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Finding Minnesota: Fall Leaf Cruises On The St. Croix

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) -- Now that it is cooling off, we are starting to see more bursts of red, yellow and orange outside.

While many people hop in the car to check out the colors along the roads and highways, there is another vantage point from a national scenic riverway that draws thousands of people each fall.

The St. Croix Boat and Packet Company has been offering river cruises for the public for more than 30 years, departing from the historic port of Stillwater.

St. Croix River Boat - Finding Minnesota
(credit: CBS)

One of the company's boat captains, Patrick Keilen, says summers are always the busiest. But when fall arrives, visitors enjoy a complete change of scenery.

"The St. Croix River is a national wild and scenic river," Keilen said. "It's basically a national park, and in my opinion, it's a stunningly beautiful river."

Pat Zanko of Stillwater took several out-of-town relatives on a recent cruise.

"You hear the sounds and see how pretty the shore of Stillwater is, and they have a great lunch here on the boat," Zanko said. "I'm very interested in watching what they're doing with the bridge."

As the boats pass by bridge construction workers putting up the new St. Croix Crossing, passengers can check the progress of what is shaping up to be a landmark of the future.

But the ride itself is reminiscent of the past, a time when steamboats were a primary way of getting cargo in and out of river towns.

Brian Anderson is the son of one of the founders of the company.

"I mean where else can you go and get on a paddle boat ride?" Anderson said. "I mean there's not many of us around anymore."

The Anderson family now has six boats in its fleet. Most are the traditional style of riverboat, but the most recent addition is the Majestic Star. It is a luxury yacht that used to cruise New York City and dock at Chelsea Pier, near the World Trade Center.

Majestic Star On The St. Croix - Finding Minnesota
(credit: CBS)

"When 9/11 happened, they used all the boats to get people off the island, and they used the Majestic Star as triage for all the firefighters and all the first responders to get any medical attention, to get any rest," Anderson said. "People are amazed that that's the same boat that was out there."

The company leases the Majestic Star, mostly for private events on the river. The rest of the fleet is open to the general public.

Deveraux Green of Minneapolis bought two tickets on the Jubilee II to celebrate his girlfriend's birthday.

"I think it's amazing," Green said. "It's a great experience."

In the coming weeks, as trees start putting on their show, the riverboats will provide a view that is tough to match from the road.

Rich Franson of Apple Valley says he prefers the floating leaf tour.

"Being from Minnesota, you're always around water, you like to be around water," Franson said. "It's peaceful, fall color, taking a break in the action from your regular workday duties you know, and say, 'Hey, we're going to be on the river today.'"

There are other fall color cruises on different sections of the St. Croix River, departing from Taylors Falls and Afton. Those are operated by different companies.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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