The Most Beautiful Winter Train Routes in North America
Winter can be a magical time, so why spend those precious moments at home? Or worse, in the airport security line?
Instead, a scenic winter train ride is an excellent way to not only get to the destination you desire, but also to see the most beautiful views and stops you wouldn’t have thought of along the way.
Sure, train travel takes a little bit longer, but the benefits can be huge.
Across the United States, anyone can take a scenic ride through mountains, lakes, rivers and forests for about the same price as an airline ticket — or less — while also traveling in cushier seats and a more relaxed atmosphere than you’d ever get in the air.
And these scenic rides aren’t just a summertime getaway. The winter is also magical time to ride the rails. See landscapes blanketed with snow and ice, whether you’re in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest or the Midwest. Or, if you’re into a milder climate, you can take a lovely trip around the American Southwest to see the red rocks of the Grand Canyon peppered with some snow, or ride along the coast of California, stopping in metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles to see how the West Coast does wintertime.
And, who could forget a journey to Alaska, where you can not only drink in the scenery, but also get the perfect Instagram picture of the local wildlife around Denali National Park. Or, you can take a ski trip through the Colorado Rockies to really celebrate the season.
But beyond the fun activities and interesting cities you can visit on your train ride, it all comes down to the fabulous sights. As you take your train vacation, you’ll also be able to truly appreciate the natural diversity and beauty of the U.S. — which is a pretty priceless souvenir.
Aurora Winter Train: Anchorage, Alaska
This popular, 12-hour train ride takes you from Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, to Fairbanks. On the way, you can get a spectacular view of the Alaskan wilderness, from pristine lakes and snow capped mountains to beautiful wildlife indigenous to the area like moose, caribou and bears. Not to mention, an up close and personal view of Denali (formerly Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America). There are also stops in Wasilla and Talkeetna for some quick breaks. Trips are usually planned from November through March, so there are plenty of opportunities to go.
Amtrak Yellowstone: Salt Lake City, Utah
This five-day trip begins and ends in Salt Lake City, running between November and March every year. Geysers, hot springs and steam vents take on a special magnificence in winter, as the hot waters and steam contrast against the snowy and icy environment. Not only is wildlife much easier to spot — especially wolves native to the area — you also won’t have to fight crowds to get a good view or that winning Instagram shot.
Empire Builder: Chicago, Illinois
The splendor of the American West is only a train ticket away. Running from Chicago, Illinois to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota and Spokane, Washington, this route takes you through a majestic land where ice and snow take over the wintry terrain. No matter where you stop, you’re sure to see fresh snow covering the landscape for a truly perfect winter photo op. Plus, the beauty of plains, mountains, rivers and lakes make for some more gorgeous sights. This 46-hour train trip runs daily, all year long.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: Durango, Colorado
Cascade Canyon in San Juan National Forest is a popular hiking trail in the summer, but in the winter and spring, you can also enjoy the natural beauty of the area by train. This quick, two-hour trip takes you 26 miles deep into the canyon where you can see the best of Colorado’s stunning scenery. The canyon itself was mined for silver and gold, drying up years ago, but there are still plenty of precious photo ops to be had. The train runs daily from November to May.
Seattle and Canadian Rockies Winter Discovery: Seattle, Washington
This nine-day trip begins in Seattle, Washington and takes you over the border to our neighbor to the North. With stops in Vancouver, Jasper, Banff and Calgary, Canada, you’re sure to see all the breathtaking views the Canadian Rockies have to offer. This trip also includes a ski gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, so you can truly experience the winter wonderland first hand. This trip is available from October to April each year.
Colorado Ski Train: Denver, Colorado
Winter just isn’t winter without a ski trip in Colorado (even if you don't love to ski). This amazingly scenic ride takes you into the Colorado Rockies for a day, weekend, or even a whole week of skiing in Winter Park between January and March. However long you’d like to stay at the ski resort is entirely up to you, since you can always catch a train home at your leisure. The train runs on weekends only, plus the first two Fridays of each month, so it’s good to get your tickets early if you want the perfect ski trip.
Napa Valley Wine Train: Napa, California
A train ride is always better with wine. You can book a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train any time of the year, but they also have special Valentine’s Day, Holiday, New Year’s Eve and Murder Mystery packages as well. Of course, every route has stops at local wineries like Domaine Chandon, Robert Mondavi and Beringer for tastings along the way. And every trip also includes gourmet meals as you sip and savor the views, too.
Winter Escape to the Grand Canyon: Chicago Illinois
People in the Midwest can escape the winter freeze and go on a beautiful desert getaway on Vacation By Rail's six-day journey. While the temperatures won’t exactly be summery and hot, this route will take you through the colorful American Southwest, taking off from Chicago to Flagstaff, where you’ll see plenty of snow-covered views before stopping at the magnificent Grand Canyon. After spending time at the natural wonder at your own pace, you can then return home to the Windy City. Trips are available from November to March each year.
Coast Starlight Train: Seattle, Washington
Don’t dismiss the beauty of the west coast in winter. Just because it’s a little warmer doesn’t mean it can’t have a particular, wintry feel, too. The frigid Pacific Northwest has plenty of fantastic views of forests, lakes, rivers and snow capped mountains for people who want to enjoy a winter wonderland. But you can also gently watch the snow melt away as you travel south through California to Los Angeles on this scenic ride. Spend the end of your trip enjoying some scenic sights in L.A. before heading back to Seattle for a truly magical winter experience. This route runs all year, so there’s never a bad time to go, but winter is just a little more special.
Snow Zephyr: Chicago, Illinois
If you want to truly see the extent of America’s gorgeous and diverse scenery in wintertime, you can’t do better than the Snow Zephyr with Vacations By Rail. This five-day winter train excursion takes you from Chicago to San Francisco, so you can see all kinds of landscapes across the U.S., from the Great Plains to icy peaked mountains — all blanketed in snow. On the way, you’ll get a good view of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains. This route runs daily between November and March.
Amtrak Adirondack Train: New York City, New York
Departing daily from New York City and journeying through Albany to Montreal, this scenic trip takes you straight through New York State’s Adirondacks, where snow lovers can marvel at the icy capped peaks and white dusted trees that blanket the landscape. According to the Amtrak website, this route was named one a “Top 10 Most Scenic Train Ride in the World,” and it’s easy to see why. Luckily, this route isn’t just a seasonal treat. You can book a ride at any time of year.
Ethan Allen Express Train: New York City, New York
New Yorkers have the opportunity to escape the city on a scenic train ride daily, all year long, but it’s extra beautiful in the winter time. Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express goes from New York City to Rutland, Vermont, via Albany. You can enjoy the best scenic winter views that the Hudson Valley has to offer in the chilly months when fresh, white snow decorates the landscape. Snow lovers simply can’t miss this relaxing trip, especially if they’re looking to get out of the city for a change of pace.