The railroad history of Pennsylvania is arguably the richest in the country. Trains made the industrial growth – and passenger travel – possible across our wide state, and played a major role in westward expansion.
The Pennsylvania Railroad system was founded in Philadelphia in 1846 and was the largest and most heavily trafficked in the nation through the first half of the 20th century. At one point, it was also the world’s largest publicly traded corporation.
Although the railroad “Golden Era” has passed, trains still play a major role in transport and continue to grow and develop with the modern world. Despite the passion of railroad enthusiasts, we think trains are too often overlooked – a train ride through the beautiful countryside makes for a wonderful afternoon (or weekend) activity that brings together history AND relaxation.
Here are 8 incredible train rides you can take in Pennsylvania that can’t be missed.
1. Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway
The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway offers several different rides, but no matter which one you choose, you are in for a relaxing day in the comfort of some amazing vintage rail cars.
The trains run for 16 miles along the Lehigh River, giving you great views of the forests, cliffs, mountains, and (of course) the lovely Lehigh River. You travel through Lehigh Gorge State Park, over some beautiful bridges, and through Glen Onoko on the rails to Old Penn Haven.
You can ride in both Open Air Cars or Standard Coaches. Starting this year, they have opened up two more options: Caboose Rides and a special Gondola Car that is built to hold kayaks and bikes if you want to extend your adventure.
The Railway also runs several special rides throughout the year – keep an eye on their schedule to see what’s coming up. During the summer months, the rides are just over an hour long and prices vary by trip.
Tickets aren’t available online, only at the window at the Jim Thorpe station, but you can get them in advance over the phone for large groups.
2. Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark & Amtrak Ride
Ok, this isn’t just a train ride…we’ve actually planned out a whole mini trip for you.
Head to Horseshoe Curve and take the funicular incline plane to Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark visitors' center to learn a bit about your upcoming adventure.
From Altoona, hop on the Amtrack train to Johnstown (the train leaves at 5:00 p.m. and adult tickets are $13.00 one-way / $26.00 round trip).
You will pass right through the heart of Horseshoe Curve for a view you can’t get anywhere else.
The ride takes about an hour and, once you get to Johnstown, head for the Johnstown Inclined Plane and take the trip to top for another excellent view.
Here's the view from the top. The train back to Altoona leaves at 9:00 p.m., so you will have some time to explore Johnstown…we suggest checking out B&L Wine Cellars.
3. Stourbridge Line Rail Excursions
The Stourbridge Line offers several different excursion rides to choose from. Their season opens on May 7th, which is National Train Day. After your special Train Day ride, Stourbridge Line is holding a Train Day Celebration with live music and other festivities.
They have two normal trains; the Pocono Express, which operates between May 7th and October 23rd, and the Hawley Shopper, which runs between May 28th and October 22nd and costs $25.00 ($15.00 for kids). The Pocono Express runs along the DH Canal and Lackawaxen River and takes about an hour and a half. The Hawley Shopper takes four and a half hours round trip, but stops in Hawley for three hours, giving you a chance to explore the town.
Stourbridge also has other limited specials that run throughout the summer and fall – check their website for updates.
4. Kiski Junction Railroad
The Kiski Junction Railroad offers a scenic trip along the Allegheny River between Schenley and Johnetta (and occasionally along the Kiskiminetas River between Schenley to Bagdad).
A round trip ride takes a little over an hour and tickets cost $11.00 for adults, $9.00 for kids, and $10.00 for seniors. Their Scenic Tour Ride season lasts from June 3rd to September 30th and runs on Fridays (at 11:00 a.m.) and Saturdays (at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.).
5. Steam Into History
This train ride is one-of-a-kind! Steam Into History is literally a steam train that carries you through York County and back through history, checking out the small towns that Abraham Lincoln travelled through during the Civil War. You ride along the beautiful North Central railroad route through the scenic countryside. The guide gives you a rich picture of the era, complete with re-enactments along the way (Lincoln might even show up as a passenger on your train).
The train follows the same route as the Union Troops and gives you a history lesson unlike any that you had in school. There are special rides offered on weekends, and ticket prices vary depending on your trip.
6. Strasburg Railroad
Strasburg Railroad’s 45 minute rides through Amish Country starts at the historic East Strasburg Station, right across the street from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania! They offer many different themed rides, including a Wine & Cheese trip (for the adults) and Thomas the Tank Engine rides (for the kids).
The passenger cars are authentically restored railroad cards, and their special events make a day on the train larger-than-life! The East Strasburg Station has a café and gift shops to explore, which can easily turn your trip into an all-day adventure.
7. Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Train
The Pioneer Tunnel Steam Train, called the Henry Clay, was built in the 1920s and offers a unique trip around Mahanoy Mountain that offers a peek into the old strip mining days.
The mines destroyed a large area of natural land, but they are pretty incredible to look at. Along the ¾ mile journey, you will also learn about the Centralia mine fire that has continuously burned underground since 1962.
The trip lasts about a half hour and makes for a cool little afternoon adventure – especially if you combine it with their Mine Tour through the Pioneer Tunnel drift mine, which is cut directly into Mahanoy Mountain and is 1,800 feet long.
You get to ride in open mine cars for the guided tours, which are quite fascinating… but be prepared; the mine stays around 52 degrees all year along, so it can be chilly, even in the middle of the summer.
8. Electric City Trolley
The Electric City Trolley Excursion offers a sweet little trip along Roaring Brook on the old Laurel Line railroad tracks. You will pass right by the Historic Iron Furnaces and through the Crown Avenue Tunnel. The tunnel is one of the longest interurban tunnels ever built (it’s 4,747 feel long).
You leave from the platform at the Streamtown National Historic Site, which also houses the Electric City Trolley Museum, where you can learn all about the cool history of the electric trolleys.
Scranton was the first city in Pennsylvania to establish a successful electric trolley line – all the way back in 1887—which is how the “Electric City” got its nickname.
The Trolley season opens up on April 28th and offers rides Thursdays through Sundays at 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. (although the times are adjusted on some Sundays when Baseball Excursions run, so check the schedule before you go).
Tickets for the trolley ride alone cost $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors, and $6.00 for kids, but you can get combination tickets for both the trolley ride and museum admission for an extra $2.00 per ticket.
Have you ridden any of these rails? Did you enjoy the view? Do you know of others we should check out? Tell us about them in the comments!