When it comes to travel, getting there is supposed to be half the fun. But what if getting there is the whole point? In 2023 it can be, with our curated list of the most beautiful train trips in the United States. Whether you’re going near or far, prefer a quick trip or a long journey, or just want to see some jaw-dropping American landscapes — we’ve got you covered below, in no specific order. All aboard.
1. Rockies To The Red Rocks (Rocky Mountaineer)
Denver, Colorado To Moab, Utah
If you love dramatic landscapes, this train trip could be perfect for you. The Rocky Mountaineer’s newest luxury train route traces the Colorado River, with views of mountains, canyons, and cliffs. If the scenery out your window isn’t enough, enjoy the luxury on the train. You’ll enjoy gourmet dining and deliciously crafted cocktails, all under the coach’s beautiful glass-domed ceilings. Rocky Mountaineer has a reputation for luxurious train travel in Canada, and this is their first route in the U.S. We certainly hope it won’t be the last. Read more in Jo-Anne Bowen’s 11 Reasons I Loved Rocky Mountaineer’s Newest Route From The Rockies To Red Rocks.
2. Durango & Silverton Railroad
Durango To Silverton, Colorado
We think this train is spectacular, and we aren’t alone: USA Today ranked it the top train in the U.S. for 2021 and 2022. Once you step inside, we think you’ll agree. First things first, this train is a throwback: It was declared a national historic landmark and gives passengers a real glimpse of what locomotives were like in the late 1880s. The trip is special, too — passengers travel through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains between Durango and Silverton. It’s a 3.5-hour trip, but you’ll probably wish it were longer. Read more in Robin O’Neal Smith’s Scenic Colorado Train Ride Perfect For A Day Trip.
3. Glacier Discovery Train
If you’ve never explored Alaska, Anchorage is a great place to start. It’s the state’s biggest city and is chock full of great restaurants, hotels, and cultural destinations. But in Alaska, it’s the natural landscape that takes center stage — so trains are a great way to take it all in. The Alaska Railroad offers round-trip service from Anchorage to several coastal cities and the state’s interior. Don’t miss the Glacier Discovery Train, which starts in Anchorage and heads southbound to Grandview. You’ll have views of the Bartlett Glacier, Trail Glacier, and Placer River Valley. Read more in Peggy Cleveland’s 7 Gorgeous Train Trips You Can Only Experience From Anchorage.
4. Denali Star Train
Or head north on the Denali Star Train from Anchorage to Fairbanks, a 12-hour journey with enchanting views of fresh snow and frozen rivers. This is the land of the northern lights, so you’ll be in for a treat. But keep an eye out for bears, moose, and eagles — from the safety of your train window, of course. Read more in Peggy Cleveland’s 7 Gorgeous Train Trips You Can Only Experience From Anchorage.
5. Southwest Chief (Amtrak)
Chicago, Illinois To Los Angeles, California
The Southwest Chief runs all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles — and what a way to see this country. You’ll see the rolling plains of the Midwest, cross the Mississippi River, traverse Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, and voyage through the New Mexico desert. If that’s too much, consider doing just a segment or two. You can hop on and off as it suits you. No matter how much time you spend on this train, you’ll enjoy a glimpse of America like never before. Read more in Jill Dutton’s 8 Great Stops To Make While Riding Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.
6. Coast Starlight (Amtrak)
Los Angeles, California To Seattle, Washington
Beautiful beaches, majestic mountain peaks (Mount Rainier, anyone?), and some of the most photogenic landscapes in the United States: The West Coast has something for every kind of traveler. Seeing it from the unique vantage point of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is truly a special way to see it all. The journey is spectacular — following the coast for nearly 350 miles and traveling through some jaw-dropping mountains and rolling hills. The 1,400-mile route takes 35 hours from start to finish, but you’re free to disembark at any stop along the way. In fact, we’ve already created a terrific itinerary for you here, at Jill Dutton’s 7 Pacific Coast Stops To Make While Riding Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.
7. Grand Canyon Railway
Williams, Arizona To Grand Canyon South Rim
Seeing the Grand Canyon is a special experience, no matter how you do it. But voyaging there on the Grand Canyon Railway is truly next level. You’ll begin your journey in Williams, Arizona, where you can opt for a stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel before your trip. The hotel has an Old West feel and is especially convenient for families with small children or people with mobility differences.
Once you’re on board the train, you’ll notice several classes of service available, complete with live music and entertainment. There’s also an observation dome for panoramic views. After about 2 hours, you’ll disembark just a short walk from a Grand Canyon visitor center. Read more about the journey in Judy Karnia’s 9 Reasons This Historic Arizona Railway Is A Perfect Experience For The Whole Family.
