Traveling with kids can be an overwhelming challenge. Between endless drives, expensive airline baggage fees, and hours of waiting to get where you are going, family vacations often feel like too much work. Luckily, US train travel for families is a dream come true!
Far more kid-friendly than airplanes or cars, trains allow kids more freedom to spread out and have fun. While there are some incredible advantages, you’ve got to approach train travel differently. Here’s how to plan the perfect journey, along with inspiration on some unforgettable routes.
Kids Travel Free
We’ve talked before about how to snag free flights for your kids, now let’s talk about cheap train travel. Amtrak has impressive kids’ fares that are key to planning cheap family trips. Like airlines, kids under two travel for free. This is an even better perk on a train because there are no assigned seats. If the train isn’t sold out, you can grab a couple of seats together.
On top of free travel for toddlers, older kids and teens get discounts too! Every time you buy a single adult ticket, you are entitled to two half-price tickets for kids. Any child 15 or under can take advantage of the deal. The final cherry on top? This applies even when you’re paying with Amtrak Guest Rewards.
Amtrak Luggage Fees
While airways these days are charging for virtually every item you carry onto a plane, trains are far laxer. Amtrak allows you to bring up to 50 pounds of luggage (in up to two suitcases) for free. If you have kids under two years old, you can also pack virtually whatever you need for free. This includes strollers, diaper bags, cots, and any other kids’ essentials.
VIP Kids Travel
I’d highly recommend checking out the Red Cap service from Amtrak. They offer a porter who can help you lug all of the kids’ stuff and baggage. It’s totally free, and the majority of train stations offer it. They’re always happy to help, so don’t feel like you’re putting anyone out (it’s their job!). Just have some small change with you for a tip. It’s generally expected.
See What You Want, When You Want
When it comes to family train travel, it’s all about flexibility. The last thing you want is an endless journey with “are we there yet?” forever echoing in the air. That’s why flexible tickets are a game-changer.
Plan ample stops on your journey. Look for routes that have kid-friendly attractions throughout. Make the journey engaging by always being close to the next stop. With the Red Cap baggage assistance, it’s easy to hop on and off.
US Train Travel for Families: Best Routes
Explore the East Coast
Hop on the train at New York Penn Station and follow it up the Hudson River. The Ethan Allen Express travels through upstate New York then onto Vermont. The six-hour trip will take you through a Revolutionary War battlefield, Saratoga Race Track, and near Lake George Village. For summer trips, plan a picture-perfect bike ride, and, in the winter, it’s all about Killington Ski Area.
Plan an overnight at the Courtyard by Marriott Lake George. This comfortable and accomodating place is your perfect family-friendly Lake George Village hotel.
Grand Canyon Railway
The trip from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon is an unforgettable adventure. During this cool Wild West-inspired trip, kids can watch reenacted train robbery and peer out the window at the 12,000-foot San Francisco Peaks. If you want to just go for a day trip, this journey will drop you off at the Grand Canyon for four hours then bring you back down to Williams. What could be easier?
If you do opt to spend the night at the Grand Canyon, check out Yavapai Lodge. Located right on the South Rim, you couldn’t have a better base for exploring with the little ones.
Explore the lush green Northwest from Eugene to Seattle. Pass by the breathtaking Mount St. Helens. Look out the window at the Columbia River Gorge. Admire Mount Rainier. If you want to explore the kid-friendly laidback cities of the Northwest while getting to see the mountains, this is one of the top picks for US train travel for families.
The most epic American train journey is on Alaska National. The Parks by Rail is often done along with an Alaskan cruise. Going by land and sea gives you a chance to see the Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks as well as the famous Mount McKinley. Between the glaciers and whales, the kids will be in total awe of this one of a kind landscape.
Booking US Train Travel for Families
Feeling inspired? It’s time to jump! While plane tickets vary wildly in price from day to day, train tickets costs are pretty consistent and predictable. The tickets are available 11 months in advance and the price continually increases. The sooner you buy, the better price you will get. While you will find sales, you’ll pretty much always get the best price by booking ahead of time.
Another great thing about Amtrak is that if you do find a better price on your journey, they’ll give it to you. So, book your tickets as early as possible then just keep an eye on the prices. If you see a bargain, ring Amtrak and ask them to match the new price.