15 Train Rides and Museums in the West

Take a ride into the past with these railway attractions.

A small, historic steam train on the rails at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad in California.
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
Chris Mohs

From transcontinental giants to tiny model trains, from Oahu beach views to deep ravine scenery in Alaska, these 15 train-centric attractions prove that on rails, somewhere, there’s a ride for everyone.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, Fish Camp, California

For more than 20 years, the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company Railroad transported its lumber down from the Sierra Mountains on part of this route. Relive that heyday as the popular Moonlight Special excursion rides out, then returns through darkened woods. Live music, stories of the railroad’s logging past, and a campfire in the canyon infuse the ride with a touch of frontier wonder.

California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento

Admire the carefully restored refrigerator car (the kind that made California the farm state) and savor the old-school elegance of Cochiti, the dining car from Santa Fe Railway’s luxury train “Super Chief.” Weekend train excursions along the Sacramento River (running April through September) are not to be missed.

Redwood Valley Railway, Berkeley, California

Hidden in plain sight at the southern tip of Tilden Regional Park, a miniature steam engine pulls open-air and enclosed cars along a 15-inch narrow-gauge track. Twelve-minute excursions along the park’s scenic ridge go through a tunnel and redwood groves. The park includes many other attractions, such as a botanical garden, carousel, lake, and picnic facilities. 

Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton, California

Two routes depart from Roaring Camp: The Redwood Forest Steam Train chugs through redwoods and climbs Bear Mountain, while the Beach Train crosses Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and travels along the San Lorenzo River Gorge on its way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. There are also themed rides and special events throughout the year.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego

With 27,000 square feet of locomotive fun, this institution is one of the largest operated model railroad displays in the world. Among its highlights are the Tehachapi Pass layout, a faithful model of the twisting route that connects Central and Southern California; and the Cabrillo & Southwestern, an imaginary San Diego–Sacramento route that offers a glimpse into how much work goes into building such trainscapes.

Travel Town Museum, Los Angeles

After riding a mini-train around the museum, climb aboard a wide-ranging collection of (stationary) locomotives and passenger cars, some built as far back as 1862. The museum houses one-off treasures such as the Little Nugget, a 1937 Victorian-inspired club car decked out in red velvet and gold stars. Across the park, the Griffith Park and Southern Railroad runs three one-third-scale reproductions of classic 19th- and 20th-century American trains.

Nevada Northern Railway's Locomotive 40 in the rail yard in Ely, Nevada.
Nevada Northern Railway's Locomotive 40 in Ely, Nevada.
Sydney Martinez / Travel Nevada

Nevada Northern Railway, Ely, Nevada

Arguably the best-preserved and most complete steam railroad complex in the nation, the NNR features locomotives running as though they weren’t built a hundred years ago. Faithfully restored engines, such as the rare steam-powered Ghost Train, are regularly scheduled for weekend trips; diesel engines pull theme excursions. A weeklong Railroad Reality Camp teaches the truly devoted how to drive and repair a steam or diesel engine.

Nevada State Railroad Museum, Carson City, Nevada

More than 80 pieces of railroad equipment, including locomotives and train cars, and three volunteer-operated model trains share the limelight at the NSRM. Every weekend from May through September, the museum offers rides on both steam trains and motor cars.

Charlie Russell Chew-Choo, Lewistown, Montana

Prime rib and a holdup? The fearsome Salt Creek Gang (a merry band of outlaw impersonators) is known to come blazing down the hill for a play-acted “robbery” aboard this dinner excursion train. The 56-mile ride takes place most Saturdays, June through the beginning of October. The North Pole Adventure Train, complete with a visit from Santa himself, runs in December.

Cheyenne Depot Museum, Cheyenne, Wyoming

The first floor of this restored 1887 train station houses exhibits on the city’s ties to railroad history. The museum tells the story of the Cheyenne beginnings during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Union Pacific Depot and the Railroad it is named after. The Union Pacific Main Yard can be viewed from the addition on the west end of the Depot.


Medford Railroad Park, Medford, Oregon

This railroad park is run by five train organizations, which may account for the sheer variety of things visitors can see and do here. Start with a mile-long ride on the park’s famous little steamers, and then take the kids to see Thomas and his friends in one of two model railroads. Walk through cabooses on display, investigate the restoration of the 1925 Willamette steam locomotive (one of only six in existence), and maneuver a real handcar.

Eagle Cap Excursion Train, Elgin, Oregon

The landscape you see during this 3½-hour trip hasn’t changed much since 1908, when the route was completed. The region remains inaccessible by car, and mule deer herds still scamper along the route, a mix of pine forest and dramatic open areas. Passengers are free to walk through the train as the Grande Ronde River sparkles.

Utah State Railroad Museum and Eccles Rail Center, Ogden, Utah

Located in Ogden’s Union Station, the museum’s exhibits include the Wattis-Dumke Model Railroad, which re-creates the rail topography from the Sierra Nevada to Wyoming, complete with miniature Great Salt Lake and Sierra Nevada. Among the full-size trains are a restored army hospital car, a Postal Mail Storage Car, and the 2002 Winter Olympic Cauldron Car.

White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, Skagway, Alaska

In the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush days, Canada, the United States, and England pooled resources to construct the “railway built of gold.” Open May through September, the White Pass Summit Excursion climbs more than 3,000 feet, negotiating hair-raising curves, tunnels, trestles, and steep mountain passes amid a snow-dressed panorama that includes sightings of Bridal Veil Falls and Inspiration Point.

Hawaiian Railway Society, Ewa (Oahu), Hawaii

A 90-minute narrated trip passes historic Fort Barrette and the ghost town of Gilbert. At the line’s end, a stop at Kahe Point offers stunning ocean views. On the second Sunday of every month, visitors can ride in the beautifully restored Parlor Car 64 (“the Ambassador”); after any ride, check out the steam engines and boxcars on display at the open-air museum.