Trains seem to possess a magical quality that sparks the interest of every child. When my daughter was two, she could name every Thomas the Train character and always shouted “Percy!” every time she saw MAX pass by. I thought no kid could love trains more than my daughter until I had a son. He is infatuated with anything that runs on rails. We’ve checked out every train rides book from the children’s section of our library, and at two-years-old he could distinguish between freight and passenger trains, commuter rails, trams, and trolleys! And now, thanks to him, so can I.
Recently, I set out in search of train rides within a short driving distance from Portland, and here are the best six I found:
1. Oregon Pacific Railroad: 2250 Southeast Water Avenue, Portland
Times: Saturdays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., March through mid-November
Cost: $5 per passenger (children under two are free)
Within walking distance from OMSI, you’ll find the Oregon Pacific Railroad. Climb aboard the diesel locomotive for round trip train rides departing from the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Passengers enjoy a scenic 45 minute trip along the east bank of the Willamette River and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to Oaks Park, where they can get off and back on later at no additional cost. Cars include at least one caboose and a custom-built, open-air car (prepare for a breezy ride). For $10, passengers can ride in the cab.
Before or after your train ride, check out the Oregon Rail Heritage Center which houses three enormous, restored steam locomotives, as well as rotating exhibits, a kids train table, and a souvenir shop. Access to the museum is free, but donations are encouraged.
2. Willamette Shore Trolleys: 311 N. State Street, Lake Oswego
Times: Most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Late May to early September
Cost: $3-12 (children under two are free)
Willamette Shore Trolleys have been running since the late 1800’s. In 1914, when the line was electrified, the trolley served Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Newberg, McMinnville, and Corvallis. Today, passengers enjoy beautiful round trip train rides on two vintage trolleys that take passengers from Lake Oswego along the Willamette River to Powers Marine Park.
During the repairs to the Sellwood Bridge, trips have been Saturdays and Sundays only between Lake Oswego and Powers Marine Park, however, they expect to provide round trip rides from Lake Oswego to Bancroft Street on the SW Portland Waterfront starting July 1st with service Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Check the website for more detailed schedule and fares.
Outside of Portland
3. Pacific Northwest Live Steamers: 31803 Shady Dell Rd., Molalla
Times: Sundays from 12 to 5:00 p.m., May through October
Down a country road, and just a few miles outside of Molalla’s city center, you’ll find Pacific Northwest Live Steamers. This railway park is perfect for children because the trains here are kid-sized. The park features 4,200 feet of 7 1/2 inch tracks with train rides that loop around a picnic area, through a tunnel, beside a small pond with waterfall, and over a bridge. Visitors can also enjoy watching model trains as they wind around the park through tunnels and model towns that are currently under construction. The park stays running thanks to volunteers, so donations are welcome.
4. Astoria Riverfront Trolley: Astoria Waterfront
Times: Daily from 12 to 6:00 p.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day (weather permitting)
Cost: $1 per passenger round trip, or $2 to ride all day
The average round trip on the Astoria Riverfront Trolley is about one hour with nine stops along the beach town’s waterfront where passengers embark and disembark at their leisure. Jump off and catch a bite at your choice of restaurants along the route, or ride the whole trip listening to knowledgeable conductors entertain you with monologues of Astoria’s immigrant, maritime, fishing, and cinematic history.
5. Mt. Hood Railroad: 110 Mt Hood Railroad, Hood River
Times: Thursday – Sunday, April-October, December
Cost: Check their website for updated prices on standard, first, and diamond class, or lounge car fares
Enjoy luxury train rides with the family aboard the Mt. Hood Railroad, a heritage and short-line freight railroad that departs from Hood River and runs 22 miles through beautiful forest, vineyards, and orchards. Stopping at Clear Creek Station in Parkdale for a 45-60 minute layover and BBQ lunch for an additional fee, before returning to Hood River.
Passengers can also choose themed excursions: the Fruit Blossom Special (April through May), the Western Train Robbery (April through October), Parkdale Excursions (June through October), and the family favorite Polar Express Train Ride (December).
6. Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad: Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach
Times: Daily, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m during the summer months, and special excursion trains throughout the year
Cost: Round trips start at $12 with special pricing for children and seniors
Combine sightseeing along the Oregon coast and up the Nehalem River Canyon between Garibaldi and Rockaway with a fun trip aboard a historic steam locomotive. The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is a perfect option for all ages, and have various prices for seasonal fares and special events. The round trip train rides with magnificent views last 1.5 hours with a 30 minute layover at both the Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach stops. Passengers ride in their choice of caboose, indoor car, or two outdoor cars (one open and one covered).