Embark on a magical journey with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, where the enchantment of train travel meets the delight of family adventure. Nestled in the heart of central Iowa, this historic railway promises an unforgettable experience for both young and old. From the rhythmic chug of the locomotive to the scenic vistas that unfold outside the window, a ride aboard the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad offers a captivating blend of nostalgia, excitement, and educational opportunities. In this guide, we’ll explore the many wonders that await your family, revealing why this iconic railroad has become a favorite destination for families seeking memorable outings and cherished moments together.
Where is Boone?
Boone is a small town between Des Moines and Clear Lake in Central Iowa. My first visit to Boone with the kids occurred during our Great Iowa Road Trip, and a train ride was a planned pit stop between overnight stays in the two cities.
As the county seat of Boone County, Boone is the principal city in the area with a population of nearly 12,500 people. The railroad is one of the biggest draws, with scenic rides offered by the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and pedal-powered rides with Rail Explorers USA.
If you’re looking for a nearby hotel recommendation, check out the historic Hotel Pattee in nearby Perry. Each family suite has a different theme and, in the basement, there’s a charming historic bowling alley for guests.
What to expect on the Iowa train ride
When you embark on a train ride with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, you and your family are in for a unique experience. I recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time, especially if you are going on a themed ride.
Tip: Expect to buy a ticket for anyone in your party who can walk (babe in arms do not need a ticket).
The train depot has a museum – admission is included with your train ticket – and a gift shop. Allow some time before your ride to walk through both, especially if you’ve planned this to be a pit stop to stretch your legs, like we did. Once you’re on the train, you’re seated for the most part. Seating, by the way, is assigned.
These are vintage trains, so if you’re expecting modern-day comforts (ie., air conditioning), research the train you’re going to ride ahead of time. Only the dinner trains are enclosed with heating and air-conditioning, though you can reserve seats in climate-controlled coach cars. Our ride was in June and thanks to some mild weather, it was not a sweaty hot mess. It was, in fact, quite comfortable.
As the train sets off, the rhythmic chug of the locomotive creates an atmosphere of excitement. The soothing sounds of the wheels on the tracks and the gentle sway of the train provide a sense of relaxation and immersion in the journey. As your roll past lush scenery, volunteers will engage passengers with fascinating stories — especially the Kate Shelly story — historical anecdotes, and interesting facts about the area and the railroad itself.
Total ride time: The ride is out and back, about an hour and a half ride.
While you may be relaxed and enjoying the stories, this is where your kids may lose interest, especially the little ones. At least, that was the case for my family. I had packed a bag with toys and books to entertain them, and I highly recommend it.
Or, better thought, opt for one of the themed train rides. I’ll detail that soon.
You are allowed to get out of your seat, though. And if you do, you can go seek out the concession car. but since the kids slept through lunch, I had also brought their lunch with us. I didn’t see anyone else eating. If you get tickets to ride in the caboose, you will not have access to the concession car.
Our favorite parts of the train ride
The highlight has to be crossing the Bass Point Creek High Bridge, which you’ll do twice since it’s an out-and-back ride. If you’re afraid of heights, this will be the ultimate low. We also liked the concession car. The kids got some ice cream, and Mr. Wonderful and I enjoyed a craft beer from a Boone brewery. Cheers!
Special events on the rail road
There are daily rides with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, as well as regular lunch, dinner and picnic trains. From time to time, special themed events are planned. These are the ones I imagine keep kids engaged the longest.
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad theme rides for families:
- Day Out With Thomas: Sept. 9-17, 2023
- Pumpkin Express: TBD
- Santa Express: TBD
- Easter Bunny Express: TBD
Check their schedule on the website and plan your visit accordingly. You’ll want to make reservations for your ride.
Are there restrooms on the train?
The Fraser train has RV-type chemical toilets. You (and your kids) will probably prefer the depot or museum restrooms. So use the facilities before boarding.
How much are train rides on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad?
It will vary depending on the ride you choose. The regular Fraser ride has prices from $9 for kids in the unair-conditioned seats on up to $35 for adults in the air-conditioned coach. Day Out With Thomas is $21 per person on Saturday and Sunday, or $18 per person on Friday. Dinner train rides are $90 each (for kids and adults).
Is seating assigned on the regular, daily rides?
The Fraser train does have assigned seating.
Can we bring food and drinks onboard?
Yes! We brought the kids’ lunch when we rode the train. You can’t bring coolers or anything over-sized, so what you carry your food and beverages in needs to be able to fit on your lap. You cannot bring alcoholic drinks onboard.