If tracks, whistles and shiny engines get your little conductor’s boiler bubbling, it’s time to hop on a steam train. From old logging locomotives to tank engines to antique diesels, there are plenty of train adventures to keep mini engineers chugging along, all year-long. Read on for our guide to riding the rails in the Pacific Northwest.
photo: Helen Walker Green
Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad
The small town of Elbe is heaven on earth for steam train buffs and it’s where families can easily spend a whole railroad-themed weekend. Stay in a converted rail car at the Hobo Inn, have breakfast at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Company and board the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad for Mineral. Enjoy the trip over trestles and bridges, check out the old logging camp in Mineral and grab a snack in the café car. Then, head back to Elbe for lunch at the Pizza Express.
The number 17 leaves from the Elbe depot three times a day on weekends. Plan to arrive a bit early to grab a bite to eat and look around the gift shop or allow time to do that afterwards. During the excursion, traingoers will enjoy a 40 minute ride through the forested foothills of Mt. Rainier, alongside a mountain stream. The Engineer will be sure to blow the whistle when you’re coming up on a great view (Psst… there’s a wonderful view of the mountain at one point, but of course, it’s not guaranteed to be “out”).
photo: Helen Walker Green
When you reach Mineral, you’ll have 40 minutes to explore this historic mining town and show your mini conductor what life was like in a logging camp during the 19th century. You’ll also have a chance to see the living quarters and some of the amazing tools used. There are great old engines to look at in Mineral too – kids can climb in the cab and ring the bell. And you can see the engine sheds and chat with volunteers working on restoring the old engines. Then, the whistle will blow, the conductor will call “all aboard” and it’s time to head back to Elbe.
photo: Helen Walker Green
Good to Know
1. There’s a snack bar on board that serves tea, coffee, soda and snacks (think candy and chips).
2. There’s only one restroom on board, so it’s best to go at the depot before you board or take advantage of the restrooms in Mineral.
3. Since this is a popular trip, we suggest buying your tickets online. However, you can buy tickets at the depot if space is available.
4. If you’re looking for a sweet treat after your trip, head to the Copper Creek Inn Restaurant. Located just past the depot in the town of Ashford, the Copper Creek Restaurant serves an epic slice of mouthwatering blackberry pie. And if the weather’s nice, there’s a fantastic little playground in Ashford perfect for burning off the sugar-high.
5. Coloring pages featuring the trains in the collection can be downloaded here.
The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad has some fantastic special events including the Pumpkin Express every October where families can visit the railroad’s own pumpkin patch and take home a free souvenir pumpkin as well as enjoy carnival games and a costume contest. Then, there’s the magical day with Santa aboard The Santa Express, the Bunny Express every Easter and special Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day trains.
Schedule: Weekends, May-Oct. Trains depart at 10 a.m., 12:45 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. Open at other times of year for special events.
Fares: $32/Adults (12 & older); $28/Seniors, Military & AAA members; $26/Youth (ages 5-12); $18/Kids (ages 3 & 4); 2 & under Free
Journey time: 120 minutes including stop in Mineral.
ADA: One of the train cars is wheelchair accessible and there is an accessible restroom on the train. There are wheelchair lifts at both Elbe and Mineral. There is a substantial amount of gravel in Mineral (wheelchairs should be kept to the sidewalks to avoid getting stuck).
Northwest Railway Museum
If you’ve got train crazy kids, then you’ve probably been here before. This, of course, is Thomas the Tank Engine’s home away from home when he visits the Pacific Northwest. The annual Day Out With Thomas is a huge hit! Kids get to ride a train pulled by their favorite steamie, have their photo taken with Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt, play with lots of Thomas toys, bounce to their heart’s content and generally come home tired and happy.
