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19 Best Train Trips You Can Take in the U.S.

Traveling by train seems a bit old fashioned, but it’s the old faithful way to see beautiful America. All too often we opt to zoom to our destination via plane or jump in our vehicles when a tried and true traveling method awaits. While some locomotives are primitive in comparison to today’s standards (but super cool none-the-less), lines like Amtrak allow passengers to travel in luxury via window dome carts with delicious dining and cozy lodging. Imagine staying in a moving hotel while the scenery constantly changes. These are our favorite stunning train trips in the United States.

Durango & Silverton Railroad, Colorado Durango-Silverton train, Durango
Credit: Durango-Silverton train, Durango by bigstock.com

Durango & Silverton Railroad, Colorado

Visit Durango in southwestern Colorado and you can travel back in time more than 130 years by hopping aboard the historic Durango & Silverton Railroad steam train. In 45 miles, this narrow-gauge railway with rails just three feet apart, climbs from Durango at 6,512 feet above sea level to Silverton at 9,305 feet, with the views of 14,000-foot peaks, and the elevation, sure to take your breath away. The circa-1882, coal-fired, steam-operated train was specifically built to handle the narrow mountain routes, chugging along at 18 miles per hour as it climbs the steep and magnificent mountain passes. Once you reach the tiny and incredibly picturesque town of Silverton, tucked between two rugged San Juan Mountain passes, Red Mountain and Mola, you’ll have time to explore its downtown, much of which is a designated National Historic District with a number of interesting places to visit, including the San Juan County Historical Society, housed in the old county jail, as well as the Mayflower Gold Mill National Historic Site and the Old Hundred Gold Mine.

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, New Mexico and Colorado Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Credit: Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad by Wikimedia Commons

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, New Mexico and Colorado

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is the longest steam railroad at 64 miles, and the highest, at 10,015 feet, in the entire country. It travels from Chama, New Mexico, making its way to the terminus at Antonito, Colorado, providing spectacular views of the Chama Valley, hugging a sheer rock face and edging narrow gorge ledges with views 800 feet down before reaching the summit, where there are wildflower-filled alpine meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Passengers have their choice of a ride in a historic parlor car, open-air gondolas or coach cars, in this train that has made an appearance in over 20 Hollywood films, including “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.”

Mount Washington Cog Railway, Mount Washington, New Hampshire Mount Washington Cog Railroad
Credit: Mount Washington Cog Railroad by bigstock.com

Mount Washington Cog Railway, Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The Mount Washington Cog Railway, also called “The Cog,” runs both steam and biodiesel powered locomotives and takes a little less than three hours round trip, climbing approximately 3,500 feet up to the highest summit in New England. Here the views span the valleys and mountains of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean. The adventure includes time at the summit as well as free admission to the Observatory Museum, a museum featuring exhibits on the unique history, geology and weather on Mount Washington, including the opportunity to explore the science of climate and weather through fun, interactive exhibits like an air cannon, flow tank and wind room.

Amtrak Cascades, Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia Amtrak Cascades
Credit: Amtrak Cascades by Amtrak Cascades

Amtrak Cascades, Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia

This is an all-day ride at over 11 hours, but the trip is filled with spectacular scenery, with an abundance of seascapes and mountain peaks, including Mount Baker in the north and Mount Rainier in the south, along with misty rainforests, distant islands, tranquil countryside and wildlife. In fact, you may even see killer whales breaching in Puget Sound, but even if you don’t, you’re likely to spot an otter or harbor seal in the water and a bald eagle perched in the trees. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to stop and explore cities like Portland and Seattle, while the stop in Mount Vernon offers the chance to view a kaleidoscope of colors in the spring, with the tulips, daffodils and irises on full display.

Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic, Anchorage to Seward, Alaska Alaska Railroad
Credit: Alaska Railroad by Wikimedia Commons

Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic, Anchorage to Seward, Alaska

Visit Alaska and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered an entirely new country with a ridiculous amount of impressive, remote wilderness scenery and wildlife. On this journey, you’ll travel 114 miles through the Kenai Mountains, hugging the coast of the Turnagain Arm before stopping at Girdwood – passengers can stay the night at Alyeska Resort, or continue the adventure from there. It traverses through areas that are inaccessible to cars, passing brilliant blue glaciers and across a river gorge while bears and moose are occasionally spotted. Once in Seward, magnificent Resurrection Bay comes into view, with its waters frequented by humpback whales, orcas, harbor seals, porpoises, otters and sea lions. On the return trip, you can catch a glorious sunset over Cook Inlet and even take a Glacier and Wildlife Cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City, North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Credit: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad by vimeo

