The Dakota Queen was a 65 foot, 40 ton riverboat stationed at Grand Forks, North Dakota, that operated cruises on the Red River from 1985 to 1996. It was built in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, by Skipper-line Industries and was captained by Paul Lester. On July 4, 1985, it opened to the public, with estimates of 35,000-50,000 passengers for that year. As an important part of tourism in Grand Forks, the Dakota Queen participated in events like River Boats Days and hosted parties, receptions, and weddings. Captain Lester, who graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in journalism, had dreamed of piloting a riverboat since riding one at Disney World years earlier. While the Dakota Queen appeared to be an old-fashioned sidewheel paddle riverboat, it was actually powered by three inboard-outboard diesel engines.
The idea of having a riverboat was greatly supported by the community of Grand Forks. Through ticket sales and other fundraising activities, $60,000 was raised to help with operation costs. In 1997, Captain Lester decided to retire the Dakota Queen due to vandalism and a decline in passenger rates. The boat now operates on the Great Lakes.