Traveling by train offers frequent road trippers a different, old-timey travel experience. They’re great for the whole family, with room to stretch your legs and themed trips kids will love. Not to mention, many railroads cut through some of the most beautiful places in the continental US.
There are short trips, long trips and trips in between; all offer stunning views, whether mountain, desert or coastal. Some of the best scenic train rides in the US offer narrations history-buffs and nature-lovers will enjoy, while others focus on the view, with open-air gondola cars, or high-quality meal service. If you’re in no rush to get to your destination and prefer to revel in the journey, scenic train trips are the way to travel!
Scenic Train Rides in the US
For a unique getaway, hop onboard one of the best scenic train rides in the US!
- Adirondack Scenic Railroad: Ride through the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York on the former New York Central railroad line. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates various stations, ranging from Utica to Lake Placid. Enjoy a scenic route along the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, with quaint little towns in between, including Saratoga Springs and Poughkeepsie!
- Arkansas & Missouri Railroad: Take one of three unique trips, from a three-hour excursion from Van Buren to Winslow to a day trip from Springdale to Van Buren. This railroad still operates as both a passenger and freight line, through the Ozark Mountains and into the Arkansas River Basin. Journey through river valleys, traverse high trestles and a quarter-mile tunnel while your conductor shares intriguing stories of the region’s rich history.
- California Zephyr: Known as one of the best train rides in the USA, this Amtrak-owned line shuttles passengers from Chicago to San Francisco with stops in Omaha, Denver and Salt Lake City. Retrace the trail pioneers took when settling the American West in search of California’s gold mine! While 52 hours (one way) may not be some travelers ideal vacation, you’ll see the plains of the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas!
- Cape Cod Central Railroad: Travel from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay with a stop in the darling town of Sandwich on this beautiful seaside ride. Take in sand dunes, salt marshes and Cape Cod Bay from your seat before traveling down the Cape Cod Canal. This coastal New England rail ride is especially stunning in autumn when you can take in the fall foliage!
- Cass Scenic Railway: This railroad operates within the West Virginia state park of the same name. The 11 miles of railroad originally brought timber from the mountains to the mills in Cass. Today, visitors enjoy the restored logging town at one end of the train ride and Bald Knob Overlook at the other.
- Coast Starlight: This 35-hour Amtrak trip takes travelers from Seattle to Portland and Sacramento before arriving in Los Angeles. You’ll travel along the rugged Pacific Coast, with views of the Cascade Mountains and Mount Shasta.
- Conway Scenic Railroad: Take in the mountains of New Hampshire in two ways with Conway Scenic Railroad. Journey through Crawford Notch, or enjoy the mountains from a distance on the Valley Train. Take a journey back in time on this old-fashioned railroad experience!
- Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad: This day trip includes a scenic train ride along the Colorado-New Mexico border with views of the gorgeous Juan Mountains! Start in either Antonio, CO or Chama, NM and take a bus back to your starting point. This train runs from Memorial Day through October.
- Durango & Silverton Railroad: The journey between the mining town of Silverton and the railroad town of Durango offers high-elevation views, as well as drop-off points for backcountry trips in the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness. Discover some of Colorado’s most impressive scenery, from canyons to cliffsides inhabited with elk and bighorn sheep.
- Empire Builder: Follow parts of Lewis and Clark’s journey during this Amtrak trip from Chicago to Portland and Seattle. In 46 hours, you’ll see the Mississippi, Missouri and Columbia Rivers, Glacier National Park, the Cascade Mountains and Mount Hood. One of the best scenic train rides in the US, the Empire Builder offers a number of must-see sites and enjoyable stops!
- Ethan Allen Express: Journey from New York or Albany to Rutland, Vermont on an Amtrak train. From Penn Station, the trip takes just five and a half hours and takes you through the Hudson River Valley and into the Green Mountains before landing in the charming city of Rutland.
- Grand Canyon Railway: What better way to arrive at the Grand Canyon than by train? Travel from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon Depot, located within the national park. Entertaining musicians and actors onboard make this a fun, family-friendly train getaway to one of the seven wonders of the world!
- Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: Choose from two scenic train trips through North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. Enjoy mountain and gorge views on the Nantahala Gorge Excursion or stick to the river and explore the town of Dillsboro on the Tuckasegee River Excursion. Either ride you choose, you won’t be disappointed by some of America’s greatest wilderness scenes.
- Mount Washington Cog Railway: Journey across New Hampshire, from Bretton Woods to the top of Mount Washington. Take in sweeping mountain-top views of Canada and the Atlantic Ocean from the highest peak in the Northeast! This three-hour round trip is a perfect weekend adventure.
- Napa Valley Wine Train: If you love wine tours, consider one by train! There’s no better way to experience wine country than a rail ride through one of the world’s most famous wine regions. The Napa Valley Wine Train offers lunch and dinner trips, as well as half- and full-day wine tours throughout the beautiful Valley.
- Southwest Chief: Start in Chicago and head to the deserts of the Southwest on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. Passengers take in vistas that range from the Mississippi River to the red rock cliffs of Arizona. You can also connect to the Grand Canyon Railway to take in the national park.
- Strasburg Rail Road: You’ll hop on board the original passenger cars when you take this 45-minute trip through Pennsylvania Amish country on America’s oldest operating railroad. Enjoy views of Lancaster County’s expansive countryside and rolling hills on this historic railroad founded in 1832.
- Sunset Limited: Head west into the sunset on this Amtrak train ride through the deserts and mountains of Texas, Arizona and Southern California. You’ll leave from New Orleans and arrive in Los Angeles after stops in San Antonio, Tucson and Phoenix. Hop off at Big Bend or Saguaro National Parks for more close-up views of the scenic desert landscapes.