If Thomas, Percy, and James are a part of your daily conversations, take advantage of the many train and railroad attractions throughout New Jersey. Each one offers a different experience that will surely put a smile on any train lover's face. From model trains to railroad museums, zoo and amusement park rides to North Pole excursions, the Garden State has it all—even the world's largest model railroad!
Read on for a list of places where you can ride the rails with your little one, check out amazing displays, and more.
The Full Experience
From riding historic locomotives to touring preserved stations, you'll touch every part of the railroad experience at these destinations.
Black River & Western Railroad – Flemington
Located in Hunterdon County, the Black River & Western Railroad will thrill little conductors. Antique passenger coaches depart from Flemington or Ringoes for a scenic, 75-minute ride. Seasonal rides include: The North Pole Express (sold out for 2017), the Eerie Limited, and the Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch.
The Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal – Jersey City
The Central Railroad of New Jersey sits inside Liberty State Park. As a welcoming point for immigrants passing through Ellis Island, this historic terminal is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It's open daily, 7:30 am to 5 pm, for self-guided tours.
The Delaware River Railroad Excursions has an adventure for every season. Photo courtesy of The Delaware River Railroad Excursions
The Delaware River Railroad Excursions – Phillipsburg
Operated by the New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society, the Delaware River Railroad is the only steam locomotive in New Jersey. Special rides include: the Polar Express (sold out for 2017), A Day Out with Thomas, Dino Days, the Great Pumpkin Train, the Corn Maze Train, and the Mine Train.
RELATED: Polar Express and Christmas Trains for New Jersey Kids
Kids can visit with Santa on a train ride through Monmouth County. Photo courtesy of the New Jersey Museum of Transportation
New Jersey Museum of Transportation – Farmingdale
Home to the Pine Creek Railroad, the New Jersey Museum of Transportation sits inside Allaire State Park. Hop aboard the oldest continually operating narrow-gauge steam preservation locomotive for a 30-minute ride through Monmouth County. There are also plenty of special events from April through December, including the Christmas Express, the Haunted Express, and the Easter Express.
Whippany Railway Museum – Whippany
This Morris County landmark hosts seasonal events including the Easter Bunny Express and the Pumpkin Festival. The museum, which includes railroad memorabilia, exhibits, a gift shop, and a large train layout, is open to the public on Sundays, April through October, and during special events from 12pm to 4pm.
The Shrunk-down Experience
If you're looking for a short ride on a kid-sized locomotive, many New Jersey parks and zoos have miniature versions that can add a special touch to your family’s weekend outing. Just a few include:
Camden’s Children Garden – Camden
The 600-foot-long Arrow River Train Ride holds up to 38 children or 22 adults. Tickets are $2.50 each or five for $10.
Historic Smithville Village – Smithville
Head to Historic Smithville for the Holiday Light Show, and make time for a ride on the charming choo-choo. The six-and-a-half-minute ride goes around the outskirts of the village and costs $2 per person.
Turtle Back Zoo – West Orange
Riding the rails at Turtle Back is free with zoo admission. The ride takes you through the woods and along the Orange Reservoir.
Van Saun County Park – Paramus
The train runs from mid-April to mid-November, but you can also take a ride during Van Saun County Park's Winter Wonderland, running through January 1.
Find more kiddie train rides at NJ amusement parks like Wild West City, Storybook Land, the Land of Make Believe, and more.
The Really Shrunk-down Experience
Model train shows and displays bring the massive cars and sprawling landscapes down to their level. Here's a selection of our favorites for the holiday season and beyond.
The Barron Arts Center Holiday Model Train Show – Woodbridge
Now in its 27th year, the exhibit runs through December 30.
CB Huntington's Family Restaurant – Bayville
It's not everyday you get to eat among an active and very elaborate model train installation. The display, maintained by the Central Shore Model Railroad Club, features a bridge, tunnel, a Ferris Wheel, houses, businesses, and more.
RELATED: Northlandz Model Railroad Museum Is a Handmade Wonder
The 60th Annual Model Railroad Show is running through January 7. Photo courtesy of the Garden State Railway Club
The Garden State Model Railway Club's 60th Annual Model Railroad Show –North Haledon
A1,200-square foot layout features steam and diesel locomotives, a slew of trains (including Thomas, of course), and working signals. On view through January 7.
The Model Railroad Club – Union
Open to the public every Saturday from 1–4pm, the club features HO scale and N scale layouts, as well as other model railroad and industrial exhibits. Every December, the club transforms its HO scale model layout into a theater and choreographs its trains to a professionally narrated script. (The 2017 event has already passed, but stay tuned for 2018!)
Northlandz – Flemington
Northlandz is home to the world’s largest model railroad—up to 100 trains at a time travel more than eight miles of tracks. Your enthusiast can watch the trains circle through cities and villages and cross foot bridges here year-round. In addition, visitors can ride on a replica steam train and stroll through a doll collection and an art museum.
Patcong Valley Model Railroad Club Holiday Open House – Richland
The club is showing off its ever-evolving HO scale model layout through January 21.
The Wayne Train Show – Wayne
The National Collectors Club is hosting a special Christmas edition of its semi-annual exhibition December 23 at The Wayne PAL Hall. There's no shortage of running trains, plus antique models on display.
The Collector's Experience
Want a train to take home? Check out one of these shops.
The Big Little Railroad Shop – Somerville
West Main Street
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm; Sunday, 12 pm to 4 pm.
F & M Hobby Center – Flanders
240 Route 206
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm; Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm.
Hobbymasters – Red Bank
62 White Street
Hours: Monday through Friday and Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm; Friday, 10 am to 10 pm; Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm.
The Hobby Shop – Aberdeen
1077-C Route 34
Hours: Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm; Wednesday through Friday, 10 am to 8 pm; Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm.
RELATED: New Jersey Toy Stores That Are Worth the Trip
The Holly Beach Train Depot in Wildwood is a collector's dream come true. Photo courtesy of Holly Beach Train Depot
Holly Beach Train Depot – Wildwood
4712 Pacific Avenue
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.
The Train Room – Point Pleasant Beach
715 Arnold Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach
Hours: Monday through Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
The Train Station – Mountain Lakes
12 Romaine Road
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm.
Top photo courtesy of the Whippany Railway Museum
Originally published September 2010; updated December 2017.