Ultimate Train Lovers Guide for Kids in Lake County

Trainlover

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

Lambs Farm Train
Lambs Farm Train – Image from Visit Lake County on Facebook

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
Image from Westfield Hawthorn

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

Betty Russell Community park
© M. Haak | Little Lake County.com | 2015

If you’d rather your kids let off their own steam, these playgrounds have stationary train structures that will let their imaginations take flight:

Where to Play Inside

Where to Play with a Train TableWhen 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!

IRM Engine
© G. O’Keefe | littlelakecounty.com | 2014
  • 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.

C. Keegan | littlelakecounty.com | 2015
Caboose Restaurant, Mundelein – C. Keegan | littlelakecounty.com | 2015

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.

Chicago Botanic Garden

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.

Brainstorm, Inc. - Lindenhurst
Brainstorm, Inc. – Lindenhurst

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…

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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 …

Meeting Santa on the Polar Express 2013
Meeting Santa on the Polar Express 2013

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.

Image from Canadian Pacific Holiday Train on Facebook
Image from Canadian Pacific Holiday Train on Facebook

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.

National Train Day at Lambs Farm - Image from Lambs Farm on Facebook
National Train Day at Lambs Farm – Image from Lambs Farm on Facebook

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.

Dance academy of Libertyville
About Loralie 318 Articles
When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home. She is the Features Editor and Marketing Director at Little Lake County.

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