20 Terrific Train Trips for Family Adventures

All aboard these historic trains for family adventure, special holiday themed-events and trips through some of America’s most beautiful country.

By: Steve Larese

Photo By: steve larese

Photo By: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Photo By: john slater

Photo By: Anthony Sinagoga, Anthony Sinagoga

Photo By: PHILBRICK PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo By: Kevin Madore

Photo By: Steve Shaluta / WV Commerce

Photo By: RANDY SRBA

Photo By: Alaska Railroad / Glenn Aronwits

Photo By: fon_thachakul

Photo By: Zach Dobson

Photo By: GarysFRP

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, New Mexico

Operating May through October between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad takes passengers into the high country of the New Mexico and Colorado border. Passengers will enjoy sweeping Rocky Mountain views, wildflowers and wildlife viewing, and even snow plowing at the season’s spring opening and fall color in October. Dads ride for free with another adult on Father’s Day in June. The half-day Cinder Bear Experience is geared toward families with young children and includes lunch and a visit from Cinder Bear himself.

1880 Train, South Dakota

Black Hills Central Railroad’s 1880 Train in South Dakota travels between Hill City and Keystone through the fabled Black Hills mountain range. The season is May through December, and special family events include the Holiday Express in November and December, and Old West shootouts throughout the season.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado

Built in the 1880s to haul ore to Durango from Silverton some 50 miles to the north in the San Juan Mountains, today the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad transports tourists between these two quaint Victorian mountain towns in southwest Colorado. Trains travel along the Animas River through the Weminuche Wilderness as they climb through this portion of the Rockies. Always a treat for families, special events include The Great Pumpkin Patch Express in October, Polar Express in November and December, March’s St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Express, Peanuts: The Easter Eagle Express, and May’s Mother’s Day Train.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Ohio

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad travels between Independence and Akron through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Families can ride their bikes along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, then take the train back to their starting point. Special trains throughout the year include Christmas in July, Canvas for Kids in August (painting) and The Polar Express in November and December.

Grand Canyon Railway, Arizona

Travel to Grand Canyon National Park in style aboard the Grand Canyon Railway that leaves daily from Williams. Taking tourists to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon since 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway keeps some 50,000 vehicles out of the park annually. Daily Wild West shootouts and train robberies take place courtesy of the Cataract Creek Gang, and cowboy and cowgirl musicians entertain passengers as they travel to one of the World’s Greatest Natural Wonders. October’s Pumpkin Patch train and the Polar Express in November and December add to a family Grand Canyon vacation.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad travels 44 miles from Bryson City through the Carolina Mountains to the Nantahala River Gorge. Families can take the train to the gorge, then white-water raft the Nantahala River. Special event trains include the Peanuts-themed The Great Pumpkin Patch Express in October and the Polar Express in November and December.

Hobo Railroad, New Hampshire

The Hobo Railroad in Lincoln travels for 14 scenic miles as it follows the Pemigewassett River during its hour-and-a-half-long trip. The Nature by Rail Series has a naturalist on board to explain the wildlife of the river valley. Storybook Sundays feature characters and readings from favorite children's books in the Choo Choo Theater. The Putt & Ride includes a round of mini golf after your train ride, and the Santa Express stars the big man in red himself weekends in November and December.

Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, Pennsylvania

Travel from Jim Thorpe along the Lehigh River to Lehigh Gorge State Park in vintage 1917 coaches aboard the Leigh Gorge Scenic Railway train. Special trips include a 25-mile ride-and-bike bicycle trip back to Jim Thorpe from White Haven, Easter trains with the Easter Bunny, and the Santa Claus Special during which Santa and Mrs. Claus pass out treats.

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Mt. Washington Cog Train, New Hampshire

Climb to the top of Mount Washington aboard the world’s first cog train that since 1869 has been carrying people from Marshfield Base Station to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast. The three-hour round-trip aboard this specialized train takes place April through November, with Santa joining guests at the end of the season to help usher in the holiday season. Each leg of the trip takes about an hour, with an hour at the top of the mountain to take in the expansive views reaching five states, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean.

