Midwest Scenic Train Rides for the Family to Enjoy

The Midwestern United States has several scenic train trips for a vacationing family to enjoy. Each train ride is special in its own way and showcases the history or landscape of a region.

Come aboard these scenic trains when you are visiting the Midwestern United States.

Lumberjack Steam Train

Lumberjack Steam Train, Laona, Wisconsin

Situated in northeastern Wisconsin's Northwoods within miles of the state border with Michigan, this steam engine travels three miles one way from Laona, Wisconsin, to a historic lumber camp complex known as Camp Five. The ride takes from ten to fifteen minutes and is made four times a day from Monday to Saturday. The 1916 steam locomotive pulls behind it two passenger coach cars and three cupola style cabooses which can hold 18 passengers each. Once at the museum complex, the visitor should take at least two hours to explore before boarding the train to return to Laona. Besides the lumber camp museum, the family can enjoy a self-guided ecology walking tour along an old lumber road, the farm animals and barn, the blacksmith shop, and a 30-minute narrated motorized forest tour. For an additional amount of money, the visitor can take a 30-minute river wildlife and pontoon boat tour of the Rat River. In July and October 2008, the camp will hold a cowboy reenactment, and during the last two Saturdays of September and the first Saturday of October, the camp celebrates a fall festival. Camp Five was a logging camp back in the late 1890's. The Connor Lumber and Land Company started a farm on the museum site in 1914 to provide draft horses for the camps and home-grown food for the lumberjacks. This lumber camp farm was so unique that Camp Five was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can find out more by visiting the camp5museum.org website.

This video gives a tiny sample of the lumberjack steam train.

Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad

Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, Spooner, Wisconsin

At one time Spooner, Wisconsin, had 22 passenger cars a day which went through town on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks. Even though CNW closed its Spooner depot in 1992 (my father was the last clerk at the depot), within five years the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad purchased twenty miles of that abandoned track. The result is a scenic train ride passing through some wonderful Wisconsin countryside. The ride begins at the Spooner depot. Riders have their choice of either a 30 mile round trip lasting two and one half hours from Spooner to Springbrook or a 90 minute round trip from Spooner to Veazie Springs. The longer train ride crosses one trestle, the Bean Creek Bridge located between the communities of Springbrook and Earl. Other sights include glimpses of Green Lake and the Namekagon River. Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad operates two diesel locomotives and their rolling stock includes a first class 64 seat diner loungs, a 64 seat buffet lunch diner, a 56 seat diner with a full kitchen, and a car which serves as a snack bar and gift shop. By reserving in advance for additional money, an individual can ride in the cab with the engineer for half the trip. Regular train rides include the sightseeing excursions, Elegant Dinner, the Happy Hour (adults only), the Sunday Brunch, the Dinner Buffet, and the Pizza Trains. The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad also celebrates special events some years with the Sweetheart Express, the Mother's Day and Father's Day Brunch, the Fall Color, and Great Pumpkin Trains. During Spooner Rodeo weekend in early July, there are train robbery reenactments and in 2008, the M.T. Pockets Gang will even meet the train and escort passengers to their campsite for a special Barbeque. The special events change each year. The WGNR also has the only still-operational wedding chapel car in the United States available for wedding ceremonies either held in a stationary position or moving, with a meal or without. If you are planning to be around the Spooner area and want to take a scenic train ride, consult the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad website at spoonertrainride.com.

Milwaukee Road 261, Minneapolis

Milwaukee Road 261, Minneapolis, Minnesota

In 1993, a determined group of rail fans saw their dreams fulfilled: the steam locomotive Milwaukee Road 261 once again rode the rails. Besides the steam engine, the 261 group maintains three 76 seat coaches, a “Skytop Lounge” car, and a 46 seat café/diner/ lounge car. In August 2008, this historic steam locomotive will take passengers on a one way trip from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This trip is normally done in June but flooding in 2008 prevented the train from operating as planned. While in Wisconsin during the month of August, the 261 will do a small number of shorter round trip excursions from Milwaukee to Sturtevant, the Wisconsin Dells, and New Lisbon. The return trip to Minneapolis will be toward the middle of August. In September, the 261 will do two short Minnesota excursions and one circle trip from Minneapolis to LaCrescent, crossing the Mississippi River to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and traveling north to a crossing that will take it back across the river and to Minneapolis. The passenger on the 261 can choose from three ways to travel. Coach tickets are the cheapest and can not be reserved. You must purchase food and beverages. First class seats can not be reserved either but the price includes food and beverages. The premium seats must be reserved and are on either a historic tailcar or a Super Dome car. The price includes food and beverages. A $1000 donation that will go toward further restoration of the locomotive allows the visitor to ride for half a day in the locomotive cab. More information, including neat photos, ticket prices, and an excellent history of the Milwaukee Road 261 locomotive, can be found at 261.com.

This video shows the Milwaukee Road 261 on its way to LaCrescent and can be found, along with other footage, on You Tube.

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