by Jay Williamson
If you have a toddler, you understand the reference. They may sit through their daily commute in a gray minivan affectionately renamed Gordon, and visit their grandparents on a plane, but no mode of transportation captures children’s attention the way trains can. Maybe it is the scale and power, or astute marketing, however if you have a young child you’ll eventually:
This post compiles a list of train museums and train-related events within driving distance of the DC metro area. I admit that I haven’t been to all of them, and the list is not comprehensive, so feel free to include tips and suggestions in the comments below.
Main Stations: The Train Museums
B&O Railroad Museum
901 West Pratt Street
Just a short drive away, the B&O Railroad Museum features an impressive collection of locomotives and rolling stock. The museum bills itself as “the oldest, most comprehensive American railroad collection in the world” and it delivers on that promise. Its collection includes a number of cars – including a caboose – which you can go inside of. It also features many locomotives from earlier eras that enable children to encounter history and see how trains have changed over time. Many of the trains are housed in a roundhouse that fascinates kids with its gigantic scale and a turntable that is just like (!!!) the one they play with. Train rides are also available (extra charge), however the view is, on occasion, closer to The Wire than to the Island of Sodor. Regardless, the museum a great day trip and easily combined with an early dinner at the Inner Harbor.
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
300 Gap Road
Ronks, PA 17572
Strasburg Rail Road
301 Gap Road
Ronks, PA 17572
While the Railroad Museum and Strasburg Rail Road are separate institutions, they are directly across the street from one another, and offer a train-filled day in an idyllic countryside setting. Imagine Sodor without the accidents. Or, more specifically, train accidents.
The Strasburg Rail Road offers multiple trains throughout the day that bring visitors on a 45 minute journey through Lancaster PA farmland. The engine and car types vary and enable you to tailor your experience to your family’s budget and interest level. The Rail Road also offers a variety of special events, such as an Easter Train, Days out with Thomas, Wine & Cheese Trains, and Christmas themed trains that are sure to be a hit.
The Railroad Museum displays a diverse collection of over 100 locomotives and rail cars in its exhibit hall and restoration yard. The locomotives and rail cars are well displayed and visitors are permitted inside several of them, including a beautifully restored caboose.
Ronks is approximately 3 hours from Washington D.C. While the trip can be done in a day, consider staying overnight at the Fulton Steamboat Inn, a wonderfully fun hotel that looks like a steamboat inside and out and lets you borrow a pet goldfish for the night. Equally important, the hotel has a great playground and pool. If you’re interesting in sticking with the train theme, consider The Red Caboose Motel.
Down the Line
In addition to the museums discussed above, here are two more options, the first of which Kid Trips wrote about previously.
National Capital Trolley Museum
1313 Bonifant Road
Colesville, MD 20905
Okay, so I know what you’re going to say, trolleys are not trains they are more like buses that run on tracks. However, I grew up in Boston and if the Green T line can pass for a subway train then anything is possible. In all seriousness, this is a fun, local museum with knowledgeable volunteer staff and unlimited trolley rides. This is certainly worth a visit.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
242 Main Street
Cass, WV 24927
We haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in West Virginia but the website looks interesting. The railroad offers several multi-hour-long rides into the beautiful West Virginia mountains on historic trains from the 1920s and 30s. Visitors can also take a self-guided walking tour through Cass, a company town built to support logging operations in the area. Both the trains and the tracks originally supported the logging operations so expect steep grades and “dangerous looking” views.
Walkersville Southern Railroad
34 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
Walkersville, MD 21793
Travel over vintage railroad track in a 1920s passenger car or open flatcar through the countryside or Maryland. Trains operate regularly on weekends from May-October, but there are many special events such as an Easter Train, Santa Train, Halloween Ghost Train and romantic dining trains throughout the year. The museum across the street includes elaborate model train displays, artifacts, and a children's corner. The regular train excursion is about one hour and 10 minutes. Walkersville Southern Railroad is located about 50 miles north of Washington DC.
Some Seasonal Stops in Northern VA
No post would be complete without mentioning some of the seasonal opportunities to see and ride trains in Northern Virginia.
Clifton Day Festival, held annually on the Sunday before Columbus Day, is a festival featuring live music, children’s activities, food and more, all set in the quaint town of Clifton VA. Due to traffic limitations, the VRE runs train lines from various locations to the festival. It is the perfect way to combine two treats into one!
VRE Operation Lifesaver Santa Train is an annual opportunity to ride the VRE, meet the Clauses, and be entertained by local high school choral groups. Riders can also get into the Christmas spirit by making a donation to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program prior to boarding. These tickets sell fast and kids seem to love riding on their parents’ train.
Manassas Heritage Railway Festival. For additional information about this annual event, featuring train rides, model displays and live entertainment, see our previous post.
Kid Trips Northern Virginia Edition
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Kid Trips' blogs profile fun events and cool family-friendly venues. We focus on regional and national family travel articles.
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