The Model Railroad Garden at Chicago Botanic Gardens

What a difference two years makes.

I say that primarily because about two years ago, we visited the Model Railroad Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I am just now sharing my experience there with you all! 

The Model Railroad Garden is an upcharge attraction when visiting the Botanic Garden, which itself used to charge only for parking, but now charges admission per adult, but nonetheless, quite worth it in my opinion, despite its relatively small size in comparison to some of the other exhibits.

I first visited the Model Railroad Garden when I was about 10 or so, and it definitely connected my love of trains with the love of the outdoors and picturesque landscapes. The outdoors and manicured gardens offer a sense of realism that many railroad models just can't replicate, but that's not to say I enjoy exhibits like the Museum of Science and Industry's Great Train Story any less interesting.

A Santa Fe model in action at the Garden, one of numerous 2 gauge scale trains. I believe there's a few different scales on display, but the majority of the models are 2 gauge, or 1:29 size.

The models travel about landscapes which themselves tell a story of railroad development through nature, particularly as railroads expanded out west and through the mountains. The Midwest was fairly easy to develop lines, but that certainly wasn't the case throughout westward expansion, something the Milwaukee Road learned all too well.

The same model crosses a wooden bridge.

As you make your way through the Garden, you will find that there are trains not only near the ground, but much closer to eye level as well. The bridge below certainly wasn't designed for people over 6 feet tall like myself, as I felt like I had to duck to avoid it, but it certainly made for a picturesque scene, and creating a sense of scale that some incredibly large railroad bridges, like the Kinzua Bridge, would have had.

You can definitely get a sense of how impressive some of these trestles are from just the pictures!

The more you walk through the exhibit, more model tracks become visible, some of which are smaller scales. It only takes about 5 minutes to walk through the entire Garden, but that's assuming you're not spending time enjoying watching the models fly by; we spent a solid 30 minutes just watching trains, and we certainly could have spent longer if we'd wanted!

An Amtrak model was one of my favorite scenes, especially as the trestle comes quite close to the water.

There is definitely a chance for connection between young and old here in ways that other Botanic Garden exhibits don't feature; the older I got, the more I began to appreciate the other areas of the Garden, such as the Conservatories, and the Bonzai exhibits, but as a 10 year old, this was by far the most fascinating place in the Gardens!

In the center of the Garden lies a bronze Statue of Liberty, which was the original color of the statue before it got its distinctive green due to wear over time.

As somebody who does not model themselves due to a lack of time, will and most importantly, money, it is always interesting to see such incredible exhibits, and while modeling railroads are difficult enough, modeling in Garden railways is even more difficult, as the surroundings must match the model, creating even more complexity, so I am quite fascinated and marveled at this exhibit, which in spite of its relatively small size, is worth a visit if you ever find yourself at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

There's a great YouTube video showing the Garden Railroad in action which also discusses the maintenance behind it, embedded below;

Thanks as always for reading!


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