In our many road trip adventures around the United States, I’ve noticed my family consistently loves any attraction, venue, or event having to do with trains and railroads. When they were younger, of course, anything Thomas the Tank Engine captured my kids’ collective attention.
Since then we’ve had many opportunities to learn about the influence of the railroad in our country’s Western expansion and with that comes a sense of adventure and wanderlust. The teaching moments are plentiful—from industrial and civil engineering to the principles of locomotion and the how the ability to communicate over great distances influenced our political and cultural landscape. Because of our knowledge in this topic, Expedia.com asked us to share these experiences.
Train and railroad experiences are also fantastic venues for multigenerational vacations—grandparents, I’ve noticed, tend to channel their inner kid when presented with the opportunity to travel back in time with their grandkids.
For ideas on planning your own train-themed adventure, consider any of these five fantastic museums.
New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, NY
Dedicated to telling the story of mass transportation in New York City, the culmination of the displays in the New York Transit Museum are historical artifacts featuring bus systems, commuter rail, and the extensive bridge and tunnel system that move millions of passengers around The Big Apple every day. Focused on extraordinary engineering feats from tunnel construction to advancements in technology, visitors to the Downtown Brooklyn museum location are invited to board vintage trolleys, subway cars, and open-air “fishbowl” busses. Visiting during the holiday season? Be sure not to miss the magic of the annual Holiday Train show where “O” gague model trains travel along thirty-four feet of double tier track between miniature replicas of Grand Central station and the North Pole.
Expedia Tip: There is a Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store in Midtown and a Transit Store in Lower Manhattan so families can choose to stay in Brooklyn or Manhattan. See hotel options on Expedia.com.
National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin
Founded in 1956, the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, WI is one of the oldest and largest railroad museums in the country. Today’s exhibits include locomotives and railcars representing more than a century’s worth of history. Home of the world’s largest steam locomotive, the Union Pacific Big Boy, families visiting the museum with younger kids will enjoy spending time in the Children’s Discovery Depot building as well as a ride on the museum train that circles the museum grounds. Time permitting, consider a climb to the top of the Observation Tower or take in the twenty-five minute documentary “Last of the Giants.”
Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha’s original Union Station, the Durham Museum features the restored art-deco craftsmanship of the train depot set on a double track main line that once carried passengers between Omaha and Ogden. A tribute to the golden era of railroading, visitors enter the building through the ornate lobby shrouded in marble and mahogany. Permanent exhibits in the building’s lower level bring passengers through train cars from the 1940s and 50s as well as a push button interactive O scale model train. Additional exhibits range from history to culture, science and industry. Leave at least an hour to fully explore the building, making sure to explore historic downtown Omaha before or after your visit.
Historic Railpark and Train Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky
A tribute to the golden ear of the Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Railroad, the Historic Railpark and Train Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is both interactive and immersive. Spread over two floors of exhibits ranging from famous train names to segregation and the North American railroad; be sure not to miss the model railroad display on the main level. Admission includes a guided tour from inside a L&N train that once carried mail, passengers, and political figures between the two cities. Kids of all ages can try to decode a telegraph message and read hobo symbols.
Train Mountain Railroad Museum in Chiloquin, OR
Home to the world’s longest miniature hobby railroad the Train Mountain Railroad Museum in Chiloquin, Oregon is a popular attraction on the way to or from Crater Lake National Park. Open year-round, the indoor/outdoor attraction is approximately the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and features a self-guided walking tour around over a hundred cabooses and maintenance and rolling stock cars. The key attraction at Train Mountain Railroad Museum, however, is a ride in an open-air passenger car pulled by a replica 1.5-inch scale miniature locomotive engine on thirty-six miles of 7.5-inch gauge miniature hobby railroad track. Best experienced in warmer weather, rides are typically on the weekends at 10AM and 2PM (reservations are recommended).