It’s one thing to ride the river and quite another to let it lull you to sleep.
One of the more unusual overnight options along the Mississippi River is on a 1946 towboat that for 30 years moved barges of petroleum 1,000 miles at a time. Now the vessel is Covington Inn, four suites of lodging and docked at Harriet Island, a lovely bridge walk from downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.
In each bed-and-breakfast accommodation is a private bathroom, private patio, fireplace and air conditioning—but no television. Expect compact but not cramped quarters in the refurbished boat and a hot breakfast.
The floors slant a little, but the three-level boat is hard to rock. It weighs 300 tons.
Stay on a Tuesday—during agreeable weather—for a free evening serenade by The Eddies, who rehearse folksy ballads with a nip of Irish soul. They practice here because one member is the Covington’s former owner.
Watch the laid-back musicians at work or simply listen from the boat’s roomy rooftop lounge, where views of the St. Paul skyline are unobstructed and especially pretty at sunset. Peeks at everyday river activity—be it barges, rowing teams or seagulls—enrich at any time.
“A world away from the heart of the city” is how Liz Miller, owner since 2004, describes it. Her introduction to the Covington was as a waitress at the boat’s former cafe. Now the B&B is her home, and she would sell it to the right buyer but isn’t in a hurry.
Overnight rates are $165 in summer, $140 in winter. covingtoninn.com
Also in the neighborhood
Padelford Riverboats, a short walk from Covington Inn, offers seasonal steamboat rides of 90 minutes to four hours. Some choices include a meal or music. Narration is taped. What you see depends on cruise length. Tickets start at $18. riverrides.com
Where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet is Minnesota’s first National Historic Landmark, Fort Snelling, a restored fort from the 1820s. Explore the 300 acres and visitor center, which makes note of the diverse populations—Native Americans, freedom fighters, immigrants, military and more—who arrived with unique challenges and dreams. Available are guided tours, historical re-enactments and interpretive exhibits. Admission is $12; open until late October. mnhs.org/fortsnelling
Built among the riverfront ruins of what used to be the world’s largest flour mill is Mill City Museum, Minneapolis. Hear stories of labor and danger, told by average mill workers, while riding an eight-story freight elevator that periodically stops to show stages of flour production. Add a nostalgic look at flour products and commercials. Admission is $12. mnhs.org/millcity
A quick walk from the museum is the beautifully blue and architecturally sleek Guthrie Theater, a premier performance venue with a long, prestigious history in Minneapolis. Building tours happen on two Saturdays a month. The cost is $17. Or drop in on your own: The 174-foot, cantilevered “Endless Bridge” magically stretches out over the water. guthrietheater.org
Minnehaha Regional Park, among the Twin Cities’ oldest, is a mix of gardens, trails, fine art, a universal-access playground, green space and limestone bluffs with dynamic river views. The star attraction on the 167 acres is a 53-foot-tall waterfall. From the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is a life-size bronze sculpture of characters in Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” poem. minneapolisparks.org