All Aboard! Travel by Train to Chicago

As lifelong Hoosiers, one of our favorite road trip destinations is, of course, Chicago. We’ve made the 3 1/2 hour drive to/from the big city many times, but the most interesting way to get there is to travel by train to Chicago! There are several great train routes that take you from the Midwest straight to Chicago.Must-read tips for traveling by train to Chicago!

We’ve traveled by train to Chicago from three different stations. While I’ll share some information that’s specific to these Midwest stations in this post, non-local readers should consider a Chicago train trip as well. We’re quite fond of train travel, and we’ve actually taken trips from Minneapolis and Spokane to Chicago by train too! Chicago is a major hub for train travel. For train travel tips that aren’t specific to the Midwest, check out this post. 

The Effingham (Illinois) station is a popular option, but be aware that it’s small and unmanned. There are a few indoor benches to sit on and a bathroom. Unlike airplane travel, there are no metal detectors or security screenings at the smaller train stations.

How and why to take a train to chicago

For local readers, Effingham is just over an hour from Terre Haute.

We’ve also traveled to and from the Mattoon, Illinois station. Like Effingham, it’s just over an hour away from Terre Haute. This station is a little bit bigger than Effingham. It has a small train museum, large seating area, and open space that is rented and used for groups. When we were there in November, there was a Christmas market happening in that area. Parking is free at the Mattoon station as well.

If you’re willing to drive just a little bit further, this same train also passes through Champaign-Urbana.

We usually compare prices on Amtrak.com and choose the station with the lowest price.

It’s worth noting that there’s a different Amtrak route that goes from Indianapolis to Chicago, but we’ve found this route to be significantly more expensive, and parking isn’t free in Indianapolis. With that said, the rumor is that the Indy to Chicago experience is a bit fancier and more upscale.

If you have a train-loving kiddo in your family, I have to recommend (with my affiliate link) the book Old Tracks, New Tricks as the next train-themed book to add to your collection or as read aloud book for your train trip. The author, Jessica Peterson, runs the site Play-Trains.com, takes amazing pictures (which you will see in her book), and is a friend. We connected online through our websites, and then we finally got to meet in person a few years ago! Check out this recommendation from Amazon:

“With rhyming text and clever word play, Old Tracks, New Tricks is sure to entertain parents and children of all ages, from train-obsessed toddlers to school-age kids looking for new ways to play with their old favorite toys. Full directions for each fun “trick” from the story can be found at the back of the book to inspire hours of creative train play.”

A few train travel tips:

  • Since a lot of the smaller stations are unmanned, don’t expect announcements about arrival times or departure information. Use the Amtrak app or call the Amtrak hotline for updates.
  • Be flexible with your schedule when traveling by train. On one occasion, our train was delayed by SIX HOURS. That was a rare exception. However, it’s not uncommon for trains to be delayed by 30-60 minutes. It is usually faster to travel by car.
  • With that said, kids don’t have to be buckled in on the train. This is priceless for our wiggly girls. We pass the time reading stories, playing games with grandparents, and drinking hot chocolate from the dining car.
  • When you travel by train, you don’t have to pay for parking in Chicago! This is most excellent. But you do need an alternate mode of transportation. We often use Ubers or taxis. For our big girls, we travel with these (affiliate link) inflatable booster seats so we’re not lugging around car seats or high-back boosters for these short trips.

Want to know even more?  We have a post with 25 tips for train travel that should be useful for all train traveling families!

What should you do once you arrive in Chicago? The possibilities are endless!

We often see girls on the train carrying their American Girl dolls. They’re on pilgrimage to the American Girl Store. Our family likes to go up at Christmastime for the Festival of Lights parade. And of course we love that we can visit the Field Museum FOR FREE! (Read THIS POST for details on this great deal.)

What do you think? Would a train trip be fun for your family?

Take a train to Chicago! Read these tips to be in the know before you go.

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