The Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours and the Famous Toonerville Trolley was started in 1927 by partners Joe Beach and Robert Hunter. Beach was a conservation officer on the Tahquamenon River and often got requests from people who wanted to ride along on his daily river patrol that went from north of Newberry to the rapids a half-mile above the Upper Tahquamenon Falls. It was a 14 hour round trip. Once at the rapids, you could then hike through the virgin forest to view the falls. At that time there was no road or any other way to reach the falls.
Joe had the vision of creating a tour to the Falls, but needed a way to shorten the trip and to have access to a wider and deeper section of the river to navigate a larger boat. He partnered up with Robert Hunter, a lumberman who had a rail line running from Soo Junction to the Tahquamenon River, where he had operated a sawmill from 1910 to 1925. The rail was a standard size track then and a Model T truck was fitted with train wheels and a cart. Thirty passengers could be taken across the rail to the river where they boarded the “Betty B” for the 21-mile cruise to the rapids above the falls.
A way to carry more passengers was soon sought. The partners bought a 24-inch gauge track, a locomotive and 4 flat cars and converted the track to a 24 inch in 1933. This rail line is the longest 24-inch track in the country and one of the oldest. The company is still family-owned and operated by Robert Hunter’s great-grandson Captain Kris Stewart and family.
Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tour offers two different tours. Tour #1 is a six-and-a-half-hour train and riverboat tour to their private access at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls. It runs from mid-June to the first week of October! The Captain narrates the river part of the tour and talks about points of interest, river history, animals, birds, fauna and flora. The riverboat has a lunch grill, beverage bar and restrooms on board. Tour #2 is available in July and most of August, as well as Labor Day weekend. It is just under a two-hour Toonerville Trolley Wilderness Train ride. Ride the full five-and-a-half miles of wilderness rail where there is no road access!
Wildlife is often spotted along the tracks. Make a short stopover at the end of the train line at the riverside park while the train is being switched for the return trip to Soo Junction.
Visit the Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tour website and Facebook for updates and contact information when planning your trip! The Stewart Family welcomes visitors of all ages to this one-of-a-kind tourist attraction that brings you back in time through the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.