Train rides are pretty much the best. The rumble of the car on the tracks, the scenery reeling past your window, and the old-fashioned charm of railway travel all combine to make trains the most romantic method of land transit. Excluding your morning subway commute, of course.
America’s railroads were once indispensable arteries of trade and travel that connected the nation’s major cities. Today, air shipping and the highways system have demoted trains from crucial to quaint, but riding the rails is still a great way to tour some of the most beautiful regions of the country. Check out these breathtaking train rides across the nation.
1. Cog Railway, New Hampshire
This gorgeous train ride will take you to the summit of Mount Washington and back. Chug along sweeping landscapes of stone and rugged mountainside while learning about the area from your conductor. The most thrilling moment of the trip comes as the train begins its descent, when it appears as if the car is going to tumble off the edge of the mountain! Don't worry though: this railway has been safely running without a hitch for almost 150 years. In fact, it's the oldest cog railroad in the world. The train runs from April to November, and the journey totals about three hours.
2. Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad, Illinois
Have you ever wanted to be a train conductor? This place can make your dream come true. Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad is run by a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the joy of historic trains with the public. Hop on board their 1912 steam locomotives for a 3.4-mile trip through the beautiful Freeport countryside. The company also sets aside "throttle time" when guests can actually take control of the train (with LOTS of guidance and supervision, of course). They do spooky train rides during the fall season, too! And you can't beat the prices: train rides are only $7 for adults and $3 for children.
3. Steam Into History, Pennsylvania
This steam train takes its history seriously. Passengers are taken through York County along the route that President Abraham Lincoln and Union troops travelled during the Civil War. Guests will learn all about the era through incredible reenactments, and maybe even run into the famous president himself.
4. Cass Scenic Railroad, West Virginia
Winding around the mountains of West Virginia is the Cass Scenic Railroad, one of the most picturesque train routes in the country. Visitors will get the chance to experience the thrill of the Golden Age of the railroads while cruising through the wilderness on old, refurbished logging flat-cars that once traveled through the rainforests of British Columbia. The journey between Whittaker Station and Bald Knob takes about 4.5 hours, during which the locomotive will climb to an astounding 4,700 feet. Guests should dress warmly, wear dark clothing (the steam engine may leave you every so slightly sooty), and be prepared for an incredible adventure.
5. Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Iowa
If you like the idea of a scenic railroad adventure, but don't want to spend all day on a train, this Iowa railroad is a great option. Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad takes visitors on picturesque journeys around the Des Moines River Valley in Boone that are only about 2 hours long, with trains departing every day at 1:30 p.m. Catch a ride Memorial Day through October 31, every day of the week (Saturday schedules vary). If you're interested in pairing the natural show outside your window with a gourmet meal, the railroad's dinner trains are a great option. Note: the train pictured is not one of the railroad's passenger trains.
6. The Denali Getaway, Alaska
Cruise through the stunning Denali National Park on a train that offers nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. Booking a ride on the Denali Star Train is a great way to experience the beauty of the park without committing to days of hiking. If you can't resist the pull of the wild, however, Denali National Park offers almost limitless opportunities for wilderness exploration. Among other activities, guests can try their hand at rafting, glacier climbing, gold panning, and fishing.
7. Saratoga & North Creek Railway, New York
This is a great scenic train option for history buffs. Climb aboard a vintage rail car and enjoy fresh gourmet meals while chugging alongside the gorgeous Hudson river. The locomotive stops at nine different stations and makes fascinating stops at different historic sites in the Adirondack Mountains. If you decide to schedule your trip for the snowy winter season, the railway offers heated and a convenient shuttle service straight to Gore Mountain.
