Getaways for Train Crazy Kids
Climb aboard for fun on (and off) the rails.
Kids love trains. If you know where to take them, you can let your kids spend the night in a caboose, ride in a Harry Potter car, or thunder over a trestle high in the air. Try one of these getaways to please your train-crazy kids, and the kid in you. Check schedules before you go, since some attractions and rides aren't available year-round.
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
St. Louis, MO and surrounding areas
St. Louis is a jumping-off point for lots of train-centric fun. Ride the miniature train at the 129-acre St. Louis Museum of Transportation and then explore more than 190 railroad exhibits and 70 historic locomotives. Don't miss St. Louis Union Station, home of the famous 40-foot wide “Whispering Arch.” A child can whisper at one end, and be heard by someone standing at the other end.
Next, head for the Saint Louis Zoo to ride the Emerson Zooline Railroad for an overview of the animal exhibits. Call for an update before you make the 25-minute drive from downtown St. Louis to the Wabash, Frisco and Pacific train in Glencoe, Missouri. The miniature (12-inch gauge) engines and cars were damaged by flooding in 2015, but volunteers are working to restore them. When they’re operating, you can ride the open-air passenger cars past the Meramec River bluffs and through part of Castlewood State Park.
Leave St. Louis and drive two hours west to the Little Toot Railroad Company, in Flora, Illinois. This miniature steam train passes over several trestles, one of which rises 15 feet in the air. Kids can play with toy trains at the Depot or buy train souvenirs.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum, Durango, CO
The Durango & Silverton line once carried silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains. Today, this family-friendly train lets you enjoy wilderness areas you can’t reach by car. Children must be 12 or over to ride in Deluxe Class cars with open-air observation gondolas or narrated tours. Ask about packages you can add, if you want to include a family rafting trip, zip line ride or other adventure.
The Polar Express, Presented by the Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, AZ
Polar Express Train
If your kids love The Polar Express story, treat them to this holiday version of the Grand Canyon Railway. It operates during the Christmas season for a magical, moonlit journey to The North Pole, where the kids meet Santa and his reindeer. Can’t go then? The Grand Canyon Railway runs observation dome cars, vintage Pullmans and others through Grand Canyon country at other times of the year (see the website for details).
Polar Express Train
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City, NC
Visit western North Carolina to ride in this train's open-air gondola, eat in a First Class Car, or just take in the amazing scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains. Watch for special events, like the PEANUTS Pumpkin Patch Express in October, a PEANUTS Easter Beagle Express in spring, a Polar Express ride during the holidays, and a Freedom Train ride, complete with a fireworks display, on July 4th. There’s also a Dinosaur Train excursion, based on the PBS television series, Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train. Kids can dig for faux dinosaur fossils and enjoy other activities during a layover.
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Izaak Walton Inn, Essex, MT
Book a caboose, luxury railcar or other lodgings at this inn in Essex, a small town that borders Glacier National Park. Some of the green, blue, orange or red restored cabooses have cupola beds for kids to sleep in. Kids like to climb into the BN 441 restored locomotive to pull levers and pretend to run the train.
The Antlers Hotel, Kingsland, TX
The family-friendly lodgings at the Antlers Hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, include three cabooses and a McKinley wooden rail car. All were once working rail cars, and the cabooses still have their original cupolas, so kids can climb up and play conductor. After the kids finish exploring, take them fishing, boating or swimming in nearby Lake LBJ.
Red Caboose Getaway B&B, Sequim, WA
This B&B on the Olympic peninsula is only for adults with children over 12. Its themed cabooses are luxurious enough for a romantic couples vacation, but older kids will like the circus caboose with its colorful circus posters, bed underneath a circus tent canopy, and boat-shaped tub. Wanted posters decorate a Western-style caboose, which has a clawfoot tub and mini fridge made to look like a Wells Fargo safe. There’s also a bright red Orient Express car and a Casey Jones caboose, complete with a real conductor’s desk and other train memorabilia. Gourmet breakfasts are served in the restored 1937 Silver Eagle dining car.
The Jacobite, Scotland
Harry Potter fans will want a ride on The Jacobite, also known as the Hogwarts Express. This West Coast Railways train runs from May to October between Glasgow and Mallaig. Kids will recognize the 21-arch Glenfinnan viaduct, even if they don’t know its name; the train is shown crossing it in the movies. Carriage D also appears in the films. Visit the West Highland Railway Museum if you get off in Glenfinnan.
Railroad Park Resort, Dunsmuir, CA
Tent and RV campers are welcome at this resort, but cabooses are the real draw for train-crazy kids. Book a Yellow Erie, Red Northern Pacific, Blue Yreka Western or other colorful caboose for your stay; some have ladders kids can shimmy up to reach bunk beds. The Dinner House and Lounge serves dinner and is a museum itself, complete with antique hand tools, signals, and other railroading artifacts.