Add These Breathtaking American Train Rides To Your Bucket List

Every day, over 87,000 passengers ride an Amtrak train in the U.S. Because the popularity of trains is only growing, they aren’t going anywhere. Trains don’t only get you to your destination quickly, but they also provide stunning views of the landscape that car drivers can’t see.

If you want to explore America, board a train that provides one-of-a-kind views of the natural habitat. From the Grand Canyon to the glaciers of Alaska, these trains give you a relaxing and exciting peak of the country. Definitely add these U.S. train rides to your bucket list!

The Coast Starlight From Los Angeles To Seattle

Since 1971, the Coast Starlight has sent people from southern California through Oregon and Washington. The train glides next to the Pacific Ocean for 30 to 35 hours. Passengers can see Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Mount Shasta, and the Cascade Range.

The Coast Starlight train crosses a bridge over Willamette River in Oregon.
Flickr/Bruce Fingerhood
Flickr/Bruce Fingerhood

Along with great views, the Coast Starlight offers dining and large, comfortable seats. The train offers four menu options, and some passengers can even bring their pets. If you want to see the major cities of the West Coast, travel on the Coast Starlight.

The Summit Excursion Across Alaska

The Summit Excursion travels down the White Pass Yukon Railroad, which rises 2,865 feet through the mountains of Alaska. Passengers ride in old cars that date back to the Klondike Gold Rush, and they see glaciers, waterfalls, tunnels, and historical sites throughout the state.

A train on the Summit Express in Alaska passes snowy mountains.
Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Since Alaska gets so cold, you can sightsee within the warm train. But if you want some outside activity too, you can book a train ride and bike ride package, or a train ride and bus trip. The Summit Excursion is a well-rounded view of Alaska.

Cape Cod Central Railroad In Massachusetts

The Cape Cod Central Railroad sends tourists across the natural wonders of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For two hours, passengers can see cranberry bogs, salt marshes, and sand dunes. The train stops for a Sunday brunch or a five-course dinner meal, depending on which ride people book.

A train for the Cape Cod Central railroad stops at a station.

Throughout the 27-mile train ride, a narration plays that guides passengers along the route. Tourists can learn about the natural habitat and history of Massachusetts, with views that you can only see from the tracks. If you’re interested, remember that Cape Code Central Railroad only runs on certain dates.

Mount Washington Cog Railway Through New Hampshire

In the middle of New Hampshire, the highest peak in the American Northeast, Mt. Washington, tours 6,288 feet into the air. During the late 1860s, engineers built the first mountain-climbing train in the world, which became Mount Washington Cog Railway.

People ski beside the Mount Washington Cog train.
Herb Swanson/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Herb Swanson/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The three-hour train ride cuts through New Hampshire State Park and panoramic views of five other states. If the weather is clear enough, you can even see Canada! An onboard tour will direct your attention to the prettiest sights. For breathtaking views of the snow, board the train in winter.

Grand Canyon Railway In Arizona

If you want a scenic journey through one of the seven wonders of the world, hop on the Grand Canyon Railway. The train passes centuries-old rail cars that have been restored to reflect the Wild West. The railway partners with the Grand Canyon Hotel, where visitors can stay after the ride.

A steam locomotive says
DeAgostini/Getty Images
Paul Harris/Getty Images

Since 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway has taken tourists through the deserts, pines, and prairies around the Grand Canyon. You can reserve your car and food ahead of time and enjoy musicians along the ride.

Sunset Limited From New Orleans To Los Angeles

Sunset Limited drives along the Mexican border through the southern states of America. The train departs from New Orleans, Louisiana, and zips through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. On the way, passengers see several national parks of different climates pass by.

The train Sunset Limited drives through the desert during sunset in Arizona.
Flickr/Clay Gilliland
Flickr/Clay Gilliland

Tourists who ride Sunset Limited see the Gulf of Mexico, moss-covered trees, rolling hills, canyons, and the Colorado River. Discarding the many stops, the entire ride spans 48 hours. Although Amtrak claimed Sunset Limited in 1971, the train ran long before that, and the employees have perfected their customer service.

The Southwest Chief Throughout Southern America

There’s no better tour of Southwest and Midwestern America than the Southwest Chief. Covering 2,265 miles, the train crosses eight states from Chicago to Los Angeles. Passengers can view the red cliffs of Sedona, the plains of Kansas, the Grand Canyon, and the famous Mississippi River.