8. Jefferson Railway, Texas
This railway offers rides on a 50-year-old, antique steam locomotive that actually runs through the incredible Cypress Bayou. Stops include the Diamond Don Gator pit, where guests will have the chance to see a live feeding of 14 alligators. The train also traverses sites filled with 19th-century ruins and beautiful local wildlife. Thrill-seekers won't want to miss their Halloween Runaway Fright Train special, and the Rail of Lights Christmas train is sure to charm even the most hardened of Scrooges.
9. Silver Chef, Branson Scenic Railway, Missouri
This ride is a foodie's delight. Located at 206 E Main Street in Branson, this train will deliver a gorgeous 40-minute ride through the Ozarks, complete with delicious food and drink. Families will also be delighted to know that the train offers a "Polar Express" train that runs throughout the holiday season.
10. Tuckasegee River Excursion, North Carolina
One of the best routes offered by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, this train ride begins in Bryson City and continues for 4.5 hours. Visitors will be whisked through the stunning countryside of North Carolina, where they'll pass through the Cowee Tunnel and alongside "The Fugitive" movie set. The trip includes an hour-long stop in Dillsboro, which is the perfect opportunity to browse local shops and refuel on tasty food before heading back to Bryson City.
11. The Pacific Surfliner, California
Speed from San Luis Obispo to San Diego on this incredibly scenic coastal train journey. The trip winds along the world-famous Del Mar beach and gives passengers the opportunity to take in sweeping views of the ocean without getting the least bit sandy or sunburned. Tip: make sure you grab a seat on the right side of the train, depending on the direction of the journey!
12. Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad, Colorado
Relax and drink in the sights and sounds of the Rocky Mountains while eating melt-in-your-mouth BBQ. This train journey is a delight for all of your senses. This railway is open during the summer season (May 28 - October 9), and train departure times vary. Adult tickets are $37 and child tickets are $20. They also offer a military ID discount. All rides are round-trip and last about 2.5 hours.
13. Las Vegas Monorail, Nevada
This is the ultimate way to see the Las Vegas strip without emptying your pockets or getting stuck in awful traffic. Stops include popular venues like MGM Grand, Bally's/Paris Las Vegas, Flamingo/Caesars Palace, Harrah's/Imperial Palace, Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas Hilton and Sahara. The cars are air-conditioned (huge plus) and provide an incredible view of the dazzling sights around town, especially at night. Trains run all week until the wee hours.
14. Hiwassee River Rail Adventure, Tennessee
This journey is an offshoot of the Tennessee Valley Railroad. Hop on the Hiwassee Loop and experience one of the best ways to see the breathtaking scenery of the region. The train leaves from Etowah and some locomotives offer seating with high level dome viewing.
15. Ashland Amtrak Train, Virginia
It may not be a historic steam engine, but this train ride is steeped in history. Head to the quaint downtown Ashland train station to view a fascinating museum of railroad related artifacts and historical articles. The train ride itself is also incredibly lovely.
16. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Georgia
This beautiful train runs through the even more beautiful Blue Ridge region of Georgia. The trip begins in Blue Ridge, a lovely town nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest. From there, the 4 hour, 26-mile round-trip journey takes passengers along the Toccoa River in vintage closed or open-air rail cars. Guests will have a 2-hour layover in Copperhill/McCaysville (the town actually has two names due to being on the GA/TN border), which is a great spot to grab some grub or shop for antiques.
17. New River Train Excursions, West Virginia
Though you can't go wrong catching a ride on this train during the summer months, this journey is truly best undertaken once the leaves start to turn. Chug through the gorgeous New River Gorge and take in the beauty of the autumn foliage without having to plan your own route through the region's forests. The fall foliage tours run October 15, 16, 22, and 23.
18. Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway, Arkansas
If you're a fan of railroad memorabilia, you'll love this train ride. Offering excursion tours and catered dinner trips from Eureka Springs, this railway stops off at a depot filled with vintage train items and signage that is sure to spark your imagination. Each tour lasts slightly less than an hour, which makes this a convenient and fun way to pass an afternoon with the family, or get a much-needed break from the everyday.