The last time gas prices hit $4.00 a gallon, I introduced my kids to a new concept: public transportation. One good thing about living near one of the largest (and best) major metro areas in the US is the public rail system. My kids find a special nostalgia in train travel that most commuters have probably lost. For them, it’s like the world’s coolest theme park ride right outside their house — for far less than the cost of a trip to Disney.
Train Travel with Children
Adults will typically pay less than $7.50 for a one-way ticket to Chicago. During the week, children ages 7 to 11 save 50% on one-way fares, while children under 7 ride free when accompanied by a fare-paying adult (up to three children.) On weekends and select holidays, kids ride FREE with Metra’s Family Fares. Up to three children age 11 and under ride free with each fare-paying adult. For routes and more information, check out Metra’s Website.
Where to Ride the Train with Children
So now, the question is, “Where to go?” Here’s a round-up of some favorite stops between Lake County and Chicago:
Downtown Libertyville is a short ride from stations north and only 4 blocks from Cook Park and the Friday farmer’s market. The Libertyville train station and the nearby restaurants make for a fun start to the morning. Walk south on Milwaukee Avenue to get to the heart of the action. Kids will love the playground and rose garden at Cook Park, and parents will enjoy the atmosphere without the hassle of finding parking. A folding stroller is recommended for containing wee curious ones since the walk can seem long for little feet and traffic along Milwaukee Avenue is often heavy.
Downtown Deerfield – After disembarking, parents can check out the shops in Downtown Deerfield, grab lunch at Whole Foods, and head to the nearby playground before returning home. Prepare to bring a stroller and do some walking on this trip. The park is a little difficult to find, nestled behind the main shopping district, and there are no bathrooms, so be prepared to stop at one of the shops before and after playing for older kids to use the facilities.
Northbrook Village Green – This is by far my children’s favorite summer trip. We’ve been taking the train to the Village Green since my oldest child was two. Our route takes about 25 minutes. Upon arrival, we purchase our return tickets from the station master, who has been known to hand out souvenir children’s tickets upon request. (Note: Metra tickets are always more expensive on the train, so buy yours at the station whenever possible.) This shady park is located adjacent to the Metra parking lot offers bathrooms, drinking fountains, picnic tables, big and small climbing structures, swings, and sand. This is a great trip that doesn’t necessarily require a stroller but is recommended if you have multiple children to coral. I love to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the park and save a small treat for the train as motivation for the kids to head home.
These quick rides have helped my children learn about train safety and commuter etiquette. It also gave them a chance to see what’s inside those big noisy silver things that tie up traffic as they rumble down the tracks. Our mini-adventures have also prepared us for longer trips. Last summer, the four of us took the line all the way to Chicago and back again. We walked to Millennium Park and the lake-front for lunch, then spent some quiet time in the Education Room of the Art Institute. This FREE space is located in the new Modern Wing and offers books, puzzles, and computer games to children and caregivers — in addition to clean bathrooms! After some downtime, we were ready for the long walk back to Union Station and the hour ride home.
I’m confident this summer will bring even more adventures our way along the Lake County Metra route. Have tickets . . . will travel!
Do you ride the train with your kids? What are your favorite stops?
Find more train stops for kids at:
Wow, thanks for the great ideas. I wanted to take my kids on a train “adventure”, but Chicago seemed daunting for the first trip. I also had no idea both of my kids would ride free! Great post.
McDonalds is right next to the Lake Forest station, which makes a nice stop on the way home from the park at Deerfield or Northbrook.