Most Beautiful Train Rides In The USA

With mind-blowingly scenic routes, the best US train journeys are all about the journey.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Scenic Train, located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a freight and heritage railroad

Undoubtedly, taking a road trip across America is one of the best ways to experience the breathtaking scenery that the nation has to offer, but every now and then, it’s nice to take a break from driving. Consider taking one of the best American trains instead. Travel the nation at a leisurely pace, giving you time to reflect on life, mull over the nature of existence, or simply sit in silence and stare out the window for a while.

A nostalgic, romantic, and most importantly leisurely way to travel the nation is by train. Even a commuter train between two major cities can be preferable to driving, but these picturesque train journeys go above and beyond that. These train routes will allow you to take in all the breathtaking views because they are intended for long-distance travel from coast to coast or are specifically created for scenic travel.

Are you seeking a west coast adventure? Travel from Los Angeles to Seattle on the Coast Starlight. Visiting Alaska? On its 350-mile journey from Fairbanks to Anchorage, the Denali Star will take you past all the highlights. You can travel between small towns and national parks on the Grand Canyon Railway and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Even shorter excursions like those on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway or the Hawaiian Railway offer a taste of scenic train travel.

Grab a seat, take in the scenery, and snap as many photos as you like without having to keep your hands on the wheel.

Best train rides in the USA

Rockies to the Red Rocks

Rocky Mountaineer picture

1. The Red Rocks to the Rockies

Moab, UT to Denver, CO

The new “Rockies to the Red Rocks” trip, the first US offering from the opulent Canadian company Rocky Mountaineer, transports travelers on a two-day journey from Denver to Moab while passing through breathtaking Rocky Mountain and southwest scenery. The very best? From the glass dome top of the train, passengers can view the entire gorgeous natural environment! Yes, we’re talking about unhindered views of some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the USA. The 2023 campaign will begin in August and end in October.

Coast Starlight

Image: Courtesy of Amtrak

2. Coast Starlight

Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA

Take a different approach to the traditional left-coast road trip by taking the train. The benefits? Fewer photo opportunities and no fights over wrong turns. The Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, and other highlights of the West are covered by the 1,377-mile Coast Starlight route. Jump from your seat to the dining car and the “sightseer lounge car” on the 36-hour journey, where every seat faces the expansive, floor-to-ceiling windows. 

The Grand Canyon Railway

Image from Shutterstock

3. Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon, AZ to Williams, AZ

You may have already visited the Grand Canyon, but have you ever taken a train to see the area? You’ll board The Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona, and travel through pine forests and prairies, passing bald eagles and pronghorn, before arriving at the breathtaking South Rim in two hours and fifteen minutes. The Grand Canyon Railway’s historic cars all have interesting histories, and some of them have glass dome ceilings for breathtaking views. 

The Empire Builder

Image: Courtesy of Amtrak

4. The Empire Builder,

Portland, OR to Chicago, IL

This journey can be summed up in one word: epic. The daily Empire Builder service between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest closely resembles the original Lewis and Clark expedition. From the urban (St. Cloud and Minneapolis) to the great outdoors (big-sky country and Glacier National Park), it travels through a greatest-hits list of must-see locations. The 46-hour journey justifies reserving at least a roomette with convertible seats so you can fully unwind after viewing all the landscapes in the moonlight. 

The Alaska Denali Star

Image courtesy of Alaska Railroad

5. The Denali Star of Alaska

From Anchorage to Fairbanks in Alaska

The state of Alaska’s stunning, untamed wilderness is highlighted along this 350-mile stretch through its interior. There’s a reason this is the Alaska Railroad’s flagship journey—there are birch forests, rushing rivers, opportunities to see caribou and bears, views of Mt. McKinley, and a section through Denali National Park—in addition to views of the mountain. If you have the money, treat yourself to a GoldStar upgrade and enjoy the breathtaking scenery from a viewing car that is completely open to the elements. 

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Image from Shutterstock

6. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

NC’s Bryson City

Despite its diminutive size, Bryson City, the starting point for this rail-riding adventure, is brimming with regional treasures like breweries, soda fountains, and barbecue restaurants. There are many routes that leave from here, but the four-and-a-half-hour Nantahala Gorge excursion, which snakes along the forested Nantahala River and crosses the Fontana Lake by bridge, is a scenery-serving star. Take note, lovers of the greenery: this place has stunning autumn foliage.

The Mount Washington Cog Railway

Image from Shutterstock

7. The Mount Washington Cog Railway

NH’s Bretton Woods

This historic train, which ascends Mount Washington every day like the Little Engine That Could, drops off its passengers at the peak’s 6,288-foot elevation, which is the highest in the Northeast. The Cog, a sort of working museum (the track dates to 1852) has a gondola-like feeling of elevation despite being a sturdy little train. On a clear day, enjoy the grand views of Canada and the Atlantic from the summit. 

The Napa Valley Wine Train

Photo by Napa Valley Wine Train of Bob McClenahan

8. The Napa Valley Wine Train, number

CA’s Napa Valley

The scenery alone on this California Wine Country track is enough to make you intoxicated: picture-perfect wineries and hills covered in thick rows of vines. With all the wine you’ll be drinking in addition to your onboard multicourse meal—both lunch and dinner are options—you’ll have a little help, though. The vintage Pullman railcars that make up the roving restaurant have mahogany interiors and brass hardware. Therefore, feel free to take it all in since you are not operating a vehicle.

The Hawaiian Railway Society

Courtesy of The Hawaiian Railway Society, this picture

9. The Hawaii Railway Society

HI Oahu

On this 90-minute trip across Oahu in an old sugar-cane hauler moving at the lightning-quick speed of 15 miles per hour, train travel takes a turn for the tropical. The ride takes you through a portion of Hawaii that is rarely seen, complete with abandoned sisal plantations and towns. If you plan your trip for the second Sunday of the month, you can reserve a seat in the opulent 1900 parlor car that served Mr. Dillingham, the founder of the Oahu Railway & Land Co., as his personal conveyance. However, it should be noted that reservations are now necessary to board the train. 

Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad

Courtesy of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, this picture

10. Narrow gauge railroad in Durango

Silverton, CO to Durango, CO

A ride on the Narrow Gauge Railroad is not just photo material, but a complete immersion into the wild, wild west. It is one of the most picturesque ways to experience one of the most scenic states. Since 1882, when it was used to move silver and gold out of the San Juan Mountains, the train has run between Durango and Silverton. The 45.4-mile route winds between 14,000-foot peaks while crossing the Animas River five times and running alongside old stagecoach trails and abandoned mining camps.

The Ethan Allen Express

Image from Shutterstock

11. The Ethan Allen Express

Burlington, Vermont to New York City, NY

On this five-and-a-half-hour trip from New York City to Vermont, getting there is half the fun, even though the destination is a major draw. Before arriving in the quaint little-big city of Rutland with its historic downtown and one helluva farmers’ market, you’ll cruise through the picture-perfect towns of New York’s Hudson Valley, hit Saratoga Springs, which is known for both its hot springs and horse races, and snake around Vermont’s aptly named Green Mountains.

We hope you enjoyed this virtual tour, and be sure to let us know in the comments which place you’re most excited to visit.

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