Taking a scenic train trip is a must-do to cross off your bucket list. Whether you choose to go diesel-electric or utilize the classic steam locomotive, nothing beats a train ride through memorable scenery and notable landmarks.
From lush green forests to crystal blue oceans is the reason the United States is called “America the beautiful.” If you want to discover the thirty-one most scenic train rides in North America, this article is for you.
Are There Scenic Train Journeys in North America?
When it comes to appreciating the gorgeous view of this majestic country, riding the train is the way to go. You can only look at a certain expanse of the land below in an airplane. However, when you are on a train, you get to see the broad scope of the land and all its beautiful terrain. The scenery outside when you are riding on the train is unbeatable.
There are different train rides offered throughout North America. You can go many places and experience the pure wonder of a train ride. There is nothing like a long train ride to make you appreciate our magnificent country. The following includes the most scenic train rides North America has to offer:
1. Grand Canyon Railway
You can experience a touch of the wild west when you ride the Grand Canyon Railway. It is an incredible vintage train car that will transport you 65 miles north through Kaibab National Park and to the National Park at the Grand Canyon. At close to 7,000 feet elevation, you can see the dramatic landscape and feel through the rugged terrain.
The southern rim of the Grand Canyon is the destination. The canyons and deep narrow valleys you will see are breathtaking. With the beautiful scenery and fun, laid-back vibe of the railcar, your trip on the Grand Canyon Railway is sure to be unforgettable.
2. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Your diesel or locomotive train leaves from Bryson City. It moves along:
- Tennessee River
- Nantahala River
- Nantahala Gorge
You will be privileged to see the Smoky Mountains surrounded by a blanket of emerald forests. You may also visit the Tuckasegee River if you prefer that route. You will ride across a bridge over to Fontana Lake and into a scenic area in the Smoky Mountains.
If you choose to go the Tuckasegee River route, you will encounter the North Carolina countryside and take in its splendor. Opt for a locomotive train if you want to feel like one of the first people ever to experience these striking views.
3. Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Road
Drive through the picturesque mountains and forests of West Virginia. You will go to Cass Depot and experience the crown of Bald Knob, which is the third-highest point in West Virginia. Ride these historic steam-powered locomotives or vintage diesel-powered passenger trains to see the land’s beauty. You will travel through remote areas that not even automobiles can come through.
4. California Zephyr
Journey across the heartland on one of North America’s best train rides. Savor the awe-inspiring scenery as you pass through the Rockies. The route begins in Chicago, Illinois, and ends in Emeryville, California. It is the same path that pioneers traveled when they settled out West. It is a 2,800-mile tour that highlights the center of Gold Rush country.
5. White Pass & Yukon Route Through Alaska
The Klondike Goldrush is responsible for creating the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway just before the turn of the 19th century. The railway is celebrated for its clever civil engineering. Travel past glacial rivers and gorgeous waterfalls on your journey. The train route begins in Skagway, Alaska, and you can go round trip or one way, depending upon your preference.
6. The Empire Builder
This one is a long-distance passenger train that Amtrak provides. It takes you the exact route Lewis and Clark went on their famous expedition. On this trip, you will see sublime views:
- Mountain ranges
- National parks
The train travels from Seattle, Washington, or Portland, Oregon, to Chicago, Illinois. Then, they combine in Spokane, Washington, to complete the trip. To see the Columbia River Gorge, you will need to begin or end your journey in Portland. However, if you choose to see Puget Sound and the Skykomish River over the Columbia River Gorge, start or end in Seattle.
Traveling this route in the summer will allow you to see more meaningful sites. Along the route, there are various sites worth mentioning, such as the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain, the Cascade Mountains, and the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
7. Coast Starlight
This trip starts between Los Angeles and Seattle and passes through Santa Barbara, the SanFransico Bay, Sacramento, and Portland. This train connects all the best cities on the West Coast. If you do not check it out, you do not know what you are missing.
