Explore the U.S.A. by train on these scenic trips.

By Claire Trageser
Updated October 13, 2020
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Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

There's a romance to train travel — the leisurely pace of a rail trip compared to the hustle of an airport or a crowded highway encourages you to relax. There are the historic train stations and roomy seats, plus the chance to get up and walk around, visit the dining car, or just sit and take in the scenery passing by.

There are many train journeys you can take across the United States, with stops in exciting cities, historic landmarks, and national parks along the way. From Napa Valley to New England, here are 10 of the best train travel routes in the country.

Note that some of these routes have changed due to travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, including those which previously went to Canada. Other operators listed have postponed trips until 2021, so be sure to check availability before you plan your trip.

The Napa Valley Wine Train

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The Napa Valley Wine Train takes riders through the picturesque wine country northeast of the Bay Area. The route follows a rail line originally built in 1864 that goes north to the resort town of Calistoga. Visitors can now take a three-hour, 36-mile round-trip journey from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back. After boarding the train at the McKinstry Street Station, travel through the old industrial section of Napa, then head into the scenery of wine country. You can hop on and off the train along the way and stay overnight at one of the great hotels in Napa Valley.

The Pacific Surfliner

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Travel along the ocean on this Amtrak train that travels 351 miles through southern California. Start in San Diego and head north, stopping along the way in quaint ocean towns like Carpinteria, San Juan Capistrano, and Ventura. Be sure to leave some time to explore Santa Barbara, or head all the way to the end of the line at San Luis Obispo and then head back.

The Coast Starlight

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Ride up the edge of the West Coast on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, which goes all the way from Los Angeles to Seattle, passing through Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and Portland. The scenery along the way includes snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, forests and valleys, and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline.

The Grand Canyon Railway

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The Grand Canyon Railway, which dates back to 1901, offers riders a lesson in history from the Wild West and the opportunity to see the beautiful scenery of one of the U.S.'s most famous regions. Ride in the restored cars, hear folklore and tales from the crew, and be entertained by authentic characters and musicians who bring the Old West to life. You can ride the railway to the South Rim in a 65-mile trip across the high desert plateau.

Amtrak Cascades

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Cross over the United States’ northern border on Amtrak Cascades, stretching from Vancouver, Canada to Eugene, Oregon, passing through Portland and Seattle along the way. Stop in cities for day trips or overnight stays, and then hop back on a train to pass by Mount St. Helens and cross the Columbia River Gorge.

The White Pass Yukon Route

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Ride this historic railway across the Yukon on this train trip that travels from Alaska into Canada. The 67.5-mile trip takes you between Skagway, Alaska, and Carcross, Canada, along the same route that the Klondike stampeders traveled more than 100 years ago. Stop along the way to tour the historic Bennett Station and museum.

Colorado Rail Experience

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Traveling to summits of more than 14,000 feet, the Colorado Rail Experience with Vacations By Rail takes you across the Colorado Rockies aboard five standard and narrow gauge railroads: Georgetown Loop Railroad, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, and Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Additional highlights include visits to Garden of the Gods and Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.

America's Great National Parks

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Discover five of America’s national parks on one 14-day rail tour, including two overnight rail trips on Amtrak’s Empire Builder and California Zephyr trains. Along the way, you will get a chance to tour Glacier, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Arches, and Canyonlands national parks.

An Autumn Tour in New England

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Take an eight-day escorted rail tour through New England in the fall to take in all the foliage colors. The trip includes three scenic rail excursions aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad, Green Mountain Flyer Fall Foliage Express ,and Cape Cod Central Railroad. Additional highlights include Boston city sightseeing, a visit to Plimoth Plantation, excursions to Mystic Seaport, Hildene, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Newport mansions.

The Maple Leaf Train

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Take a train trip that starts at Niagara Falls and ends in New York City on Amtrak’s Maple Leaf train. Along the way, you'll travel through the scenic Hudson River Valley, New York's wine country, and the gorges of the Finger Lakes region. While at Niagara Falls, stop for a cruise on The Hornblower to the rushing falls or take a Journey Behind the Falls tour, which brings you 150 feet below ground to tunnels that lead to observation spots at the foot of the Falls.