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City, North Carolina

Based in Bryson City, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is a premier scenic railroad that offers a one-of-a-kind experience in a remote corner of North Carolina, rolling through tunnels, across rivers and lakes, through mountain valleys and into a deep river gorge. Some trains have a diesel engine, while other rides feature the recently restored steam engine. The Nantahala Gorge excursion is a 4-1/2 hour, 44 mile round trip to the Nantahala Gorge, crossing the historic Fontana Lake trestle and stopping for an hour at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where passengers can opt to take rafting, zip-lining or jeep tours.

Cass Scenic Railroad, West Virginia Cass Railroad, West Virginia
Credit: Cass Railroad, West Virginia by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Cass Scenic Railroad, West Virginia

Built in 1901 to lug lumber through the mountains of West Virginia, the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park preserves America’s locomotive legacy. Tucked within the mountains of West Virginia, the park offers excursions that take passengers back in time, to an era when steam-driven locomotives were an important part of day-to-day life. It includes tales of the area’s rich history as well as impressive views of the vast wilderness area and the chance to get up close to the sights and sounds of original steam-driven locomotives. There are three possible routes to choose from, including an adventure up to Bald Knob, the highest summit of Back Allegheny Mountain at 4,842 feet. The overlook at Bald Knob provides a jaw-dropping view, and you’ll even see an abundance of plants typical to the Canadian wilderness. Another option is the jaunt to the historic logging town of Spruce, once one of the highest towns in the eastern United States. Today, all that’s left are concrete foundations of the mills, shops, and houses, although interpretive signs and a path that winds through the site can help you visualize the former town.

Napa Valley Wine Train, Napa Valley, California Napa Valley Wine Train
Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train by bigstock.com

Napa Valley Wine Train, Napa Valley, California

The Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the most popular attractions in California’s most famous wine country region. It offers a unique way to experience the picturesque scenery and some of the best wines too. The fully-operational antique train is powered by two modified 1950s-era engines that run on an eco-friendly combination of natural gas and diesel fuel. The locomotives pull vintage cars that have been refurbished to their original glory, including elaborate details like mahogany paneling, etched glass partitions and polished brass accents. It prides itself on immersing passengers in a bygone era and features a gourmet restaurant with a changing seasonal menu with fresh local ingredients prepared in the three fully operational kitchens on board. The train runs through the heart of the Napa Valley on a 3- mile round trip journey from Napa to St. Helena and back, passing lots of famous and historic wineries.

Empire Builder, Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington Empire Builder in Montana
Credit: Empire Builder in Montana by Loco Steve

Empire Builder, Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington

This lengthy journey travels 2,200 miles, all the way from Chicago to Seattle, for an adventure of a lifetime. The trip offers glimpses of seven of the northernmost states and the breathtaking Pacific Northwest, though the early part of the trip is admittedly dull, with endless cornfields and flatlands – until you reach Montana. At that point, you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the scenery, as suddenly those plains give way to lush hills, and before you know it, the dramatic peaks of the Rockies start to appear. It’s not long now before you’ll be in the heart of one of the most stunning spots in the country: Glacier National Park, and you can take it all in from the train’s glass-enclosed Sightseer Lounge. After two days of train travel, your adventure will come to a close in the Emerald City, Seattle, surrounded by soaring mountains and glistening water, just about every way you look.

Coast Starlight Coast Starlight
Credit: Coast Starlight by Lena Martynowa/shutterstock.com

Coast Starlight

Hop onboard in Los Angeles and prepare for a 1,400-mile journey to Seattle. The train glides by San Francisco Bay, later weaving through the dramatic Cascades. Routing through California, Oregon and Washington, this is one of the most efficient and breathtaking ways to explore the west coast. Not only will there be times your windows are pressed right against the ocean, but you’ll dive deep within lush forests and inland nature.

Sunset Limited Sunset Limited
Credit: Sunset Limited by Amtrak.com

Sunset Limited

This train departs from New Orleans and makes its way through striking desert regions, ultimately reaching Los Angeles. So grab a roast beef po’ boy from R & O’s in The Big Easy, and get ready for 2,000 miles of open plains, stretching skies and other very “western movie” terrain. Amtrak’s site notes you can also divert via other train rides if your yearning to see other portions of the country—Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight, Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquins are the connections if you were wondering.

