Have you ever been on a train as lovely blue lakes and snow-capped peaks drift by? Yes, road trips can be a lot of fun, and airplanes can get there faster, but traveling by train is definitely one of the best ways to experience the United States.
Imagine how much easier it would be to plan a trip without having to worry about long security checks, early arrivals, baggage limits, and cramped spaces. Well, say hello to the world of rail travel. You can hop on a long-haul train ride and leisurely cruise across the country. This provides you with a great opportunity to spend some time staring out of the window, in sync with your thoughts, and in touch with the present moment. Alternatively, you could catch up on work, call relatives or make small talk with a fellow traveler.
What’s not to love about boarding a train to your destination? The convenience, comfort, flexibility, old-fashioned charm, or eco-friendliness? Not to mention the fact that you get front-row access to the most breathtaking views in the country. Enjoy the surrounding scenery while riding in a comfortable seat with enough legroom.
From the west coast, picturesque towns to cultural attractions and national parks, journey through the tunnels, trestles, and alongside gorges. What better way to create long-lasting memories?
From Chicago to Seattle and New York to Montreal, these are 10 train routes that will take you on the most beautiful train trips you’ve ever experienced.
#1. Amtrak’s Adirondack: New York To Montreal
Feeling inspired to go on a trip this fall? You should explore the breathtaking fall splendor of the Hudson River Valley. This Amtrak Adirondack is a 10-hour ride on a high-speed train that departs from New York’s Penn Station and travels along the Hudson River and Lake Champlain before arriving at Montreal’s Gare Centrale Station.
It leaves New York in the morning and arrives in Montreal, just in time for dinner. Be sure to keep your passport and immigration form close as the immigration process could last for an hour or two.
The train travels through quaint towns including the historic Ticonderoga, Saratoga Springs, Whitehall, Poughkeepsie, and Croton-on-Hudson. There are also colorful vineyards, fields, forests, and immaculately manicured mansions to see. Other top attractions include the remains of Bannerman’s Castle, the Palisades, West Point Academy’s riverfront stone battlements, and of course, the Adirondack Mountains.
#2. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight: Seattle To Los Angeles
The famed Coast Starlight is widely regarded as Amtrak’s most beautiful long-distance route. The 35-hour trip from Seattle to Los Angeles offers a spectacular view of the best cities on the West Coast, from Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento and Portland.
Imagine riding the Coast Starlight through lush forests, waterfalls, valleys, Crater Lake, miles of Pacific coastline, Puget Sound, and the snow-capped Cascade Range and Mount Shasta. Can you visualize how the enthralling coastline beauty will provide the most beautiful backdrop for your pictures?
With its bi-level coach class, this train gives long-distance conveniences such as ample legroom, curtains, and footrests. You can upgrade from coach to a private room for better dining, priority boarding, and access to the Pacific parlor car.
#3. Grand Canyon Railway: Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon
A trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park via this rail line is definitely a must-go for every lover of adventure. What better way to experience the expansive views in one of the nation’s most beautiful national parks than riding in the vintage cars of the Grand Canyon?
The 2 hours 15 minutes ride takes you past the high desert, vast prairies, and pine forests. It also presents you with the chance to see pronghorns, the California condor, bald eagles, antelopes, and wild horses.
In an attempt to recreate old memories, cowboy characters and Western musicians usually entertain passengers with a Western-themed cowboy concert, western music, and mock train robberies.
#4. Amtrak’s Empire Builder: Chicago to Portland/Seattle
Traveling 2,206 miles on Amtrak’s Empire Builder takes you on an adventurous journey along the American West. This 46-hour trip reflects portions of Lewis and Clark’s original voyage from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.
Of course, the vistas on this trip are epic. From views of the Mississippi River, Glacier National Park, Great Plains, and Montana’s Big Sky country to the Gassman Coulee Trestle in North Dakota, and the Columbia River Gorge, you are in for a memorable adventure.