The train Southwest Chief passes through snowy Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Flickr/Marty Bernard
Flickr/Marty Bernard

The Southwest Chief runs for over 40 hours and provides lounge cars, sleeping cars, and onboard dining. From the train, you can see modern farmers and ancient missions alike. It’s no wonder that celebrities have been riding the Southwest Chief since the 1930s!

Cass Scenic Railroad Around West Virginia

In 1901, the Cass Scenic Railroad was built to haul lumber to Cass, West Virginia. Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction. The circular route takes passengers through 1940s logging camps and a climb to the state’s third-highest mountain, around 4,700 feet high.

Cass train #5 creeps into the station.

The train itself is an old steam-driven Shay locomotive. Black smoke billows out whenever the train departs the station. Since the train leaves and returns to Cass, it provides a single-day trip (4.5 hours) that won’t interrupt your West Virginia experience.

The Pacific Surfliner, Southern California

As its name suggests, the Pacific Surfliner glides along the California coastline of the Pacific Ocean. The train rides from San Louis Obispo (above Santa Barbara) down to San Diego, and it hugs the coast the entire time. If you travel at sunset, you’ll get a show!

The Pacific Surfliner passes the San Clemente Pier in CA.
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

If you want to visit California Disneyland in Anaheim, the Surfliner offers deals for anyone who wants to tour the Happiest Place on Earth. If not, you can explore the entirety of southern and mid-California with food and drinks included.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Through Colorado

If you want to explore Colorado through the eyes of 19th-century gold and silver miners, hop on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. The locomotive zigzags through 64 miles of forests, the San Juan mountains, and the border of New Mexico. At its highest point, the train climbs 10,015 feet up a mountain! (Don’t worry; it’s only a 4% rise.)

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad train cuts through New Mexico in autumn.
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Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you ride in the deluxe parlor car, you’ll see that the coach glimmers with Victorian design and a golden shimmer. Keep your eyes out, and you may spot some elk or bears among the aspen trees.

The California Zephyr From Illinois To California

Do you want to see abandoned mining towns from the 1840s Gold Rush? If you buy a ticket for the California Zephyr, you can see all the notable ghost towns from Chicago to Denver to San Francisco. On this train, you can witness seven states’ worth of history in under two hours.

Passengers take photos of the cliffs in Utah on board the California Zephyr.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The California Zephyr offers four-day packages where you can catch the train leaving from different stations. The cars offer several service rooms, roomy seats, and awe-inspiring views. You can’t catch a better view of the Rocky Mountains!

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad In North Carolina

If you travel through North Carolina, consider sightseeing along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The train passes by valleys, tunnels, and the Nantahala orTuckasegee Rivers. You can choose between a 45-mile ride and a 32-mile round-trip.

A train releases steam as it rides along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

If you booked a seat in First Class, you’d walk into a 1940s-style decorated car. Meanwhile, the Crown Class is a restored car from 1925 and offers a souvenir tumbler. In the winter, you can board the Polar Express Train for a winter wonderland experience. You have endless entertainment experiences along the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic

The Coastal Classic train in Alaska sends passengers from Anchorage to Seward in only four hours. On the way, passengers explore the Kenai Mountains, the Chugach Range, glaciers, and coastal forests. Tourists may spot beluga whales, bald eagles, and Dall sheep from the comfort of the train.

The Alaskan Coastal Classic train travels on a bridge over water.

The Coastal Classic makes a brief stop in the town of Girdwood for a meal in an island lodge. Some passengers stop here, while others stay during the round-trip, experiencing eight hours of the Alaskan wilderness.

The Empire Builder From Chicago To Portland

Amtrak’s Empire Builder Train follows the adventures of Lewis and Clark. Since 1929, the Empire Builder has traveled from Chicago to Portland and Seattle. Passengers explore the Mississippi River, Minneapolis, and the North Dakota plains in the same order as Lewis and Clark did.

Passengers on the Empire Builder photograph snow in Seattle outside the train.

The Empire Builder travels north through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and the tip of Idaho. Passengers see forests, mountains, and Montana’s Glacier National Park. Plus, the train offers full family bedrooms for those who choose to explore 2,200 miles of the American wilderness.

