North Shore Scenic Railroad

Hello everybody! My name is Stef and I blog at Non Toy Gifts about toy alternative gifts that will create beautiful childhood memories through experiences, adventures, fun, learning and more. I’m not an anti-toy parent. I have two little boys with lots of toys, but kids quickly lose their interest in toys (even those they love) and that’s why I look for gifts that will stay with my kids forever.

My youngest turned two not long ago and, although my husband and I decided for no big birthday party this year, we still wanted to have a special family celebration. If we’d have had a party, the theme would have definitely been trains as they are all our little guy dreams of. Our boys have plenty of train tracks, they play with trains, watch train movies, we take them to the train museum in St. Paul, but they have never actually gotten on a train.


North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth offers several daily train rides from May through October. I booked a Lester River Excursion – a 90-minute ride described as a “standard tour for all ages” – and planned a weekend getaway around it. Kids were thrilled to show their tickets to the conductor, get on board, choose their seats and, when the train left the station, my oldest glued himself to the window to soak it all in. Unfortunately the excitement phased out as the train was moving pretty slowly and there wasn’t much scenery, at least on our side of the train. The kids shifted their attention from the view to the wagon and decided to make the most of the ride by experiencing it on both levels and any empty seat they could find. We’ve been blessed with two determined little boys and, trying to make them sit quietly in one place was quite a challenge. In the end, we caved (for our sanity and those of the passengers around us) and followed the boys up and down the stairs a couple times.

North Shore Scenic Railroad is located in Duluth and offers daily and special excursions, from a Day out with Thomas the Train to a Princess Tea Party. For more information on the city of Duluth, visit the VisitDuluth.com website.


Sometimes great gifts come from aspects you don’t intentionally plan as part of the gifts. When going to Duluth we usually stay at a hotel, but this time we rented a home through VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner).  It had something for each of us and we all loved it. The bunker beds became the main indoor  attraction for the boys, until they began opening cabinets which, to their delight, were packed with games and movies. Because vacation is a time for broken rules, I let the boys start their mornings by watching “Kung Fu Panda” and finish the evenings the same way. Outside they discovered more games which kept them active and happy.


The house was conveniently located halfway between Duluth and Gooseberry Falls Park on a heavily wooded property. I could let the kids go outside without worrying about cars driving by, we went for a morning walk to explore the woods, my husband made a bonfire and we all relaxed and sang “Happy Birthday” – my kids favorite song. These are some of the things we loved doing by the house. Otherwise we spent a lot of time in Duluth feeding the seagulls, watching large boats going under the elevated bridge, biking a surrey and hiking Gooseberry Falls Park.

Other fun adventures in and around Duluth for kids include: Great Lakes Aquarium, Canal Park/Lakewalk, The Depot, and the Alpine Coaster at Spirit Mountain.

My son may not be old enough to keep his birthday gift memories vivid for too long, but for now he asks quite frequently when we can go back to Duluth and “our new home.”

Thank you to Stef from Non Toy Gifts for guest posting. Follow Non Toy Gifts on social media:

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