6 reasons to plan a visit to Illinois Railway Museum

“Choo choo!” is one of my toddler Isaiah’s favorite things to say and he adores playing with trains, so when my dad suggested a family outing to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill., I knew we were all on board. Our multigenerational crew included my mom too, and we all enjoyed the adventure to this museum out in the country. If your kiddos go wild for trains, check out these reasons to round up the herd for a visit this season.

Change of scenery

Chicagoans who are used to the hustle and bustle of city life can take a breather out in Union, where there is plenty of open sky and farmland. It is a bit of drive out there, about an hour and a half from Rogers Park, but it was definitely worth the trek. We really went all out with one of my go-to road trip tips and had lots of snacks for the ride, so we avoided getting hangry and arrived fueled up and ready to explore. 

Outdoor space for wiggle worms

When I think of a museum, I typically envision one big indoor building, but at the Railway Museum’s 150-acre site, you kind of jump from place to place. Isaiah excitedly trotted around and had a great time in the train-themed playground. Be sure to wear comfy shoes, especially if, like me, you will be playing the age old game of Chase the Toddler. 

So much to see and snap

There are so many train artifacts to see and shutterbugs will have no shortage of shots. There are large exhibit buildings that feature everything from Pullman sleeping cars and a horse drawn street car to historic ‘L’ cars and the Nebraska Zephyr, which appeared in the movie “A League of Their Own.” There is so much to take in that a train buff like my dad was like a kid in candy store. We lost track of him a few times as he wandered off to snap a photo of some interesting locomotive. 

Fueled by volunteer power

The Illinois Railway Museum is owned and operated by volunteers, and they have a clear passion for trains. We talked with several volunteers during our visit and were impressed by the deep knowledge they have of rail history and the backstory of the artifacts on the site. They were super friendly and more than happy to share their expertise with our crew. 

Take a ride

After strolling around the museum for a while, we were excited to hop aboard an electric train for a trip down the 4.5-mile track. Gazing out the window at the peaceful countryside complete with red barns was a welcome change of pace. The conductor was really kind and even let Isaiah wear his hat and pull the horn. The trip was my little guy’s first time on a real train, and we all had a blast. Different types of trains operate on certain days, so be sure to check the schedule to see what will be offered when you plan to visit. In addition to different types of trains, there are special events such as the popular Day Out with Thomas. 

Snag a souvenir

The old gift shop was housed in an actual train, which sounds quirky, but it was kind of cramped. This is the first season that the new gift shop is open. My parents bought Isaiah some sweet souvenirs, including an engineer cap and wooden trains with his initials to remember our special day. The store has some really cute stuff, especially for kiddos, so just be warned that it might be hard to narrow down what to get.  

As I drove our family away from this museum, I was satisfied with a day well spent. I hope your crew has as much fun as we did! 

If you go

Illinois Railway Museum 

7000 Olson Road, Union

Find more information at irm.org

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