15 Most Scenic Train Rides In The U.S.

There's just something about hopping on a train for a scenic adventure. It's nostalgic, it's cozy, and it's a creative way to get around in today's air-and-road-dominated spheres of travel. Whether you're looking for a slow chug through snow-clad forests, a charming journey through historic towns, or an epic multi-state excursion, there are so many options to choose from. 

The United States is full of breathtaking views and charming little mountain towns that are worth a visit. Opt for a shorter trip that lasts just a couple of hours and makes for a perfect afternoon escape into nature, or embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey across the American Southwest. Traveling solo? Be sure to bookmark our top tips for a successful solo train trip. No matter if you're a seasoned passenger or are looking to book your first-ever train ticket, if you're after the East Coast or West Coast, mountains or desert, prairies or coastlines, we've got you covered.  

All aboard! These are the best, most scenic train rides in the United States.

Grand Canyon Railway

Williams, Arizona to South Rim

Fancy yourself a Wild West adventurer but want a bit of comfort, too? The Grand Canyon Railway is just the thing. Following a historic route to the majestic spot, the Grand Canyon Railway is the ultimate train ride for fiery canyon views of one of the United States' — and the world's — most iconic landscape attractions.

Unless you want to catch a light blanket of snow across the canyon, which is beautiful in its own right, it's best to plan your train ride in the fall or spring when the weather is mild, promising stunning views of the impossibly deep and wide burnt orange canyons. The journey begins in Williams before arriving in South Rim, where you'll have a few hours to explore the historic village and dive into the region's fascinating heritage. 

After some time in the village, it's time to head back to Williams. With about two hours of train travel between Williams and South Rim, plus the time spent in the historic village, the train ride easily takes up an entire day. Book your tickets in the Pullman class, where you can ride in an original 1923 coach complete with Western entertainers (cowboy serenade, anyone?) for just $70 round trip.

Cape Cod Railroad

Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts

For picturesque coastal scenes and sleepy seaside villages, hop on board the Cape Cod Railroad. Cruising around Cape Cod and loaded with history of the region's wildlife, salt marshes, glass industry, and unique coastal ecosystem, this itinerary promises — and delivers — plenty. We recommend the Cape Cod Canal narrated excursion that begins in Buzzards Bay and winds through stunning scenery with a stop in Sandwich, the oldest village on the Cape. 

First-class tickets can be purchased for $40, with snacks and beverages available for purchase on board — don't miss the lobster roll on brioche, trust us. We recommend going in the summer when the surroundings are sunny and lush. Care for a pint? Opt for the Rails and Ales beer-tasting itinerary, where you can take in the stunning scenery while enjoying seasonal bites and local brews along the way for $75 a person. Be sure to plan in advance for the beer train as the schedule is limited, and it fills up fast.

The Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad

Cass, West Virginia to Bald Knob

Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong — Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in West Virginia! Hop on the Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad for a breathtaking journey through West Virginia's backcountry to Bald Knob. Winding through the Appalachian wilderness making the steep climb up Back Allegheny Mountain, you can expect jaw-dropping vistas of the rolling hills, mountain views that cradle the state park, and dense, emerald forests full of wildlife. It's a truly gorgeous trip.

Be sure to check their full roster for exact scheduling and pricing, and be sure to select the Bald Knob itinerary. We recommend booking your tickets in the spring when you can enjoy the warm breeze that rushes through the open-air cars. Alternatively, you can book a fall trip, when you can take in the stunning foliage and cozy atmosphere — both creating a full immersion for passengers.

Empire Builder

Chicago to Seattle or Portland, Oregon

Dose up on idyllic Pacific Northwest wilderness and bustling, vibrant cities all in the same adventure with an epic journey on the Empire Builder. Beginning in Chicago and ending in Portland, this Amtrak route transports passengers across the vast expanse of the American West. Prepare to wind through the North Dakota Plains, where the views stretch out to infinity, before cruising on into Big Sky Country, where breathtaking Glacier National Park awaits. Finish your journey in either Portland or Seattle, both of which make for a great weekend adventure to stretch your legs after the 46-hour journey from Chicago. 

The coach fare from Chicago to Seattle runs at about $160, though a private room can be purchased for closer to $1,000 if you're really looking to splash out. Either way, you'll have access to plenty of onboard amenities like Wi-Fi, state-of-the-art dining services, and lounge areas. Still not sure about 46 hours on a train? Consider breaking up the journey along the way by staying a day in Glacier National Park to enjoy some hiking. While the scenery is no doubt beautiful any time of year, we recommend the summer season when you have more hours of daylight to take in the panoramic views from your seat.