But there’s more to the Northwest Railway Museum than just the friendly tank engine. The museum is located in Snoqualmie’s 1890 Victorian depot; it’s open year-round and free to enter. It’s actually housed in the former lady’s waiting room and freight room and has lots of interesting railroad history exhibits and a fantastic model railway kids can take a turn driving. There’s also a gift shop in the former gentlemen’s waiting room.
photos: Helen Walker Green
Antique trains, some steam and some diesel, run between Snoqualmie and North Bend from April through October. You can board at either station and get a round trip or return. Both Snoqualmie and North Bend have lots to offer families, so it’s a super day out. After stopping at Snoqualmie, the westbound train journeys up to an overlook at the top of Snoqualmie Falls. Psst… we recommend allowing some time in your day for this excursion!
photo: Richard R. Anderson/Northwest Railway Museum
Good to Know
1. The Snoqualmie Depot and Museum is open year-round from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
2. You can purchase your tickets at the original ticket window, just like passengers did back in the 19th century. Regular tickets are not available to purchase online but you can purchase Halloween Train and Santa Train tickets online. Day Out With Thomas tickets are also available online (check the Northwest Railway Museum’s website starting in February for more information).
3. There is no admission charge to visit the depot, museum and grounds. However, donations are encouraged and appreciated.
The Northwest Railway Museum hosts a ghostly Halloween Train and festive Santa Train. It’s also fun to visit in August during Snoqualmie Railroad Days – a community celebration of the town’s railroad and logging history and the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe.
Schedule: Steam trains run weekends, April through October. Special trains run in December as well as on Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day and Fourth of July.
Fares: $20/Adults (12 & older); $18/Seniors (62 & older); $12/Children (2-12); Under 2 Free
Journey time: 75 minutes round trip between Snoqulamie and North Bend and to Snoqualmie Falls.
ADA: Northwest Railway Museum coaches are historically accurate, which means they have limited doorway widths and steep stairwells, so are not fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Train crews are always prepared to assist passengers when entraining or detraining. They can also use a hand-crank wheel chair lift for passengers. Please advise the train crew about your special needs prior to boarding, so they may best meet your requirements.
Alberni Pacific Railway
Bet you didn’t know there was a railway on Vancouver Island, did you? But there is and the trains were once used for logging in the Alberni Valley. For a taste of old-time Canadian railways, board the No.7 at the 1912 Canadian Pacific station in Alberni. This 1929 Baldwin logging locomotive will take you for a journey through the beautiful forest to McClean Mill—a steam operated saw mill. The coaches are actually cabooses, refitted with seats and three are open and two covered (lovely for a beautiful summer or fall day trip).
photo: Alberni Pacific Railway
The conductor is happy to answer questions from your mini engine crew while riding the rails. And he or she may even get to chat with the engineer and fireman at the station. When you arrive at McClean Mill you’ll have a guided tour of the mill and logging camp. Psst… be sure to fill up with some Logger’s Chili or a McClean Burger at the Steam Pot Cafe and visit the Mill Store gift shop before you leave. And don’t forget to ask the gift shop staff about the Children’s Stamp Tour, where kiddos can collect stamps on their tour of the mill.
photo: Mark Sundstrom via flickr
Avast there, matey! Journey from the high seas to the rails with the Alberni Pacific’s Pirate Train. There’s also a Trick or Treat Train at Halloween, a Teddy Bear Picnic Train and a Train Robbery Father’s Day Special. For grownups, book a trip on the Wine Steam Train where you will stop at the Chase & Warren Estate Winery.
Schedule: Daily, during the summer months. Check online for special events throughout the year.
Fares: Vary, depending on the time of year. Check the schedule online.
Journey time: 35 minutes each way
Tickets: Purchase online or at the station. Walk up tickets may be available on the day of your visit, space permitting.
photo: Doug Hay via flickr
Chelatchie Prairie Railroad (Battle Ground, Yacolt & Chelatchie Prairie Railway)
This rustic Victorian railroad opened in 1888 as a logging and passenger railroad. It runs between Yacolt and Chelatchie Prairie. See if your little engineer can spot what the 1929 steam engine has in common with Thomas. (Hint: it’s a tank engine, meaning that it doesn’t pull a coal tender behind it but carries its fuel, oil and water in large tanks mounted on top of the boiler and behind the cab). This was an advantage for branch lines as it meant the locomotive could easily operate in reverse, so this is why Thomas has his very own branch line.
