RVing the Rails – Excursion Trains in Missouri 302

Many times camping trips involve exploring new territory and discovering enticing attractions along the way. Passenger tour trains have that magnetic appeal for many RVers, providing a novel way to see hidden countryside not normally viewed from the road. Railroad passengers learn about local history, culture and the many colorful characters from the communities visited. Camping World wants to make sure you don’t miss the departing whistle, so we have created a series entitled RVing the Rails. You will find the most popular excursion trains to ride in each state, complete with any specialty trains they might offer.

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World

Today we will explore the most popular trains in Missouri:

Branson Scenic Railway

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World
Photo Credit: Doug Wertman (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Started as part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, running from Kansas City to Little Rock, Arkansas, this railway was responsible for introducing tourism to the Ozarks in the early 1900s. Back then, the local spur was called the White River Railway, and with the advent of visitors to the area, Branson became known as a local getaway for Missourians.

Today, the city is nationally recognized for its family-friendly entertainment venues, and the Branson Scenic Railway provides tourists with a beautiful trip through Ozark mountain landscapes on historic rails.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The railroad is run on standard gauge tracks by a diesel engine pulling restored first class passenger coaches, lounge cars and a caboose.

Seating Options

All seating on the Branson Scenic Railway is open, but with several enclosed passenger cars and two dome cars, boarding is done in the order reservations were received. So reserve your tickets early for choice seating selections.

Passengers are encouraged to move throughout the train and inspect each of the restored vintage cars during the trip. You won’t miss a thing, though, as music and narration are piped through each car.

Riding Options

Leaving the Branson Depot, passengers have the option to take the train north or south:

  • Northern travelers will venture to Galena, Missouri, and the James River Valley.
  • Southern passengers travel into northern Arkansas to the Barren Trestle.

Both trips are narrated and point out the historic tunnels, trestles and extinct railroad towns, with information on how train travel helped to shape the Ozark Mountains in this area. Each tour is approximately 20 miles and is completed in two hours. Much of the journey is through forested mountainous topography, over trestles and through railroad tunnels.

Specialty Trains

  • Dinner Train – Enjoy a first class meal in a restored coach car, as you wind your way through the Ozark Mountains. Dinner trains run on Saturday evenings from April through October.
  • Polar Express – Take a trip to the North Pole to pick up Santa for the return ride. During that time all guests will enjoy cocoa and cookies, the story of the Polar Express, and talking with Santa about that special Christmas wish!

Length of Season

The Branson Scenic Railway runs from March through December, with daily departures twice a day during the week, and four times daily on weekends. Check their schedule for specialty trains and season departures.

St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World
Photo Credit: Missouri History Museum

With a name that is not remotely descriptive of its location, the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway explores the area around Jackson, located near Cape Girardeau in the southeastern corner of Missouri. The initial tracks ran from Texarkana, Arkansas to St. Louis, bringing iron ore from Iron Mountain to the Gateway of the West.

Today, this small portion of track is a shortline railway, preserving the heritage of historic railroads in the Ozark Mountains.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The Iron Mountain train is pulled by a diesel engine on standard gauge tracks. Its rolling stock includes several passenger coaches and a red caboose, all restored and run by volunteers who want to keep railroading alive by highlighting historical equipment and travel.

Seating Options

Seating is not assigned on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, with open seats available in enclosed passenger cars. An optional ticket for a cab ride in the engine is also available for an additional cost.

Riding Options

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World

The railway is five miles long, with most train rides about two hours in length. This allows for a stop at Cactus Gulch, where passengers can disembark and sit by the campfire to make s’mores, listen to music and play games. There are no side spurs or one-way tickets sold, but all trains are specialty trains, so check the schedule to see which train will be running on your day of departure.

Specialty Trains

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World
Photo Credit: Feral Boy (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Murder Mystery Dinner Theater – Each month a murder mystery gets solved on an evening dinner train. Don’t miss the intrigue or the departure!
  • James Gang Train Robbery – Jesse and the boys hale from Missouri, so it’s only fitting that they rob the local train before hitting banks out of state. And believe it or not, this very railroad was robbed by the James-Younger Gang back in 1874!
  • Dinosaur Train – Learn about these leftovers from the Jurassic Era, and dig for fossils at a train stop that every child will love!
  • Cowboy Chuck Wagon Dinner Train – Mosey right up to the chuck wagon dinner train, with a stop for great vittles and some bluegrass music.
  • Chocolate Express – Chocoholics will think they have taken the train to heaven when they realize the chocolate is unlimited on this sweet journey!
  • Santa Express – Watch as Santa attempts to land on the moving train. If he is successful, everyone can celebrate with songs, games and Christmas magic on this popular ride.

Length of Season

The Iron Mountain runs every Saturday from mid April through December. Because the Santa Express is their most popular train, departures are increased and run Friday through Sunday from Thanksgiving weekend through December 22. Check out their full schedule here.

Belton, Grandview & Kansas City Railroad

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World
Photo Credit: KCRRM.org

Begun as the Burlington Northern that ran from Kansas City to Springfield, the current railway began to take shape when service was cut off at Clinton in the 1970s. The Belton, Grandview & Kansas City Railroad began excursion tours in 1991 as a project of the Smoky Hill Railway and Historical Society.

The heritage railroad was a way to preserve rail travel and railroading history in the South Kansas City area.

Railway and Locomotive Types

A 1950s diesel locomotive pulls a passenger coach and an open excursion car from the 1920s along a standard gauge track. The rail yard also has several pieces of rolling stock to explore, including two steam locomotives and freight and club cars.

Seating Options

All seating is open, with no assigned seats in an enclosed passenger car that holds 60. The five mile excursion can also be enjoyed from an open air gondola car.

Excursion Trains in Missouri - Camping World
Photo Credit: KCRRM.org

The Belton, Grandview & Kansas City Railroad does offer engine rides at an additional cost. These seats are limited to two customers per train. Tickets sell out frequently, so purchasing online in advance is usually a good idea.

Riding Options

The train runs a five-mile track through old town Belton and beyond. There are no side spurs or one-way tickets sold, but if there is need to add another train to the roster on a busy day, the railroad will gladly put new departures on the schedule to meet customer needs.

Specialty Trains

  • Ice Cream Train – Beat the summer heat with an ice cream social during your tour of the Missouri countryside. The open car is outfitted with picnic tables for a tasty train ride.
  • Halloween Train – Kids of all ages will enjoy a journey to the pumpkin patch, where games and goodies await, along with jack o’lanterns available for your own carving fun!
  • Santa Train – Join Santa on a trip along the tracks, as children discuss their Christmas wishes with him. Once back at the depot, passengers enjoy cocoa and cookies.

Length of Season

The railroad is open on weekends from May through October, with the Santa trains scheduled on two weekends in December. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes and passengers need to be ready to board 20 minutes before departure.


 

Join the thousands of RVers that have a love affair with trains and ride the rails on your next camping trip. Check out the other excursion trains available on a state-by-state basis in our series, RVing the Rails.

Excursion trains in Missouri

Shelley Dennis Contributor
Shelley Dennis is a travel photographer and writer who threw caution to the wind and gave up most of her belongings to travel the country in an RV. Her trusty sidekick for this lifetime adventure is her Golden Retriever, Sully. You can find them both at www.PhotoTrippingAmerica.com

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