Coast Starlight

Los Angeles to Seattle

How about a leisurely train ride from the Emerald City to the City of Angels? With a ride on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, you can do just that. Running daily from Los Angeles to Seattle, this train journey takes passengers along some of the West Coast's most spectacular landscapes. For endless ocean views, be sure to book a ticket on the left side of the train from Los Angeles to Seattle, or the right side if you're traveling from Seattle to Los Angeles.

It's not just the Pacific to look forward to, either. You can also expect phenomenal views of the Cascade Mountain range, Klamath Falls, and so much more. Similar to the Empire Builder, we recommend splitting the trip with a night or two to explore stops along the way, such as a wilderness adventure in Klamath Falls or a wine excursion in San Luis Obispo. Either way, you're in for the adventure of a lifetime on this world-class train journey along the West Coast. Book your tickets in early fall for the best weather to explore the stops along the way. The coach ticket from Los Angeles to Seattle runs about $100, while a private room is around $850.

Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic

Anchorage to Seward, Alaska

Few places are as majestic as the Alaskan countryside. Snaking from Anchorage to Seward, the Coastal Classic train journey on the Alaska Railroad is a must for adventure lovers. With fantastic views of the rugged Chugach Range and sparkling sea, plus plenty of sites and creature comforts in Seward, this train journey has something for everyone. Marvel at the Turnagin Arm, home to the country's largest tidal range, or daydream about the wide open frontier that is Resurrection Bay — just don't forget your camera. 

For a roundtrip journey, which includes a full day in Seward, you can expect to pay about $200. We recommend planning your trip for May when the wildflowers are in full bloom, and the lush wilderness is spring-ing (get it?) back to life. To get the full experience, spend your day in Seward at the Kenai Fjords National Park, where unmatched scenery awaits.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa to St. Helena, California

Let's be honest: There's nothing better than a scenic train ride that also includes a world-class wine experience. With the Napa Valley Wine Train's Legacy Experience ride, you get that and so much more. Hop on board for a full-day adventure through California's idyllic wine country loaded with rolling hills, serene country estates, and sprawling vineyards galore. And that's just outside the train. Inside, you'll be treated to a four-course meal fit for true gourmands and spacious seating to enjoy your luxury train experience. You can also expect special tastings along the way at some of Napa Valley's most respected wineries. There's plenty of time to slow down and clink a glass or two.

Since it's Napa Valley, the weather is just about perfect all year round. Go ahead and pick whatever month works best to embark on this indulgent adventure through California's spectacular wine country. For the Legacy Experience, tickets run between $525 and $550.

Southwest Chief

Chicago to Los Angeles via Albuquerque, New Mexico

Prairies, deserts, and canyons, oh my! This beautiful scenic train ride departs westward from Chicago to Los Angeles, transporting travelers through a wild west wonderland via Albuquerque, New Mexico. Clocking in at around 43 hours, Amtrak's Southwest Chief train ride makes for a well-rounded and fun adventure through some of New Mexico and Arizona's most serene landscapes. 

While the train runs year-round, we recommend booking your tickets around spring or fall when, as Goldilocks would say, the weather is not too hot, not too cold, but just right. For spectacular views, be sure to spend some time in the Sightseer Lounge onboard, and to break up the trip, stop for a day in Flagstaff for some outdoor fun and Native American pueblo sites before continuing on to the City of Angels. If you have time, we also recommend a day in Kansas City to indulge in tasty barbecue and jazz bars. Not including any excursions, you can expect the journey to take about 43 hours and run about $145 for coach or $788 for a private room — not too bad if you ask us.

Mount Washington Cog Railway

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

How does a summer excursion through the wilds of New Hampshire up to Mount Washington sound? Climbing to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast, the Mount Washington Cog Railway makes for an excellent day trip. 

The entire journey takes approximately three hours to climb the cog to the top of the summit, where travelers will then be able to explore the vast beauty of Mount Washington State Park, all for about $100. While summer is ideal for galavanting around the state park at the mighty summit, in winter, a different but equally thrilling adventure can be had. Visitors can take a train halfway up the mountain to the Waumbeck station, where you'll be greeted with stellar views of Quebec to the north and Vermont to the west. The winter excursion lasts just an hour roundtrip and costs $49, making it ideal for a winter afternoon outing.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Blue Ridge, Georgia

Wind through the North Georgia countryside deep in the Appalachian foothills on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Beginning in the idyllic historic downtown of Blue Ridge, Georgia, the train chugs through dense woods en route to the charming towns of McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee, where visitors can learn about local history, do some antique shopping, indulge in cozy eateries, and take in the mountainous scenery that creates the perfect backdrop for adventure.

