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Need to unplug and relax on your vacation? Consider leaving the car at home and taking a train.
Train trips offers fabulous views of mountains, deserts, oceans and forests, as well as cultural and historic experiences. They allow you to ponder the scenery instead of the traffic.
“You get a chance to relax,” said Sylvia Blishak, co-owner of Train Travel Consulting in Klamath Falls, Oregon. “You can get back into the habit of being in the moment.”
The cost will depend on the season, route and class of train car. But discounts are often available for military members, seniors, students, children and members of AARP or AAA.
Here are 10 of the most fantastic, scenic train trips in the United States:
1. California Zephyr
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The California Zephyr Amtrak route running between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area takes about two days.
After crossing the mighty Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and enjoying the passing panorama of the Great Plains, passengers get to see the Rocky Mountains, along with Colorado’s Gore, Byers and Glenwood Canyons; cross the Continental Divide through the Moffat Tunnel; and see San Pablo Bay just north of San Francisco.
Visit Amtrak’s “Deals” page to learn about current promotions as well as everyday discounts available for AAA members, students, military members, seniors, children and others.
2. Cass Scenic Railroad
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For a short but magical historical jaunt, try the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park rail line. Riding in a train with a restored Shay steam-powered locomotive, you will traverse the scenic mountains of eastern West Virginia.
The full route from the Cass Depot up the mountainside to Bald Knob — the summit of Back Allegheny Mountain at more than 4,800 feet — is about four-and-a-half hours round-trip. The Bald Knob overlook (pictured) sits at an altitude of 4,700 feet and, on clear days, offers views of two states.
Fares range from free (for children ages 3 and younger) to $66, depending on the date. Discounts are also available for children ages 4 to 11 and seniors age 65 and older.
3. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
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This train route, a national historic landmark, runs between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico, from late May through late October. Rides are two to eight hours long, depending on the route you choose.
The dramatic views include San Luis Valley, the Rocky Mountains and the 800-foot-deep Toltec Gorge. Lunch is served in Osier, Colorado.
Round-trip rides, which involve riding a motor-coach bus one way, start at $95.75 for adults and $49.75 for children. The railroad’s “Specials & Discounts” page details several types of discounts.
4. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
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This Colorado ride takes passengers along the Animas River and through wilderness that can’t be accessed by any roads.
The train travels a 45-mile stretch of rail between Durango and Silverton from early May to late October. The round-trip train tour is about nine hours, including a two-hour stop in Silverton, a historic mining town. In the winter the route is about half the distance.
The round-trip train tour starts at $89 for those ages 12 and older and at $55 for children ages 4 to 11. Children under 4 who do not occupy a seat ride for free except for special events. Visit the railway’s “Hot Deals” page to learn more about discounts, which are also available for backpackers and the military.