Beautiful Train Rides To Take In North America During The Winter

The winter season adds an extra touch of magic to some of North America's most scenic train rides. Bid farewell to the challenges of snow-covered roads and crowded airports. Instead, nestle into the comfort of a train, sipping hot cocoa as breathtaking winter landscapes — inaccessible by road or air — sweep past your window.

Whether it's a multi-day expedition with cozy hotel layovers, an overnight train odyssey where you can snuggle into your own roomette, a day-long adventure, or a festive one-hour jaunt filled with holiday spirit, there's a journey for every kind of traveler. From sleek modern trains to restored vintage classics, various rail experiences await your winter wanderlust. And rest assured, whether traveling with a small historic railroad or a national corporation like Amtrak, rail companies work hard to make winter train travel safe and comfortable. No matter which train you choose for your long-distance trip, you can relax worry-free while enjoying the journey.

Canadian Rockies and Lake Louise Winter Explorer

Embark on a breathtaking Amtrak Vacations adventure, journeying from Vancouver, B.C. to Calgary, A.B. Your expedition starts with two days immersed in Vancouver's rich tapestry of cultures, nestled between majestic mountains and sparkling seas.

Step aboard the VIA Rail for an overnight ride through the snow-covered Canadian Rockies. Arrive in the heart of Jasper National Park, a winter paradise with waterfalls, lakes, forests, and awe-inspiring glaciers. Dive deep into the park's wintery secrets with a wildlife tour. Look out for elk, mountain goats, moose, coyotes, and even the elusive wolves as you discover tales about how these animals survive the chilling embrace of winter.

Set your sights next on the iconic Lake Louise before being swept away to the enchanting town of Banff. Here, an exhilarating gondola ride awaits, whisking you atop Sulphur Mountain for panoramic views of the winter landscape below. Conclude your rail journey in the bustling streets of Calgary, with a camera full of memories and stories waiting to be shared.

Head west from Chicago

Recognized as one of the crown jewels of North American train journeys, Amtrak's California Zephyr route promises sights that are simply unparalleled. Kick off your adventure in Chicago. Plenty of indoor activities will keep you sheltered from Chicago's notoriously cold and windy winters. Before boarding the train, explore world-renowned museums and indulge in a slice of legendary deep-dish pizza. Once aboard, watch as the urban sprawl fades into the vast expanse of Illinois prairies. You'll cross the Mississippi River on a rail bridge, marking your entry into Iowa, and then sweep through the plains of Nebraska.

In Colorado, the train climbs through the heart of the Rockies, winding alongside the Colorado River. In addition to craggy canyons and snow-draped landscapes, marvel at engineering history as you journey through Moffat Tunnel. Designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, it takes about 15 minutes for the train to traverse through this 6.2-mile rail tunnel. The tunnel cuts through the Continental Divide near the Winter Park Resort ski area.

You'll be treated to more winter mountain scenery as you continue westward into the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. Glide past the shimmering Donner Lake and ascend the breathtaking mile-high Donner Pass. Before you know it, you're in California's vibrant capital, Sacramento. Skirt past the serene San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Strait, signaling your arrival in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. Though the train halts in Emeryville, bus service is available to San Francisco.

Grand Canyon by train

Six days and roundtrip from Chicago, Vacations by Rail Winter Escape takes you through America's southwest to the Grand Canyon. Imagine waking up aboard Amtrak's majestic Southwest Chief, as the pristine snow-covered plains of Kansas gently unfold outside your window. As you drift further southwest, the snow melts away, giving hints of the sunny views awaiting you. Upon reaching Flagstaff, Arizona, a shuttle whisks you away to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel for the night.

In the morning, you'll step aboard the vintage Grand Canyon Railway, originally crafted to carry precious ore from distant mines. As the southwest landscape rushes by, enjoy the train's musicians and cowboys who bring the Old West alive. You're in good company — luminaries like William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, and Doris Day have all been entranced by this very route.

And then ... the Grand Canyon in winter! A time when the crowds thin out but the views remain as majestic as ever. Dive into its wonders with a narrated bus tour along the South Rim, pausing at iconic spots like Hermits Rest and Pima Point. Retreat for the night to a lodge nestled within the park. Then, enjoy the next day to soak in more of the canyon's allure. Finally, set your sights back on Chicago. Retrace your tracks with more great views on the way back, along with plenty of photos to sort through.

Mississippi views and the Pacific Northwest

Imagine journeying through a living canvas of some of America's most captivating winter scenes. That's what awaits you aboard the Empire Builder. Setting off every afternoon from the vibrant hubs of Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, the 46-hour trip weaves its magic as it makes its way east toward Chicago. Fancy the reverse trip? Chicago sends off its own daily afternoon voyages.

Settle into the Observation car, designed with seats facing panoramic windows. Your backdrop includes rugged western terrains and the pristine winter wilderness, with much of the route along the Lewis and Clark trail. Depending on the direction you take, you might enjoy views of the Mississippi, the charm of North Dakota's towns, the awe-inspiring Gassman Coulee Trestle steel rail bridge, and Montana's big sky country.