Empire Builder Empire Builder
Credit: Empire Builder by Loco Steve via Flickr

Empire Builder

Amtrak services a 46-hour jaunt across the beautiful western states of the US, and it couldn’t be a more relaxing way to take the trip from Chicago to Portland. Enjoy cozy sleeping rooms, a dining car and a snug little cafe while taking in views of Glacier National Park. Hugging against rivers and whipping through tunnels, there are a few small stops along the way.

Cascades Seattle
Credit: Seattle by Bigstock.com

Cascades

Chugging through the Pacific Northwest, the Cascades ride covers 156 miles of track from Eugene to Seattle. Living up to its name, as it is named after the range featured along the trip, mountains are front and center, as is the moment you get to see Puget Sound, Mount St. Helens and  Columbia River Gorge from your window. Truly an epic trip, prepare to gaze upon an abundance of notable places, mossy forests and rushing waterfalls. To top it off, trains are becoming more high-end and perks such as regional cuisine are being added to the on-site inclusions!

California Zephyr View from Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon
Credit: View from Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon by Bigstock.com

California Zephyr

Coming in at nearly 2500 miles long, you’ll be traveling for a few days aboard an Amtrak train. Western landscapes such as the Rocky Mountains, red desert formations, the Continental Divide and Glenwood Canyon are this adventure’s showstoppers, while wildlife and ghost towns are sprinkled throughout the historic route. Traversing from Denver to San Francisco, the grand finale is the Golden Gate Bridge.

Adirondack Adirondacks in the fall
Credit: Adirondacks in the fall by bigstock.com

Adirondack

New York to Montreal’s Amtrak journey offers natural sites along the Hudson River Valley, all within a day’s travels. Castle ruins, the Adirondack Mountains and Palisades are also part of the 10-hour ride. On this particular trip, travelers will notice a dome car, which is reminiscent of vintage carts. Curved ceiling windows allows for unobstructed views of the surroundings, particularly the fall foliage that envelopes the tracks come autumn.

Grand Canyon Railway Grand Canyon Railway
Credit: Grand Canyon Railway by Wikimedia Commons

Grand Canyon Railway

On its own, the Grand Canyon is something to behold—experiencing it by train elevates the experience by adding a sense of ease and richness from other significant sites. What makes the Canyon pop even more is seeing it all after emerging from the wooded area you’ll wind through after departing from Williams. Eventually, the train reaches the south rim, revealing the massive glory of this iconic American treasure. One way, the route is around 65 Miles.

Southwest Chief Southwest Chief
Credit: Southwest Chief by Wikimedia Commons

Southwest Chief

And Amtrak does it again by covering eight states and magnificent sites not typically accessible. From double-decker carts you’ll see New Mexico and Arizona’s rocky terrain in a way you can’t when traveling by foot or car. From Chicago to Los Angeles, passengers will get to check the Painted Desert, Sedona and the Grand Canyon off their list. Head over to the Sightseer Lounge where you can sit on the second level, facing floor to ceiling windows—there’s always a great view.

White Pass & Yukon Route White Pass & Yukon Route
Credit: White Pass & Yukon Route by emperorcosar/shutterstock.com

White Pass & Yukon Route

Offering three stunning adventures departing from Skagway, Alaska, these trips are much shorter, coming in at around 40-50 miles. It’s a must when in the area, as you’ll capture the most Insta-worthy photos ever when wildflowers are blooming at the base of snow-capped mountains. The locomotive puffs up rails tightly wedged against cliffs, revealing some pretty astonishing drop-offs just feet away—it’s both thrilling and pleasantly disconnecting from today’s world. White Pass Summit Excursion is one of the tracks that take you to the mountain tops.

Denali Star Train Denali Star Train
Credit: Denali Star Train by Alaskarailroad.com

Denali Star Train

Denali National Park, along with its towering mountains, wildlife and the seemingly painted backdrop is certainly on most North American bucket lists, and by opting to view it via rail, you’re expanding the boundaries of exploration. Starting in Anchorage and finishing up in Fairbanks, passengers will see the Chugach Mountains, Hurricane Gulch via the 296-foot bridge, and America’s tallest mountain in Denali National Park along the 12-hour journey. While only 356 miles, the locomotive makes stops in the park, as well as in other towns like Wasilla and Talkeetna.

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