When riding the Pacific Coast Highway, you will spy extraordinary seaside cliffs and a glimpse at the reflection of lakes at sunset. The San Francisco Bay is a delight to see from the passage car window. You will also see the snow-capped mountains and Puget Sound. The route goes from Seattle, Washington, to Los Angeles, and this remarkable trip will prove to be memorable.
8. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
This train is a steam locomotive. The railway is designated as a National Historic Landmark commissioned through The American Society of Civil Engineers having the status of a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The scenic route lies between Durango and Silverton, as passengers are treated to a stunning view of the gorges of southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest. You can also spy where the San Juan Mountains meet the San Juan River in New Mexico.
9. Train Ride Along the Hudson River
This ride between New York City and Albany is one to remember as it travels along the Hudson River. There are breathtaking scenic views, including the big, gorgeous houses and charming little towns. The Hudson Valley is a definitive work of art in autumn.
10. Cape Cod Central Railroad
Cape Cod has some brilliant scenery:
- Cape Cod Canal
- Cranberry bogs
- Salt marshes
As the route takes its course, passengers can see these outstanding views come to life.
11. Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, Iowa
The ride takes passengers along a scenic route from the Des Moine River Valley in Boone, as you will get a great view of the river valley. As a bonus, there is a museum with some cool things to look at. The trip is ideal for families with kids.
12. Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad
This trip is the best way for you to see Colorado’s rocky mountains. There is a lot to look at:
- High peaks
- Aspen groves
Make sure you bring your phone to record these images, as the trip is photo-worthy all the way around.
13. Royal Gorge Route Railroad
On this trip, you will explore the 1,000-foot granite cliffs of the Colorado Rockies and enjoyable scenery. It runs from the Santa Fe Depot to the Royal Gorge, which is Colorado’s most spectacular canyon. The train is an upscale traveling restaurant.
14. Jefferson Railway, Texas
This railway offers a steam locomotive that travels through the fantastic wetlands of Cypress Bayou.
The events to look forward to on Jefferson railway include:
- Diamond Don’s Vintage Motocross
- The Great Locomotive Chase
- The Christmas Express Train
One of the additional exciting stops is at the Diamond Don Gator Pit, where you have the good fortune to witness the live feeding of the alligators. During the trip, passengers can see the location of the first artificial gas plant in Texas, a sawmill, what is left of a blast furnace, and one of the last remaining Confederate powder magazines from the 1800s.
15. Silver Chef, Branson Scenic Railway, Missouri
Calling all food lovers! If you enjoy good cuisine, this is the ride for you. This train provides a smooth ride through the Ozark Mountains as you enjoy a four-course romantic dinner that is reminiscent of classic fine dining on a passenger train. The train runs several pieces of vintage railroad equipment, as well as dome cars, a dining car, and numerous coaches. There are also some great events, as Branson Scenic Railway offers a festive Polar Express train during the holidays.
16. The Crescent
This train drive between New York and New Orleans through Atlanta is a memorable ride because the train goes across the majestic Lake Ponchartrain. The water is crystal blue and has a stunning view for passengers. If you board the train that goes North, the experience is even more special because you can watch over the water at sunset.
The train was named because the amount of time it takes to travel from New York to New Orleans is about 30 hours, which means that passengers must spend the night on the train. Extending 1,377 miles, the Crescent is one of the longest train routes in America.
17. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Georgia
When you travel through Georgia, you want to go through the charming mountain village of Blue Ridge. You will take a 26-mile roundtrip trek along the Tocca River, overlooking the fantastic body of land. The train allows you to experience the Georgia and Tennessee border towns of McCaysville and Copperhill. You will enjoy this 13-mile train trip. The train also has seasonal and holiday events:
- Easter Eggspress
- Firecracker Special
- Santa Train
- New Year’s Eve Excursion
They even celebrate the fall season with fall foliage rides from October to mid-November. It is a great train to ride for families with kids.