This steamie will take you from Yacolt through forests and tunnels, past farms and the Lewis River. See what wildlife you can spot along the way. On the return leg, the train stops at Moulton Station, where your family can take a short walk to scenic Yacolt Falls.
Stick ‘em up! Revisit the old days of the Wild West with a train robbery special. Will the robbers get away with the loot? In addition to this wild excursion, Chelatchie Prairie RR hosts Fall Leaves specials, the Headless Horseman Halloween Train (ride if you dare) and the Steam Winter Spectacular (featuring Santa!). However, the highlight is definitely the Christmas Tree Special Train (it’s an antique diesel, but we had to show the diesels some love too). Take the train out to a tree farm, pick your tree and the crew will load and offload it for you. You’ll also get a great deal on a tree. At just $60 for a family of four, the prices are so good it’s almost like getting the train ride free. What a lovely twist on a seasonal tradition.
Schedule: Varies throughout the year. Check their website for special events Dec. through May.
Fares: $20/Adults (12 & older); $19/Seniors (60 & older); $15/Youth (5-12); $13/Kids (ages 2-4); Under 2 Free. Adult boarding passes are good for a free wine tasting at Moulton Falls Winery.
Journey time: 1 hour 45 minutes roundtrip
Tickets: Reserve online or buy in the depot if available.
photo: Douglas Auberg
A 1916 steam locomotive pulls the train from this vintage Chehalis station. See if you can spot Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens as you wind through the Chehalis River Valley. The Milwaukee Road track crosses several wooden trestles and passes many historic farmsteads and country homes.
You can choose from two destinations and take either a simple coach run or a dining train. Regular coach runs go to Milburn – where your family will enjoy watching the engine crews run around the train with the locomotive in order to put it on the other end! You can also take a Riverview Coach to Ruth at certain times of the year. You’ll steam alongside the Chehalis River, through forests and farmlands. If you and the kids want to dress up and dine out in style, you can also take a Dinner Train to Ruth. Families will dine in a refurbished 1920’s dining car, with white linen tablecloths, full china and impeccable wait staff (maybe not for toddlers).
photo: Michael Jefferies via flickr
Who dunnit? Grownups will love the Murder Mystery Dinner Train. There’s also the Pumpkin Train, The Polar Express Train and Easter Trains for all ages.
Fares: Roundtrip to Milburn – $14/Adults; $13/Seniors; $11/Kids (4-15); 3 & under Free. Roundtrip to Ruth – $17/Adults; $16/Seniors; $14/Kids (4-15); 3 & under Free. Dinner Train Roundtrip to Ruth – $47/Adults; $23.50/Kids (10 and under).
Journey time: Coach run round trip to Milburn 75 minutes; coach run roundtrip to Ruth 105 minutes.
Tickets: No reservations required for coach runs; reservations strongly encouraged for dining trains and special events.
Kitsap Live Steamers
It’s a little different from the full steam train experience, but we couldn’t resist including it because it’s such a fun ride for steam buffs! Kitsap Live Steamers is a 7 1/2 inch gauge scale railroad, owned and run by volunteers. Miniature steam locomotives that work exactly like the big ones, down to every little detail. Twice a month, they’ll take you and the fam for a ride on their trains (you sit on them like you sit on a horse, one leg either side). Psst! These engineers are enthusiasts—they own and maintain their trains and love to share them with others.
Every year, Kitsap Live Steamers runs a Ghost Train where they’ll take you on a ride through a haunted park and all the proceeds benefit the Kitsap Foster Care Association.
Schedule: Second and fourth Saturdays starting in April and ending in October from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Fares: All rides are free, but donations are accepted to cover the cost of maintaining the track and trains.
Journey: Approximately 10 minute rides (and you can ride again and again and try different trains).
Where is your family’s favorite place to ride the rails? Tell us in the Comments below.
— Helen Walker Green