Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Hope Valley Railway

Do you have a kiblet who loves choo-choo trains? Even though we have two girls, they love them too. Opportunities to ride the rails aren't always easy to work out. The train to and from Raleigh can be hard to fit into the nap schedule, though some parents I know send one parent out by car while the other takes Amtrak with the little ones. You can do the same to Charlotte, though that can be just a little too long on the train. So for a little railroad adventure not too far from home, here's a fun trip for a weekend drive.

What it is: New Hope Valley Railway was started by a handful of grown-up rail enthusiasts who just up and bought a section of vintage tracks and started fixing up old trains to ride on them. Now they run special trains for the general public once a month, usually five rides on the first Sunday of each month. The parking lot has a giant model railroad for the kids to admire, complete with a Thomas engine (though it's fenced off from little hands, or big ones for that matter). You then cross over a bridge from the parking lot into the rail yard, which has, well, locomotives and wagons to scramble through. On the Sundays when they operate for the general public, they hitch up a locomotive to three or four open-air wagons fitted with benches, and you ride out a few miles through the woods, then watch them switch the locomotive to the other end of the train to pull you back into the station.

What we liked: This was a nice break from our usual activities, with something in it for everyone. The kids liked the ride (and feeling the wind in their faces), and once my girls discovered that the undersides of locomotives had giant bells hanging down, there was no stopping them--nor did anyone seem to mind. We liked getting out and driving through the country to get there, and doing something out of the ordinary. The ride on the train can seem a bit long for fidgety kids, so pack a snack and some drinks!

What we would change: The railroad website really pushes buying advance tickets, but that's really not necessary, they're easily purchased on the spot, though arriving 30 minutes ahead of departure is a good idea, as is saving your seats onboard for the choice seats. The food/drinks onsite are, predictably, limited and overpriced, so you might want to pack your own, plus snacks for the train ride so the kids don't get too bored. On the day that we went, the weather was rainy, and it did end up affecting our enjoyment, so try to go on a nice warm day--I would imagine that on a hot day that breeze and those shady woods must feel great.

Website and other important information: The train is located in the tiny town of Bonsal, South of Apex along Hwy 1, which took us about 45 minutes to get to from downtown Durham. Our GPS found it fine.

Website: (The website will give you all the details.)

Fares: $10/adult and $7 for kids 2-12.


1. Watching the train switch tracks

2. The train we rode

3. The bridge from the parking to the railyard

4. The model railroad

5. A steaming locomotive

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