I love to ride trains. My great-grandparents saw travel evolve from horse-drawn carriages to electric street cars, urban subways, and passenger trains.
Today, we seek fast travel by jet or a sleek car, but what about turning back the clock to railroad transit and passenger trains? There is something about the golden age of train travel that’s fun for all ages. It’s a time to slow down, relax, and let the landscape flow past us. Let’s explore train rides in Texas, great fun to share with the grandkids. All aboard!
1. Palestine To Rusk
Texas State Railroad
Step aboard a refurbished train car at the Texas State Railroad and feel like you have stepped back in time 100 years, where time slows down and tensions disappear. Relax and enjoy a 4-hour roundtrip train excursion from Palestine to Rusk and back, with vintage steam and diesel locomotives gliding through the piney woods of East Texas as the fall leaves begin to turn shades of golds, oranges, yellows, and reds.
At the depot, learn about the railroad communities, savor a bite to eat with family at the Rusk Mail Car Cafe, and shop the gifts and keepsakes at Roundhouse 1909 in Palestine. Ride comfortably, enjoy a historical narrative, meet friendly and entertaining staff, and sample food and adult beverages on your journey. The four-hour train ride breaks down to a 1.5-hour 25-mile trip to the destination depot, a one-hour lunchtime, and a 1.5-hour return trip.
In October, the Pumpkin Patch Express leaves from Rusk, a 30-minute round trip train ride, including hayrides, spooky music, bounce house, concessions, and trick-or-treating on Trick or Treat Street. Each child picks out a pumpkin to take home for carving.
Make reservations now for the Polar Express for November and December. The Presidential Class car seating is limited where a ride with Santa, keepsake Polar Express mugs, hot chocolate, and cookies make for a magical experience.
Camping facilities at the Rusk Campground offer a stay onsite at a historic railroad, with access to depot amenities including lunch, gift shop, and movie theater access on train departure days. Movies filmed on the Texas State Railroad are featured, with stars like Denzel Washington, George Clooney, John Goodman, and Sam Elliot.
2. Cedar Park To Burnet
Austin Steam Train Association
All aboard! Take the historic 6-hour, 66-mile roundtrip Hill Country Flyer from Cedar Park, north of Austin, and just east of Lake Travis, to Burnet with a brief layover there for lunch and shopping. There are at least four classes of service: excursion coach, first-class coach, first-class lounge, and adults-only first-class lounge.
The Bertram Flyer is a shorter trip, traveling from Cedar Park to Bertram, with a 15-minute layover in Bertram with enough time to tour the 1912 train depot there. The train runs from March through November on Saturdays and Sundays.
The North Pole Flyer 2021 with Santa leaves from Bertram and is a 2-hour roundtrip. Arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes before departure and be in your seat no later than 10 minutes before the train leaves. Read the Terms and Conditions about no refunds and restrictions.
Enjoy hot chocolate and the elf’s reading of the North Pole Flyer book.
Read about the vintage train cars here.
3. Grapevine To Fort Worth Stockyards
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad
Travel from Main Street Station in Grapevine to the Fort Worth Stockyards on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad while relaxing in air-conditioned Victorian train cars.
See the schedule for special events like Murder Mystery Trains and reserved group events.
Wear your costume on the Witches Brew Train on October 29, 2021, which features hors d’oeuvres and local draft brew served in a souvenir mug. Take time to tour the Haunted Depot. Wear your Halloween costume on the Trick ‘R Treat Trains on October 30 and enjoy this 1-hour excursion.
Make your reservations now for the hour-long North Pole Express November through December, presented by Great Wolf Lodge and Trinity Metro TEXRail. Wear your Christmas pajamas while you take a Christmas journey to Santa’s Workshop, a family-friendly trip. The After Christmas Trains run December 26 through 30, 2021, on holiday-decorated coaches as you continue the Christmas spirit.
In April, ride The Jazz Wine Train aboard the 1920s Victorian coaches with soulful jazz entertainment while sipping great Grapevine wine. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres plus a dessert trio box. Sip wine from several winery tasting rooms from a souvenir wine glass.
Bring the little ones for a Day Out With Thomas, presented by Mattel. Ride the train with the classic storybook engine and have fun with “trains, games & miles of smiles!”
Mattel and the Museum of the American Railroad help sponsor this event. I took my grandchildren for a train ride right after Christmas on the Grapevine Railroad Stockyards Trinity River Excursion. We traveled from the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards, through Trinity Park to the 8th Avenue historic railyard, then returned to the stockyards.
You’ll see the Great Train Heist, with greedy outlaws and the railroad detectives close behind.
4. Along The Big Cypress Bayou
Historic Jefferson Railway
The gas-powered 1910 Plymouth Locomotive called “The Critter” and the Historic Jefferson Railway take you for a ride along the Big Cypress Bayou and through the piney woods. The 40-minute ride stops at Diamond Don Gator Pit where hungry alligators have lunch.
Watch for the Boggy Creek monster, star of the 2010 horror movie, Boggy Creek, filmed locally.
The beast resembles the old Bigfoot or Sasquatch monster, and is directed, and produced by Brian T. Jaynes.
Jefferson Train Days, happening every May, is the Historic Jefferson Train Show with operating model train layouts, Kids Corral, model train and toy vendors, and Thomas The Train Play area. You can ride the historic Jefferson Railway and the Lonesome Dove Safari and Train petting zoo.
Halloween Express runs day and evening narrated rides every Saturday in October featuring monsters of the deep. Listen to the storyteller along with this 40-minute train excursion with ghostly spirits, the monster, or Bigfoot emerging from the swamplands, but it’s not scary.
Enjoy the Christmas Express Train narrated day and evening tours with Christmas vignettes along the beautiful Big Cypress Bayou River. The New Year’s Express features beverages, noisemakers, and with the ball drop and five authentic cannons firing dramatic “dragons’ breath.”
On the last weekend In May, see the Great Locomotive Chase and Civil War Battle with reenactors from the North and South. Ride the 1870s replica steam train and hear the tale of the Andrews Raid, a thrilling railroad story. Engine #7, known as the Robert E. Lee will take you along Big Cypress Bayou, through the piney woods, where you will view a Confederate Powder Magazine and travel to the site of one of the oldest historical towns in Texas. Ride the Historic Jefferson Railway’s famous Ghost Train to experience the haunts of the Civil War.