For those journeying east, some of the most scenic views of the trip come as the train hugs the southern border of Glacier National Park, home to 7,000-year-old glaciers. This vast expanse of wilderness, with its dramatic mountain ranges, deep valleys, and glacial-carved terrain, takes on a surreal beauty under the blanket of winter. Heading westbound in winter? It's nighttime through the park. Consider an overnight halt — the daylight views are worth a stop.

Oceans and mountains along the west coast

Journey aboard Amtrak's Coast Starlight, a name that has graced this iconic route since spring 1974. Its moniker is a tribute to two former Southern Pacific trains — the Coast Daylight and the Starlight — melding their legacies into one captivating experience. Renowned not only for its picturesque views but also for its modern amenities, travelers are treated to breathtaking vistas that include the awe-inspiring Cascade Mountain Range, the bustling vibes of cityscapes, and the serene beauty of nature's coastal masterpieces. Departing daily from Los Angeles, this iconic train route embarks on a 35-hour odyssey that culminates in the vibrant city of Seattle.

Your window will frame ever-changing views, from the picturesque Santa Barbara and the lively pulse of the San Francisco Bay Area to the historic aura of California's capital, Sacramento. As you glide along, you're treated to an exclusive seaside spectacle, stretching over nearly 350 miles of California's coastline. The proximity to the ocean is so intimate, you might just catch a glimpse of majestic whales playfully spouting greetings as they breach the surface.

But this trip isn't just about the ocean — the Coast Starlight can also namedrop mountains. Feast your eyes on the snow-capped summits of Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and the mighty Mt. Rainier. Along the way, enjoy forests of trees dusted in snow and bask in the beauty of sunlit valleys where winter seems to have forgotten its touch.

Vermonter with lots of snow

Amtrak's Vermonter route provides a breathtaking journey from the heart of the nation's capital to the snow-laden landscapes of northern Vermont. Leaving in the morning from Washington, D.C., the train meanders through nine states, offering passengers a visual tapestry of New England charm. As you start your nearly 14-hour journey, you'll witness the transformation of landscapes, from the towering skyscrapers of major cities like Philadelphia and New York City to the quaint snow-laced towns of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Journeying through some of America's snowiest states  — with Vermont proudly wearing its crown for the most snow — the Vermonter offers the best chance for a snow globe experience. Watch as winter paints countryside scenes, from picturesque colonial churches to rolling snow-draped hills. And for the snow sports enthusiasts, with Vermont parading its epic ski resorts and the East's longest ski season, you can ride to some of the country's best winter recreation with great views along the way.

But, the magic isn't confined to just the views. Eager to share your journey with the world? The Vermonter has you covered with onboard WiFi, ensuring you stay connected every step of the way.

Alaska's Aurora Winter Train

Embark on an unforgettable 12-hour journey between Anchorage and Fairbanks, where the wonders of Alaska unfold before your very eyes. Each Saturday, the Aurora Winter Train glides northward, returning on Sunday, with special mid-week departures available too. From stops in the charming towns of Wasilla and Talkeetna to the unspoiled, roadless wilderness near Hurricane Gulch, this journey is an exploration of Alaska's heartland. Sip a warm beverage from the cozy embrace of a heated railcar as views of untouched snow pass by through large panoramic windows.

On a clear day, the majestic Denali mountain emerges in the distance, towering over the serene Susitna River. But don't just gaze afar — watch your surroundings! Moose and other wildlife sightings are always a possibility.

Want to mix things up? Consider a rail-fly package. Operating from mid-September to mid-May, experience the beauty of Alaska both by train and plane as you ride the Aurora Winter Train in one direction and fly the other.

Montreal to New York

Start in Montreal, a city draped in European allure, with its cobblestone streets, historic cathedrals, and a delightful blend of French and North American cultures. End up in New York City, where the grandeur of the Empire State Building and the glittering lights of Times Square await your arrival. In between, enjoy breathtaking winter views. This 10-hour journey aboard Amtrak's Adirondack offers daily departures.

Along the route, enjoy scenes that capture the essence of winter in the Northeast. Admire snow-covered mountains and marvel at frozen lakes that shimmer under the winter sun. You'll pass by idyllic small towns, where chimney smoke curls into the frosty air and children play in the fresh snowfall. Travel through snow-draped vineyards of Hudson Valley's wine country. And enjoy the train's namesake — the beautiful panorama of the eastern border of the Adirondack Mountains.

The route is peppered with opportunities for winter wonder. Ski resorts, ice-skating rinks, snowmobile trails, and sledding hills dot the many possible stops along the way. But if you choose to remain nestled in the comfort of the train, you won't be missing out on the world outside. This is another Amtrak train offering free WiFi onboard.

Ride to Niagara Falls

Amtrak's Maple Leaf Route whisks you from New York City to Niagara Falls. As the city's skyline fades in the distance, find yourself lost in the captivating beauty of winter along the Hudson River. For nine enchanting hours, the train showcases a frozen world of quaint snow-draped towns, glimmering icy marinas, and majestic snow-crowned mountains.

