Travel by Train: 7 Awesome Routes for Seeing the U.S.A.

Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge RailroadDurango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Courtesy Durango

Colorado's Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a unique and scenic ride.

Get ready to ride the rails on America's most scenic, comfortable, and affordable train routes.

When you're not in a rush to get to your destination, there's no better way to travel than by the slow, steady pace of a train. Though often associated with a European vacation, there are plenty of scenic and adventurous rail routes that you can take right here in—and across—the United States. Train travel offers an up-close look at your very own backyard, whether you're chugging along through the mountains or unhurriedly making your way through the scenic Northeast—all for a price that's often lower than a flight.

Ready to see the country by rail? Here are seven train trips that can’t be beat.

1. Adirondack: An International Journey, With Landscape Views

Take the stress out of an international flight and climb aboard Amtrak’s Adirondack (amtrak.com/adirondack-train), which takes leaves from Manhattan’s Penn Station and arrives in Montreal less than 11 hours later. The train winds its way through the Hudson Valley’s wine country and the farms of Albany and the Adirondack Mountains. It’s an especially popular route for leaf peepers during the fall, as the already breathtaking scenery is painted in glorious shades of orange, red and brown. (For prime views, make your way up to the dome car.) And pro tip: Since this is an international route, be sure to pack your passport. One-way tickets start at $70.

2. Pacific Surfliner: California Dreaming

Surf the coast by rail on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner (pacificsurfliner.com), which takes you through 351 miles of beautiful southern California. The golden coast journey starts in San Diego and ends in San Luis Obispo, stopping in SoCal hotspots like Anaheim, Los Angeles, Carpinteria, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Juan Capistrano. The train tracks hug the Pacific coast and riders can often spot dolphins, California sea lions, and even whales—right from the comfort of their seats. The Pacific Surfliner includes a café car—with plenty of wine options—as well as a bike rack, so you can easily take your wheels and hit the trails as soon as you hop off the train. One-way tickets start at $61.25.

3. Sunset Limited: Watch the Dynamic Southwest Change Before Your Eyes

Amtrak’s southern-most route, Sunset Limited (amtrak.com/sunset-limited-train), takes riders on a 48-hour scenic journey of the American southwest, from New Orleans all the way to Los Angeles. From the bayou to the canyons of southwestern Texas to the California mountains, pass through scenery that’s largely inaccessible by car, so have your camera out and be ready to capture it from your seat. Though this route doesn’t take you to into the national parks, the train will stop at their doorsteps. As part of a partnership between the National Parks Service and Amtrak, a national parks guide will often be on board to explain the changing vistas and landscapes as you slowly make your way through, which is all part of a partnership between Amtrak and the National Parks Service. One-way tickets start at $314.

4. Grand Canyon Railway: An American Natural Wonder Awaits

Avoid the traffic of Grand Canyon National Park and ride to the iconic destination in style on the Grand Canyon Railway (thetrain.com). The round-trip train route, which takes a little over two hours, begins in Williams, Arizona, and arrives inside Grand Canyon National Park, giving riders plenty of time to explore before heading back in the afternoon. On the journey, riders are lucky enough to get magnificent views of the Ponderosa Pine Forest in Williams, the wide-open prairies, and the San Francisco peaks, all while marveling at (and feeling) the change in elevation. Travelers can also often catch glimpses of wildlife such as elk, mountain lions, and bald eagle throughout the trip. Round-trip ticket prices from $70 to $226.

5. Napa Valley Wine Train: A Toast to the Vineyards of California

Just when you think that being in Napa Valley couldn’t get more elegant, the Napa Valley Wine Train (winetrain.com)—a beautifully restored 100-year-old railcar—makes any visit to wine country even more indulgent. The train’s route is short—just 30 miles from downtown Napa to St. Helena—but it’s an unforgettable way to view the vineyards as you ride through California farmland, all while holding a glass of wine in your hand. You can choose between a three- or six-hour trip, depending on whether you want a tasting tour, or a gourmet, multi-course meal served on board during your journey. And of course, there is plenty of wine tasting to be had while you’re chugging along. Ticket packages start at around $200.

6. Vermonter: A Breathtaking Trip Along the Eastern Seaboard

Watch the New England landscape shift from big cities to beautiful pastoral scenes on Amtrak’s Vemonter train (amtrak.com/vermonter-train), which runs daily service between Washington D.C. and St. Albans, a small town in northern Vermont. The trip, which clocks in at just under 14 hours, winds through all the east coast highlights: the big metropolises of New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore and the quaint countryside of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The Vermonter not only provides unbelievable views out your passenger window of skyscrapers, farmland, beautiful churches, and sweeping valleys, but it’s also a great source of transportation for skiers, as it provides easy access to resorts like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush. One-way tickets start at $74.

7. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: A Vintage Steam-Powered Journey Through Colorado

Step back in time and experience Colorado’s beauty on the coal-fired, steam-powered Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train (durangotrain.com), which offers service between the two mountain towns. The train trip, 3.5 hours each way, allows passengers to eat lunch and explore the former mining town for a couple of hours before heading back to Durango. Along the way, riders can glimpse canyons along the Animas River and the plentiful spruces of the San Juan National Forest as the train steadily chugs along through the changing elevation levels. Riders can also opt to be dropped off to fish and hike at secluded locations that are inaccessible by car. Round-trip tickest start at $89.

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