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How to Make a Cardboard Train Track

The San Diego Botanic Garden is a stunningly beautiful place. With 37 acres of plants, numerous different gardens, flowers, water features, wildlife, magical children’s spaces, and a view of the ocean, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this wonderful spot.

My kids have grown up at the San Diego Botanic Garden and we have so many special memories there. Wandering the trails, playing with bubbles, visiting turtle friends at the lotus pond, and the trains!

Photo from the San Diego Botanic Garden Website

In the Seeds of Wonder Garden, there is an adorable miniature garden railroad. The kids always get the biggest thrill from pushing the buttons that control the trains and watching them zoom around the tracks.

On Thursdays, they even have a volunteer conductor who comes to the garden and brings special trains. It’s a lot of fun and always a hit with the kids.

We used to go to the Botanic Garden several times a month.

Then the Pandemic Lockdown Happened

On one particular day, my kids were really missing the Botanic Garden, especially the trains in the Seeds of Wonder Garden.

We talked about how sad we were that we couldn’t go and visit the gardens. We talked about how much fun it is to see the trains. How cool it is to push the buttons and watch the trains move around the tracks. We honored the feelings.

But, rather than everyone staying bummed about it, I offered the suggestion that we could create our own little Botanic Garden experience in the backyard.

I thought we’d do a nature walk, pick some things from our garden, make some special bubbles, water the plants.

Letting Kids Lead

Well, my kids had ideas of their own. They decided that we should create our own outdoor cardboard train track just like the one at the Botanic Garden.

I was up for the challenge. It was a ton of fun and pretty easy to make.

We already had a few cardboard tunnels and train stations that we made a different day when we were playing Dinosaur Train (just like the kids TV show).

And we already had a couple of recycled trains we made a different day when we were inspired to use our stash of cardboard tubes.

We stacked the tunnels, cut strips of cardboard for the tracks, and taped it all together. The kids drew train track lines on the railroad.

Building our train track occupied most of the morning and then we had fun playing with it later in the day. 

My oldest even created red and blue buttons just like the Botanic Garden so they could pretend to control the trains. I love the thought they put into it and the attention to detail!

This would be a really fun activity to do around the holidays too! I can envision creating a fun winter solstice or Christmas cardboard train track with all the boxes that seem to accumulate around the holidays.

Supply List

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Packing tape
  • Cardboard scissors (or regular scissors will work too)
  • Cereal boxes
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Hot glue and hot glue gun or regular craft glue
  • Markers or paint (optional)

Tips and Directions

  • Tunnels – create tunnels by cutting the tops off of cardboard boxes and turning them upside down. Cut archways on two sides
  • Track – cut pieces of cardboard and tape them together to make the track. Draw lines on them for the railroad – optional
  • Train Stations – Make train station platforms out of cereal boxes, cardboard tubes, and cardboard
  • Trains – make trains out of cardboard tubes and cardboard with hot glue (regular glue will work, but we didn’t want to wait for them to dry so I used hot glue instead).

Book Recommendations

If your kids love trains as much as mine do, I highly recommend the book Trucker and Train written by Hannah Stark and illustrated by Bob Kolar.

We read a lot of train, truck, and race car books and this is a particularly sweet story.

There are fun clicka-clacka-tack noises to read, counting by 2’s, and an emphasis on helping each other, not just racing to the end.

More Botanic Garden Fun

Even though the kids garden areas are still closed, the San Diego Botanic Garden is open again and we’ve been able to visit and enjoy the plants, paths, and turtles again!

If you’re into nature-based, Botanic Garden inspired fun, be sure and check out these fun resources on the San Diego Botanic Garden’s website.

What Will You Create?

If you give this project a try, please share your pictures with us. We’d love to see what you create! And if you’re into cardboard crafts and projects, be sure to check out my post How to Make a Toy Ice Cream Cart out of a Cardboard Box!