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.
Today we will start with the most popular trains in Ohio:
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Built in 1880 to transport coal and passengers, this railway became part of the B&O Railroad and the Chessie Line, before interest in creating a scenic excursion on the existing rails became a reality in 1972.
Running from Independence to Akron along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath, the railroad now takes riders through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where visitors can experience reclaimed wetland habitats, forests and rolling hills. Passengers can board or disembark at three stations to explore the park, or ride a specialty train throughout the season.
Railway and Locomotive Types
The Cuyahoga runs on standard gauge rails with diesel engines. Its passenger cars vary from comfortable enclosed coach cars to elegant lounge, café, dome, and dining cars, outfitted to enhance the golden age of transportation.
The railroad offers several classes of service to its passengers:
- Coach All Day Pass – Get on and off the train throughout the day, exploring the national park at your leisure. These tickets have general unassigned seating.
- Table Top – Assigned seating with tables in a dining car.
- First Class – Assigned seating with padded chairs and tables in first class enclosed car.
- Executive Class – Assigned seating in a lounge car, with complimentary muffin and beverage.
- Upper Dome – Assigned seating in a dome observation car, with padded seats and tables.
Check the train schedule to select dates, times and classes of service available to fit your travel schedule.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has a wide variety of rail cars in which to enjoy your excursion:
- Enclosed Coach Car – Seating is unassigned in a passenger car with sections of four seats – two facing each other.
- Vintage Dining Car – Four-top seating is assigned in a restored enclosed car.
- Dome Observation Car – Assigned seats in a panoramic glass-enclosed observation car, with seats configured in groups of four with a table between.
- Polar Express – Wear your pajamas and join the fun on the Polar Express train, running from November 8 through December 21. Cookies and cocoa warm up the occasion as the train makes its way into North Pole Village, where caroling elves greet children and the young at heart. Santa even makes an appearance.
- Murder Mystery Train – Special Friday night trains cater to the detective in you, with a murder mystery that must be solved before the ride is over. Wear period costumes, indulge in appetizers and dig up clues to find a culprit as the railroad leads passengers down the tracks on this two-hour excursion.
- Ales on Rails – Enjoy five beer samples paired with appetizers as you learn about the brews’ body, aroma, and finish. Available to those 21 and over, passengers will take home great memories and a commemorative tasting glass.
- Dinner Train – Fall and Summer dinner trains on Friday evenings include a two-hour train ride with an elegant four-course meal and complimentary bar service.
Length of Season
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs year-round, but specialty rides have specific dates of service. Explore the Cuyahoga Valley National Park by train, or bring your bicycle and utilize their “Bike Aboard” option, with several stops to carry you and your two-wheeler down the line.
Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad
Begun as the Mineral Railroad in 1864, these tracks were initially laid the bring salt and coal from Athens to Columbus, Ohio, with a cannon on board to announce the train’s arrival into each city.
By 1899, the line had attained the name of Hocking Valley Railway, transporting cargo and commuters, but the Great Depression brought an end to passenger travel along those rails. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that volunteers began to resurrect the railroad, creating today’s weekend trains that run between Nelsonville and Haydenville, from Memorial Day through the end of October. There are also several special event trains that run on specific dates.
Railway and Locomotive Types
These standard gauge tracks support diesel engines with a variety of cars, dependent upon the season and the event. A couple of days each year the Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad hosts a Steam Day, where passengers ride behind a restored 1920 coal-fired steam locomotive. This treat sells out quickly, so check the schedule and grab your tickets early!
All seating is unassigned, with space available in heated, enclosed coaches, and in summer several cars have air conditioning, while others have windows that can be opened.
Most cars are enclosed with general seating, but some specialty trains include double-decker cars or cabooses. Select the car you are most comfortable in and enjoy the ride through Hocking River country to see the river locks.
- Easter Bunny Train & Egg Hunt – Enjoy a two-hour round-trip outing to the Easter Bunny’s secret hidden egg location, where children hunt for eggs that contain prizes. Only two Bunny Trains are on the schedule, so hop on over to the website to get your tickets!
- Ohio’s Friendliest Train Robbery – Get robbed by train bandits along the tracks on this special train. These robbers are looking for loot when they stop the train, so be prepared with some “fake” bills!
- All Caboose Train – On August 31 a collection of privately-owned cabooses is assembled on the train, with each passenger given the opportunity to disembark and photograph the “caboose train” as it rolls down the rails.
- Trunk or Treat Train – Dress your kids in their scariest costumes to collect treats as the train winds its way through spooky Hocking Valley.
- New Year’s Eve Train & Fireworks – Take a ride through the evening countryside, stopping at the stroke of midnight to enjoy fireworks from the train.
Length of Season
The Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad is run by an all-volunteer group, with trains scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October. Specialty trains have specific dates running from April to the end of the year.
Cincinnati Dinner Train
This unique railway has been in existence for 10 years, capturing passengers’ attention with a twist on Date Night. Ride in one of four authentic 1949 dining cars along the Ohio River while indulging in a scrumptious four-course meal, complete with live musical entertainment.
Riders are encouraged to dress in period clothing, as an event photographer snaps candid images of everyone onboard. The entire trip is 25 miles, completed in three hours with passengers limited to those over 12 years old. It’s the perfect recipe for some time with loved ones in a unique atmosphere.
Railway and Locomotive Types
The Cincinnati Dinner Train runs on standard gauge rails with a diesel engine powering the train. The dining cars are all circa the 1940s, with a kitchen car used to provide hot-from-the-oven meals onboard.
Staff assigns seating after the reservations have been made on the dinner train. All cars are climate-controlled dining cars with tables for four, although there are a few two-person tables. Tickets are all the same price and children under 12 are only allowed on chartered cars.
The dinner train consists of a four-course dinner, served in authentic 1940s dining cars during a three hour narrated train ride. All cars offer the same amenities, so there are no varying classes of service available. Check out their schedule for dates of service.
Besides the Saturday evening dinner trains, passengers have the following optional opportunities:
- Locomotive Cab Ride – A seat is available every Saturday evening in the diesel locomotive. One lucky rail fan can eat dinner with his or her friends and family on the way out of the depot, then ride with the train’s engineer in the cab all the way back. The ticket includes a Cincinnati Dinner Train cap to commemorate the occasion.
- Private Cars – Procure one, two, three or all four dining cars for your own private event. Each car can handle from 12 to 60 passengers, and ticket prices include dinners, taxes and gratuities. And if you anticipate a very large event, rent the entire train!
- 1949 Train – The September 7th dinner train hearkens back to the late 1940s. Dinner is served in the authentic 1949 dining cars, with retro entertainment by the Queen City Sisters singing hit songs from that time frame. Guests are encouraged to don costumes reminiscent of the Big Band era, with a photographer on hand to capture the essence of historical fashion.
- Labor Day Fireworks Train – Enjoy dinner on the September 1st evening train as it heads downtown, where Cincinnati celebrates the end of Summer with a blast!
Length of Season
The Cincinnati Dinner Train runs every Saturday (except Thanksgiving weekend) from March through December. The dress is business casual and no jeans, shorts or flip-flops are allowed.
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 on Fridays.