10 American Train Trips of a Lifetime

Here are some of the best ways to sit back and enjoy the scenery, history, culture or cuisine while traversing spectacular parts of the country by rail.

train tripTomas Kulaja / Shutterstock.com

Want to unplug and unwind on your vacation? Consider leaving the car at home and taking a train.

Train trips offer fabulous views of mountains, deserts, oceans and forests, as well as cultural and historic experiences. They allow you to ponder the scenery instead of the traffic.

“You get a chance to relax,” said Sylvia Blishak, co-owner of Train Travel Consulting in Klamath Falls, Oregon. “You can get back into the habit of being in the moment.”

The cost will depend on the season, route and class of train car. But discounts are often available for military members, seniors, students, children and members of AARP or AAA.

Following are 10 of the most fantastic, scenic train trips in the United States.

1. California Zephyr

People board the Amtrak passenger train California Zephyr in Grand Junction, ColoradoMichael Rosebrock / Shutterstock.com

The Amtrak route running between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area takes about two days.

After crossing rivers and enjoying the passing panorama of the Plains, passengers get to see the Rocky Mountains, along with Colorado’s Gore, Byers and Glenwood Canyons. They also cross the Continental Divide and see San Pablo Bay just north of San Francisco.

Visit Amtrak’s to learn about current promotions. Visit the “” page to learn about ongoing price breaks available for folks like military members, seniors, children and others.

2. Cass Scenic Railroad

Passengers of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park train enjoy the view from the Bald Knob overlook in Back Allegheny Mountain, West VirginiaEsther Kolis / Shutterstock.com

For a short but magical historical jaunt, try the rail line. Riding in a restored steam-powered train, you will traverse the scenic mountains of eastern West Virginia.

The full route from the Cass Depot up the mountainside to Bald Knob — the summit of Back Allegheny Mountain at more than 4,800 feet — is about 4½ hours round-trip. The Bald Knob overlook (pictured) offers views of two states and the valley below on clear days.

range from free (for children ages 3 and younger) to $66, depending on the date. Discounts are also available for children ages 4 to 11 and seniors age 65 and older. An overnight trip is also available.

3. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

View from the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RailroadArtBitz / Shutterstock.com

, which has been designated a national historic landmark, runs between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico, from late May through October. Full-day trips are about six to eight hours long, depending on the route you choose. Half-day trips are also offered.

The dramatic views include San Luis Valley and the 800-foot-deep Toltec Gorge as well as Rocky Mountain peaks and the San Juan Mountains’ Cumbres Pass — which at some 10,000 feet is the highest mountain pass in the U.S. that is reachable by rail. Lunch is served in Osier, Colorado.

Fares vary depending on your age, whether you travel in the summer or fall season and what car option you choose — parlor, tourist, coach or gondola car. The railroad’s “” page detail several special promotions and ongoing discounts.

4. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

A train on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RailroadTony Craddock / Shutterstock.com

takes passengers along the Animas River and through wilderness that can’t be accessed by any roads.

The train travels a 45-mile stretch of rail between Durango and Silverton from early May to late October. The round-trip train tour is about nine hours, including a two-hour stop in Silverton, a historic mining town.

Visit the railway’s “” page to learn about discounts, which are available for children, seniors and both active and retired military members.

5. Ethan Allen Express

An aerial view of Penn Station in Manhattan, New York CityRichard Cavalleri / Shutterstock.com

A ride on between New York City (pictured) and Rutland, Vermont, is about 5½ hours. It features wilderness and views of the Hudson River Valley and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Again, visit Amtrak’s to learn about current promotions as well as everyday discounts.

6. Grand Canyon Railway

The Grand Canyon RailwayKPG_Payless / Shutterstock.com

offers travelers a unique and low-stress way to view the heavily tourist-invaded Grand Canyon — one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Since 1901, this train has been taking passengers to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Leaving from Williams, Arizona, the ride is two hours and 15 minutes each way.

Six classes of service are available, starting with the Pullman Car at $67 for adults and $32 for children. Visit the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel’s “” page to learn about the multiple discounts and packages that are available.

7. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroaddigidreamgrafix / Shutterstock.com

The route in western North Carolina begins at a historic depot in Bryson City and takes riders through the mountains. Two round-trip excursions are available.

On the 4½-hour Nantahala Gorge Excursion, the train travels along the Tennessee and Nantahala rivers to the gorge. It stops for an hour at the Nantahala Outdoor Center before returning.

Riders on the four-hour Tuckasegee River Excursion travel through countryside — passing a set from the Harrison Ford movie “The Fugitive.” It stops in the historic town of Dillsboro for an hour and a half before returning.

are available for residents of certain North Carolina counties, seniors, AAA members and current and former military service members.

8. Napa Valley Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train in CaliforniaAndrew Zarivny / Shutterstock.com

traversing the popular wine valley combines fine dining, vintage cars and, of course, wine. It travels 36 miles from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back, passing famous and historic wineries.

The Napa Valley Wine Train offers various tours, categorized as “Dining Journeys,” “Day Trippers” or “Quattro Vino Tours.” There’s even a murder mystery dinner option.

9. Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Mount Washington Cog Railway in New HampshireJon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

The , a National Historic Engineering Landmark, is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It’s open primarily in the summer and fall.

Built for climbing Mount Washington, this rail line offers riders a view of up to five U.S. states, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean on clear days.

Tickets for the three-hour round trip start at $72 for ages 13 to 64, $68 for ages 65 and older, $41 for children ages 4 to 12 and free for younger children on an adult’s lap. are available.

10. Rocky Mountaineer’s Coastal Passage

A Rocky Mountaineer train in the Canadian RockiesLissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

links Seattle with Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Canadian Rockies.

During the all-daylight journey, passengers view the Pacific Ocean’s coastline and Puget Sound and traverse the Fraser River Swing Bridge in British Columbia.

Several price packages are available, starting around $1,200 for two-day trips.

What are your experiences and impressions of traveling by rail? Share with us in comments below or on our .


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