Posted Aug 29, 2018
I took the family to Frederick County, Maryland this summer for a ride on the Walkersville Southern Railroad (WS) and to check out the Walkersville Southern Railroad Museum. The visit far surpassed my expectations.
With all the rain we’ve had this year, we held out for a picture-perfect weather day. Tickets must be booked online in advance. If you click on the “Tickets/Calendar” link in their site navigation, you can click on a specific date and time you're interested in to see how many seats are still available. You can monitor this availability number to gauge when to book, while keeping an eye on the weather.
We settled on the 11 a.m. train on a Saturday and arrived an hour early to have time to pick up our tickets, browse the museum, and hit the bathrooms before our ride. One of the benefits of arriving early was being able to see the train arriving into the station from the north. We didn't tell our kids what we were doing that day. Imagine the shock and surprise when we were unloading our kids from the car to the sound of a train whistling and entering the station. Our preschooler is obsessed with “choo choo trains” and couldn’t believe her eyes!
Parking is free and plentiful in a grassy field adjacent to the ticket office. Between the ticket office and the museum is an in-use roadway, so be careful when crossing with your littles! There are three porta-potties here, all in clean shape, with toilet paper, but without working hand sanitizer (so make sure you have that with you). One of the three is handicap accessible (as is the train - there is limited space for wheelchairs so they urge you to call in advance). Also, I highly doubt there is a bathroom on the train; at least I didn’t see one. However, the ride is only approximately 70 minutes, so that shouldn’t be too big a deal. Just be sure that everyone has ample time to go in advance, especially those getting potty trained.
The museum opens approximately 30 minutes before the day’s first departure and closes approximately 30 minutes following the day’s last arrival. Admission to the museum is complimentary. It is one large room that contains many historic artifacts, hands-on activities for your littles, including many train books to explore, and a miniature train set.
There are also many rail cars undergoing restoration and maintenance in the rail yard just outside of the museum entrance to check out.
About 10 minutes before departure, we hopped on the train.
Other than private parties or designated wheelchair areas, no seats are reserved. We decided to ride in the caboose. Some may prefer the open flat car near the engine, or one of the 1920’s enclosed coaches (windows open in nice weather). If you choose to ride on the caboose, you can’t move from the caboose to other cars while the train is in motion.
The train departed at 11 a.m. sharp (it was on the nose as it should be)! “All aboard” the conductor called out loud, as he was the last to hop on the departing train. Once the train is in motion, the conductor comes through to collect tickets. The conductor had a striking resemblance to Kris Kringle. ALL of the staff, made up mostly of volunteers - 50-60 of them! - were wonderfully accommodating, keeping us safe and answering our many questions.
The caboose turned out to be a great place to take the ride. Not only was it the rear of the train for the first 9 miles of the trip, but it became the front for the return leg! Also, the caboose has two lookout seats up a set of steps. The backs on these particular chairs changed direction for each of the two legs of the excursion.
I could easily see bringing an infant in a carrier on board (set on the floor), but I wouldn’t bring a stroller. With the doors open during the ride, you’ll want to make sure to keep your children within arm’s reach at all times. There is a WS staff member that prohibits anyone from walking out the back of the caboose during the ride.
There was also a folding card table here, likely for birthday party food, and balloons and banners decorated the inside of the car. It would be a great way to celebrate a child’s birthday. You can also charter one car or the whole train for events (corporate, weddings, etc.)
The train moves at “yard speed,” which is about 10 mph. Most of our scenery involved farm fields, wooded areas, and a Monocacy River crossing. We did cross one heavily-used automobile road, which gave the kids an opportunity to wave to folks stopped at the crossing from the windows. Occasionally, tree branches brushed up against the train. Be sure to look both ways before sticking your head out the window!
It was rare, but the train’s whistle would blow during the ride. From the caboose it wasn’t very loud. I say this as I know there are parents of sensory processing disorder kids who may be interested in this excursion.
I should also add that food and drink are fine on the train. There’s even a “hot dog man” concession pop-up tent near the ticket office and train, selling a variety of snack items. We easily brought on baby bottles and food and snacks we had packed for our littles. You will likely also want to pack sunglasses, sunblock, and hats for everybody.
At the end of the ride, you can check out their small souvenir shop inside the ticket office. They accept both cash and credit. It's always good to help fund and support a volunteer-driven, historical excursion such as this. Items we purchased ranged from $2-$5/each.
The WS is located in a relatively rural area. You will need to drive to find other activities to tack onto your day. Because we were coming to the excursion from near the Baltimore area, we passed the Frederick Municipal Airport on the way home. We decided to stop here at “Airways Inn” for lunch, which offers a plethora of casual food with windows to watch the small planes and some helicopters take off and land. The kids absolutely loved this. It kind of turned into a “planes, trains, and automobiles” day for us!
The WS regularly updates their Facebook page, so give it a “Like” to keep tabs on special events and happenings.
Amy is a member of CertifiKID's MOM Squad Ambassador program. She was given free admission to Walkersville Southern Railroad and Museum in exchange for her honest review.
Check out this CertifiKID Deal to save up to 36% off an Excursion Train Ride on the Walkersville Southern Railroad.
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