Bucket List August 17, 2021
18 Epic Train Rides That Show Off Some Of America’s Prettiest Landscapes
Ferris Bueller said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This unexpected nugget of wisdom from a high schooler really captures what our Bucket List articles try to do; that is, show you some of the most incredible places across the country that are just waiting to be explored and enjoyed. And in terms of stopping and looking around, well, there’s perhaps no better way to do that than aboard a train. There’s something inherently charming and magical about a train ride; sitting back while the world passes by, feeling the solid wood booths beneath you, with the chug of the locomotive and passenger chatter humming in the background. The following 18 train rides show off some of America’s most sweeping and scenic landscapes, offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ll never forget.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
Alaska Railroad - Alaska
Anchorage Depot, 411 W 1st Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501, USA
There's no better (and warmer!) way to explore the Last Frontier than aboard the Alaska Railroad. Stationed in Anchorage, the Alaska Railroad hails from 1903, and has been leading adventurers through some of the state's most breathtaking natural areas in the 100+ years since. After just one ride on this spectacular trip, you'll fully understand why National Geographic Traveler ranked it among their "Top 10 Train Rides in North America." Soak in views of the Turnagain Arm and Chugach National Forest as you head south from Anchorage to Seward on one of the
absolute best day trips in Alaska
Empire Builder - Washington to Illinois
1301 W 11th St, Vancouver, WA 98660, USA
Experience the rugged splendor America like never before aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder train. Traveling daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest and following major portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Empire Builder takes passengers on their very own American adventure. The 2,206-mile route ventures through the country's most majestic wilderness and stunning landscapes, following the footsteps of early pioneers. Underrepresented places like North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho get star treatment along this route, giving passengers newfound appreciation for these often-overlooked states. This
is one of the most epic American adventures you'll ever have.
Mount Hood Railroad - Oregon
Mount Hood Railroad, 110 Railroad Street, Hood River, OR 97031, USA
When you live in a place like Oregon that's surrounded by natural beauty, it can be easy to lose sight of just how extraordinary this part of the country really is. Sometimes we all need a reminder to stop and smell the roses -- or, in Oregon, the cherry blossoms. And the
Mount Hood Railroad
is the perfect place to do just that. This charming passenger train is a big dose of nostalgia; an experience that will send you back to a simpler time. And while the train itself is utterly delightful, it’s the
on these excursions that you’ll remember most. During the spring, when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, the scenery surrounding majestic Mount Hood is awash in enchanting white and pink blooms. But any time of the year, the Mount Hood Railroad offers some of the most breathtaking views in the country, and is the perfect way to relish the resplendence the PNW.
Coast Starlight - California to Seattle
800 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Widely regarded as one of the
most spectacular train routes in the country
, Amtrak's Coast Starlight links the greatest cities on the West Coast, from Los Angeles all the way to Seattle. The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unsurpassed; along the 35-hour ride, you'll see the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, old-growth forests in California and Oregon, and long stretches of pristine Pacific Ocean shoreline. Winsome dining and sleeping cars only add to the charm of this epic trip. The Coast Starlight is a dazzling
tour de force
of the West Coast; a must for anyone looking for a scenic adventure.
Roaring Camp Railroads - California
5401 Graham Hill Rd, Felton, CA 95018, USA
For the most spectacular views of Northern California, look no further than
Roaring Camp Railroads
. This historic line offers two train rides through California's most wondrous treasure: its towering redwood groves. One of the rides, the Redwood Forest Steam Train, takes passengers over trestles beneath a towering redwood canopy, winding along the narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain. The train's steam engines date back to 1890 and are considered some of the oldest that are still providing passenger service in America, making this a one-in-a-lifetime adventure you must experience.
Napa Valley Wine Train - California
1275 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559, USA
There's nowhere more beautiful than California's Napa Valley; a fertile oasis growing some of the best grapes in the world. Home to over 400 wineries, Napa Valley is world-renowned for its wines
spectacular natural scenery. Oenophiles and aesthetes alike must take the
Napa Valley Wine Train
, which offers excursions into the idyllic California countryside. This is both a wonderful
responsible way to see Napa Valley, as you'll pass through Oak Knoll, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena. Of course, local wines are served during the three-hour ride, making for a perfect pairing of vino and gorgeous NorCal scenery.