While the route is breathtaking year-round, it's particularly stunning in the fall. Enjoy the vibrant foliage in the forests and rolling orange and yellow hills in October, when tickets start at $67. In the open-air coach option, you can expect plush benches and open windows that make for great leaf-peeping. Looking to splurge a bit? The premier car option starts at $100 and includes individual seating and compliments and amenities such as a tote bag, gourmet snacks, and beverages.

California Zephyr

Chicago to Emeryville, California

The snow-capped Rocky Mountains, shrub-covered Glenwood Canyons, gushing Truckee River, and shimmering San Pablo Bay await you on one of America's best rail rides. Running from Chicago to Emeryville, California, just outside San Francisco, with notable stops in Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City, Amtrak's California Zephyr is in a league of its own. 

While the vibrant cities make for fun stopovers, the real fun is had in taking in the scenery from your comfy coach seat selection or private roomette, which start around $145 and $1,284, respectively. Clocking in at about 52 hours, scenery along the way includes some of the most spectacular areas of Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Northern California. Book in the fall season to marvel at the colorful expanse of the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas and wonder at the crystal clear shores of Donner Lake, or take in the thriving nightlife of Denver's Mile High City. Either way, the California Zephyr guarantees the adventure of a lifetime. 

Rocky Mountaineer Rockies to the Red Rocks

Moab, Utah to Denver, Colorado

The famed Canadian rail, Rocky Mountaineer, known and loved for its luxurious and scenic train rides through the Canadian Rockies, now has a United States itinerary. Running along the winding Colorado River, the Rocky Mountaineer's Rockies to the Red Rocks route takes travelers from Moab, Utah, to Denver, Colorado, with jaw-dropping sights of burnt orange canyons, steep, rocky cliffsides, vast deserts, and impossibly high rock formations along the way.

You'll begin your journey in Moab, spending a day en route to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where you'll stay overnight before hitting the rails the following day for Denver. Rocky Mountaineer prioritizes luxury, meaning it pulls out all the stops to ensure you have a comfortable and memorable journey from start to finish. Expect gourmet meals and top-notch service while you take in the majestic splendor of the American Southwest. Prices begin at $1,599, and tickets are best booked for early fall when the weather is crisp and clear.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Nantahala Gorge Excursion

Bryson City, North Carolina

Take an epic train ride along the Nantahala River through the gorge of the same name on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Departing from Bryson City, North Carolina, the Nantahala Gorge Excursion weaves through some of the most stunning scenery the Smoky Mountains have to offer. Enjoy a ride across the Fontana Trestle Bridge that teeters high over Fontana Lake before exploring the marvelous Nantahala Gorge itself. 

Tickets begin at $58 for coach and go up to $124 for first class. We recommend opting for the first-class ticket, which includes spacious assigned seating, a tasty meal onboard, a souvenir mug, and, importantly, panoramic windows to take all the scenery in during the four-and-a-half-hour journey. On the note of scenery, book your tickets for late September or early October when the fall colors have completely taken over the Smokies.

The Hawaiian Railway Society

Oahu, Hawaii

Embark on an epic Hawaiian adventure on Oahu's only historic railroad, The Hawaiian Railway Society. Learn about the unique history of railroads in Hawaii while also admiring the stunning beauty of its turquoise shores and lush jungles. You'll start your two-hour round-trip journey from Ewa and be treated to fascinating stories of local history all along the way. Guests can also expect gorgeous views of the ocean at Kahe Point and the town of Gilbert.

At just $18 a person, this train ride offers a serious bang for your buck in terms of history, scenery, and convenience. Running weekly on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, we recommend booking for the Wednesday or Saturday option, which includes a stop at an ice cream shop for a tasty treat. It's also best to book your train ride in the summer months when there's less of a chance for rainy weather.

Cascade Canyon Winter Train

Durango, Colorado to Cascade Canyon

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque railroad journey than the Cascade Canyon Winter Train. Running between the winter wonderlands of Durango and Cascade Canyon, this train gives travelers some of the best views of the Colorado winter — rugged mountains, dense forests, plunging gorges, and gorgeous cliffsides, all covered with a generous dusting of snow. It's one of the most beautiful winter train rides in North America.

Take in the magnificent wilderness from your cozy cabin seat as the train winds around narrow mountainsides and through the thick woods of San Juan National Forest before arriving at Cascade Canyon. Once there, you can enjoy the winter landscape with a hike along the river before making your way back through the wilderness to Durango. This magical winter journey lasts about five and a half hours, with tickets starting at $89 for coach. Be sure to book in advance, as seats fill up fast.