The passenger experience is simply better than driving or flying. There's more room, more storage, fewer (usually no) extra fees, and you can work, read, sleep, and visit with friends and family in comfort during your trip. There’s much more information here:
The existing Empire Builder provides a great number of travel opportunities. You are encouraged to experience the train for yourself and get the full picture of what adding a second daily round trip would mean to the communities that would be served. More than 430,000 people road the Empire Builder in 2019, a 1.1% increase from the previous year. An overview of essential information about traveling between the Twin Cities and Chicago via the only Amtrak route to touch Minnesota is below.
Family boarding a train with face coverings on.
Woman riding a train with a face covering.
Photo credit: Amtrak - Some Amtrak trains allow small pets on board.
Family boarding a train with face coverings on.
Schedule and Arrival Times
If traveling from the Twin Cities to Chicago the train departs/arrives at:
St. Paul, MN – 8:00 a.m.
Red Wing, MN – 8:54 a.m.
Winona, MN – 10:11 a.m.
La Crosse, WI – 10:47 a.m.
Wisconsin Dells, WI – 12:08 p.m.
Milwaukee, WI – 2:07 p.m.
Chicago, IL – 3:55 p.m.
The return trip from Chicago to the Twin Cities the departs/arrives at:
Chicago, IL – 2:15 p.m.
Milwaukee, WI – 3:52 p.m.
Wisconsin Dells, WI – 5:49 p.m.
La Crosse, WI – 7:11 p.m.
Winona, MN – 7:47 p.m.
Red Wing, MN – 8:49 p.m.
Saint Paul, MN – 10:03 p.m.
Taking the Empire Builder along the River Route for day trip or overnight trip
If departing the Twin Cities and returning the following day, a few day trip options are:
Twin Cities to Red Wing – Depart Twin Cities at 8:00 a.m., Arrive at 8:54 a.m. – Depart Red Wing 8:49 p.m. and arrive in St. Paul at 10:03 p.m.
Twin Cities to Winona - Depart Twin Cities at 8:00 a.m., Arrive at 10:11 a.m. – Depart Winona 7:47 p.m. and arrive in St. Paul at 10:03 p.m.
Twin Cities to Chicago – Depart Twin Cities at 8:00 a.m., Arrive at 3:55 p.m. – Depart Chicago 2:15 p.m. and arrive in St. Paul at 10:03 p.m.
Ticket Costs (one-way)
Twin Cities to Red Wing - $13 or $28 for a reserved coach seat (Value vs. Flexible) or $113 for a roomette
Twin Cities to Winona - $21, $26, or $56 for a reserved coach seat (Saver vs. Value vs. Flexible) or $130 for a roomette
Twin Cities to Chicago - $58, $72, or $156 for a reserved coach seat (Saver vs. Value vs. Flexible) or $277 for a roomette
Return Trip Ticket Costs are identical or comparable depending on travel date. Ticket prices may vary around holidays. Ticket costs subject to change, consult Amtrak for actual trip pricing.
Places to Stay
Each destination has a variety of great hotel, bed and breakfast, and other lodging options.
Red Wing, MN – St. James Hotel, Willows on the River, Moondance Inn Bed and Breakfast, and a number of national hotel chains.
Winona, MN – Alexander Mansion Historic Bed and Breakfast, Carriage House bed and Breakfast, and a number of national hotel chains
Chicago, IL – Omni Hotel, Cambira Hotel, Hotel Blake, Silversmith Hotel, and several other options are located within walking distance of Union Station.
Things to Do
Traveling along the River Route opens up travelers to wonderful river towns and major metropolitan cities, each with their own great attractions and activities. Union Depot in St. Paul also offers a great collection of experiences on their Choose Your Own Experience website. Bicycle enthusiasts can even do a trainside check of bicycles up to 50 pounds so they can experience new bike paths along the River Route.
Saint Paul, MN – Saint Paul, the state capital of Minnesota, forms the "Twin Cities" with neighboring Minneapolis. It’s home to the Science Museum of Minnesota, with its dinosaur specimens and immersive theater. The Minnesota History Center has interactive exhibits about the region's history. Nearby is the beaux arts Cathedral of Saint Paul. The Cass Gilbert–designed Minnesota State Capitol features paintings of Civil War scenes. Union Depot is in the historic Lowertown neighborhood featuring many unique restaurants, bars and other attractions.
Red Wing, MN – Red Wing’s historic downtown has a number of shops and attractions and often hosts art fairs and town-wide festivals. Visitors can tour the Pottery Museum of Red Wing, The Anderson Center artist community, and the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum. There are a number of great biking and walking trails in and around the town and there is a free round-trip shuttle from town to the nearby Treasure Island Casino. Amtrak riders can often bring bikes on the train, which makes riding along River Route bike trails even easier.
Winona, MN – Winona is a wonderful community with a number of great attractions and events throughout the year. In addition to the beautiful outdoor recreation along the Mississippi River and the beautiful bluffs, Winona offers a number of museums including the Minnesota Marine Art Museum as well as music festivals and theater and arts events.
Chicago, IL – The windy city offers a ton of opportunities for travelers, and train passengers can immediately board train to go to just about any neighborhood in the city. Whether you are taking in a sporting event, touring attractions like Willis Tower, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, or the Shedd Aquarium, or sampling your way through local restaurants, you can do it all easily without having your car in town.