The Most Popular National Parks You Can Head To On A Scenic Amtrak Train

Many great American road trips involve seeing one or more national parks. You can visit every national park in California — all nine of them — on one such trip, but there are almost as many reasons why you might need an alternative form of transportation. Maybe you don't have a car or even a license to rent one. Perhaps you just don't want to put mileage on your vehicle, or you'd rather see the parks without adding to greenhouse gas emissions. The overall reduction of carbon footprints is one reason the National Parks Service promotes multimodal transportation, whereby visitors can combine options like buses, bikes, or trains to reach their destinations. For those who prefer to travel by rail as much of the way as possible, you can "Amtrak" your way around the U.S. and still come within close reach of certain national parks.

In most cases, this will involve riding an Amtrak train to the nearest station on one of its routes and arranging for additional transportation, like a tour bus, to get across the finish line. However, a few Amtrak stations will put you right on the doorstep of a national park. Some trains also pass right through parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park, pictured above. Along the way, you can admire the changing scenery from your window and see more of the country than you would by flying into the nearest airport.

Glacier and New River Gorge National Parks

They may not be as famous as the Grand Canyon, but Montana's Glacier National Park and West Virginia's New River Gorge National Park have Amtrak stations. This could win them some popularity with passengers looking to be deposited right inside a park. To reach Glacier, the fabled Crown of the Continent in the northwest, you would take Amtrak's Empire Builder train bound for Seattle or Chicago. Sights from the train include the Mississippi River and the plains of North Dakota.

The station in East Glacier Park operates seasonally from mid-spring to mid-fall. It's adjacent to the Glacier Park Lodge, which opened as the Great Northern Railway's first hotel in 1913. From the lodge, you can join a Red Bus Tour. These tours loop around the Many Glacier Hotel, where you can find the hiking trail to see Grinnell Glacier, one of the most beautiful sights among the park's many lakes and waterfalls.

Served by three different stations on Amtrak's Cardinal and Capitol Limited routes, New River Gorge is America's newest national park. It was formerly a national river, but in 2020, it was redesignated as one of the country's 63 parks. The so-called "New" River is really millions of years old, and you can take in a stunning panorama of its horseshoe bend from the Main Overlook at Grandview. Adventures on the Gorge offers whitewater rafting and safety-harnessed catwalk experiences under the New River Gorge Bridge.

Everglades and Biscayne National Parks

Amtrak's Silver Service and Palmetto trains run along the East Coast between New York City and Miami. From the train, you might see landmarks like the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. In Miami, you'll have access to two national parks: Everglades and Biscayne. Both are within about 40 to 50 miles of the city, where you can rent a car or link up with public transportation or a tour group. One group well-reviewed on Tripadvisor is Wide Angle Tours, which will take you straight from hotels like the Holiday Inn Port of Miami-Downtown to the Everglades for an airboat ride.

If you're not locked into a preset tour route, here are the best destinations to spot alligators in the Everglades. The Homestead National Parks Trolley also offers free, seasonal public transportation and admission to both parks. If you stay in Homestead, you can leave directly from Marriott's Courtyard Miami Homestead hotel.

Though it receives fewer annual visitors than the ever-popular Everglades, Biscayne National Park holds one of the world's longest coral reef systems. Around 95% of the park is underwater, with tent campsites available on the islands of Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key. You'll need boat transportation to reach them: The Biscayne National Park Institute offers heritage cruises, kayaking tours, and other island experiences. It also has tours where you can see the park's lighthouses and stilt houses. Additionally, you can go snorkeling around mangroves and the shipwrecks of the Maritime Heritage Trail.

Crater Lake National Park

Amtrak's Coast Starlight train winds along the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles, showing off everything from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The last stop in Oregon, before the Coast Starlight crosses into California, is the city of Klamath Falls, which is less than 45 miles from Crater Lake National Park. This park is home to the deepest lake in America and one of the country's first five national parks (another being Mount Rainier, about 80 miles from Seattle on the same scenic train route).

You can preview the observation car, dining car, and other parts of the train with a 360-degree photo tour. Just imagine sitting at one of those windows, luxuriating in the evergreen trees of the Pacific Northwest on your way to Crater Lake. In Klamath Falls, Southern Oregon Tours offers day trips to the volcanic lake from July to October. These tours make multiple stops along Rim Drive, allowing you to drink in the sight of the crystal-clear lake from sweeping lookouts.

Snow keeps many roads through the park closed the rest of the year, though Southern Oregon Tours offers half-day trips to the lake's West Rim starting in June. With Amtrak's USA Rail Pass, you can also get on and off the train and explore other stops along the Coast Starlight route, like Portland, Oregon. A similar option, if you're headed across state lines after Crater Lake, is the California Rail Pass.

Joshua Tree National Park

Amtrak's southernmost route, the Sunset Limited, serves Palm Springs, California; from there, it's less than 50 miles to Joshua Tree National Park. The train runs between L.A. and New Orleans, or you can connect to it in San Antonio through the Texas Eagle, which first rolls out of Chicago. Whichever way you come, you'll eventually have a view of California's desert.

Unless you rent a car, you'll likely want to book a tour from Palm Springs since there isn't as much public transportation available to Joshua Tree. Adventure Hummer Tours offers both open-air and air-conditioned rides through the park. The tours depart daily from Palm Springs. If you're not keen on riding around a national park in a gas-guzzling Hummer H1 or H2, you can visit Joshua Tree by jeep with Big Wheel Tours. It has one tour that sticks to paved roads in the park and another that goes off-road for a bumpier desert ride.

The bonus of staying in Palm Springs while visiting Joshua Tree is that many hotels here are rich in Hollywood history, which you can also learn about through Palm Springs Celebrity Tours. Amtrak's Sunset Limited train actually lent its name to an HBO movie, adapted from a Cormac McCarthy play. As for the titular Joshua tree, the rock band U2's top-selling album enhanced its image. The tree on the album cover is no longer standing, and it was located closer to Death Valley National Park.

Rocky Mountain and Gateway Arch National Parks

Snaking through the mountains on Amtrak's California Zephyr train, you'll behold majestic views of the Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas. This train cuts through Rocky Mountain National Park en route from San Francisco to Chicago, or vice versa. To visit the park, you can disembark in Denver at the historic Union Station (established in 1881) and join a group like Explorer Tours. Its eight-hour van tours depart from the station flagpole on day trips to Rocky Mountain National Park. They include an in-park picnic, a drive along the picturesque Trail Ridge Road, and a visit to The Stanley Hotel, which inspired the spooky Overlook in Stephen King's bestselling novel, "The Shining." If you'd prefer to go the rent-a-car route for the final 60-plus miles after Amtrak, Sixt has a Union Station branch.

Another place that's easily reachable via Amtrak's Midwest routes is St. Louis, home to Gateway Arch National Park. The Missouri River Runner will get you there — some trains now continue from Chicago with Amtrak's Lincoln Service. While the cityscape around Gateway Arch somewhat bucks the notion of communing with nature, this unexpected national park is rated America's safest. It's also convenient to access via the city's MetroBus or MetroLink Lightrail system. Once your Amtrak train arrives at the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center, you could just take a cab and be at Gateway Arch in around eight minutes. It's just over a mile away.