The only place you can take your kids on a steam engine train ride in Nebraska or Iowa is on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone, Iowa. My kids have a fixation on Thomas the Tank Engine, so I ask: How could I not take my kids on it when we were in the area?
Updated: This post was published in 2016 and has been updated in July 2021 with current information.
Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets in order to write this review. This post may contain affiliate links. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
Boone is a small town between Des Moines and Clear Lake, our two main stops on our Great Iowa Road Trip. It’s about 2 1/2 hours from Omaha. If you’re looking for a nearby hotel recommendation, check out the historic Hotel Pattee in nearby Perry, Iowa. Each family suite has a different theme.
We ended up with a diesel engine pulling our train, but no big deal – it didn’t dampen the experience of riding in on authentic train.
What to expect on the Iowa train ride
– 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 pit stop to be a chance to stretch your legs.
– The steam engine is used on the Saturdays, so when we went during the week, we had a diesel engine. That’s no big deal for me or the kids, it’s still a train ride. If it’s a big deal to you, go on a Saturday.
– Your ride will not be air-conditioned – these are 1920s rail cars (though, dinner trains are enclosed with heating and air-conditioning). We went in June and thanks to some temperate weather, it was not a hot mess. It was, in fact, quite comfortable.
Update: There is an option now to reserve seats in climate-controlled cars.
– Seating is first come, first served in the coach cars. If you ride on the dinner or dessert train, your seats are reserved. We arrived late and had to ask a couple to switch seats so that the four of us could be seated together. Arrive early and avoid the hassle.
– The ride is out and back, about an hour and a half ride. Each car has a volunteer who’ll share interesting facts about the train and the area you pass through. Ours shared the story about Kate Shelley on the way back to the station.
– There is a 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.
Highlights 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 Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad Events
There are daily rides with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, as well as regular dinner and dessert trains. From time to time, special themed events are planned. In previous years, these included fall rides and Santa rides.
2021 special events:
Day Out With Thomas – Sept. 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19. Tickets are $20 per person ($17 for Friday, Sept. 11). Tickets may be purchased by visiting www.ticketwebdowt.com, or by calling (515) 432-4249. All aboard!
Be sure to check the dates here as they may change. You will want to purchase your tickets in advance since these are popular.
Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad details
Where: 225 10th St., Boone, Iowa
When: The classic excursion runs daily Memorial Day Weekend through Oct. 31 each year, running Thursday through Sunday. Ride lasts about an hour and 45 minutes. Special events and dinner trains may have different start times and run on different dates outside the Memorial Day Weekend to Oct. 31 time frame. Always check dates and times before you go.
Cost: Tickets for adults range from $22 to $35 for the classic rides. Dinner trains are $75 per person. Special event train rides are different prices, as well.