20 of the Most Scenic Train Rides Across the US

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If time allows, traveling within the United States by train is one of the most comforting, relaxing, and scenic ways to get from Point A to Point B. 

Of course, it’s no hop, skip, and a jump from JFK to LAX, but it offers just as much. With a book in-hand, and not a care in the world, you can cruise from the east coast to the west with as much or as little activity as you’d like. 

Amtrak is probably going to be your go-to for the most direct routes. But, there are plenty of independent train lines out there that are not only efficient, but also historic. 

All aboard! We’re about to traverse the states in a way that will live on in your heart forever. 

1. Washington to Southern California

malibu, california
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Let’s start with the Coast Starlight – an adventure train spanning from Washington State to Southern California. 

While aboard, you’ll take in the sights through Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and into Los Angeles.

2. Oregon to Vancouver

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What if you’re looking to travel north out of Washington, instead of south? Amtrak has you covered there, as well. 

Along its smooth-sailing Cascades train line, you’ll be transported from northwest Portland to Vancaouver, taking in memorable mountain ranges, soaking up the glory of the Columbia River, and gazing upon the glory that is Mount St. Helens. Passing through the picturesque Puget Sound will also take your breath away. 

3. Chicago to California

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If you’re heading into California from the Midwest, Amtrak has a plan for you, as well. The California Zephyr will zip you through Chicago, Omaha, Nebraska’s Great Plains, Denver, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake before arriving in sunny California.  

4. Chicago to California

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For something a little more southern than the Zephyr, you might consider Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

You’re still traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles but, with this route, you’ll travel along the Mississippi River, through the red mesas of New Mexico, into the Mojave Desert, and up into Los Angeles. 

5. The Rocky Mountains

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What if you want to linger a little while longer in the Rockies? No problem – the Rocky Mountaineer will deliver you first-class sights and top-shelf service. 

Their cabins are nearly all-glass, opening up to the most show stopping panoramas. One itinerary can take you from Denver to Moab Desert. Best of all, a glass of champagne or a cocktail will always be within arm’s reach as you sit back and soak it all in. 

6. Durango to Silverton, Colorado

silverton, colorado
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Here we are, still in Colorado. There’s one more notable line worth mentioning: the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This route is one of the railroad’s most popular routes. 

While aboard, you’ll enjoy the delights of the San Juan forest, Animas Canyon, Molas Pass, as well as the increasingly-popular town of Silverton for a little fine dining, shopping, and maybe even a cocktail or two since no one’s driving. 

7. Colorado to New Mexico

new mexico
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Alright. It’s time to bid farewell to Colorado. If you have your heart set on New Mexico next, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad will take you there. 

This train line is actually a National Historic Landmark and has the proud distinction of being the longest and highest steam railroad in North America, encompassing 64 miles of track. 

From Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico, you’ll savor the sights of canyon walls, mountain tunnels, and the Cascade Trestle. From deep forests, to aspens, to antelopes and eagles, to dainty little wildflowers, you won’t want to miss a moment of the window show. 

8. Chicago to Montana

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If you’re heading a little further north than the sunny shores of California, the Empire Builder will take you from the Windy City to the Big Sky Country. 

Here, you’ll enjoy the magnificent views of the Mississippi River, Glacier National Park, the Dakota Plains, and all the glorious wildlife Montana has on display. 

9. The Grand Canyon 

the grand canyon
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To explore one of America’s greatest National Parks, the Grand Canyon Railway could be your best bet. It departs from Williams, Arizona – a station about 30 miles west of Flagstaff. 

It’ll weave you through the Sonoran Desert before entering the heart of canyon country. Exploring the Grand Canyon this way is lovely because the train will drop you off in the morning, leave you to explore to your heart’s delight, and then get you back home on a same-day return ticket. 

10. Sunny California

palm trees in california
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Basically, anyone who wants to watch California unfold before their eyes without battling the grueling traffic patterns of downtown LA will find luck aboard an Amtrak Train. 

Their Pacific Surfliner is one of Amtrak’s most popular routes with great views into LA – sans the congested traffic. The entire route hugs the western coastline with picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean, the rolling hills of California, Santa Barbara, Irvine, and San Clemente. 

11. Napa Valley, California

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The Napa Valley Wine Train may be the best way to see what everyone’s talking about when they gush about their trip to Napa Valley. 

