There’s something magical about riding trains and experiencing the mountains, prairies, deserts, even the big cities, from the comfort of a railcar. It’s no wonder Americans have a love affair with train travel.
America's most scenic train rides
America's most scenic train rides
Napa Valley Wine Train
Vino lovers, explore Napa's wine region in a new way by getting your ticket punched aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. As the historic Pullman train car pulls away from the station, sit back with a glass of sparkling wine and take in the delightful vineyard views. A three- to four-course lunch or dinner is then served inside luxury railcars. This 36-mile round-trip train ride takes guests across wine country, from Napa to St. Helena, past wineries such as Grgich Hills and Cakebread. Check out this stunning cross-country train ride you can book.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
If a craft brew is more your beverage of choice, try the "Ales on Rails" train rides through Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Learn about and sample five different beers from local breweries, like Thirsty Dog and Hoppin' Frog. Even better, dive into tasty hors d'oeuvres as you ride the rails across the scenic countryside.
Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Experience the scenic wonders of the Colorado Rockies as you make your way along the Royal Gorge Route Railroad near Colorado Springs. Book a seat in the Vista Dome car for unparalleled mountain views and stay for lunch to enjoy on-board meals prepared with locally sourced ingredients, like grass-fed buffalo burgers and basil chicken panini. No box lunch train car fare here. Look for a tailor-made microbrew created by a local brewer, the Royal Gorge Route Rouge. Don't miss why ghost trains run every day in the UK.
Echo Canyon River Expeditions
Make it a day by pairing a train ride on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad with a rafting adventure along the Arkansas River with Echo Canyon River Expeditions. Their popular Raft and Rail package starts with a two-hour morning train ride, then finishes up in the afternoon with a mild family float or more adventurous white water rafting through Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
Grand Canyon Railway
Another train to check out is the Grand Canyon Railway. Departing daily from the historic train depot in Williams, Arizona, this two-hour train ride to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon offers guests a unique way to explore the canyon, take loads of pictures and eat lunch before the return to Williams. Several getaway packages combine a day-long train adventure with meals at the Grand Depot Café in Williams and a night or two at the historic Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Check out these bucket list ideas for each state.
Discover America with Amtrak Vacations, which offers multiple one and two week rail adventures. They're perfect for travelers eager to satisfy their desire to travel by train and also explore our national parks. One popular six-day package takes guests from Chicago to Glacier National Park in Montana, and includes a boat cruise in Two Medicine Valley and an incredibly scenic ride along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Train lovers may want to make a side trip from Glacier National Park to the Izaak Walton Inn in nearby Essex, Montana, if only to see the authentic caboose cabins that once traveled the Great Northern Railway. There's even a locomotive that has been turned into a luxury suite.
Another option is a week-long train travel adventure on the Alaska Railroad, which offers a number of ways to explore Alaska by rail in both summer and winter. Book the Deluxe Alaska Sampler for a summertime journey across Alaska with stops for an iceberg float, a dog sled ride, a cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park and a narrated exploration of Denali National Park. Don't miss the best free tourist attraction in each state.
Vacations by Rail
If you'd rather not map out a cross-country rail trip on your own or with help, look to Vacations by Rail. Their Classic Coast to Coast by Rail itinerary takes travelers from New York City to San Francisco in six days, and includes sightseeing tours, hotel stays and even meals at several stops along the way. Get your camera ready as you pass the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here are some of the best summer vacation spots in the U.S.
If you go cross-country...
While a non-stop cross-country train trip can take as few as three days, you'll want to make stops along the journey to take in the cities and countryside. Book separate tickets for each leg of the journey and consult with The Man in Seat Sixty-One before you pack your suitcase. He's got the full scoop on how to buy your tickets and where to stop along the way.
Another frequent train traveler to know is Derek Low. He "came to fame" when he blogged that it's possible to travel coast-to-coast by trains—3,400 miles—for just $213. He traveled the rails from San Francisco to Chicago on board the California Zephyr, then transferred to the Lake Shore Limited line to complete the journey to New York. Not surprisingly, he now offers a train travel planning service.
Whether you have a few hours or more than a week, you can explore much of the United States by train. Here are a few of our top picks to help you respond to the siren call of the rails.
RELATED: Most beautiful train stations in the USA
The most beautiful train stations in America
The most beautiful train stations in America
Grand Central Terminal in New York City
Completed in 1913, the New York City station features elaborate moldings and beautiful marble. When commuters look up, they see a spectacular 25,000-square-foot mural of constellations with gold-leaf stars. At its center, there's the iconic gilded clock.
When the Cincinnati Union Terminal was completed in 1933, it was the largest rotunda in the Western Hemisphere.
The Art Deco-style station features a glass entrance and a fountain out front. Inside, four artists collaborated on massive murals that chronicle stories in American history. The German-American painter Winold Reiss produced 23 glass-tile mosaic panels that live on as impressive displays of public art.
Photo Credit: Getty
Union Station in Los Angeles
This glamorous train station almost wasn't built. In 1926, Los Angeles voters had the choicebetween the construction of a network of elevated railways or a much smaller Union Station.
The election took on a racial tone that reflected prejudice against the wave of Chinese immigrants, since the station would be in the heart of LA's original Chinatown. A majority chose Union Station, however, and it was completed in 1939.
Today, Union Station is the largest train terminal on the West Coast, with nearly 110,000 people passing through it each day. Some of its highlights include mosaic floors and gold chandeliers that hang from wooden beams.
The transit hub plans to finish upgrades by December 2016, including a faster rail, more shops and restaurants, and parking for bikers.
(Photo by: Education Images/Citizens of the Planet/UIG via Getty Images)
Union Station in Denver
As early as the mid-1880s, Denver saw a tremendous spike in train travel during a time of westward expansion.
The city's Union Station survived a giant fire, a few floods, and America's shift toward air travel as plane tickets became cheaper beginning in the '60s.
The Station's most impressive architectural feature is its al fresco platform with a curved ceiling. In the past few years, the city has been slowly upgrading the station, with added pedestrian walkways and a bridge that will connect the station with the nearby mall and park.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Main Street Station in Richmond, Virginia
Serving commuters since 1901, this red brick train station was inspired by French Renaissance architecture. Its large cast iron train shed, its domed clock tower, and tiled roof was emblematic of the station's French architectural style, of which relatively few examples remain in the US.
It was a bustling transit hub until it closed in 1975 due to the national decline of American train travel. It later re-opened in 2003 after a series of renovations.