Upon arrival to the Niagara Falls, New York Amtrak station, you're a mere five miles from Niagara Falls State Park. Buses, shuttles, and taxis are available for transportation between the station and the park. Niagara Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world and you can enjoy it with fewer crowds during the winter. Yet the views are arguably better during this season. Snow settles on every available surface. Mighty icicles form, some appearing like crystal daggers hanging precariously, while others meld with the cascading waters. This creates the famous illusion of "frozen falls." It's a unique perspective, quite different from the views in other seasons.

The allure of Niagara doesn't end at the falls, especially in winter. At the Cave of the Winds Pavilion, borrow snowshoes to embark on a frosty adventure to discover more breathtaking views. For a change of pace, visit the Aquarium of Niagara to see marine animals and enjoy interactive exhibits.

Colorado's Cascade Canyon Winter Train

This 5.25-hour roundtrip ride from Durango, Colorado travels along a historic railroad through the remote San Juan National Forest. The Durango & Silverton Railroad, a National Historic Landmark, maintains the railroad and the nostalgic engines of yesteryears. But the vintage flair doesn't mean a lack of modern amenities — coaches have bathrooms and are heated for your winter ride. The Cascade Canyon Winter Train runs mid-November through early May.

As the train chugs along, savor the beauty of the Rocky Mountains blanketed in snow. Watch the Animas River snake through the winter landscape. See ice-covered waterfalls and snow-covered pines. The train navigates steep mountain canyons and ventures through stretches of wilderness inaccessible by car.

Enjoy a scenic stopover in Cascade Canyon. This is a chance to stretch your legs with a short walk to the footbridge along the Animas River. Capture the vintage charm with lots of pictures of the historic train against the winter landscape. Or simply relax and enjoy a fireside lunch. Concessions are available for purchase on every train, or you can preorder a boxed lunch.

Verde Canyon train in Arizona

Verde Canyon — Arizona's other "grand canyon" — is only accessible by rail. Hop aboard a vintage diesel-powered train and be transported into a world where nature and history intertwine. The Verde River gently guides your path on this four-hour roundtrip ride from Clarkdale, Arizona. On board the Verde Canyon Railroad, every passenger has a seat in a luxurious coach and access to open-air viewing cars.

Let your gaze drift across the dramatic landscape, where fiery red rock pinnacles pierce into the sky. Marvel at the cacti-covered cliff walls and delight in the gentle sway of cottonwoods and sycamores. Nestled between the Prescott and Coconino National Forests, Verde Canyon is a prime spot for wildlife viewing year-round. Its unique riparian habitat merges desert and wetland, providing critical habitat for waterfowl, such as the Great Blue Heron. And scan the skies for bald eagles — sightings are common from the train, especially between December and March.

But the wonders of Verde Canyon aren't limited to nature. In cliffs towering above the tracks, you'll see ancient Sinagua ruins. Admire bridges built over 100 years ago (and safely reinforced since then). Plunge into 700 feet of total darkness as you traverse a human-made tunnel through solid rock. Reemerge for more scenic views in the Verde Canyon.

Napa Valley Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train is the perfect way to experience California's wine country. Any season offers a beautiful ride, but winter offers unique seasonal journeys, such as the Peppermint Tea Train and Santa Train Jolly Journeys. Rides are aboard a fully restored vintage Pullman train, roundtrip from Napa, California — about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco. The route traverses beautiful vineyards, passes posh farm real estate, and chugs through quaint towns with charming names like Oak Knoll and Oakville.

The winter Peppermint Tea Train is a holiday twist on traditional afternoon tea service. In addition to finger sandwiches and scones, the service includes sweet holiday treats and, of course, peppermint tea. If you want the winter ambiance but prefer a different flavor, other fine-steeped tea options are also available.

Santa Train Jolly Journeys are a chance to bring the season of joy aboard the train. From the moment you set foot at the station, cheerful carolers and twinkling photo ops with Santa whisk you into the holiday spirit. As the train chugs along, immerse yourself in a winter wonderland of holiday tunes and festive décor. Fresh-baked cookies, hot chocolate, and visits from Santa will add jolly to the journey. Some holiday trains, such as the Gourmet Holiday Express, include a three-course dinner aboard. Whatever voyage you choose, the blend of holiday cheer with the timeless charm of a vintage train sets you up for a magical winter journey.

The Polar Express

Historic and scenic railroad operators throughout the U.S. and Canada host The Polar Express Train Ride. This is a licensed event based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg. Awarded a Caldecott Medal, "The Polar Express" tells the story of a young boy who takes a magical train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

The one-hour trip features a read-along of the story. As wheels clatter and the tale unfolds, passengers enjoy cookies and hot chocolate, served by lively dancing chefs. And guess who else comes aboard — Santa and his jolly helpers! The film version of "The Polar Express" will come alive as characters lead onboard entertainment to the tunes of the movie soundtrack. Every passenger receives a shimmering sleigh bell as a cherished keepsake.

Curious about the dress code for The Polar Express? Pajamas are encouraged for passengers of all ages! Cozy up for a memorable ride of winter holiday fun.