By Shayna Mace
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
In the mood for a little nostalgia mixed with modern-day fun? Hop on one of these train rides throughout the state and pair it up with stops nearby for family activities to make a day—or weekend—of it.
The East Troy Interurban Trail Line carried passengers between East Troy and Milwaukee from 1907 to 1939. Now it’s a popular museum and features a 14-mile train ride with three stops.
In the fall catch the train at the depot, Indianhead Park or the Elegant Farmer, both in Mukwonago. The Elegant Farmer boasts apple and pumpkin picking, hayrides and pony rides, a corn maze, farm market and delicious bakery.
Drive over to the family-friendly Gus’s Drive-In for a dose of nostalgia, half-pound Angus burgers and the custard of the day. Lodging options abound in this Milwaukee suburb, but if you’re sans kids, check out the Pickwick Inn Bed & Breakfast in East Troy. The quaint Victorian inn has rooms named after Victorian authors, reading nooks and a fireplace for chilly nights.
Green Bay’s National Railroad Museum is a wonderful step back in time for train enthusiasts who can hop aboard the vintage diesel locomotive for a 25-minute tour of the museum. Enjoy viewing vintage train cars and learning how trains tied into our nation’s history.
Animal lovers should head to the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park for fun and physical activity, too. Budding historians will appreciate Heritage Hill State Historical Park, a park and museum that profiles history in northeastern Wisconsin from 1672 to 1940.
Of course you can’t visit Green Bay without a mention of the Packers—so embrace it and visit the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, too. Stay just a football’s throw from Lambeau Field at the Tundra Lodge Resort, where families will love the indoor waterpark and arcade.
Operating out of the 1916 SOO Line depot, the St. Croix Valley Railroad has train rides on the historic Empire Builder fleet. Take a Saturday ride to view the scenery.
After your ride hop over to ogle Cascade Falls, a beautiful waterfall located just minutes away from the depot in downtown Osceola. (Please note: The Cascade Falls Trail Head is currently closed, but there are other posted routes around the closure to enjoy the falls.) Then drive northeast to Dresser to the Trollhaugen Aerial Adventure Park for fun on 3,000 feet of zip line that takes you through the treetops. Kids will love the aerial challenge course, too—and both are open until October 30.
In Dresser the Village Pizzeria is a great family-friendly restaurant with a full menu. Another short drive northeast takes you to FAWN-DOE-ROSA, a wildlife education park with a petting zoo and farm animals. End at Interstate Park, Wisconsin’s oldest state park that overlooks the St. Croix National Riverway, for stellar views and hiking trails.
Imagine the golden years of rail travel, from the Civil War up to WWII, and you’ve got the perfectly preserved Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. This living, breathing railway station plus museum offers plenty of themed train rides throughout the year—like the Autumn Color, Pumpkin Special, Santa Express and Snow Train excursions.
From there animal lovers can drive five minutes northwest to Rock Springs to the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue to see tigers, leopards and lions up close. The rescue houses these furry felines to live out their years in a restful, relaxing atmosphere. Or get away from it all with a quick jaunt north to Baraboo to the International Crane Foundation (open until October 31). Visitors can view all 15 of the world’s crane species on a guided tour or take a hike on two miles of trails.
On the opposite end of the spectrum families will love Circus World, a tribute to everything under the big top, also in Baraboo. View hundreds of legendary circus wagons, check out the original circus buildings and learn about the glory years of the Ringling Brothers circus.
Dovetailing with the circus theme, stay at the six-room Ringling House Bed & Breakfast in Baraboo for a quaint, cozy retreat. Rooms are named after Ringling family members as well as actual circus performers.
In the morning eat at the Log Cabin Restaurant and Bakery, a renowned eatery with an Up North look and down-home food and baked goods.