America’s 10 most scenic train rides
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
America's rugged seacoasts, rolling plains, towering mountains and colorful desert canyons serve to paint a picturesque backdrop for a getaway on the rails. The real beauty of traveling by train, however, comes with the convenience of leaving the driving to someone else while you sit back and admire the passing scenery.
Amtrak's long-distance trains crisscross the country offering a number of scenic vacation opportunities — but there's also a great selection of day trips aboard excursion trains, many of them comprised of vintage rolling stock, that offer well-planned itineraries.
In nearly all instances, these excursions are escorted and narrated to provide a comprehensive sightseeing experience. Some trains even feature dining cars serving up gourmet meals.
From the Grand Canyon to Cape Cod, here are 10 of America's most scenic train rides.
The Grand Canyon Railway takes an eight-hour round-trip adventure to the South Rim of the world's most famous canyon.
1. Grand Canyon Railway
For more than a century, passengers have been boarding the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona, for an eight-hour round-trip adventure to the South Rim of the world's most famous canyon. The 64-mile journey to the canyon takes about two hours, with the train passing through lush pine forests and high-desert landscapes.
The train utilizes restored carriages from the 1950s that offer passengers a choice of coach, first-class, observation dome or luxury parlor service, with each providing progressively better viewing and comforts. A four-hour stopover at the Grand Canyon Station allows plenty of time to take in the iconic canyon.
Contact: 800-843-8724, www.thetrain.com.
The Verde Canyon Railroad traces a route along the rippling green waters of the Verde River that tiptoes above and beneath towering red rock canyon walls.
2. Verde Canyon Railroad
Another spectacular Arizona canyon provides the setting for a four-hour round-trip ramble out of Clarksdale (near Sedona) performed by the Verde Canyon Railroad. Tracing a route along the rippling green waters of the Verde River, this route tiptoes above and beneath towering red rock canyon walls where there are no roads, resorts or other developments impeding views of the dramatic high-desert landscape.
Passengers choose from three classes of service — ranging from traditional Pullman-style seating in coach to opulent living room chairs behind panoramic windows in first class — while caboose accommodations are reserved for private parties up to six who enjoy cupola seating along with a personal valet serving champagne and sumptuous appetizers. Passengers in all cars can access canopied open-air viewing cars that bring them face to face with the sights and sounds of the canyon.
Contact: 800-582-7245, www.verdecanyonrr.com.
Departing Anchorage, Alaska, the Coastal Classic hugs the coast of Turnagain Arm, before veering off into roadless, uninhabited wilderness.
3. Coastal Classic
Few rail journeys anywhere in the world can compare to the splendor presented by Alaska Railroad's 114-mile Coastal Classic route through the Kenai Mountains between Anchorage and the coastal town of Seward.
Departing Anchorage, the 4.5-hour route skirts the Seward Highway as it hugs the coast of Turnagain Arm, then veers off into roadless, uninhabited wilderness, traveling through five tunnels and past cool blue Bartlett Glacier.
Passengers can overnight in Seward or return to Anchorage for a perfect day trip — usually rewarded with wildlife sightings — including such possibilities as beluga whales, bald eagles, bears, wolves, moose and Dall sheep.
Contact: 800-544-0552, www.alaskarailroad.com.
Often dubbed the "Movie Train," the Sierra Dinner Train has appeared in more than 300 films dating back to the early 1900s, including Oscar-winning "High Noon" (1951) and more recently, "Back to the Future III" (1989).
4. Sierra Dinner Train
Sierra Railroad's Sierra Dinner Train reflects a rich history of railroading in California. Founded in 1897 to connect the Golden State's Central Valley to the Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada, Sierra is the third-oldest railroad in North America.
Often dubbed the "Movie Train," it has appeared in more than 300 films dating back to the early 1900s, including Oscar-winning "High Noon" (1951) and more recently, "Back to the Future III" (1989).
Nowadays, the line's freight consists of hungry passengers who climb aboard the train at its western terminus in Oakdale (near Modesto) to enjoy a leisurely 28-mile ride through superbly scenic foothill country — dining all the way.
Sierra was among the first of the excursion lines to offer a dining train back in 1999, so rest assured they know how to present a pleasurable meal. Its signature excursion is a Saturday night dinner train but there are other holiday and special themed events offered throughout the year.
Contact: 800-866-1690, www.sierrarailroad.com.
The Napa Valley Wine Train provides a soothing, appetite-satisfying, three-hour, 36-mile round trip journey from the town of Napa, California, through one of the world's premier wine valleys to the charming village of St. Helens.
5. Napa Valley Wine Train
"Fine dining and wining at its very best ...' says one TripAdvisor reviewer in reference to the ever-popular Napa Valley Wine Train.
Something of a gourmet restaurant on wheels — and tracks, of course — the Wine Train provides a soothing, appetite-satisfying, three-hour, 36-mile round trip journey from the town of Napa through one of the world's premier wine valleys to the charming village of St. Helens.
Guests are pampered with a freshly prepared lunch or dinner in the cozy confines of a meticulously restored 1915-1917 Pullman Dining Car or the elegant 1952 Vista Dome car as the train passes vineyards and wineries that have made Napa Valley famous.
Private winery tours can be arranged as well to round out the excursion. Check the train's schedule for special wine events and dinner theater performances.
