Although train travel is often cheaper than flying, it’s certainly a leisurely and scenic way of getting from point A to point to point B—if you have the luxury of time, of course. Below are 12 majestic train routes across the United States—some on impressively refurbished vintage cars—that keep the romance of riding the rails alive.
Whether journeying through the Pacific Northwest, or Pennsylvania’s Amish country, or through the Grand Canyon, these heritage train rides are sure to take your breath away. You’ll get a kick out of some of these names, too. Hop on board: The country’s waiting for you.
The 22-mile round-trip excursion travels along the original line built to haul timber to the mill in Cass, West Virginia, and takes about four and a half hours. Old logging flat cars have been refurbished to take passengers to Bald Knob, the third highest point in the state, and offers stunning views into two states as well as the valley below.
Amtrak Cascades, named after the Cascade mountain range along which the corridor runs, connects 18 cities from Eugene, Oregon, to Vancouver, Canada—a distance of 467 miles—in three legs. These include four daily round trips between Portland and Seattle, two daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, and two daily round trips between Eugene, Oregon, and Portland. A lovely way to wend your way through the Pacific Northwest.
Departing from Williams, Arizona, 30 miles west of west of Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon Railway travels nearly due north through the Colorado Plateau to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The 65-mile journey takes an ambling two hours and 15 minutes—which happens to be 45 minutes faster than its maiden voyage in 1901.
Enjoy stunning views of Ponderosa pines, prairies, and Pinion pine forests, while riding in a fleet of vintage passenger cars including Pullmans, Budd coaches, and observation dome cars. Keep your eyes open, too, for cameos by mountain lions, elks, California condors and bald eagles
The second longest route after the Texas Eagle, the 2,438-mile journey on the California Zephyr runs between Chicago and Emeryville, California, and takes about two and half days. The journey takes you through some of the country’s most beautiful vistas including the plains of Nebraska, Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Salt Lake City, and the Truckee River.
With 53 scenic miles of track, two tunnels, and 25 bridges in Western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers two trips departing from Bryson City: the 44-mile Nantahala Gorge Excursion, which travels along the Tennessee and Nantahala River and takes about four and a half hours, and the 32-mile Tuckasegee River Excursion, which takes about four.
Chartered in 1832, the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania is the country’s oldest operating railroad, with President Abraham Lincoln taking his inaugural ride on February 22, 1861. The 45-minute round-trip journey travels four and half miles both ways through the Amish countryside in Lancaster County using authentic steam-powered locomotives and passenger cars.
Considered one of the most spectacular train routes in the United States, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight connects the West Coast’s most important cities between Los Angeles and Seattle and makes 28 stops. The daily service covers approximately 1,377 miles for a total journey time of 35 hours, passing through the snow-covered mountains of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara, and the Pacific Ocean shoreline.
Connecting New Orleans and Los Angeles (and making 20 stops including San Antonio, Tucson, and Phoenix), the Sunset Limited train has operated since 1894 and is the oldest named train in the country. The 1,995-mile excursion takes about 48 hours and makes its way through the Bayou Country, southwestern deserts—with views of the Mexican border—and the mountains of California.
If you’ve ever wished to recreate at least part of Lewis and Clark’s expedition across what is now the western United States, hop on board the Empire Builder in Chicago and make your way to either Seattle (2,206 miles) or Portland (2,257) by way of Minneapolis, St. Paul, North Dakota’s Gassman Coulee Trestle bridge, Missouri, Big Sky Country, and Glacier National Park.
Alask Railroad’s Coastal Classic train is a popular—and not to mention spectacular—way to take in the glaciers and waterfalls between Anchorage and Seward. Operating seasonally between May and September, the 114-mile escapade takes a little over four hours, during which time passengers travel along Turnagain Arm and through the Kenai Peninsula, stopping in Seward’s Resurrection Bay before turning back to Anchorage.
What could be better than an ambling train ride through majestic scenery, you ask? One with wine, of course. More specifically, the Napa Valley Wine Train, which takes oenophiles and the casual sipper alike on a 36-mile, three-hour round-trip excursion from Northern California’s Napa to St. Helena, passing through Oak Knoll, Yountville, Oakville, and Rutherford. Not only will passengers stop at famous wineries along the way, they’ll be treated to a gourmet meal (in a dome car, no less) as well. And not to mention plenty of wine.
Visit our neighbors up north by way of the Adirondack, with daily departures from New York City. You’ll wend your way through Hudson Valley’s wine country then sidle up against Lake Champlain before arriving in Montreal, Quebec, by dinner time. The 378-mile journey takes approximately 11 picturesque hours. In the fall, the train operates a dome car, allowing passengers to take in the changing leaves.