My boys love trains. As I write, they are filling all available floor space in our house with an elaborate wooden train layout. After umpteen rides on the Zilker Zephyr over the years, we finally ventured up to Leander to give the Cedar Rock Railroad a whirl.
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Upon entering Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, directional signs guided us to the depot tucked deep in the heart of the park. When we arrived around 10:30 on a recent Saturday morning, boarding was in process with no line. We purchased our tickets ($2.50 per person; cash only; Infants 1 & under are free) and hopped right on the train. The only wait we experienced was for a few more folks to make their way over. Michael, our engineer and conductor, kindly explained that he never likes to disappoint anyone by departing just as someone’s pulling into the parking lot. Even if it held us up a few minutes, I appreciated the gesture. Who among us hasn’t had to deal with a sad kiddo in one of those just-missed-it situations? Don’t despair if the train’s not ready and waiting when you get there. The depot is nestled in a shady little forest with plenty of room for romping and where, even on a hot summer day, a short wait should be bearable.
The train meandered through the park on a 1.3 mile ride that lasted about 15 minutes. We wound through stands of gnarly oak trees; past fields of cactus; around a scenic little fishing pond; and alongside numerous fields of the soccer and cricket varieties. The highlight for my boys, as on every train they’ve ever ridden, was the long, dark tunnel. They also got a kick out of the whistling and chuffing sounds piped through the train’s sound system. You see, Sophie the locomotive is battery powered, so she is virtually noiseless and–best of all–she doesn’t stink!
When I asked the kiddos how they thought this train compared to the Zephyr my six year-old explained, “Well, the Zilker Zephyr’s in the city and Sophie’s out in the country.” What the ride may lack in exhilarating city views, it makes up in the charm of the train itself. Sophie the locomotive is a ¼-scale beauty, complete with a hand carved walnut cab. The passenger sections are comfortable with wooden seats and covered cars that offer a bit more wiggle room than those on the Zephyr. After our ride my oldest reflected, “It felt to me like I was on a real train!” Indeed. Most impressively to me, the train’s backstory is a true labor of love, culminating in its owners hand-laying all of the tracks themselves. The details can be found here if you’d like to know more.
A ride on the Cedar Rock Railroad could easily be turned into a full day adventure. Pack a lunch and take advantage of all that the park has to offer. A 1.7-mile crushed granite trail weaves its way through the more populous areas of the park, including a couple of railroad crossings. We enjoyed a jaunt on the more rugged Jim Rodgers Trail, a 1.8-mile horseshoe great for hiking and easy off-road biking. It’s partially adjacent to the well-reviewed and mostly shaded 18-hole disc golf course ($1 per person). What we briefly thought was a wildlife encounter on the trail turned out to be a disc golfer hunting for a stray driver. We did see evidence of wild hogs (don’t fret, they’re nocturnal) and heard from several regulars that deer sightings are common in the area. The park also boasts tennis and basketball courts, an excellent playscape, loads of prime picnic spots and–come warmer weather–the Quarry Splash Pad ($2 per person.)
Things to know before you go:
- The train runs Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting. Closed on Mondays. The train departs every 30 minutes at :15 and :45 after the hour.
- The train can be rented for parties ($65 for up to 42 people). If you arrive when a private ride is taking place, be prepared for the possibility of wait as they complete their loop.
- Southwest Williamson County Regional Park encompasses nearly 800 acres. Be prepared to drive from Point A to Point B if you stick around after your train ride.
- There is no restroom at the train depot; plan accordingly.