I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but kids love trains. I don’t know what it is, but little ones go cuckoo for choo choo’s. And then there are some children, perhaps one of your own, who are absolutely, unabashedly OBSESSED. This guide was created for the parents of those kids.
So bookmark this post, pin it, print it out, or tattoo it to your arm. When your kid’s loco for locomotives, we know just where to go…
Where to Ride Trains in Lake County
You’ll find kiddie train rides at these locations:
- Lambs Farm, 14245 W. Rockland Road, Libertyville (847) 362-4636
- Six Flags Great America, 1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee (847) 249-1776
- Westfield Hawthorn, 122 Hawthorn Center, Vernon Hills (847) 362-2600
- Gurnee Mills, 6170 W. Grand Ave., Gurnee (847) 263
Nothing beats riding the real thing! Genevieve tells you how to turn a common Metra ride into a family field trip to some of Lake County’s most charming downtowns and train stations. Take her advice in “All Aboard! Train Travel with Kids.”
If you’re willing to venture north into Wisconsin, the East Troy Electric Railroad will help you travel back to yesteryear. Simply enjoy the ride or book one of their dining packages like the pizza or burger train which are perfect for kids.
Where to Play Outside – Train Themed Playgrounds in Lake County
If you’d rather your kids let off their own steam, these playgrounds have stationary train structures that will let their imaginations take flight:
- Betty Russell Park, 5300 Pinewood Dr., Gurnee
- Playground at Lambs Farm,14245 W. Rockland Road, Libertyville
- Caboose Park a.k.a Lake Villa Township Park, 37908 N Fairfield Rd, Lake Villa
(featured in Best Playgrounds for a Picnic Playdate)
- Jonathon Knolls Park, On W. Kelly Road, west of Route 41 (past Patch 22) in Wadsworth
- Cynthia T. Peterson Park, 200 W. Hawthorn Parkway, Vernon Hills
- Friends Park, 349 Tudor Court, Glencoe
- Engle Junction Playground, 2200 Grass Lake Road, Lindenhurst (part of Engle Memorial Park)
- Jewett Park Community Center Tot Lot, 836 Jewett Park Drive, Deerfield
Where to Play Inside
When you’re the mom of a toddler boy, like Tracy is, you try to remember where the train tables are when you’re out and about. Tracy has compiled a listing of Where to Play with a Train Table in Lake County in case there are a few you don’t know about yet.
Where to Learn about Trains in Lake County
Give them their train fix with a little educational context to boot!
- Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union (815) 923-4000 – Genevieve tells us why it’s worth the trip into McHenry County and why it’s so much more than just Thomas the Tank Engine. P.S. Yes, you can ride trains too.
- Fort Hill Heritage Museum,601 E. Noel Drive, Mundelein (847) 566-8122 – Holly tells you about this museum and others in her story on Lake County Area Museums.)
- Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lakeshore Drive, Chicago (773) 684-1414 – So yes, this isn’t in Lake County either, but the Great Train Story exhibit at MSI is not to be missed. Genevieve tells you how homeschoolers can score free admission.
Train Themed Restaurants in Lake County
Sometimes you want a train and you want to eat too. Loralie curated a list of train-themed restaurants in and around Lake County. From model trains, memorabilia, and dining cars to miniature trains that actually deliver the food to you, your kids will be begging for seconds.
Where to View Model Trains in Lake County
Even adults find themselves entranced at the model railroad at the Chicago Botanic Garden. With intricate replications of our nation’s landmarks, the beautiful backdrop of the gardens, and the sheer size of the exhibit, Melissa had a tough time dragging her husband away.
Local libraries such as the Grayslake Area Public Library, Fremont Public Library (Mundelein) and the Wauconda Area Library frequently showcase train displays at various times of the year. Visit your local library’s website or check the Little Lake County Event Calendar and filter the category by “Model Trains” to find when and where to see the next train display in our area.
Train Books for all Ages
Speaking of libraries, does your child have a favorite train book that they insist you read over, and over, and over again? If you’re about to toss The Little Engine That Could out the window along with your sanity, peruse our reading list for the Best Train Books for All Ages instead. You’re sure to find a new bedtime favorite to mix up your routine.
Where to Buy Trains in Lake County
Sure you can find Thomas and Percy at most any big box store, but we love to support our local toy retailers like Brainstorm (625 Bridgeport Terrace, Lindenhurst (847) 265-0610), Snickelfritz Toys (122 Hawthorn Center, Vernon Hill (847) 918-8160), and Learning Express (North Lake Commons, 315 S. Rand Road, Lake Zurich (847) 540-4566). For a more detailed listing of local toy stores, check out the shops from our Neighborhood Toy Store Day post.
For more mature enthusiasts who know how to take proper care of their toys, check out these local hobby shops:
- Ron’s Mundelein Hobbies, 431 N. Lake Street, Mundelein (847) 949-8680
- Grayslake Hobby World, 140 Center Street, Grayslake (847) 543-4756
- Antioch Model Trains & Hobby, 924 Main Street, Antioch (847) 395-5025
Seasonal and Special Events
Here it is folks. Our ultimate guide ends with the ultimate prize. These events are the brass ring among the train-loving tyke set. Want your kids to eat their veggies? Remember to brush their teeth? Put their toys away? Put these events on your family’s calendar and you’ve got one heck of a carrot to dangle in front of your little conductor. Guaranteed to elicit good behavior for at least ten solid minutes. At their tender age, it’s the most you can hope for…
Day Out with Thomas – Illinois Railway Musuem, 7000 Olson Road, Union, IL | (815) 923-4000
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Sunday, August 16, 2015
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Sunday, August 23, 2015
***Editor’s Update 3/27/17: 2017 Dates**
- Saturday, July 8th, 2017
- Sunday, July 9th, 2017
- Saturday, July 15th, 2017
- Sunday, July 16th, 2017
Your chance to take an actual train ride pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine himself, and new this year, is a train ride with Percy for an additional fee. You’ll also get to meet Sir Topham Hatt, see railroad displays, enjoy live music, storytelling and more! Visit the Day Out with Thomas page on the IRM website for full details.
Be on the lookout for these events in the future …
Do you think late August is too early to start thinking about Christmas? Well think again… Especially if you want to get a seat on the Polar Express! Many park districts across Lake County offer seasonal rides on a special Metra Train bound for the North Pole. Stories, snacks, prizes and a visit from Santa are just some of the included activities you’ll enjoy. Be forewarned, registration fills up quickly – sometimes the same day in which park district catalogs are released. Tracy tells you about Polar Express events from last year, so you can be ahead of the game when registration opens next month.
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls across North America to spread holiday cheer while also fundraising for food banks across Canada and the United States. You can learn more about this holiday tradition from Genevieve in her 2011 post, Ho, Ho, Holiday Train. The 2015 schedule will be released in October. Be sure to like the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train page on Facebook page for notification.
On Saturday, April 22, 2017, don’t mis Model Train Day at Lambs Farm. View model trains and enjoy a plethora of train-themed activities at all the businesses on campus.
Now if that’s not enough train action to satisfy even the most voracious toddler, then I’m sorry, we can’t help you. We suggest booking a one-way ticket to Sodor.