How Do You Make Mountains and Hills for Your Model Railroad?

As train enthusiasts, when we think about model railroads, we tend to focus on the trains themselves and the tracks they run on. That said, if you really want to bring a set to life, the surroundings–like hills, mountains, and trees–are just as important. Still, how exactly do you make mountains and hills for a model railroad set?

You can make mountains and hills for your model railroad using plaster, foam and low-loft padding. The plaster and foam are used to create the frame of the landscape, while the padding is added for texture. Of course, you’ll also need to paint them natural colors. 

If you’re looking to bring your model railroad set to life with convincing surroundings like mountains and hills, you’ve come to the right place. In our guide below we will present you with some tips and techniques to create surroundings that not only look great but will last a long time as well. So without further ado, let’s just dive right into it!

model trains so popular
David B. Photo

What to Consider When Making Landscapes for Model Railroads 

There are a few things you should really keep in mind when making the landscape (hills and mountains) for your model railroad.

Below we’ve listed a few things you should really consider before making hills and mountains for your model railroad: 

  • Texture: When it comes to making your mountains and hills look convincing, texture is everything. A smooth, glossy texture on hills and mountains just doesn’t really look all that convincing. However when the hills look truly grassy and the mountains actually look rocky, everything really just comes to life. 
  • Color: If you step outside and gaze at the landscape you’ll notice that it is far more full of color than we usually think about. Grassy hills aren’t just green. There are all kinds of different shades mixed together. You should emulate that in the landscape you create for your model railroad. Use greens, browns, and yellows to really make it pop. 
  • Size: You really need to make sure that you make your hills and mountains the right size for your model railroad. If they are too big or small they just won’t look natural next to your train and track.

Once you have a plan drawn up, you will be ready to get started actually making it. In the next section we’ll give you some ideas on how to do just that. 

How Do You Make Mountains and Hills for Model Railroads?

Mountains and hills are some of the most majestic creations of nature. Therefore, recreating them on a smaller scale–while maintaining that majesty–can be really tricky. What are some ways you can make realistic mountains and hills for your model railroad set? 

Below we’ve outlined some steps you can take and options you have in creating convincing mountains and hills for your model railroad:

Gather Your Supplies 

Your mountains and hills can be made out of anything from foam to plaster. Plaster is perhaps the most popular medium through which to make terrains for model railroads. 

Below we’ve listed some of the supplies you’ll likely need to build your terrain: 

  • Plaster/foam 
  • Low-loft quilted padding (optional for adding texture)
  • Latex paint 

Of course, these aren’t the only supplies you can use to make a basic terrain. Still, they are some of the most common and easiest to work with.

why are model trains popular
David B. Photo

Create the Basic Terrain 

Before you get into the nitty-gritty details, you first need to form the basic shapes of mountains and hills around your railroad. These shapes can be made from foam, plaster or a combination of the two. 

Whatever supplies you use, you need to either mold or cut it into the shape of a mountain range or some rolling hills. Don’t worry that it still doesn’t look like the real thing, we’re just creating a basic frame to build upon. 

Add Color and Texture to Your Mountains and Hills

Now that you have the basic outline of your mountains and hills created with plaster and/or foam, it’s time to add some color and texture to your landscape. 

The following steps will walk you through one way you can go about adding color and texture to the base of your mountains and hills:

  • Cut out your Low-loft quilted padding: You want to cut your low loft quilted padding so it is long enough and wide enough to cover the surface of the basic mountain and hill shapes you created with plaster and/or foam. When you have it cut out just make sure it fits snugly over your mountains/hills frame.
  • Spread glue on your plaster/foam frame: Evenly spread your matte Modge Podge glue over that frame you created of basic mountain/hill shapes. 
  • Press the padding to the frame: Now you just need to press the padding down evenly over the entire frame. If you find any bare spots you can just cut out another piece of padding and cover them with it. 
  • Paint your landscape natural colors: Once the glue dries you just want to get to work with your latex paint and paint all the scenery its natural colors.

Once you have the basic mountains and hills created you should consider maybe adding things like shrubbery and landmarks to really fill everything in. Additionally, if you don’t already have a backdrop, consider adding one that blends in with the landscape you just created.  

So Really, How Do You Make Mountains and Hills for a Model Railroad?

Making mountains and hills for a model railroad isn’t as hard as it might seem if you know what supplies to use and how to use them. 

With nothing but a bit of plaster, quilted padding, and some latex paint, you can really make some majestic scenery for your model railroad. 



Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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