10 of the Best Train Trips
by Daniel | Last Updated January 7th, 2020
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Train travel is a great way to see and explore North America. Leisurely train trips allow you to relax from the hustle of driving long hours on the highway and the struggle of going through the airport to catch flights. They give you the comfort you need - you get more space than on airplanes, the chance to walk around, and comfortable seats next to large windows to enjoy the scenery.
In the U.S., there are many train trips you can take to soak up the scenery of beautiful vineyards, national parks, historic landscapes, and cities. Read on to learn some of the most beautiful train trips available across the USA.
1) The Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley is for the young, and the young at heart. This route snakes through a 36-mile trip across Northern California's renowned wine country. Travelers roll through scenic towns such as St. Helena and Rutherford and stop by celebrated wineries and beautiful hotels along the way. It's more than a train trip! There is so much to enjoy, from the charming estates and rolling hills to the plentiful vineyards.
The short three-hour journey, which starts at the McKinstry Street Station, also goes through the old industrial part of the Napa Valley. Enjoy the views of faithfully and exquisitely restored vintage cars, bringing a 20th-century vibe. From your large window on the wine train, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the extraordinary scenery and tour. There is so much to see, and the experience is unforgettable.
2) Amtrak’s Adirondack
Amtrak's train runs from Portland, Oregon or Seattle Washington all the way to Chicago, Illinois. You can pick either trip, but they combine in Spokane in Washington where you'll make the rest of the trip. The train moves along the northernmost rail in continental America.
The best parts of the train ride include the beautiful Washington state from where you can enjoy views of the coastline between Everett and Seattle. The train also goes through the longest tunnel in the U.S., through the Cascade Mountains. The most scenic part of the trip is in Montana, as the rail moves through the west part of the state including the southern border of Glacier National Park.
The journey doesn't stop there. You'll enjoy the gorgeous scenes of the Rocky Mountains as the train goes towards the west unto North Dakota and eastern Montana. Through the high plains, it's easy to catch wildlife such as antelopes, deer, fox, and pheasants. As you arrive in Minnesota, you can also see waterfowls and bald eagles along the Mississippi River. This is one train journey you'll never forget.
3) The Pacific Surfliner
You might already be aware of the horror stories of being stuck in Los Angeles traffic. The Pacific Surfliner is a great chance to escape the frustrations of city life. The train runs across the West Coast of Southern California from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Speeding up to 90 miles per hour, the trip offers a great chance to enjoy the scenic coast, which wouldn't be viewable by car.
On the train, you pass through the popular surging peach Trestles, the world-famous Camp Pendleton and the Oceanside. The trip gives you an adrenaline rush along this section because the track is wide open, so the train moves at top speed. Before reaching downtown San Diego, the train goes along the coast through the Torrey Pines. This day trip gives you the chance to enjoy the views and escape the busy roads. From San Diego, you only need to travel short distances to reach numerous destinations such as the USS Midway Museum, numerous restaurants and the ferry to Coronado Island.
While on the trip, you can stop at quaint oceanic towns including San Juan Capistrano, Encinitas, Carpentaria, and Ventura. You can also tour Santa Barbara or go to the end of the rail at San Luis Obispo, then start the trip back. The full 350-mile trip takes about 8 hours.
4) The Grand Canyon Railway
The Grand Canyon Railway is a unique way to get to the Grand Canyon National Park. It will provide you with the unique experience that visitors had in the 1900s. This trip would especially be ideal for those who are looking for a day-time experience. Trains depart at Williams to the South Rim a couple of times a day. The trip gives you an image of how hard-to-access and remote the wonder of the Grand Canyon once was. While on this trip you also have access to ride on historical cars pulled along by the infamous “French Fry Express” - a locomotive that runs on recycled vegetable oil.
The ride is just over two hours long, but it offers wonderful views on both directions. There are plenty of pine forests where you are likely to spot an antelope or two. You may also see a wild horse or a California condor if you're lucky. Aboard the trains, actors in character keep history alive. Cowboy musicians entertain visitors to old-time sing-alongs and perform mock-robberies.
The trip ends at the Grand Canyon Depot located at the South Rim, where you are at a walking distance from the unique sites and wonders of the Grand Canyon.
5) Amtrak’s Empire Builder
This 46-hour journey, which goes through the Lewis and Clark Trail from continental America to the Pacific Northwest, is a great way to travel through the United States. The rail blesses you with views of the Mississippi River, and lets travelers enjoy views of Montana’s Big Sky Country as well as the Glacier National Park.
As the train trip goes through Spokane, you can choose to travel to the south along the Columbia River Gorge, heading to Portland or choose to go through the Cascade Mountains to Seattle’s Puget Sound. Along the railroad, you’re treated to amazing sights of mountain passes characterized by high trestles and stretching tunnels. There are multiple rivers as well, marked with salmon fish ladders and hydroelectric dams. In the summer and spring seasons, onboard the train is a National Park Service ranger who shares facts about the beautiful landscape. The trip has numerous 20-minute stops where you can stop and hop off to enjoy the views, buy a snack or get out to stretch your legs.
