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New England Train Rides Kids Love Most

by Barbara Rogers

Jun 19, 2018

© Stillman Rogers

Age Specific / Kids

Throughout New England, vintage trains take families and rail buffs on scenic excursions, using historic cars and locomotives. Riding on a train is a treat for any kid, but especially for those who live in places where regular train travel is a thing long past. Unfortunately for train lovers, this includes much of the Northeast.

By far the best concentration of train excursions is in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where a trio of trains — one especially for children — is fun for the whole family. Designed for kids is the Hobo Railroad, which begins its ride in Lincoln N.H., (right off I-93 Exit 32), where a clown hops off the train to stop traffic on the busy Kancamagus Scenic Highway. Kids are delighted, and patient drivers wave as the train crosses the road. The rail route is through the woods and along a river and, between the good-humored narration and the antics of the clown, kids love it, while parents enjoy the scenery.

On the other end of the Kancamagus Highway, the Conway Scenic Railroad runs several daily excursions along the valley between the towns of Conway and North Conway. The scenery is spectacular, past dramatic ledges, with the Presidential Range at the end of the valley. The grand Victorian rail station in North Conway has a collection of engines and rolling stock fun to tour. The line also makes the even more scenic trip through Crawford Notch, along the steep mountainside and across a spine-tingling trestle. Adults love it, especially in the fall, but the five-hour round-trip is a bit too long for young kids.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, Mount Washington Cog Railroad,

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, Mount Washington Cog Railroad,

The most exciting and unusual of all New England’s train experiences is the Mount Washington Cog Railway, chugging its way up the Northeast’s highest mountain for more than a century. The bright-painted engines leave from Bretton Woods, north of North Conway on Route 302, and climb at an average gradient of 25 percent until they reach Jacob’s Ladder, a trestle 25 feet above the rocky mountainside, where the track reaches the second-highest grade in the world. At 37 percent, the grade of Jacob’s Ladder leaves the back of the train car 14 feet lower than the front. Kids can’t resist standing in the aisle to have their picture taken — when they stand up straight they look as though they are falling over. The live narration is funny, interesting and lively. Hang on tight to little kids at the summit, where even on a summer day the wind can be fierce.

2207 Hobo Railroad, Lincoln, N.H.

2207 Hobo Railroad, Lincoln, N.H.

Elsewhere in New England, look on Cape Cod for the Cape Cod Central, a heritage line that first reached the Cape in 1848, now offering regular narrated excursions from Hyannis through towns, dunes and saltmarshes to the Cape Cod Canal. The Valley Railroad in Connecticut operates the Essex Steam Train, and its kid-pleaser is a 2.5-hour combination Steam Train and Riverboat eco-excursion in vintage coaches and a riverboat that travels through protected natural landscapes and bird habitats accessible only by boat. Other highlights of the river trip for kids are passing Gillette Castle and the Haddam Swing Bridge.

In northern Maine, the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad runs one-hour trips through the pine woods and across the fields in an open-air observation car classic coach. On the south coast, what could delight a kid more than a day at the beach that begins and ends with a train ride? Amtrak’s Downeaster trains travel several times a day from Boston’s North Station to Old Orchard Beach, stopping within a few steps of the beach, pier, hotels and waterside amusement park. Weekend and weekday schedules allow for a long afternoon at the beach or an entire weekend. Trolleys and shuttle buses connect to more distant lodgings in the area for a car-free trip.

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