The Strasburg Railroad In Pennsylvania

The Strasburg Railroad has operated since 1832, making it one of America’s oldest railroads. The short, 45-minute train ride takes visitors through the Amish countryside of Pennsylvania. The trains mirror authentic steam locomotives, with pumps cars and conductors dressed as 19th-century employees.

An old-fashioned steam train drives through Pennsylvania suburbs along the Strasburg Railroad.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The Strasburg slices through Pennsylvania’s industrial heart, filled with rolling hills and farms that once fed the entire state. The trip offers “train robbery” and “murder mystery” rides, complete with full performances that transport passengers back to 1934. At its cheapest, Strasburg Railroad only costs $15!

The Adirondack Train From New York City To Montreal

If you’re planning to travel from New York City to Montreal, Canada, take the Adirondack train. The ten-hour ride isn’t known for its speed, but its breathtaking views. The train passes the Hudson Valley, Lake Champlain, and Revolutionary War battlefields.

The Adirondack train drives by a lake.
Pinterest/shawna.baugh shawna.baugh
Pinterest/shawna.baugh shawna.baugh

At least 300 people ride Adirondack daily to depart on one of its many stops. Tourists flock the scenic railroad in spring and summer when you see the snow-covered beauty of the American Northeast. The train features a cafe car and makes a stop around Saratoga Springs for those who are interested.

The Amtrak Cascades, From Oregon To Canada

The Amtrak Cascades was named after the Cascade mountain range that extends from Northern California to Canada. Passengers board in Eugene, Oregon, and ride through Salem, Tacoma, Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia. It supplies some of the most breathtaking views of the Pacific Northwest.

The train Cascades drives through an Oregon forest during winter

During the ten-hour route, passengers witness volcanoes, glacier bays, mountains, and waterfalls. The European-style cars offer regional cuisine, including the coffee that made Seattle famous. With reclining seats and laptop charging stations, the ride is also comfortable. What’s there to dislike?

City Of New Orleans Travels To Chicago

Despite its name, the City of New Orleans is actually a train ride. The 19-hour ride starts in Louisiana and darts through Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois. True to its theme, the City of New Orleans starts and ends in the musical hearts of America: New Orleans and Chicago.

The railway for the City of New Orleans is seen.
Flickr/j van cise photos
Flickr/j van cise photos

The train offers sleeping cars, cafes, and lounges. Major stops include the cities of Jackson and Memphis. Passengers can get off to enjoy the jazz clubs and swamp boat tours in these cities. Beware, though: the train does not offer Wifi.

The Napa Valley Wine Train, Northern California

Hundreds of vineyards dot Napa Valley, an area that stretches north of San Francisco, California. If you’re a wine tasting fan, you can explore the most beautiful vineyards in the country through the Napa Valley Wine Train. The train stops by several wineries for passengers to disembark and have some fun!

A train drives through Napa Valley, CA.
Sylvain GRANDADAM/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The Napa Valley Train also offers a unique murder mystery ride. If you sign up, you’ll ride on an antique train and solve a “murder” where you may have to hide your identity from fellow dinner guests. It’s a unique train ride to be sure!

The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad travels 140 miles from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Monett, Missouri. The train has been repurposed from 1920s and 1950s cars, so passengers feel like they return to an earlier time. Throughout the ride, tourists see rivers, valleys, and a quarter-mile tunnel beneath the hills.

The A&M train emerges from a tunnel.
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Pinterest/Lori Ellison

Unlike most other railroads, the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad offers freight and excursion services. Both opportunities give you views of the Boston Mountains and the Arkansas River Basin. Plus, every car has a different theme, offering tourists a distinct experience every time!

Downeaster Train From Boston To Maine

In 2019, Amtrak’s Downeaster broke records for the most amount of passengers to ride the train. Throughout the 2.5-hour ride, the train passes through the most popular destinations in the Northeast, from Boston, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine. Since the Downeaster started in 2001, its popularity has only increased.

An Amtrak Downeaster train drives through the snow.

Downeaster takes the scenic route through wetlands, coastal towns, and lush suburbs. If passengers stay aboard for the entire route, it’ll take 3.5 hours. But Downeaster provides transportation for university students and Red Sox fans, so expect the ride to be busy!