6) The White Pass Yukon Route
When it opened in 1900, the White Pass Yokun Railroad carried stampeders from Alaska to Whitehorse. These travelers sought to seek a fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. Over the years, the passengers, who were mostly miners, were replaced by cruise ship travelers and tourists, making the route one of the most popular tours in Southeast Alaska.
The route, which climbs up to 3,000 feet, causes many to marvel. While on the journey, you will experience many trestles, cantilever bridges and cliff-hanging turns of up to 16 degrees. The trains also pass through two dark tunnels. While on this railroad, you also have the advantage of easy access to the pristine mountainous wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
7) Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic
This trip is one where you'll need your camera at the ready. The Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic trip is one that winds through beautiful green fields and marvelous snow-capped mountains. The colorful wildflowers that cover these fields will give you a newfound appreciation for nature. This one-way trip carries passengers for four hours from Anchorage to Steward. It is best to experience this ride in the summer to see the beautiful natural scenes and avoid the bitter cold.
Aboard this train trip, you’ll have an opportunity to view wildlife and take pictures of the amazing scenery. At the beginning of the trip, passengers get to wander through the city Anchorage and later continue into the Chugach National Forest. The 126-mile long day trip passes by an incredibly beautiful mountain pass, four glaciers and wildlife sightings of moose, bears, and mountain goats. Spellbinding waterfalls that form from the melting snow pouring off jagged rocks are a sight to behold.
Additionally, the train trip offers tour guides who provide passengers with educational and commentary information as they enjoy the trip. Once they have arrived at Steward, guests are allowed to explore the city for a few hours before they can return to Anchorage.
8) Colorado Rail Adventure
Often described as the most classic train tour, the Colorado Rail Adventure offers an in-depth exploration of the Colorado Rockies. This trip, which spans through both narrow and standard gauge railways, is more than 14,000 feet long. The route, which was described by Teddy Roosevelt as “the trip that bankrupts the English language” is one that is definitely worth a try. It begins and ends in Denver and includes rides aboard five renowned Colorado railways such as Silverton and Durango.
Passengers also get to visit historic sites and national parks, all of which are Colorado’s treasured gems. One of the first breathtaking wonders of Colorado that passengers get to experience while on this trip is the Garden of the Gods which is made of magnificent red rocks. Moving on, Pikes Peak is beautifully presented. Guests then get to enjoy the site of changing landscapes as the tour heads west. The beautiful cities of Alamosa and Durango are also part of this package.
9) An Autumn Tour in New England
Sure, driving in New England is an exhilarating way to experience it, but imagine just sitting down in a train, experiencing a leisurely, old-fashioned alternative. With a train tour, you pass through the quaint New England towns and majestic landscapes from Boston to the shores of Cape Cod, the picturesque square town of Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell, MA, and the interior of the shipbuilding past in Mystics. The eight-day train tour through New England also includes scenic views of the Green Mountain Flyer Fall Foliage Express.
Additional features that highlight the rail experience include the Boston City tour, sightseeing of the Plimoth Plantation, Hildene, excursions of Mystic Seaport, Newport Mansions, and Norman Rockwell Museum. The trip is an amazing way to relive history and enjoy the magnificent fall colors on a grey line autumn foliage train.
10) The Maple Leaf Train
The Maple Leaf Train is a nine-hour trip from Penn Station in New York City to the tumbling cascades of Niagra. Maple Leaf’s route is one of the most exhilarating scenic railroad views of the country. The rail winds its way along the beautiful Hudson Valley. The breath-taking views are the reason most people prefer to commute to Manhattan by train rather than reside in the city.
The trip will also take you through the state capital Albany and the wonderfully-named Schenectady. You'll also get to admire the scenic views of New York’s Wine Country. You can enjoy the view from your large window as the train navigates through the vineyards. The train then takes a turn to the west and goes through the gorges of the Finger Lakes region.
The rail hugs the border from the Buffalo and allows its passengers to hop off at Niagra Falls. You can stop there and explore through the Hornblower to the rushing falls. Alternatively, you can experience a Journey behind the fall tour. At the falls, you go 150 feet below the ground to the bottom, via tunnels which lead to wonderful observation spots. The train then crosses to Toronto.
Explore America by Train
These train trips will give you a wonderful experience when exploring the beauty of the United States. Next time you are preparing to take a long trip or a vacation, why not invest a bit more of your time and make your journey part of the adventure?
Don’t stress yourself by traversing busy traffic and packed airports. Instead, choose to travel by rail and you’ll be surprised at how much more you can see, and how you can make your trip memorable. If you are enthusiastic about traveling, sight-seeing and natural wonders, this is a decision you’ll never regret. It’s one of the most fulfilling ways to experience nature and adventure during your travels.
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My name is Daniel and I am a full-time world traveler and constantly on the move.