9 Incredible Train Trips To Take Across America

Traveling on a cross country train offers a unique romanticism that can be missed on other modes of transportation. Compared to the hustle of airports or the constant need to stay alert if taking a road trip, a train trip can be a leisurely and relaxing setting with some tremendous natural views and scenery. From historic train cars to some of the very best in modern furnishings, a train ride through some of America’s most special destinations is an experience unlike any other. This article looks at the Nine Incredible Train Trips to take across America. 

Amtrak Cascades

Amtrak's Empire Builder overnight passenger train
Amtrak's Empire Builder overnight passenger train from Chicago to Seattle passes through Index, Washington, in the Cascade Mountains, on the final leg of its journey. Editorial credit: Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock.com

Named after the Cascade Mountain Ranges, this passenger train in the Pacific Northwest travels some 752km across several US States and into Canada. First opened in 1971, the Amtrak Cascades passes through Vancouver and then across the US-Canada International border to Seattle and the cities of Portland and Eugene in Oregon and sees up to 810,000 riders annually. Guests can also enjoy great local day trips, and some spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge and the famed Mount St. Helens volcano, whose last major eruption in 1980 killed 57 people. 

The Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer Train Ride in Alberta, Canada.
Rocky Mountaineer Train Ride in Alberta, Canada. Editorial credit: Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

In operation since 1990, the Rocky Mountaineer once served only Canada from its hub in Vancouver but now extends all the way to the US States of Utah and Colorado. The Mountaineer is a perfect and relaxing way to enjoy the American Southwest for a luxurious and scenic route through the Rocky Mountains. The train passes through towns like Glenwood Springs, Denver (Colorado), and Moab (Utah). From April to November, passengers can enjoy fantastic mountain views, stunning red rock formations, and beautifully vast skies, all in the luxury only a train can provide.

The Grand Canyon Railway

Vintage Steam Locomotive of the Grand Canyon Railway at a station in Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
Vintage Steam Locomotive of the Grand Canyon Railway at a station in Grand Canyon Village, Arizona. Editorial credit: kravka / Shutterstock.com

A 103km rail line first constructed in 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway is a train ride into America’s Wild West. Running between Williams, Arizona, and the southern rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, passengers ride on historic steam locomotives that range from the turn of the 20th century to the 1980s. Operating year-round, the line in its entirety was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and transports hundreds of visitors every day to the Grand Canyon. Complete with costumed attendants, a retelling of Old West stories, and beautiful desert views along the way, a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway is amongst the most special train outings to embark on in the United States.

The Coast Starlight

The Amtrak Coast Starlight long distance train
The Amtrak Coast Starlight long-distance passenger service departs Seattle bound for Los Angeles. Editorial credit: Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock.com

A trip to America’s West Coast would not be complete without riding the Coast Starlight, which in total travels some 2, 216 km! In operation since 1971, ridership typically reaches up to 400, 000 people a year, and with the incredible scenic views along the way, it is not hard to see why this train is so popular. On its journey from Los Angeles to Seattle, the Coast Starlight goes through Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sacramento, and even Portland, passing beautiful views of the Cascade Mountains, green forested areas, valleys, and of course, long stretches of the Pacific Ocean coastline. Even just a short ride from LA to San Francisco is sure to be one filled with splendid views and great train luxury.

The Maple Leaf Train

875km long, the journey of the Maple Leaf Train takes passengers through stunning views of the Niagara region and New York State. Beginning in Niagara Falls and ending in New York City, along the way, riders can enjoy beautiful vistas of New York’s wine country, the Finger Lakes, and the Hudson River Valley. With 20 stops on the tracks, visitors have plenty of opportunities to explore the scenic landmarks all around, stretch their legs, and then return to the locomotive for quality comfort and stylish transport. 

The Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train in Napa, California
Napa Valley Wine Train in Napa, California. Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

A privately owned heritage train, the Napa Valley Wine Train route was first built in 1864 and today continues to offer its passengers beautifully picturesque views and stops of California’s Wine Country. On a 57 km, 3-hour round trip, the Wine Train takes guests from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back, passing the scenic and stunning vineyards of northern California. Hop on and off at certain stops to enjoy some of the locally made wines or buy some to take home as you reboard the vintage restored locomotives from the 1940s and 50s.

The Pacific Surfliner

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner
Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner, traveling south on the west coast through San Clemente, Southern California, on a cloudless winter day. Editorial credit: JWCohen / Shutterstock.com

Take a beautiful ride across Southern California’s coast while traveling on the Pacific Surfliner, a 560km journey between the cities of San Diego and San Luis Obispo. First launched in the year 2000, this train has seen up to 2.5 million passengers fill its locomotive cars in a fiscal year and is a great way to explore lesser-known but equally beautiful oceanfront towns. Stop in such locales like Ventura and San Juan Capistrano, or head on right to Santa Barbara. Wherever one stops, the coastal beauty of Southern California is never in short supply when on the Pacific Surfliner.

The White Pass Yukon

The scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway, Alaska
The scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway, Alaska. 

First opened in 1900, the historic White Pass Yukon Route travels 107km, crossing Alaska into the Canadian Yukon territory. Beginning in the municipality of Skagway, passengers on the White Pass will follow the route of the Klondike Gold Rush and the miners and pioneers who charted the area over 100 years ago. Stops along the way allow guests to view the beautiful mountains and the forested regions of both Alaska and Yukon, while a visit to sites like the historic Bennett Station (an abandoned town) gives a firsthand encounter with history.

Winter Park Express (The Ski Train)

Though it only travels along a 90km route, Colorado’s Winter Park Express (formally The Ski Train) is a breathtaking trek through the winter wonderland of the Rocky Mountains. Traveling between Denver’s Union Station and the Winter Park Ski Resort, passengers will have unforgettable views of the mountain scenery, including the Flatirons, and then travel along the 10km long Moffat Tunnel, first opened in 1928. For skiers, it is the ideal way to reach the slopes of the Resort, but even for the views alone, this train ride is worth taking. Book a ticket on the upper-level Sightseeing Lounge for the optimal position to view these tremendous vistas!

Train rides are a unique and beautiful way to experience the United States, giving its passengers plenty of luxury, leisure, and special views that can be missed by air or road travel. Whether it is a historical caboose or a modern-day locomotive with all the furnishings, a number of great train routes exist ready to give visitors spectacular excursions filled with stunning views, special history, and world-class comfort.

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