The Most Beautiful Winter Train Rides in North America

These train routes show the very best of winter in North America.

Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad
Photo: Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

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 reach your desired destination but also see the most beautiful views of the season along the way.

Sure, train travel takes a little bit longer, but the benefits can be immense. Across North America, anyone can take a scenic ride through mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests for about the same price — or less — as an airline ticket while also traveling in cushier seats and a more relaxed atmosphere. And these scenic rides aren’t just for summer getaways — winter is just as magical a time to ride the rails, if not more.

See landscapes blanketed with snow and ice, whether you’re in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, or 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 dusted with snow, or ride along the coast of California, stopping in cities like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles to see how the West Coast does wintertime.

But beyond fun activities and interesting cities, it all comes down to the sights of traveling through a winter wonderland. Appreciate the natural diversity and beauty of North America on one of these winter train rides.

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Aurora Winter Train: Anchorage, Alaska

Aurora Winter Train in Alaska
Christie Wyzykowski/Courtesy of Alaska Railroad

This popular, 12-hour train ride takes you from 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 for weekends from mid-September to mid-May, so there are plenty of opportunities to embark.

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Yellowstone in the Winter: Salt Lake City, Utah

Spectacular shot of Yellowstone Mammoth geyser in winter
iStockphoto/Getty Images

This five-day trip begins and ends in Salt Lake City, running between November and March every year. The Amtrak winter train ride, which includes hotel accommodations for four nights, is built around a tour of Yellowstone National Park. Geysers, hot springs, and steam vents take on a special magnificence in the winter, as the hot waters steam amidst the 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.

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Empire Builder: Chicago, Illinois

Pine Trees Against Mount Hood

Jacob Stollberg / EyeEm/Getty Images

The splendor of the American West is only a train ticket away. Running from Chicago to Seattle via Minneapolis/St. Paul, Spokane, and Portland, this route takes you through a majestic land where ice and snow glitter over the wintry terrain. No matter where you stop, you’re sure to see fresh snow covering the landscape, from Seattle's Columbia River Gorge to snow-capped views of Mount Hood and Beacon Rock in Portland. Plus, the beauty of plains, mountains, rivers, and lakes makes for gorgeous sights. This 46-hour train trip runs daily, all year long.

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Cascade Canyon Winter Train: Durango, Colorado

Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad
Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Cascade Canyon in San Juan National Forest is a popular hiking trail in the summer, but in the winter, you can also enjoy the natural beauty of the area by train or fireside lunch. This quick, 5.25-hour round trip takes you 26 miles around the edge of 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 on select dates from November to May.

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Seattle and Canadian Rockies Winter Discovery: Seattle, Washington

Amtrak Cascades train crossing Eagle Creek in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
Ken Paul/All Canada Photos/Getty Images

This nine-day trip begins in Seattle 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 best views the Canadian Rockies have to offer. This trip also includes a ski gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where you can experience the snowy setting from the best vantage point, and a winter wildlife tour in Jasper National Park.

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Colorado Ski Train: Denver, Colorado

Amtrak Winter Park Express Ski Train
Andy Cross/Denver Post/Getty Images

Winter just isn’t winter without a ski trip to Colorado. Luckily for ski bunnies, the Winter Park Express is an Amtrak train that delivers you from Denver Union Station to the doorstep of Winter Park Resort. This amazingly scenic ride takes you into the Colorado Rockies for a day, weekend, or even a whole week of skiing between January and April (tickets go on sale in late November or early December of the previous year). 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, so it’s good to get your tickets early.

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Napa Valley Wine Train: Napa, California

Rows of grape vineyards in Napa Valley are reflected in the window of the Napa Valley wine train.
National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy

A train ride, with all its old-school glamour, is always better with a glass of wine. You can book a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train any time of the year, but they have special Holiday packages for those traveling during the winter months. Of course, every route has stops at local wineries like Domaine Chandon, Robert Mondavi, and Beringer Vineyards for tastings along the way. And every trip also includes gourmet meals as you sip and savor the views, too.

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Winter Escape to the Grand Canyon: Chicago Illinois

Grand Canyon Railway train at the Grand Canyon terminus
Glenn van der Knijff/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Escape the Midwest freeze and go on a beautiful desert getaway with this Vacations By Rail six-day journey. While the temperatures won’t exactly be hot, this route will take you through the colorful American Southwest, taking off from Chicago and heading toward Flagstaff, Arizona, where you’ll see plenty of snow-covered views before stopping at the magnificent Grand Canyon. After spending time exploring 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.

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Coast Starlight Train: Seattle, Washington

Amtrak Coast Starlight train
Yvette McGreavy/Alamy

Don’t dismiss the beauty of the west coast in winter. Just because the weather's a little warmer doesn’t mean the area doesn't have its own winter charm. The frigid Pacific Northwest has plenty of fantastic views of forests, lakes, rivers, and the snow-capped Cascade 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 the 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 makes it just a little more special.

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California Zephyr: Chicago, Illinois

Amtrak's Zephyr Train, Offering Spectacular Views Of American West
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If you want to truly see the extent of America’s gorgeous and diverse scenery in wintertime, you can’t do better than the California Zephyr with Amtrak. This roughly two-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 the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This route runs daily all year.

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Adirondack Train: New York City, New York

Noonmark Mountain Summit in Winter, Adirondacks
Onfokus/iStockphoto/Getty Images

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 peaks and white-dusted trees that blanket the landscape. According to the Amtrak website, this route was named one of the “Top 10 Most Scenic Train Rides in the World,” and it’s easy to see why. Luckily, this route isn’t just a seasonal treat — you can book a ride any time of year.

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Ethan Allen Express Train: New York City, New York

Winter evening snowfall in Burlington, Vermont on Church Street

Alex Boudreaux/Getty Images

New Yorkers have the opportunity to escape the city on a scenic train ride to Vermont whenever they want, but it’s extra beautiful in winter. Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express goes from New York City to Burlington, 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.

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