Nevada Northern Railway, Nevada

Originally used to transport ore from mines in the early 1900s, the Nevada Northern Railway today offers 90-minute trips from Ely through Nevada’s scenic high desert. Special trains include holdups by desperados, geology trains that explain the regions fascinating earth history, star trains that explore Nevada’s starry night skies, haunted ghost trains in October during which guests are invited to dress up in their Halloween costumes, and the Polar Express Train that heads for the "North Pole." Kids 12 and older can watch in the engine as an adult participates in the train’s "Be The Engineer" program, during which adults 18 and older get a chance to take control of the steam or diesel engine.

California Western Railroad "Skunk Train," California

Traveling 40 miles through Mendocino County from Fort Bragg to Willits, the three trains of the California Western Railroad ferry passengers through the towering redwoods following the Noyo River. Guests may choose between a diesel, steam and "skunk train" — a gasoline-powered, self-contained motor coach — for a variety of experiences that include Father and Mother’s Day outings, the Easter Express, October’s Pumpkin Express trip to a pumpkin patch and the Magical Christmas Express.

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, West Virginia

This 1901 logging railroad climbs 11 miles up Bald Knob, West Virginia’s third-highest peak. Wild West shows, picnic trains, Bluegrass music and holiday trains are a few of the special events taking place throughout the year.

Royal Gorge Route Railroad, Colorado

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad began life in the late 1870s as a mining train, and today carries passengers through the narrow, 1,000-foot-deep Royal Gorge along the Arkansas River. With scenery that in 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt said "bankrupts the English language," the Royal Gorge Route Railroad has several special family trains throughout the year, including its Mother’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Santa trains. Its 2.5-hour Family Night train showcases the gorge at sunset and includes dinner.

Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad, Ohio

Departing from its depot in Lebanon, the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad features special family excursions throughout the year such as PBS’s Curious George Express during which George himself and the Man in the Yellow Hat ride along and read Curious George Takes a Train. Day Out With Thomas the Tanker Engine and the North Pole Express with Santa Claus are other favorite annual special trains.

Scenic Western Maryland Railroad, Maryland

Traveling from Cumberland to Frostburg, the Scenic Western Maryland Railroad has several family excursions including the Great American Picnic, the Gap Trail Connection during which families ride their bikes 16-miles downhill back to Cumberland from Frostburg, and Winterland trains that include a turkey dinner and visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Walkersville Southern Railroad, Maryland

Take in the scenic Monocacy Valley aboard 1920s coach cars on the Walkersville Southern Railroad weekends May through October. Bunny and Santa trains, Fourth of July, Jesse James Days, Civil War reenactments, Teddy Bear Picnic, Father’s Day and autism-friendly summertime trains are popular with families throughout the year.

Alaska Railroad, Alaska

Departing from Anchorage and traveling several breathtaking routes throughout Alaska including to Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad is one of the best ways to see and travel within Alaska’s vast interior. Tickets for children 2 to 11 are greatly discounted, and infants ride free.

White Pass Yukon Route, Alaska

Constructed in 1898 for the Klondike Gold Rush, White Pass & Yukon Route Railway in Skagway today transports tourists past glaciers and waterfalls, over bridges, through tunnels and through some of North America’s highest mountains on its way to White Pass Summit, a climb of nearly 3,000-feet in 20 miles.

Nickel Plate Express, Indiana

Opened in Summer 2018, the Nickel Plate Express travels 12 miles along Indiana's historic Nickel Plate rail line between Atlanta, IN, and Noblesville, and offers themed scenic train excursions such as its Ghost Express in October.

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, Oregon

The non-profit, volunteer-run Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad runs on 46 miles of track between Tillamook Air Museum through Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach and Wheeler before heading along the coast through Nehalem and Salmonberry River canyons. Sunset dinner trains, Fall Splendor Excursion trains and the Candy Cane Express are some of the special events that take place throughout the year. Also in Oregon, the Mt. Hood Railroad travels between Hood River and Parkdale, with the Western Train Robbery and The Train to Christmas Town being annual family favorite events.

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