8. Verde Canyon Railroad
Clarkdale To Perkinsville, Arizona
The Verde Canyon Railroad is another Grand Canyon train experience. While both adventures use restored rail cars and vintage trains, the vibes here are quite different. You won’t find live music or cowboy shows on the Verde Canyon Railroad. Instead, nature and scenery are the main stars of the show here — think informative, educational narration playing on-board, and open-air cars to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful views. The towering red rock buttes may take your breath away. Read more in Julie Diebolt Price’s Arizona Grand Canyon Railway vs. Verde Canyon Railroad: 7 Key Differences to Know.
9. Santa Fe’s Adventure Train (Sky Railway)
Santa Fe To Lamy, New Mexico
Spend a couple of hours checking out this new railway line brought to you by none other than Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin, who happens to live in Santa Fe himself. He joined a group of benefactors and artists to revive the old Santa Fe Southern Railroad a few years ago. They renovated the original locomotives with modern, first-class amenities and offer scenic trips from the New Mexico capital to Lamy, a small town about 18 miles away. The trip takes a little over an hour. Be sure to check out their themed rides, including Jazz Under the Stars and Murder on the Lamy Line. For more details, see Jim Fulcher’s Historic New Mexico Train Ride Promises Unique Adventures For Travelers.
10. Austin Steam Train
Cedar Park To Burnet, Texas
Texas is huge. If you’re trying to get off the beaten path, consider one of several interesting train trips throughout The Lone Star State. The Austin Steam Train is a great option for anyone interested in exploring the Texas Hill Country. Hop aboard in Cedar Park, just north of Austin, and enjoy a leisurely 6-hour round-trip train ride to Burnet. If that’s too long, consider the Bertram Flyer, a shorter trip that includes time for a tour of a 1912 train depot. Read more about some fantastic train itineraries throughout the state in Janie Pace’s 7 Epic Train Rides in Texas.
11. Tennessee Valley Railroad
Chattanooga To Delano, Tennessee
Tennessee has a long, storied history with the American railroad. The state was an important transportation hub for moving goods and people from the mid-1800s and onward. Nearly 200 years later, train rides are a wonderful way to look back on this history and see Tennessee’s beauty. There are several experiences to choose from, but we especially love the Tennessee Valley Railroad. You’ll embark in Chattanooga, a town known for trains. The journey begins at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, dedicated to the restoration and preservation of old steam engines and rail cars. From there, you’ll head out on a 55-minute ride along the former Southern Railway tracks. Who needs a time machine when you have this? Read about other journeys in Amy Sward’s 5 Unique Train Rides In Tennessee.
12. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Independence To Akron, Ohio
All aboard this train to experience Ohio’s only national park. The journey begins at Rockside Station in Independence, Ohio, and ends about 3 and a half hours later at North Side Station in Akron. You’ll enjoy gorgeous views of the Cuyahoga River, and depending on when you go, verdant forests and patches of blooming wildflowers. Hop off and explore the park’s several hiking trails or waterfalls, and catch a return train back when you’re done. All this, in Ohio? You bet. Read more in Brandy Gleason’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park: 6 Tips For Visiting Ohio’s Hidden Gem.
13. East Broad Top Railroad
Orbisonia To Colgate Grove, Pennsylvania
Talk about a throwback! The East Broad Top Railroad is America’s oldest narrow gauge railroad, and it’s even designated a National Historic Landmark. Nevertheless, it sat dormant since 1956, serving as little more than a time capsule — until now. The East Broad Top is back on the move, journeying from Orbisonia, Pennsylvania on a 9-mile round trip to Colgate Grove and back. Choose from coaches, open-air cars, or a caboose. There’s a wheelchair-accessible car, too. Read more in Robin O’Neal Smith’s This Vintage American Railroad Adventure Set To Reawaken This Year.
14. Conway Scenic Railroad
Nestled in the heart of Conway, New Hampshire, you’ll find the Conway Scenic Railroad. The station alone is worth checking out. But if you feel like doing some exploring, check out any of the several rides available daily. Scenic journeys are available for passengers who just want to look out the window and take in the beauty of New Hampshire’s landscape. If you want a history lesson, you can book one of the authentic, historical trips. Journeys range from 1 to 5 hours, and prices start at $35. Read more in SJ Morgensen’s 6 Best Stops Along The Kancamagus Scenic Highway.