Grand Canyon Railway - Arizona
Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023, USA
Arizona's Grand Canyon is one of the country's crown jewels, and visiting this national treasure is a bucket list item for many. While there are numerous ways to explore this natural wonder, none is more unique nor enchanting than the
Grand Canyon Railway
. Traveling between Williams, Arizona, to the majestic Grand Canyon daily, the historic Grand Canyon Railway is a classic adventure with broad appeal. Passengers can choose between six different classes of train service, ranging from the original, circa-1923 Pullman cars to the Luxury Parlor complete with a private bar and adjoining rear platform. But really, it's not about what's
the train cars; it's about the breathtaking scenery
. And trust us -- the scenery here truly is extraordinary!
Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway - Colorado
515 Ruxton Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829, USA
Since 1891, The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway has taken millions of people on an unforgettable trip to the highest point of the southern Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. At 14,115 feet, this summit is a favorite for seasoned hikers; however, for most, it's quite literally out of reach. Luckily, there's the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. This nine-mile journey takes passengers to the top of Pikes Peak, traveling along Ruxton Creek, past Minnehaha, and through Deer Park along the way. It's an immensely scenic adventure offering million-dollar views of some of the prettiest landscape in the country. For awhile, the
future of this railway hung in the balance
; however, in May 2021, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway reopened in a dazzling comeback following much-needed repairs and restoration.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad - Colorado
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, 479 Main Ave, Durango, CO 81301, USA
Named one of the
most scenic train rides in the world
, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a bucket-list adventure in the American West. This coal-fired steam locomotive journeys past some of the most incredible areas in Colorado, through the stark wilderness and majestic canyons of the San Juan National Forest. What makes this excursion so special is that it makes Colorado's most immense and impressive natural wonders accessible for anyone -- not just avid outdoor adventurers and enthusiasts.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad - New Mexico and Colorado
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, 500 Terrace Ave, Chama, NM 87520, USA
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers a 64-mile, round-trip journey from Chama in northern New Mexico to Antonito in Colorado. The locomotive that you'll board is a powerhouse that ascends up into the mountains with grace and ease. Cruising through the Rocky Mountains, passengers aboard the
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
are in for a real scenic treat. An open-air gondola allows for an immersive experience aboard this historic train, letting passengers catch cool Colorado breezes while gazing upon the stunning naturescape of the Southwest.
Branson Scenic Railway - Missouri
Branson Scenic Railway, 206 E Main St, Branson, MO 65616, USA
Missouri is home to many beautiful places and natural wonders, and a train ride really is the best way to slow down and soak up the views. Happily, you can discover Missouri’s stunning Ozarks with a relaxing train ride on the
Branson Scenic Railway
. Take a seat under the glass dome roof, enjoy a meal, and take pleasure in the beautiful scenery aboard the Branson Scenic Railway. On this railroad, passengers will embark on a 40-mile trip into the heart of the Missouri Ozarks, and it's a memorable experience you won't soon forget.
Arkansas Missouri Railroad - Arkansas
Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, 306 E Emma Ave, Springdale, AR 72764, USA
Arkansas is filled with beautiful hikes as well as scenic drives, but there’s another way to take in the sights of the Natural State, and that's aboard a train. The
offers gorgeous train rides through one of the prettiest parts of the country. Each of the railroad excursions will treat you to breathtaking views all year-round; but during the autumn, when the leaves begin to change, you will be rendered speechless by the captivating Arkansas Ozarks. This is the absolute best way to experience the splendor of one of America's most resplendent regions.
Crescent Train - Louisiana to New York
1001 Loyola Ave, New Orleans, LA 70113, USA
Amtrak's Crescent Train is a 30-hour expedition that takes passengers from the Big Apple to the Big Easy. This ride spans 1,300 immaculate miles and
passes through more states
than any other Amtrak route. Venturing deep into the American South, the train rolls through iconic Mid-Atlantic cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., before venturing into the heart of the South with places like Greenville, Atlanta, and Birmingham. New Orleans is the perfect end point for this route; a grand finale of jazz clubs, Cajun restaurants, and indelible, exuberant culture.