Aboard the wine train, you can let someone else take the wheel on a decadent three-hour journey filled with locomotive steam whistle sounds, sips of the region’s finest wines, canapes galore, and complete and utter relaxation. 

12. Honolulu, Hawaii

honolulu, hawaii
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Since you’re already out in California, you might as well consider skipping down to Hawaii. The Hawaiian Railway Society has a train called the Ewa Train that starts about 20 miles west of Honolulu, taking you on a two-hour round-trip joy ride. 

You’ll enjoy live narration through Oahu’s sugar plantations, the ghost town of Gilbert, and beautiful Kahe Point with a pit stop or two along the way, including one for ice cream. 

13. Northern New York

subway station
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If you’re in more of a New York State of mind, Amtrak also has you covered from Penn Station to Montreal. If you’re able to swing this trip during the fall, the foliage will knock you off your feet. 

This scenic ride will sail along the Hudson River, out of New York, up through Albany, into Saratoga Springs and Lake Champlain before pulling into the station in Canada. 

14. Cape Cod

cape cod
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This is an exciting way to summer in the Cape (or ease into the fall). The Cape Cod Central Railroad only runs from May through October, but it’s a spectacular way to get to know the area. 

The railway offers several different excursions, including a dinner train, a Sunday brunch train, a canal excursion, and more. What a lovely way to sip your mimosa over brunch as you take in the sights of one of New England’s finest offerings. 

And, if your heart is set on New England, check out our destination guide to all the best New England escapes

15. Enchanting Alaska

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Instead of the Adirondacks, if you have a different set of mountain ranges in mind, the Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic is waiting to serve them up to you on a silver platter. 

On board, you’ll take in the sights from Anchorage all the way down to Seward. That’s a whole lot of wildlife, mountain ranges, and unique landscapes to soak up, including the Kenai Peninsula, glaciers, waterfalls, and Resurrection Bay. 

When you disembark in Seward, there’s another train line right there just waiting to whisk you away to Kenai Fjords National Park, something you should seriously consider. 

16. Cass Scenic State Park, West Virginia

west virginia
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Located in the hills of West Virginia, this lesser-known line is packed full of sights and scenes to explore. 

The Cass Scenic Railroad State Park takes visitors back in time to an era when steam-driven locomotives were an essential part of everyday life. This is an 11-mile journey rich in history, scenery, and a cute little gift shop and restaurant to start or end your journey. 

17. The East Broad Top Railroad

farm in pennsylvania
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Just a little bit north, the East Broad Top Railroad is another lesser-known ride that can be a nice foray into the world of railroading. 

This is a glorious one-hour train ride through the rolling hills and central farmlands that cheerfully decorate Central Pennsylvania. 

If you find yourself in this part of the state and have ever wondered if you’d like to become a train enthusiast, this is the way to find out. 

18. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

the smoky mountains
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In the same way the Napa Valley Wine Train can satiate your thirst for Napa, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad can show you what all the buzz is about in Tennessee. 

Departing from Bryson City, North Carolina, you will enjoy a front-row seat to sights like Fontana Trestle, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Nantahala National Forest, the Tuckasegee Rivers, countless historical structures, and stunning foliage. 

If you can plan this trip sometime around the end of October, you’ll never be able to erase those vibrant hues of yellow and orange from your mind. 

19. New Orleans to Los Angeles

new orleans
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Los Angeles has so much on offer. But, one of its best qualities is its Amtrak hub. You’ve probably already spotted the pattern by now: if there’s somewhere you want to go via train, Los Angeles’ Amtrak station will take you there. 

The Sunset Limited is a long-distance train that will take you from New Orleans to Los Angeles, with stops at all the major hubs along the way, including Houston, San Antonia, El Paso, and Tucson. Needless to say, this journey is a desert-lover’s delight. 

20. The United States

the united states
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We’ll close out with the big kahuna. The Grand Rail Experience has the power to take you clear across the country, from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. 

There are plenty of ways to plan your trip along this line, with stops at all the major hubs like Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Seattle. What a way to see the country, right? 

Take It All In

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No matter where you’re headed next, there’s a scenic, stress-free way to take it all in. Amtrak clearly has you covered in nearly every corridor, but there are plenty of special day trips to enjoy on smaller rail lines, as well. 

Wherever you’re headed next, we have a travel itinerary or set of safety tips to help you get where you’re going with style, elegance, and ease. Explore our huge library of destination guides before your next trip and we’ll hope to see you out and about on this road called life.

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