18. Napa Valley Wine Train, California
What could be better than wine and trains? The Napa Valley wine tour offers a 36-mile journey from Napa through one of North America’s fascinating wine valleys. You will ride through the quaint little town of St. Helena and enjoy sampling the wine. You will also pass through:
- Oak Knoll
On this train, you will return to an elegant era, as the train cars feature Venetian red paneling, classy brass accents, glass soundproofing, and velveteen fabric seating. You will ride in style on the Napa Valley wine train.
19. Cuyahoga Scenic Railroad
This ride is one of the oldest and lengthiest picturesque journeys in the country. You can choose between diesel-electric or steam locomotives. The ride provides an enchanting panorama of natural views, and you can spy the wildlife of Cuyahoga National Park as you discover:
The park also has plenty of plants and wildlife. You will also see the Cuyahoga River and the remarkable Ohio & Erie Canalway between Cleavland and Akron to the Canton.
20. Mount Hood Scenic Railroad, Oregon
This ride offers passengers a magnificent landscape view of Oregon along the Columbia River Gorge. The journey takes you to one of the only switchbacks remaining in the United States. It offers impeccable scenery as you glide past Mount Hood, Oregon’s most impressive peak. Mount Hood also has holiday offerings for the whole family to enjoy:
- Christmas Polar Express tour
- Pumpkin Patch tour
- Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl Express tour
The Fruit Blossom tour features the fruits that Hood River Valley is famous for, such as the April apple and pear blossom. There are also some fun Murder Mystery tours as well.
21. Alaska Railroad, Alaska
The expedition takes you 470 miles and covers the spectacular landscape with vistas. It crosses:
- Denali National and State Parks
- Chugach National Forest
The tour runs between Seward and Fairbanks and places where only trains have special access. The Alaska Railroad offers a captivating ride that stretches for 470 miles. These parks are full of wildlife, including moose, bears, wolves, and eagles. You can also combine train tours in Alaska with bus or car tours to continue your journey.
22. Pacific Surfliner
The Pacific Surfliner is part of Amtrak and is one of the extremely popular train routes in North America. The train ride offers impressive scenery:
- Ocean views
- San Diego towns
This train ride is truly a scenic adventure as it displays one of the best beach spots in the country. The trip is undoubtedly a postcard-worthy excursion with all of its variations.
23. Lake Shore Limited
On Lake Shore Limited, you will ride through many scenic places:
- New York City
- South Bend
On this trip, you will encounter some of the most stunning shorelines in the United States. You will ride through steep and rocky cliffs and highly recognizable landmarks like The Great Lakes and the Erie Canal, which have mesmerizing scenery. The Lake Shore Limited consists of a New York section and a Boston section which operate combined between Chicago and Albany.
24. Southwest Chief
Summon your inner cowboy and get a glimpse of the Wild West on this trip. You will see mesmerizing views:
- Wheat fields
You will get to see gorgeous scenes and vistas on this trip that you would never be able to see from the inside of your car. You will travel across the Mississippi through eight states, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and Arizona. It is a trip worthy of any aspiring rancher.
25. The Cardinal
The Cardinal travels from New York to Chicago. You will get stunning views of:
- Rolling hills
You will also get to see the clean water rivers of West Virginia. The Ohio River is also included in this first-rate tour. This ride typically gets booked up fast in the fall when you can see the colorful assortment of burgundy, pumpkin orange, gold, and amber leaves from the passenger car.
26. The Canadian
The Canadian runs between Toronto and Vancouver, and you will see some picturesque mountains in Alberta and British Columbia and the gorgeous landscape between Winnipeg and Toronto. In the blink of an eye, the panorama will change from enormous stretches of lush green grass to majestic mountains and finally to the glorious waves of the turquoise Pacific Ocean.