Contact: 800-427-4124, www.winetrain.com.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is powered by a smoke-belching 1920s steam locomotive that pulls a string of 1880s-era passenger cars along tracks originally constructed to transport gold and silver ore from mines in and around Silverton.
6. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Join the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a genuine Rocky Mountain high, as this celebrated narrow-gauge railway climbs from Durango, Colorado, at 6,512 feet above sea level 45 miles to Silverton at 9,305 feet. This is an exciting, sometimes-unnerving thrill ride through more than two million wilderness acres of San Juan National Forest.
The train is powered by a smoke-belching 1920s steam locomotive that pulls a string of authentic 1880s-era passenger cars along tracks originally constructed to transport gold and silver ore from mines in and around Silverton.
The D&SNGR operates 300 days a year with summer trips taking 3.5-hours each way, plus a two-hour layover to explore historic Silverton. Come winter, a shorter Cascade Canyon Excursion provides a winter wonderland experience for hardy, warmly dressed adventurers.
Contact: 866-675-6900, www.durangosilvertonrailroad.com.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad provides an exhilarating Rocky Mountain rail adventure as it steams back and forth between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado.
7. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad provides another exhilarating Rocky Mountain rail adventure as it steams back and forth between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado. In fact, C&T's 64-mile route and 10,022-foot elevation crossing of Cumbres Pass make it America's longest and highest narrow-gauge excursion train.
The line was built in 1880 as an extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, with tracks running from Denver through the ore-rich Rocky Mountains to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Owing to its precipitous path across steep passes, high trestles and through mountain tunnels and deep gorges, the rail line was heralded as an engineering feat for its time.
A variety of trips is offered in three classes of service from late May through mid-October, the most popular being the full-day run from Chama to Antonito (or reverse) which includes a tasty homemade lunch in Osier, Colorado, and the option to return to the originating depot by either train or motor coach.
Contact: 888-286-2737, www.cumbrestoltec.com.
A restored Shay Logging Locomotive with several passenger cars pulls into the station at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in West Virginia.
8. Cass Scenic Railroad
West Virginia's Cass Scenic Railroad operates within a state park that serves to preserve the turn-of-the-century lumber town of Cass. The line was built in 1901 to haul timber to the town's sawmill.
Visitors can explore the old company town, dining at the Last Run Restaurant and touring a museum and locomotive shops used to restore and maintain the vintage steam train. Then it's all-aboard open-air carriages converted from timber-carrying flat cars for an amazing 11-mile, 4.5-hour round-trip ride that traverses a pair of switchbacks to reach Bald Knob (elevation 4,842 feet), the state's second-highest point.
Contact: 304-456-4300, www.cassrailroad.com.
Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express is a super-scenic ride from Penn Station to Rutland, Vermont. This 241-mile, 5.5-hour journey rolls through the cool Green Mountains of Vermont.
9. Ethan Allen Express
Escape the concrete jungle of New York City by hopping aboard Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express for a super-scenic ride from Penn Station to Rutland, Vermont. This 241-mile, 5.5-hour journey departs the Big Apple in midafternoon, allowing plenty of time for sightseeing as it rolls through the woodsy splendor of the Catskills in upper New York state and the cool Green Mountains of Vermont.
You can simply sit back in comfort (we recommend a business-class seat on the left side facing the front for the best views) and watch the passing scenery all the way to Rutland — or select from a roster of stopovers along the way.
Possibilities include Saratoga Springs, New York, to visit the famous racetrack and mineral spas; Fort Edward, New York, which serves as the gateway to Lake George and the southern Adirondack Mountain region; or Castleton, Vermont, which features a historically renovated station housing the Green Mountain Country Depot.
Contact: 800-872-7245, www.amtrak.com.
Cape Cod Central Railroad provides a relaxing ride along the coast from Hyannis to Sandwich.
10. Cape Cod Central Railroad
Cape Cod Central Railroad's Shoreline Excursion Train brings passengers up close and personal with the soft splendor of the Cape's woodlands, sand dunes, salt marshes and cranberry bogs during a relaxing ride along the coast from Hyannis to Sandwich. The two-hour narrated journey traces a route that originated back in 1848 and that was fortunately revived for scenic service in the 1980s.
Shoreline Excursions run from May through October. CCCR also offers luncheon and dinner trips, with meals served up in the line's trio of elegantly restored vintage dining cars, plus a variety of holiday and special events, all departing the Hyannis Depot.
Contact: 508-771-3800, www.capetrain.com.
- How to properly sight in a rifle with a scope
- The advantages of using a .45-70 cartridge
- The dangers of mixing up 5.56x45mm NATO and .223 Remington rounds
- 7 trigger control errors and how to fix them
- Pros and cons of the wadcutter bullet
- Battery issues: Understanding your RV’s electrical systems
- RV modifications that every full-timer needs
- Texas eyes changes to deer hunting season
- Study: Largest cities need evaporated water to survive
- Nonprofits open new chapter in grocery business
- Lessons learned from nurse practitioner claims history
- Spring floods bring hunting opportunities
- Be indispensible by becoming dispensable
See your work in future editions
Your content, Your Expertise,
Your Industry Needs YOUR Expert Voice & We've got the platform you needFind Out How