The 7 Best Short U.S. Train Trips To Take With Your Little Conductor

Choo choo

by Chris O'Shea
Originally Published: 
Mount Washington Cog Railway
Mount Washington Cog Railway

Wild guess: your little kids are into locomotives. It makes sense: There’s just something about the chugging, choo-choo-ing, smoke-belching mechanical beasts that excites a kid’s core values. Hell, you’re probably into trains a little, too, because a) they’re giant relics that remind you of your days playing cowboy, b) they’re a form of transportation on which you can simply hang out and not worry about driver’s seat back pain or listen to a barking GPS app, or c) all of the above. While an overnight train ride sounds awesome, you might need to get the little ones used to something a bit more manageable. These 7 train trips hit all the sweet spots. Some are brief rides on old-school engines; others are afternoon hauls that wind you through America’s history. All offer enough elements so that when you and your family step on board, you’ll never be bored.

Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton California

Kids hungry for that traditional choo-choo, chugga-chugga train sound? Hop aboard one of this company’s old school trains, which travel on a variety of restored 19th-century tracks. You can’t go wrong with any of the offerings but the ride de résistance is the hour-long Redwood Forest Steam Train, which takes passengers on a raised track that snakes around the massive trees. The train isn’t the only old-school draw: Roaring Camp has a general store, ghost story retellings, and recreations of famous shoot-outs. Learn More Here

The Heber Valley Railroad Heber Valley, UT

Although its name sounds like something small town cops would call a local guy in the community who won’t stop tickling people, the Heber Creeper is one of the best family railroads in the country. That name comes from the fact that it crawls slowly through Utah’s Provo Canyon, crossing the Provo River and winding through the Wasatch Mountains. The hour-and-a-half ride is spectacularly scenic, with opportunities to see bald eagles, elk, and other wildlife. Learn More Here

The Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, AZ

For this classic ride, you can book a restored steam engine or a more traditional locomotive. Whichever you choose, the trip is well worth it. Live music, staged robberies, and other kid-friendly activities take place on board as the train takes its 65-mile journey through plateaus, prairies and pine forests before stopping at the famed chasm. If you opt for the return trip, you have 4 hours to hang out and see the Canyon before returning. Honestly, that’s plenty of time to see a big, crowded hole. Learn More Here

Amtrak Cascades, Eugene, OR

There aren’t any gimmicks on this trip (it’s an Amtrak, after all), but the window-side scenery is well worth the trip. The Amtrak Cascades route from Eugene Oregon to Seattle, Washington, takes about 8 hours, providing a tour of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest hits, including Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and the Columbia River Gorge. If the journey is too much to do in a single day, or if you simply want to show kids the natural habitat of hipsters, you can stop off at Portland for a few nights and then hop back on. Learn More Here

Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg PA

Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Railroad, which travels through Pennsylvania’s Amish country, is America’s oldest short-line train. It’s been traveling the same 4.5-mile route since 1832 and offers multiple themed rides, including an adult-oriented murder mystery and a Thomas The Tank Engine-focused excursion for kids. The latter is only 20-minutes roundtrip, making it ideal for toddlers — and adults already tanked out on Thomas. Learn More Here

The Cog Railway Bretton Woods, NH

Looking for something steep? The Cog travels along one of the steepest tracks in the nation, a 3.5-mile-long crawls along the edge of Mt. Washington to the peak’s summit, which sits at 6,288 feet. At the end of the line, riders can check out the Sherman Adams Visitors Center, Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Museum, and the Tip Top House, built in 1853. Bring a couple of layers (the top is much colder than you think) and a few sturdy plastic bags — the ride tends to be a stomach-twister. Learn More Here

Virginia Truckee Railroad

Don’t be confused: This ride doesn’t take place in Old Dominion but rather in Virginia City, Nevada. Constructed in the early 1800s, the Truckee Railroad is one of the oldest in the country. It’s vintage steam trains take 90-minute rides to Gold Hill that loop through old cemeteries, mines, and tunnels used in mining time. You’ll even get a chance to glimpse wild horses roaming next to the track. It feels just the old days, except no passengers will get dysentery. Learn More here

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