During summer and spring, a National Park Service volunteer from the Trails & Rails program boards the train between Shelby, Montana, and Seattle to provide information on the landscapes, wildlife, and history. The train has a sleeping car, a lounge car, and a dining car, which is appropriate given the length of the journey. You should book at least one room with convertible seats. There are also numerous 5- to 20-minute station stops to let you walk around or grab a quick bite.
The Empire Builder departs daily to Spokane. From there, you can either travel south through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland or north via the Cascade Mountains to Seattle’s Puget Sound.
#5. Amtrak’s California Zephyr: Chicago To Emeryville (San Francisco)
The journey starts in Chicago and ends just outside of San Francisco in Emeryville, California. It passes through the Rocky Mountains outside Denver, the plains of Nebraska, Utah’s gorgeous red rocks, and the snow-tipped Sierra Nevadas.
From your window, you can see the traces of early pioneers who settled the Wild West and the same captivating views seen by the 19th-century fortune seekers who rode the first transcontinental railroad line west to San Francisco.
The 2,300-mile, 51-hour-20-minute ride includes views of the Golden Gate Bridge and stops in Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City. The train comprises a dining car, a lounge/café car, and a sleeping car with bedroom suites for up to six passengers.
#6. Rocky Mountaineer’s Rockies To The Red Rocks: Denver To Moab
This is a one-of-a-kind train travel experience that takes you on an adventure along the picturesque Rocky Mountains and southwest landscape from Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah.
What makes this trip more beautiful is that the train cars were designed to provide passengers with unrestricted views of the scenic beauty from the train’s glass dome.
To top it all off, the train stops in a city every night, when passengers alight and spend the night in a hotel. This implies that train travel occurs during the day, so passengers do not miss anything.
#7. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief: Chicago To Los Angeles
A 40-plus-hour ride through the American West, and you will be captivated by its appeal and beauty. Wheat fields, Santa Fe Trail, Sedona’s red cliffs, adobe pueblos, towering mountain peaks, and vast desert are some of the stunning views you will come across.
The train, which travels through 8 states and crosses the Mississippi River, also allows passengers to take in beautiful sights that portray simple, everyday life.
Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque are among the major cities along the route, with stops at numerous smaller towns along Route 66, including Flagstaff, Kingman, Barstow, and San Bernardino, before arriving at historic Union Station in Los Angeles.
#8. Cass Scenic Railroad: Cass West Virginia To Bald Knob, Cass
Want to experience the thrill of riding on a steam-powered Shay locomotive that was originally used to transport lumber to the Cass mill in 1901? This is for you. This four-and-a-half-hour trip to Bald Knob will take you to the state’s third-highest point, pausing at a spring to replenish the train’s water supply.
The 11-mile ride to the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park shows you vast greenery and occasional sights of wildlife.
#9. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: Bryson City To North Carolina
What could be better than a single rail excursion? Well, two rail excursions. This 53-mile train ride departs from Bryson City to the countryside of Western North Carolina, gliding through green valleys, river gorges, tunnels, and carved-out mountains. The trip is great for families looking for real-life rail adventures since it includes two beautiful excursions. First is the 44-mile Nantahala Gorge excursion which takes about four-and-half hours. On this trip, you pass through Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers.
The other is a 32-mile Tuckasegee River excursion, which travels through the Smoky Mountains’ green valleys and passes by the set of the classic film The Fugitive before stopping for an hour and a half in Dillsboro.
There’s only one word to describe North America’s Highest Peak: magnificent. The Alaska Denali Star leaves from downtown Anchorage, stopping in Wasilla and Talkeetna along the way, before passing through Denali National Park and arriving in Fairbanks. Experience views of Mt. McKinley, flowing rivers, birch forests, caribou and bear sightings, and of course, a stop in Denali National Park.
If you can afford it, upgrade to a GoldStar and enjoy the breathtaking views from an open-air viewing car with nothing between you and the rugged wilderness.
Traveling by train is one of the best ways to enjoy a good adventure. Being surrounded by beautiful scenery and experiencing nature in its raw form has various benefits to your physical and mental health.
At the end of the adventure, you will have memories to remember for the rest of your life.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alex Cimbal/Shutterstock.com
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