You can clatter along salty bays, river valleys and forested mountains the way you might have done before cars were a thing. These five train museums are just the place to kindle the interest of young and old train fans with the opportunity to hop aboard and ride the rails of yesteryear.
Near Baker City, families can take a 45-minute round-trip ride through Oregon’s gold-mining history aboard the Sumpter Valley Railroad. Massive steam locomotives puff along a narrow-gauge railroad between McEwen and Sumpter, where the Sumpter Valley Dredge still stands, a mechanical beast that unearthed more than $4 million in gold in the early 1900s. An add-on cab pass gives lucky train buffs a ticket to ride in the locomotive.
About 30 miles north of Klamath Falls in Chiloquin, the Klamath & Western Railroad offers free rides in summer months on a narrow-gauge model railroad that winds through ponderosa pine forest. It’s part of the extensive grounds of the Train Mountain Railroad Museum, where a free self-guided tour leads visitors past more than a dozen unusual and antique railcars, such as those used for logging operations and clearing deep Cascade snows. It’s all part of an impressive collection of more than 60 railcars including dozens of cabooses.
The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad takes the family road trip up a notch with a train excursion along Tillamook Bay and the North Coast. Passengers can board in either Rockaway Beach or Garibaldi for the 90-minute round trip, with covered and open passenger cars pulled by historic diesel and steam locomotives. Special seasonal rides include fall-foliage trips and Saturday sunset dinner rides in summer months.
Steam locomotives still puff through Portland thanks to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, which runs 45-minute round-trip rides along the east bank of the Willamette River and through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. Three of the city’s own vintage steam engines are on display at the center, along with a busy machine shop where they’re restored and maintained by skilled volunteers. Rides operate on weekends and select holidays; the center is open Thursday through Sunday afternoons and admission is free.
About 30 miles south in Molalla, the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Live Steamers runs the Molalla Train Park, which is free to the public with donations gratefully accepted. Located on 4 acres of land, the site includes a picnic area, covered pavilion, ponds, greenery and 4,200 feet of track (7.5″ gauge). All trains are run by a volunteer skilled engineer. Rides last 7-10 minutes and are open to all ages. A snack stand serves up hot dogs, popcorn, sno cones and souvenirs including a junior engineers’ kit during Sunday runs. The park is open May through October, including a Train Fest scheduled for Labor Day weekend and a Halloween costume trick-or-treat extravaganza.
Columbia River Gorge
An hour east of Portland, Hood River gets families outdoors on the century-old Mount Hood Railroad. Ninety-minute round-trip rides depart Thursday through Saturday from the historic downtown depot and chug up the Hood River Valley past orchards, vineyards, brilliant foliage and snapshot views of Mt. Hood. For kids with energy to burn, book a time slot to ride a tandem railbike fitted right on the rails (Thursday through Saturday, mid-June to mid-October).
Mount Hood Railroad has also debuted their “Phantom of the Rail” Halloween train ride during the last two Friday and Saturday evenings in October. The ride features Halloween narration, a thrilling excursion through the forest by the light of the moon, and a Thriller-style flash dance performance at the company’s dark factory, rumored to be filled with ghosts and ghouls. Food and drink available for pre-purchase. Book a table with three of your closest brave souls (not recommended for young children), sit back and enjoy the creepy tales as you kick off the season. Accessible seating is available upon request. Pets are not allowed.
Ride the Rails With Santa
Santa’s main ride may be the classic sleigh, but Old Saint Nick is also a train enthusiast. Many train museums spark cheer with holiday-themed rides in November and December.
The Holiday Express, operated by Portland’s Oregon Rail Heritage Center, is a jolly, 45-minute round-trip ride that includes hot beverages and a visit with Santa.
The Candy Cane Express, operated by the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, is a round-trip ride along Oregon’s scenic North Coast. Little kids will delight in writing a letter to Santa and receiving one back!
While not a holiday train ride, the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club hosts its annual open house in November and December, providing a rare public peek at the elaborate train layouts created by club members.