All aboard! Iowa has a history steeped in railroad tradition. Train aficionados will want to book a trip to one or more of Iowa’s railroad-related attractions, including restored depots, a tourist line railroad and museums.
1. Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum
Hop aboard this tourist line railroad in Boone, which travels 15 miles through the beautiful Des Moines River Valley over the stunning Bass Point Creek High Bridge, the highest steel interurban railroad trestle in the U.S.
Basic excursions, dinner train rides, dessert train rides and more special events are held daily from Memorial Day weekend through October. Kids will appreciate their special Chuggington and Thomas the Train events. After your ride, visit the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad Museum to view displays of historic railroad items and equipment. Admission to the museum is included in your train ticket.
2. Railswest Railroad Museum & HO Model Railroad
Go west – Railswest! This 1899 Rock Island depot in Council Bluffs is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and houses an extensive operating model railroad, historic photos, dining car memorabilia and uniforms. Also displayed on the grounds are several locomotives, a club car, railway post office car and caboose. Open daily February through December, admission fee applies.
3. Union Pacific Railroad Museum
One hundred fifty years of American railroad history is waiting for you to explore it at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, also in Council Bluffs. From the origins of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad to the advanced technology of modern-day railroading, it’s all covered here.
The interactive exhibits will entertain kids - and adults - of all ages. The museum is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday and admission is free.
4. Cannonball 457
Cannonball! The last remaining Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway steam locomotive is No. 457, the Cannonball. Built in 1912, the Cannonball was restored to its original appearance and in 2005, was reopened to the public in Mason City’s East Park.
Tours of the locomotive are available at no charge on weekends May through October. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the park's wooden playground and huge network of trails after viewing the locomotive.
5. The Railroad Museum
Looking for a comprehensive collection of steam-era railroad buildings? Look no further than The Railroad Museum in Sioux City. The buildings include a roundhouse with turntable, wooden sand tower and several other unique structures. While there, you can also see the Great Northern Railway Steam Locomotive No. 1355 and other railroad artifacts. Admission fee applies.
6. Kate Shelley Memorial Park & Railroad Museum
Kids (and you!) will be in awe of Kate Shelley's thrilling story. In 1881, 18-year-old Kate crawled across the long Des Moines River Bridge during a raging nighttime storm to warn people that an oncoming passenger train must be halted or it would crash through a ruined trestle.
You can now visit the Kate Shelley Memorial Park & Railroad Museum in Moingona, where she arrived after her trek. Hiking trails at the park lead to what is left of the Des Moines River Bridge. The site and trails are open year-round, but make an appointment if you’d like to go inside the depot. More artifacts can be viewed at the Boone History Center. To extend your trip, stop at nearby Ledges State Park.
7. Watson Steam Train & Depot Museum
Take a ride around Watson Station's track on a miniature steam train, where you'll traverse a bridge and go through a 50-foot tunnel. Watson Station houses two restored trains, while the Depot Museum has exhibits, railroad artifacts and displays, as well as a miniature Christmas Village. Rides are available at this Missouri Valley attraction on weekends, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
8. Midwest Central Railroad
Two operating steam engines, trolleys, rail cars, tracks and several railroad buildings and equipment are included in the Midwest Old Threshers Heritage Museums in Mount Pleasant. Visitors can take a ride on the one-and-a-quarter mile circle track, shop at the Red Caboose Gift Shop and learn how steam locomotives work. Special events are held during the annual Old Threshers Reunion (Labor Day weekend). October features Midwest Haunted Rails rides and The Great Pumpkin Train. In December, kids can take a ride on the North Pole Express.