27. New England in the Fall
Nothing beats the scenery in the fall. Fall foliage is a sight that many people look forward to around the “ber” months of the year. This list includes September, October, and November and ends in December. The New England tour does not fail to please fans of the fall. You will see:
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
Watch from the comfortable seat on the train as the vivid fall leaves burst in color and discover the historical towns to see where the pilgrims first landed. Riding the train through New England in the fall will prove to be a truly romantic experience.
28. Glacier, Yellowstone, and Jackson
You will get a complete tour during your adventure through Glacier National Park. You may visit the Charles Russel Museum and check out the fantastic history of the parks, and then you will arrive at Yellowstone Park and stay for three nights. On your tour, you will find that there are a plethora of different things you can be doing at the Yellowstone Park:
- Rafting, Kayaking, Boating, Swimming
- Rock climbing
- Horseback riding
- Enjoying the wildlife
- High rides and ziplines
- Looking at the stars
- Looking out for bears
Finally, the trip ends in Jackson, Wyoming. You get to experience the pure wonder of these three national parks.
29. Alaskan Trains and Kenai Fjords
Discover Kenai Fjords and Denali National Park. Take the riveting Tundra Wilderness Tour. Travel South to Wasilla and see the Iditarod Trail Headquarters. Then, visit Alaska’s largest city. Take a walk through the fascinating Anchorage Museum, then go to the Kenai Penninsula on the Alaska Railway. You will get to see a wide range of sites on this tour.
30. Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and Yellowstone
Ever want to see the President’s heads carved in a mountain? Here is your chance. Check out the frontier towns of the Wild West. The journey begins in Chicago, where you will board the California Zephyr and see the Rockies. Some of the features of the journey include:
- Buffalo Jeep Safari in Custer State Park
- Float Trip on the Snake River through Grand Teton Park
- Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument
You will also be able to take in the Grand Teton National Park, Badlands National Park, and the Buffalo Bill Western museum.
You will see the famous Yellowstone National Park. The park is renowned for its scenic lakes and rivers, rugged mountains, and geologic offerings, such as fossil forests and eroded lava flows. Finally, you will get to see the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is a fun trip with many high points that will be memorable.
31. America’s Treasures and Natural Wonders
This ride is an adventure in the Wild West. You get to visit six awe-inspiring National Parks, complete with great photo opportunities for you to take plenty of pictures.
The best part of the trip is going to Yellowstone. You will see many attractions:
- Hot springs
- Old Faithful
Old faithful, the most famous geyser located in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin, is in the southwest area of the park. Eruptions from the geyser can be abrupt and unpredictable. Yellowstone Park also has dashing green meadows with lots of wonderful little animals. You can also view breathtaking mountains.
What Are Tips for Traveling on a Train in North America?
When aboard a train, no matter how scenic, you want to be prepared and take along some items you may need during your ride. Riding on a train is fun and relaxing, as long as you have everything you need to be comfortable. The following includes some tips for traveling on a train in North America:
- Make sure you have all essential items, such as your ID, prescriptions, and medications like Ibuprophen, or motion sickness medicine
- There is no harm in bringing entertainment, such as your favorite book, deck of cards, movies you can watch on your phone, or music you can listen to. Just be sure to pack your earbuds.
- Many railroads offer luggage assistance, so be sure to have a tip ready for the train employees
- Bring a healthy snack that will energize you for the trip, such as almonds and an apple
- Make sure you have all your care items, such as toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and soap
- Make sure you have what you need to be comfortable, such as an extra blanket or a nice neck pillow
- Reserve a sleeping car room. It is all about comfort when you want to relax. The best way to enjoy the experience on long-distance train trips is to book a roomette or bedroom onboard. You will also get a sleeping car attendant, and remember to tip them!
Another point is to wear clothes that make you feel comfortable. You do not want to go on a train trip being too hot or too cold. You may even want to wear your pajamas.
There are some very scenic railroad tours in North America you can enjoy. A picturesque train ride does wonders for the soul. Hopefully, the list in this article inspires you to choose the train ride of your dreams.