The Most Stunningly Beautiful Train Rides In America

The Most Stunningly Beautiful Train Rides in America

Go ahead then, and take the train. Choose the scenic route over the quick one and make getting to your destination part of the vacation. Relax, take in the stunning sights and explore parts of the world you have never seen before. Some people prefer the train because it's mysterious, others because they have the time and not the money for a plane ticket. Whatever the reason, the outcome is often the same – an iconic journey.

California Zephyr

The California Zephyr is a passenger train operated by Amtrak. This epic trip through the Wild West will take you through the heart of the Rockies, and further west through the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas. People who travel a lot often say that this is one of the most beautiful train trips on the entire continent.  The Zephyr runs daily between Chicago and San Francisco.

Cog Railway

This is the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway, and it's still operating. Don't miss the chance to get to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England. The round trip is only three hours but it the picturesque ride allows passengers take in the outstanding panoramas, spanning the White Mountains and all of the Northeastern U.S. Pick the historic steam train or one of their eco-friendly biodiesel locomotives for a unique experience.

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which calls itself "the scenic route of the world," begins in Alamosa, Colorado and travels on historic tracks over La Veta Pass. Passengers can experience excursion trains on rails that curve and wind through steep rocky grade and mountain meadows with elk, eagles and bears cohabiting the land. Weekends in the summer are home to Mountain Rails Live, a concert series, in which musicians and passengers are transported to Fir Summit, the concert venue only accessible by rail.

Capitol Corridor

Northern California is beautiful year-round. Amtrak provides daily service between the Sacramento region and the Bay Area. Take the train from San Jose to Auburn – 168 miles of views of industrial bays and waterways, regal rolling hills and the valley near Sacramento. A short trip into the El Dorado foothills is the icing on the cake.

Pullman Rail Journeys: Chicago to New Orleans

Few ways are better for exploring the charming South all the way to the Big Easy. This trip aboard an Art Deco train will take you about 20 trains. Book a Master Bedroom suite in the Pontchartrain Club car for one of the best experiences. If you're lucky, you'll be on a trip with musicians from Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music who will be around to serenade riders along the way.

Grand Canyon Railway

Explore one of the country's most beloved national parks, but get there in style and the way people did back in 1900's. Take the train from Williams, Arizona – South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park – and back to Williams. The round trip, including a stopover, is about 8.5 hours. Ride the historical cars pulled along by the "French Fry Express," a converted 1923 locomotive. See pine forests and sprawling prairies with antelopes and wild horses running beside you.

Napa Valley Wine Train

The railcars are about a century old, but this is part of its charm. If you ever wanted to go to the world-famous wine region, take your time getting there so you can see the breathtaking views of the Valley during fall harvest. See stunning rolling hills, rustic vineyards and overall charming scenery.

Sierra Dinner Train

This trip is better suited for adventurers with a romantic side. The third oldest railroad in North America, the Sierra Railroad is a historical destination that is so picturesque it has been in the background of many movies including Back to the Future III and Unforgiven. It's located between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park.

Arcade & Attica Railroad

You will feel as if you are traveling back in time. This is the last operating steam train excursion in New York State. Arcade & Attica is an authentic operating short line railroad. It prides itself in being one of the last "common carriers" – running freight and passenger trains weekly. During the trip you will see the gorgeous countryside and farmlands which have remained almost unchanged since the line was originally laid in the 1880's.

Empire Builder: Chicago to Seattle

This trip is not for everyone; it'll take about 45 hours just one way. You'll see major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail. The voyage will take you on a thrilling escapade through grand wilderness, following the footsteps of early pioneers. See the Mighty Mississippi from a different perspective, and cross into the Big Sky country in Montana, passing many people's favorite – the Glacier National Park.

Coast Starlight

If you have extra time and are going to Los Angeles or Seattle, consider the Coast Starlight train for a nice and relaxing experience during which you can take in some stunning sights. The train passes through Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and Portland. The background of dramatic snow-covered peaks, lavish forests and green valleys is simply unrivaled.

Alaska Railroad

The trip between Anchorage and Steward is short – about three hours round trip, but unforgettable. Now is the time when the days are getting longer, flowers are blooming and wildlife is migrating. You get to see all of that from the comfort of your train car. The scenery consists of huge mountains that descend straight into the ocean. You may even see whales along the way. 

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

There are two scenic round trip excursions on this line. The park, its 800 miles of trails, stunning landscape and 2,100 miles of streams are the most visited in the country. The excursions this fall are themed after Charles M. Schulz's classic story "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

Cass Scenic Railroad

Travel through the spectacular mountains of West Virginia on a train pulled by a steam-driven Shay locomotive. They still run on the original line used to haul lumber to the mill in the 1900's. You'll visit the recreated 1940s logging camp at Whittaker Station, and you'll continue on to the state's third-highest point for outstanding views at 4,700 feet.

Strasburg Rail Road

This is a quick trip through the serene Amish countryside to Paradise, Pennsylvania. Soak in the view of the more than 1,000 acres of Lancaster County farmland, sprawling countryside and rolling hills in the distance. Get off and have fun the way the Amish people do at Groff's Grove or Leaman Place Grove.

Mt. Hood Railroad

If you happen to be in Oregon, this is one trip you should take. Pass along winding rails through dense forests and orchards on an antique and old-fashioned train. Every minute of the ride offers picturesque views, regardless of whether you take the Western Train Robbery or Parkdale Excusrions. The Fruit Blossom Special runs from April 23 through May 28.