Great Smoky Mountains Railway - North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, 45 Mitchell St, Bryson City, NC 28713, USA
In North Carolina, taking the scenic route is always the best option. Between the Tar Heel State's picturesque mountains, rolling hills and valleys, and babbling streams and rivers, the only way to
enjoy the views is to go the old-fashioned route, and take a train. Based in Bryson City, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad operates several different excursions throughout remote and scenic sections of the resplendent range. While the railroad’s rides are all spectacular, you’ll definitely want to book your tickets for the
. For four and a half hours, you'll ride along the beautiful Nantahala River, hear Appalachian tales, and venture across some of the country's most magnificent mountain scenery. This is another ride to add to your fall list, as the cooler temps bring a color and depth to the Smoky Mountains that's positively perfect.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad - Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Rockside Station, 7900 Old Rockside Rd, Independence, OH 44131, USA
Ohio's only national park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the Midwest's most dazzling hidden gems. Hilly and lush, full of rivers and valleys, it's a pristine place that you'll simply want to
-- and the National Scenic Park Ride aboard the
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
is the perfect way to do just that. Along this scenic three-and-a-half-hour train ride, you'll journey straight through the Cuyahoga River Valley, along the eponymous river and past gorgeous wetlands (yes -- Ohio has wetlands!). This excursion offers an unrivaled experience of one of the country's finest and overlooked national parks that's sure to give passengers a newfound appreciation for the Midwest.
Cass Scenic Railroad - West Virginia
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, 12363 Cass Rd, Cass, WV 24927, USA
Way up in the mountains of West Virginia lies Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, a place where visitors can take a step back in time aboard a restored, steam-powered locomotive. Originally built to transport logs to a West Virginia lumber mill, Cass Scenic Railroad has been transformed into one of the most scenic, historic, and interesting passenger trains in the country. Trips depart from the town of Cass and take visitors to Whittaker Station (a two-hour ride) or all the way to Bald Knob (a four-and-a-half hour adventure). We're partial to the
excursion; featuring a unique ecosystem that's more similar to what you might expect to find in Canada than West Virginia, Bald Knob rises high above all but one of West Virginia's myriad mountain peaks. The train climbs an impressive 2,290 feet from the Cass Depot to the top of Bald Knob, for a breathtaking adventure that's absolutely fitting for
America the Beautiful
Mount Washington Cog Railway - New Hampshire
The Mount Washington Cog Railway, 3168 Base Station Rd, Mount Washington, NH 03589, USA
One of the most notable features in the Northeast is New Hampshire's stately Mount Washington. Standing at 6,288 feet, it’s the tallest peak in the Northeast and also one of the most beautiful. And while you can summit this beautiful mountain by hiking or even driving, there’s a truly unique way to experience Mount Washington that belongs on your bucket list, and that's the
eponymous Mount Washington Cog Railway
. This railroad has a rich history; the first cog-driven train made the climb on July 3, 1869, and has been taking adventurous passengers to this peak ever since. The three-hour ride ascends slowly into the clouds, boasting jaw-dropping panoramas with each foot climbed. In fact, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is a National Historic Engineering Landmark, and it's really a piece of history you must experience.
Aclea Train - The U.S. East Coast, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington D.C.
Amtrak's seven-hour Acela Train is an epic tour of the East Coast, venturing from Boston all the way to Washington D.C. Along the way, you'll stop and experience the culture of the Eastern Seaboard; you can enjoy fresh clam chowder in Boston, learn about U.S. history in D.C., or go museum hopping in Philly. Not only will the views outside dazzle and delight, but Amtrak's Acela cars are
to be the height of modern luxury. If it's epic views and luxurious comfort you're seeking, the Acela Train will deliver in spades.
Sometimes the journey really is just as important as the destination. Such is the case for passengers who step aboard these superlative trains. Climb aboard and get ready for an epic train ride that showcases the very best of America the Beautiful.
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