Fun Train Trips for Kids

Got children who are cuckoo for choo-choos? Here are tips to make train trips enjoyable — and several options in southeast Michigan.

There’s something magical about trains — maybe it’s the sense of a simpler way of life and a more leisurely way to travel. Kids sense it, too, so why not tap into your child’s sense of wonder by booking a train trip?

Michigan offers a variety of train experiences — from large, modern locomotives to historic heavyweights. Most excursions are close to home and offer an unforgettable vacation at an affordable rate.

Riding the train

“When you travel on an airplane or in the car, the vacation really doesn’t start until you get to where you’re going,” explains Amy Graff, a travel and leisure expert. “Everything is very high stress. But when you’re on the train, it’s so much more relaxing.”

Graff wondered at first if her kids would be bored traveling by Amtrak train in California. Instead, they beg to go again.

“Train travel is unique,” says Graff. The assistant train conductor greeted her kids with a smile and a handshake. Other passengers talked to Graff’s children.

Her daughter, Paris, commented, “People are so nice on the train.” Graff agrees. “When you get on an airplane no one wants to sit by kids, but on the train people don’t mind.”

What to expect

In the end, the prep may be easier than going by car. While each seat on Amtrak trains has electronic plugs to keep phones or video games charged, Graff says the ongoing scenery really does entertain the kids.

“It’s not the typical sites kids might see on the highway,” she explains. “My kids were just immersed.”

Your kids will have plenty of room to stretch their legs and move around. Depending on the train you’re taking, there may be an entertainment or dining car. You can bring your own snacks on board, too.

There’s no assigned seating, though there is regular coach passenger cars and business cars. Your conductor can help families find seats together.

You’re more likely to find your choice if you begin your travels at one of the train’s main stations at the route’s starting point, instead of one of the smaller town stations farther along.

Booking Amtrak

Keep in mind some trains are regular commutes for business travelers. For deeper discounts, book your travel at less-busy times and less-crowded days.

“Fares are lower on Tuesdays or Wednesdays than on Thursdays and weekends,” says Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari, whose company also offers deals on train travel.

Reservations are easy online or you can buy your tickets at the station — as long as there’s staff available to sell tickets. Some train stops pick up passengers but don’t have ticket-buying services available. Large hubs, however, like Dearborn, Detroit and Ann Arbor offer a full range of service.

Magliari notes the Dearborn station offers plenty of parking.

Chicago, one popular weekend-away destination for southeast Michiganders, takes about five-and-a-half hours and drops families off in the heart of the downtown area.

Closer to home

Looking for a fun train trip closer to home? Here are a few neat historic train rides in the southeast Michigan area.

Tauber Family Railroad, Detroit Zoo

Journey from the Chrysler Main Station near the zoo’s entrance to the farthest corner at the zoo’s Africa Station. The train is open during regular zoo hours throughout the summer.

Greenfield Village, Dearborn

Historic Greenfield Village offers families a chance to ride the Weiser Railroad on one of two trains — a steam locomotive or a diesel-powered engine. Both engines escort passengers along a 3-mile loop of the village. Several stops along the way allow passengers to get on and off.

Joy Park, Clinton Township 

The Michigan Transit Museum offers seasonal train rides around Joy Park in Clinton Township. Summer rides run Sundays June-October. Watch for Halloween and holiday train rides later in the year, too.

Coopersville & Marne Railway Company

Take an hour-long trek through small towns and farmland while enjoying old-time tunes and a laidback atmosphere. Families are welcome on this railroad, located 15 miles west of Grand Rapids.

Huckleberry Railroad

Head to Flint to take a 40-minute journey along the shores of Mott Lake, down a part of the historic Pere Marquette roadbed and back to Crossroads Village.

This post was originally published in 2010 and is updated regularly.

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